Cranford Athletics club has become a well-known and highly respected name in Irish athletic circles but getting the club off the ground was a challenge founding member, a young Eamon Giles, refused to back down from.
Now 50 years later, Eamon looks back at the club he helped found in 1961 and recalls the how from humble beginnings they went on to enjoy, regional, national and international success with hundreds of athletes representing the club in that time.
Eamon says he got his love of sports and training from his father, a former Kilkenny hurler and army officer, Jim Giles, who moved to Donegal when he was stationed at Rockhill Barracks in Letterkenny.
It was while in Donegal he met and married Madge McClafferty. By the time Eamon was in his teenage years, his spark for sports had been ignited after his father coached him in the fundamentals of fitness and stamina that he had learned in both his hurling and army careers.
“I would have been running at all the local sports days then. Competing was all for money at that time, so you competed to make a few pound,” he laughs.
“The likes of me, Paddy Marley, Hugo Doogan, Jim Hunter, Bill Hunter and Pat Marley, we would have been the new kids on the block at running at that time, so when I mentioned putting together a athletics club, I always knew what I wanted was to have them in with me and that was a good nucleus of a club.”
After his dad left the army, he had to travel to England for work but Eamon stayed and had visions for starting an athletics club in his native Cranford. But it took some convincing before he got it on track.
“The club was formed in the winter of 1961. It was myself and Jim Hunter were the driving force behind it at the time. I suppose back then, to start a club in a rural area like Cranford, there was a lot of stuff stacked against us because we didn’t have a very big catchment area, it was very small and we had to travel a long way for competitions. There was none in Donegal and they were all across Ulster. Plus there wasn’t any money, so that was the environment at the time,” he explained.
Another factor working against him, as many saw it at the time, was his age, just 19 years. Many regarded this as “too young” to known anything about running an athletics club. However, after a few failed attempts, he used a novel approach to gaining access to one of the best clubs on the island of Ireland and before long they were competing with the best of them.
“There was very little support from the older people in Cranford. They had never witness people on training schedules at that time because it was unheard of, especially of training on a winter’s night. I had two or three attempts at putting a club together and we would hold these open meetings but people would say we were too young and that we didn’t know anything about running it.
“The reason I always had an interest athletics was through my father. He was a Kilkenny man. He introduced me to it at a very young age. But due to unemployment when he left the army he had to go to England to work, like most fathers in the area, but I always wanted to open a club but what that motivated me, was reports in the Derry Journal about a great club called Oak Leaf in Derry. They were the kingpins in Ulster at the time. Really the people in Cranford were right, I didn’t know anything about running a club, but I wrote to the editor of the Derry Journal to get the secretary of Oak Leaf’s club secretary, a man called Hubert Logue, he gave me all the information I need to form a club. I wrote to the secretary in Armagh and thats the way our club was formed,” he stated.
Eamon had now enlisted a few dedicated club members who were training hard and looking forward to see where they could bring their newly established club to compete. In 1963 Eamon had the idea to test them against the best and although the outcome was not the glory they would achieve in later competitions, it sowed the seeds of that success.
That year they invited the mighty Oak Leaf team to take part in a road race in their native Cranford.
The members of the fledgling club put in a remarkable effort with Paddy Marley finishing fifth, Jim Hunter came seventh and Eamon came ninth, a great showing.
“One of the first things I did was invite Oak leaf out to Cranford to compete in a road race. That was first time we got to meet all these people we had been reading about. We all wanted a crack at these boys to see how good they were. I knew we weren’t going to have a chance against them or we were going to dominate Ulster athletics on the track but I wanted to know where we were. We said we would go to the top and take on the best and have a crack at them,” he laughs.
He said their results buoyed them with a new found confidence.
“It was a very good result against them but we knew that performance. Yes they beat us and beat us well, but the few fellas we had running well at the time were not that far behind them. We knew we had a lot of ground to make in some of the training methods we had to use but the funny thing about I was our training methods at that time were quite up to date, even by todays standards. My father would have taught me about interval running back in the early 1950’s. That’s the kind of training type were doing at that time back in Kilkenny for the hurling. He played minor for Kilkenny that is where got his athleticism from,” he added.
The first competition they won was in November 1963 at a seven and half mile race called the “Black Mountain Climb” in Belfast led by Sean Walsh from Dungloe who used to regularly hitch hike from his come to Cranford for training.
This paved the way for more success to follow and it wasn’t long before Ulster and national titles began to be claimed by both junior and senior club members.
In January in 1964 the won the “War memorial” Ulster Junior title and Eamon claimed a number of Ulster titles over the years.
After he hung up his own red striped vest he began a more extensive coaching role and he still is as passionate today as ever to see his beloved club claim medals at any event and he says their junior athletes are “flying”.
“It has been a great time and I have got great enjoyment from it. I loved seeing the athletes do well and even when they left the club I always kept an eye on how they done,” he added.
As the clubs 50th celebrations approach with a special function taking place in the Milford Inn on October 28, there promises to be many trips down memory lane from members past and present.
There is also a anniversary book being launched on the night.
He says he would like to thanks his family, sponsors and everyone who worked with him to keep the club going for so long.