Thomas Barr the star amid Irish athletics royalty

There was never any doubt that Thomas Barr would win the athlete of the year award at the Irish Life Health National Athletics Awards yesterday.

It was a truly special afternoon with running royalty present. Marcus O’Sullivan was inducted into the Hall of Fame and Ronnie Delany – who was acknowledged for his Olympic 1500m gold medal-winning performance 60 years ago – showed he is still a man of impeccable timing.

If there was an award for speech of the afternoon, then Marcus O’Sullivan struck gold with his interview with MC Greg Allen. O’Sullivan’s humble charm and wit won over the athletics fraternity much like in his heyday when he won three World Indoor 1500m indoor titles, competed in four Olympic Games, ran 101 sub-four minute miles and, was part of the memorable 4x 1 mile relay world record team in Belfield in 1985.

“Looking back, that was the best moment of my career,” said the Cork man of that remarkable relay, which he ran alongside Eamonn Coghlan, Frank O’Mara and Ray Flynn.

There was great symmetry to the afternoon with O’Sullivan paying tribute to Donie Walsh who was awarded for his lifetime service to coaching. Leevale’s Walsh, a Villanova graduate himself, coached O’Sullivan to reach a suitable standard to get an athletics scholarship to the fabled university in Philadelphia.

O’Sullivan also made sure to include a special mention for his wife Mary, with whom he is celebrating 30 years of marriage this year.

Thomas Barr (Ferrybank) took to the stage soon after and when asked about taking the next step up on to the major international medal podium he quipped dryly: “I can still raise bar.”

He was quick to thank his parents, Tommy and Martina, and coaches Hayley and Drew Harrison who received a European Athletics coaching award on the day. It was an award-laden day for Cork athletics, with Robert Heffernan, Lizzie Lee, Michelle Finn (both Leevale), and Phil Healy (Bandon) also receiving awards.

Healy’s viral ‘from the depths of hell’ anchor 4x400m relay run at the University Championships was named the inspirational performance of the year.

Rounding out the day as smoothly as he navigated the turn into the home straight in Melbourne in 1956 was Ronnie Delany.

No stranger to award ceremonies, Delany recalled his Villanova days and the ‘win or bust’ philosophy that took him to Olympic gold. He too was in witty mood referencing the famous phrase associated with him: ‘Did you win it, did you get it, do you have it, will you show it?”

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