Eamonn Harvey honoured by Athletics Ireland at Awards night

Gerry McLaughlin


Gerry McLaughlin

Although he would be far too modest to accept any form of adulation, there is no doubt that Eamon Harvey from Donegal Town is our very own “King of the Road/Track/Field” in the athletics world.

And he was a very deserving recipient of a Services to Coaching Award at the annual Athletics Ireland function in a Dublin at the weekend, a body he has served with distinction for many years.

For the sprightly 71-year-old has worn all the T shirts and coached some stellar figures not just in athletics but in Gaelic Football as well.

Eamon coached Sonia O’Sullivan in the mid 1990s and Catherina McKiernan also in European and Olympic Games.

He has also coached Paralympians Bridie Lynch to the gold in the Discus-Atlanta/1996; Catherine Walsh, Bronze in Pentathlon Syndey 2000; Conal McNamara, Silver in 400m 2004.

Eamon coached Karl Griffin to 6th place in the European U-23 competition in the 800m.

And he has also had national senior winners including Kelly McGrory, 400m hurdles; Kevin McBrearty, Javelin, Mary McLoone, Tripe Jump and Geraldine Stewart, Shot Putt.

And he coached the great Ballyshannon cross country athlete Siobhan Gallagher and Leitrim’s Mary McGinley and the Morrow sisters from Rossnowlagh.

But it has all been a labour of love for the meticulous and highly qualified Eamon who fondly remembers the great road races of the late 1970s and early 1980s when the Ballyshannon 10-mile road race drew Ireland’s best athletes and returned some stunning times.

Eamon was a key figure on South Donegal Harriers in that era.

He has taught in the Abbey Vocational School in his native Donegal Town, was Assistant Principal there for 11 years, was part of the review group that drew up the syllabus for the new Leaving Cert PE Curriculum and was Regional Development Officer with Athletics Ireland 9 years.

He has coached numerous provincial and national winners in the Abbey VS and was Ulster Schools' Officer for 10 years.

Eamon also coached some great athletes in the original South Donegal Harriers and latterly with the highly successful Tir Chonaill AC, National League winning women’s teams that represented Ireland on three occasions at European Clubs during the 2000’s.

He has also been a BLE Middle Distance Coach for 9 years and a coach with 9 World Cross Country teams.

And in a very busy parallel universe, Eamon has coached and been conditioning coach to numerous team sports including Donegal GAA Senior/U-21s/minors during the late 1980s and 1990s when he worked with fellow Donegal Town man, Tom Conaghan, among others.

And “with a magnificent support team in Tir Chonaill AC/local community and partnered by Donegal VEC/ETB developed a E500,000 athletics facility in Donegal Town which was completed in 2008”.

By any standards Eamon Harvey’s achievements are truly remarkable, but he remains an exceptionally grounded and modest of men, a doer rather than a marketeer/dealer!

His love affair with athletics and coaching began in college in Manchester in the late 1970s and 1980s.

When asked what was the thing that attracted him to athletics his answer is significant as there isn’t the slightest sliver of ego.

“It was not the individualism as that would be a negative about it but it is great when you can see people improving.

“It is a very fundamental sport and to see people running a great 100 metres or a great marathon, but to see them improving, no matter what level they are at.”

Eamon was central to South Donegal Harriers along with Pat McManus and Paddy Donoghue who amalgamated three juvenile clubs in Ballyshannon, Bundoran and John Bosco in Donegal Town in the late 1970s.

“The road running was very strong and we also had very good cross-country teams and we won Ulster titles at that time.

“And in the 1990s we hosted the International Schools' Cross County Event in Finner and a very young Mo Farah was taking part and won the U-17 event.

“And in the Noughties we won three National League with Tir Chonaill AC."

One of his many great memories is of coaching Sonia O’Sullivan in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and in 1995 at the World Championships.

“She was a wonderful athlete and the first time I saw her run was as a 17-year-old in Killenaule.

“She won a National Senior Cross Country and went off to Villanova in the US after that on a scholarship and she had an incredible career.

“Her daughter Sophie is now running at a pretty high level also.”

Locally Eamon is very pleased that Abbey VS won a number of national athletics titles and we have had some internationals from the school.

But he stressed: “I am overly comfortable about talking about my input as I believe you should let the team and those who are taking part do the talking.

“It is one part of sport that I find a difficulty with at present is that the people in charge become more important than the players/competitors or the sport itself.

“It is very much in the GAA and excessively so, in my opinion.”

Eamon has led a rich and varied life with strong GAA connections to Donegal and his native Donegal Town.

And his wife Jackie is an ex Irish international and is still running.

Road running was very popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s and is making a welcome comeback in recent times, according to Eamon.

“The Cara Road Race in Bundoran is the big event in these times.

“A lot of the road running nowadays is to get fit for life which is very healthy.

“Some people say you can get injured running on the roads, but a lot of that happens to people who are not properly prepared or conditioned.

“There could be an issue about young athletes running a lot on the roads.

“But the numbers running on roads at the minute is huge which is very encouraging.”

So what is his experienced advice to young athletes?

“Try out as many events as you can to see which one suits you best and don’t initially confine yourself.

“The biggest problem we have in all sports at the minute is a massive drop off in the mid to late teens.”

“You see it in the GAA also.”

“Part of the reason for the drop off is having too much intensity in their early career.

"The advice would be to come in and enjoy the sport and try out as many events and sport as you can.

“Run, play Gaelic play soccer until you find what you like and what suits you best.

“But don’t be thinking about becoming a world champion at 13 or 14 because you can get fed up by 16 or 17.”

Sound advice from someone who knows - and who is a also a great ambassador for the sport he loves.

Keep her lit, Eamon!