A remarkable Donegal athletic career is celebrated with Hall of Fame award

A remarkable Donegal athletic career is celebrated with Hall of Fame award
Diarmaid Doherty Sport@donegaldemocrat.com @dgldemocrat

Catriona McGranaghan can still remember first pulling on a pair of runners and running a few laps of Porter’s Field in Castlefinn.

Her four big brothers and older sister used to train there almost every day, under the watchful eye of their father Peadar.

During the dark evenings, half of the 800m loop around the field was lit up by a floodlight which Peadar hung on the chimney of their family home nearby.

As far as training facilities went, it was far from Olympic standard. But with the Porter family happy to allow the McGranaghans and their running mates use their field, the up and coming athletes of Castlefinn had somewhere safe to train. For Catriona, it marked the start of an athletics career that continues to deliver success on the local and national stage.

She turns 43 at the end of this month and on Friday night, Catriona will be inducted into the Hall of Fame at her beloved Finn Valley Athletic Club.

She follows in the footsteps of her father whose contribution to the club was also celebrated with a Hall of Fame award some years ago.

“I’m not really one for awards like that,”Catriona said this week.

“But when you are singled out by a club like Finn Valley for a Hall of Fame, it is something really special. I’ve been there a long time and it’s lovely to be honoured by your own club.

Not surprisingly, she will always be grateful for the role her dad played in her career, but she said her mum, Sadie, was always there for her too.

“My dad has been there since the very beginning,” she said.

“And mammy too. When you think about all the times you’d be coming in with muck on the runners and the spikes and she wouldn’t say a word. They were always so full of encouragement and so supportive.”

They obviously saw that Catriona had talent from a very early age. The runs in Porter’s Field soon began to pay off and as a teenager, the Castlefinn runner gained national attention when twice winning Irish Junior titles.

At 19, once she left the Junior ranks, she was straight onto the Finn Valley senior women’s team, something she remembers feeling very proud about.

“I remember the race well back in 1993 at the Phoenix Park in Dublin. The club had a very strong team. There were some very talented women in the club so to be selected as one of the four at just 19 was brilliant for me.”

The team of Belinda Carlin, Kay Byrne, Dawn Hargan and Catriona, would write themselves into athletics folklore. They became the first ever from the club to win a national cross country team title, breaking the stranglehold of Dublin City Harriers who had dominated the event for some time before that.

Finn Valley would go on to win another seven national team titles in-a-row, meaning qualification to the European Club Cross Country Championships each time.

Wearing the Irish vest was something which meant the world to Catriona, and she would run in a host of European events during that period. In February ‘95, the team finished sixth in Portugal, their highest ever placing, with Catriona leading the Donegal representation in 30th place overall.

These were good times for the athlete from Castlefinn who was now a household name within sport in Donegal. In total, the Finn Valley women’s team would win an unprecedented 13 national cross country team titles.

Of the eight-in-a-row, Patsy McGonagle coached the team to five of the Irish titles with Neil Martin in charge for the other three. Catriona said both men have played a special part in the life of Finn Valley AC.

“Even now if I’m in training and Patsy’s there, the lift that he can give you if he shouts you on, it’s unbelievable,” Catriona said.

“He was an inspiration right through my life and is such a strong figure in every way.”

Catriona might not be posting anything near the times she once did, but she’s running well and focusing towards another good year in 2017.

Last March she won gold in the National Masters Indoor Championships in Athlone, winning the 1500m with an Irish best of 4.44.21. She also won silver in the 800m. On the same day, her sister Sinead McConnell set a new masters record in the 3k walk.

She’s hoping to retain the title in 2017, but for now she’s focusing on a good performance in Waterford in February at the National Masters Cross Country Championships.

In the meantime, Catriona’s happy with her training and she also plans to take part in various local races between now and the New Year.

Married to Thomas Devine, they have two daughters, Ava (8) and Eve (5) and live in Killygordon. Catriona juggles family life and work (she manages a childcare service in Drumkeen) but she still manages to squeeze time in for her run most every day.

“Thomas always says that no matter what’s happening, I still have to get my run in,” Catriona laughs.

“It’s so addictive, you just have to get some head release and a run can look after that.”

On Friday night a quite remarkable athletics career will be marked by a Hall of Fame award. Come Saturday morning it will sit among her collection of medals and trophies which help tell a story of one of the county’s most successful ever female athletes.