The difference between enthusiasm and dedication is all too often reflected in the established ongoing success of a venture.
Someone once coined that phrase and it a good barometer to measure the work of Eamon Harvey and the sporting community of Donegal.
In 1971 young graduate Eamon Harvey, a native of Drimboarty, Letterbarrow, outside Donegal Town, who had just qualified with a degree in Physical Education from Manchester University, took up a teaching position in P.E., Geography and Mathematics, at the then Donegal Town Vocational School.
The Old Tech on the Mountcharles Road in 1982 became the Abbey Vocational School, where Eamon was Physical Education Teacher until he retired in 2006.
Those years saw this school gain a state of the art basketball arena, gymnasium, football pitch and floodlit athletics track and field area. A long way from the set of skipping ropes he was given in 1971 to coach athletics.
At that period in the 70s, sport did not prominently feature on the Irish educational curriculum of primary and certainly second level schools. When this young teacher took on the challenge to change the then authoritarian mindset to introduce sports as part of the curriculum, he was determined to make sweeping changes to the system and boy did he do so-big time.
With a dedication and commitment over 40 years to promoting and encouraging sports, there are very few athletics people throughout Ireland and indeed certain areas of Europe who do not know and have the utmost respect for Eamon Harvey.
His quiet retirement after seven years from his role as Regional Development Officer, Athletics Ireland with responsibility for counties Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan was typical. Knowing the humility of the man from practically our childhood days, he probably would have wanted a media free retirement, but I felt his unselfish dedicated works over the years and still ongoing, should be acknowledged somewhere. So, sorry Eamon!
My website and newspapers research on his CV would have easily filled not one, but several pages. What this man has achieved through his gentle attitude, repartee, knowledgeable and firm coaching abilities in promoting and nurturing the sporting capabilities of Ireland’s youth, able and disabled, is the kind of stuff that books are written and documentaries made.
Through athletics he has breached the so-called North/South divide, especially in sports education, commanding equal respect in both areas, with a B.Ed Management from Ulster University in 1982, MA in Peace and Reconciliation Studies from Ulster University in 1992. He gained Q- Level 4 IAAF Coach and Tutor at National Coaching Training Centre/Irish Sports Council and has been involved for 15 years delivering Coach Education/Curriculum nationally.
In the 1990s he was a National Middle Distance Coach for five years to Irish teams at eight World Cross Country events which included runner Catriona McKiernan with four silver medal performances and World Track and Field at Gothenburg 1995 where 5000 metre runner Sonia O’Sullivan won Gold and again coached Sonia at 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
At the 1996 Paralympics he was personal coach to pentathlete Bridie Lynch, who took gold in Discus. From 1997 – 2007 he was designated Irish Paralympics Athletics Coach.
He was Irish team coach to 400m runner Conal McNamara, who won silver at the Athens 2004 Paralympics. He was one of eight coaches appointed to the Irish Paralympics team for Beijing 2008 where Lisa Callaghan finished in seventh place in javelin. Not only a coach and mentor, but in his youth he was a noted short distance runner particularly at parochial sports events and at University excelled in rugby.
In the 1970s he was a prominent member of Donegal Rowing Club and, if I may be allowed to add, my running partner in the 1981 Dublin City Marathon notching up a very respectable finish time of three hours, nine minutes for the 26 miles 385 yards.
From 1987 to 1989 he was coach to the Co Donegal GAA senior squad and in 1991 trainer and coach of the county GAA Donegal Minor team that won the Ulster title and were defeated in the All-Ireland semi-final by Cork.
In 1996 was honoured for his prominent role in athletics as Rehab’s ‘Donegal Person of the Year’. The following year he was instrumental in setting up the county’s first ‘Sportshall Athletics’ based in Donegal Town, with over 100 primary schoolchildren competing.
As Regional Development Officer, Athletics Ireland, he introduced in 2011, the hugely successful ‘Primary Schools Sportshall’ inclusive programme, for which he was the main driver. This partnership between ‘Donegal Sports Partnership,’ which he chaired for three years, and ‘Donegal Athletics Board’, has grown in stature and in late 2013 saw over 2000 children from 51 different primary schools participating in six regional finals with climaxing county finals in mid December at Leterkenny’s Aura complex.
Children compete in a team format in agility, balance co-ordination, running, jumping, and throwing challenges and enjoying the athletic experience.
Referring to this unique event he said: ”All the participants should be complemented, teachers and local club coaches for supporting and giving the children a most positive experience in a fundamental sporting activity that includes individual challenge, comradeship and craic”.
Now retired as Regional Development Officer’, his wish is that the three year second phase strategy of ‘Primary Schools Sportshall’ will specifically address the sport and physical development needs of Co Donegal and to ensure that the ‘Donegal Sports Partnership’ continues to have support staff to carry out general and specific programmes that meets the applications of this strategy.
Eamon Harvey has not retired from sports coaching per se, and is still very much involved in local athletics. In December last, as he has done for the past 15 years, he took a group of 30 young athletes on a ten day ‘warm weather’ coaching camp in Portugal.
Not only is he the current Honorary President, he is also ‘PRO and Coaching Officer’ with the very successful Tir Chonaill A.C. which boasts 300 members, with numerous success at both Junior and Senior. Eamon’s wife Jackie, who holds various Ulster and Irish running titles, fills the club’s role of ‘Child Protection Officer and Women’s Track and Field Officer.
Over the years this club has produced many athletes who progressed to international level. He says: ”The club, which rightfully prides itself on being inclusive, has grown and expanded over the years due to the hard work and dedication of numerous committees and coaches and today it caters for juveniles, seniors, meet and train groups, fit4life groups and special/paralympic participants.
“The recently developed floodlit club facility in Donegal Town now being used extensively by club members and the community at large and is something Tir Chonaill are rightfully proud of”.
It’s not just Eamon, the entire Harvey family are leaving their footprint on the sporting landscape of the area, in teaching and coaching.
Eamon’s wife Jackie was a top class athlete and still competes; daughter Michelle has represented Ireland at U-20 level; other members of the family are daughter Camilla, Deirdre and Louise with one son, Pauric.
Yes, the difference between dedication and enthusiasm is very much reflected in the ongoing success of a venture, vision, dream or project. I am sure you will agree Eamon Harvey has distinguished himself and his county in fulfilling that role with the utmost dedication.