The launch of the 2019 Donegal Sports Star Awards took place yesterday in the Mount Errigal Hotel, and the winners of the 1979 awards were also recognised on the 40th anniversary of their success.
Manorcunningham’s Gerard McGinley is one of those who was honoured, and he was the first ever winner of the Best Secondary School Sports Boy award.
McGinley was a star athlete in his teenage years and won the Irish Boys Under 15 schools title in 1979 when a student at St Eunan’s College, Letterkenny.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then but McGinley has devoted a large chunk of his life to sport and he reminisced on a wonderful year.
“I remember being down at the awards in the Milford Inn Hotel,” said McGinley.
“It was a big year for St Eunan’s because the soccer and gaelic teams had won All-Irelands as well.
“It genuinely doesn’t feel like it is forty years ago. They were great times.
“Sport has been very good to me. I have been involved with Lagan Harps, Letterkenny Athletic Club, Community Games, and St Eunan’s GAA club and it has put me in touch with a wide variety of people who are all so enthusiastic and passionate about their chosen sport.”
1979 was the best year of McGinley’s athletics career, but the seeds were sown the previous summer.
“I had only really taken up running seriously in 1978.
“I had qualified for Mosney and Michael Crampsie offered to train me for it.
“We used to go out to O’Donnell Park and run up and down the pitch.
“Michael was a great help to me as was Michael Cullen up at the College.
“He had a great interest in athletics and promoted it in the school and opened doors for me. I wouldn’t have done anything if it wasn’t for the two Michaels.”
The Irish Boys Under 15 Schools title was on McGinley’s mind in June 1979.
He has trained hard for the event and was determined to give it his all in Belfield.
“I was going well but there was a Johnston guy from the North that I would only have met in the schools. He was never in the club races.
“I felt I was fit enough so I decided to go out from the front and I was able to stick the pace until the end.
“I would have divided the race into three 500 metres, and when it came to the last one, I would kick for home.
“Most of the others were leaving it until 300 metres to go, but I had trained for 500 metres and that was a big help.”
Winning the schools title was a fantastic achievement and there was more glory to follow in July when he broke the 1500 metre record for his age group in Tullamore.
“That was the finals with the club and I was up against a lad called Gaffney from Dublin, and he took the pace up first and it was soon just me and him.
“We did the first 800 metres in 2.07 and I knew we were travelling rightly then.
“I went past him with about 500 to go which was a big blow to him as he was a front runner and couldn’t claw it back.
“I ended up winning in a time which was an Irish record, but it was just about winning the race for me.”
McGinley continued to impress during his time at St Eunan’s College, and he would earn the right to represent Ireland in 1981.
“I won the Irish schools 3000 metres. I had only trained for six weeks before that, but I was running in a forest course up near home and it had me in great shape and my confidence was up.
“I then went to the Tailteann Games and won the 1500 metres there, and I went on to represent Ireland in Belfield which was a great honour.”
There was the opportunity for McGinley to further his athletics career after his school days but after weighing up his options, he decided to stay at home, and has no regrets over that call.
“I was offered an athletics scholarship to America and it was a big deal at the time.
“But there was a lot to consider. I was the oldest in the family and there was a big cost involved in going away.
“A lot of people were coming back from America then and the scholarships hadn’t worked out.
“Some were falling between two stools then because they didn’t have their qualifications either. The buzz of the scholarships was kind of dying at the time.
“It was a watershed decision for me and that was pretty much the end of my athletics career when I didn’t go.
“I still enjoyed being involved and I would have run 5ks in the Interfirms and so on, and was still able to run a sub 15 minute for a 5k.
“I would have done a bit of coaching on the track, and I would have also competed for the club in the pole vault in the National League.
“I also would have done the Triple jump – pretty much the things other people weren’t doing.”
McGinley enjoyed Monday’s event and it was nice to rub shoulders with some of the other stars from 1979.
“It’s great that so many of the winners are still alive and going strong.
“I remember that night in 1979, and I would have followed many of the other winners after that like big Eamon (Coyle) in the boxing, and obviously Danny McDaid who was a huge inspiration to everyone.
“Danny was 39 that year but the Post Office strike was on so he had more time to train and he finished 11th in the World Cross Country Championships in Limerick and captained Ireland to second place in the team event.
“John Treacy won that race, and Eamon Coughlan was knocking about then too, so it was a very good time to be involved in athletics.
“It was a great time for me, and sport was very good for me in general.
“Sport isn’t about the titles or the records, it’s the character it builds in people.”