Mile News

O’Mara’s tribute to Irish Mile legend Niall O’Shaughnessy

September 19, 2015

Much like George Harrison, Niall was the forgotten member of the Irish Milers club; likely because he walked away from the sport at the pinnacle of his abilities at just 24.

From Frank O'Mara, posted by Athletics Ireland

Former two-time world indoor 3000m champion Frank O'Mara has penned a wonderful tribute to Niall O'Shaughnessy who recently passed away. Frank is pictured in the far left of the main feature image when Ireland set the world record for the 4x1 Mile relay. Now read on.

Niall O’Shaughnessy died the morning of September 15 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was 59. Niall belonged to a great group of Irish middle distance runners of the 70s which included Eamonn Coghlan, John Hartnett and Ray Flynn. This group set the tone for the glory days of the 80s which were highlighted by a World Record for the 4 x 1 Mile relay set in Dublin in 1985. That time of 15:49.99 still stands as a World Record. The following year, Ireland had 8 active Milers who had run 3:55 or faster.

Niall could be considered the George Harrison of the group.  He was quiet and a little distant and only stood out by his action and competitiveness when the first chord was played. He was thoughtful and deliberate and was a great friend and ally to those who knew him. Much like George Harrison, Niall was the forgotten member of the Irish Milers club; likely because he walked away from the sport at the pinnacle of his abilities at just 24.

I first met Niall at St. Munchin’s College in Limerick. We were boarders 5 years apart in age. He was a prefect and a top athlete. He set numerous North Munster and Munster records and was coached by the school President, Fr. Ger MacNamee. He was everything an 11 year old wanted to be. At the end of my first school year, Niall won the European Catholic Student Games in Vittel, France and accepted a scholarship to the University of Arkansas.

A few years later, having shown some running promise myself, I was invited to the priests’ quarters one evening to watch a grainy VHS recording of Niall O’Shaughnessy taking on the world in the U.S. Invitational Meet at the famous Madison Square Garden. Two weeks previously, Niall had run the second fastest time ever in the world for the Mile – 3:55.4.  He was running against Dick Buerkle who had been dominant on the U.S. Indoor circuit for a number of years. Niall sprinted away at the bell and won the 1500m in 3:39.8. Niall was only 5’6”, but he had enormous grit and possessed a spectacular kick. It was a great achievement to win at the Garden as a college kid, and I immediately knew I wanted to follow Niall to Arkansas.

Niall was very fastidious and organized. His whole life was planned in terms of decades and not weeks like the rest of us teenagers. When John McDonnell, the legendary coach of the University of Arkansas, came to Adare to recruit him, it was Niall who laid out the conditions for him to accept a scholarship. He told John that while in school, education would come first and running second, and after graduation work would come first. The quote from the forgotten Beatle – “when you don’t know were you are going, any road will get you there” did not apply to Niall O’Shaughnessy. He knew precisely where he was going and the exact road he would take.

Continue reading at:

Tags: niall o'shaughnessy (1) , frank o'mara (5)

Facebook Comments

Return the Mile to prominence on the American & worldwide sports and cultural landscape by elevating and celebrating the Mile to create a movement.

Bring Back the Mile as the premier event in the sport, and increase interest in and media coverage of the Mile for both those who love the distance as well as the general public.

Bring Back the Mile to celebrate the storied distance and to recognize the people who made and make the Mile great and to promote Mile events and the next generation of U.S. Milers.

Bring Back the Mile to create a national movement for the Mile as America’s Distance,
to inspire Americans to run the Mile as part of their fitness program and to replace the 1600 meters at High School State Track & Field Meets across the country.

Become a Mile Maniac member or a BBTM sponsor today! Join us, and go Mile!

Join Us

Thanks for joining the movement and being a Mile Maniac. We'll keep you up to-date with our Mile wires as well as exclusive contests and opportunities. Help us spread the word by sharing our site and joining us on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram!