The day Teresa put Sonia in the shade

There are few on this island who can lay claim to having ever got the better of Sonia O’Sullivan on the track.

Teresa O’Hanlon is part of said club, though she prefers to hide away her membership, even from her own children.

Thirty last weekend, Teresa ventured down to Mosney for the very first time. Having fallen short on six consecutive occasions at the county finals, she finally managed to break onto the national scene. And what a debut it proved.

Teresa McKenna, as she was then, stormed to success in the girls U16 1,500m. Not alone had the gold medal been secured, the Monaghan teenager was hooked, struck by the Community Games bug. She wanted more. Mosney would be revisited.

Sonia O’Sullivan’s involvement in this particular yarn stems from 1984, the year the girls’ ‘marathon’ was introduced onto the programme.

McKenna again proved too strong for the field, O’Sullivan included, with the Cobh athlete having to settle for silver. It wasn’t even a close contest, the Monaghan champion leading from gun to tape.

“I had heard there was someone very good from Cork when I came down in 1984, but I had blanked it out,” she recalled. “The marathon was five miles. It was one lap of the track and then out onto the road. I didn’t look behind me until I crossed the line. Garret Fitzgerald, then Taoiseach, handed me my medal on a wee cushion. In athletics terms that was definitely one of the high points.

“The men’s marathon had been introduced a few years earlier and John Treacy had won gold in its first ever running. Someone said that to me prior to my race and it was something that really stuck with me.”

Teresa’s double gold had its roots in six years of frustration, six years of near misses. She refused to give in however.

“I love the Community Games but it took me forever to get out of the county,” she laughed. “I either came second, fourth or way back in the pack. I wanted to get through so badly to Mosney. I have a real soft spot for Community Games. All my friends had made it and I hadn’t. It took me until I was 16 to get down there but eventually I did.

“By the time I got there I think all the really good ones had burnt themselves out. I didn’t have the satisfaction of beating the girls who had always won and beaten me.”

Teresa’s age disqualified her from returning to Mosney for a third gold and the competition slipped into oblivion until her daughter Michaela stumbled across a poster at primary school advertising the local Community Games competition a couple of years back. An old chapter reopened.

Now 13, Michaela is competing in Athlone for the third consecutive year, just missing out on a medal in the U14 long jump. Most would have been gutted to come so close to a podium finish, but Teresa claimed her eldest was “ecstatic, far exceeding what she had hoped to achieve”.

Caoimhe, 11, failed to advance from the semi-finals of the U12 600m, but has medalled in previous years, garnering bronze in 2012 as part of the Monaghan town basketball team.

The youngest, Eoin, featured in the U8 80m last year, but didn’t manage to secure a return ticket this summer.

The picture is clear though, this is a Community Games-driven household, yet none of the three have the slightest inclination that their mother is a twice national champion, never mind that she staved off the legendary Sonia O’Sullivan.

“If they do athletics, they do it for themselves. I didn’t want them to do it, just because I did it I didn’t them push them.

“That is the path I took, but if they didn’t want to I wasn’t going to force them. They love coming down here, staying on campus, having the banter with their friends. It is like a mini-holiday. Now don’t get me wrong, I am delighted they share the same love for Community Games that I did when I was a child.”

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