THE OLD Kilmacrennan Parish Sports saw the start of it all: a chance meeting that would shape history.
Danny McDaid recalls that he was 23 or 24 when the proposition was made by Paddy Marley from Cranford to join the world of competitive athletics.
In the early 60s, the sum total of Danny’s competitive involvement in the sport comprised of the Sunday afternoons when he and a group of friends from Glenswilly would travel around the local events in the parish sports.
From Sessiaghoneill to Cranford, from Portnablagh to Kilmacrennan, Danny was a regular victor and was well known by the time he was presented with the chance to join the newly-formed Cranford Athletic Club.
“There was no organised athletics in the county at the time,” he said.
“We were going around the parish sports and I would have been winning a lot of the time.
“But the Cranford boys had the advantage that they were training, whereas I was going from Sunday to maybe two weekends later having done nothing.
“I met a guy from Cranford, Paddy Marley, at the sports in Kilmacrennan, and the rest as they say is history…”
He’s a World Cross Country silver medalist and a four-time National Marathon Champion, among many other titles.
A retired postman, Danny is married to Kathlenn (nee Gillespie from Milford). The couple were married a week after Danny pounded the streets of Montreal in the Olympic Games in 1976.
“I was a late beginner, but I was fortunate that I ended up having a very long career,” Danny said.[adrotate group=”46″]
“I was running very well and competing with the best in Ireland until I was 46 or 47 and would have been running the world standard for 10,000 metres when I was 46.”
His international career began in 1969 and lasted until 1981.
In that 12-year period, spanning three decades, Danny ran 9 World Cross Country Championships, two European Marathons and two Olympic Games – 1972 in Munich and 1976 in Montreal.
“There were far more ups that downs,” said Danny, who was Donegal’s last Olympian before Chloe Magee and Philip Deignan competed in Beijing in 2008.
“I enjoyed the 1972 Olympics, the atmosphere in the Olympic Village and they way we were looked after,” he said.[adrotate group=”81″]
“We were amateur athletes who turned professional for a month. We got back to amateur again quite quickly and were back working our 40-hour weeks. Now, anyone competing at that level has to be a professional and are full-time athletes.
“Probably what gave me most satisfaction was where I came from. Most of the international teams, practically all of them and my team-mates would have got scholarships in America and would go through university and wouldn’t hold down a job until they’re 23.
“We were amateur and we didn’t have the professional coaching or the
medical back-up. It was really one-day a year that we were the pros.
“Nowadays there is nothing left to chance with blood tests, checking iron levels or whatever.”[adrotate group=”38″]
He ran Munich in 2 hours 22 minutes, but was hampered by injury before Montreal. Before travelling to Canada, he ran 2:13:06 in March of ‘76, a time that would have earned him a top six place in the Olympics.
Once he recovered, he was back to his best in double-quick time, coming eighth in the New York marathon later that year.
In a preview of the Boston Marathon in 1979, the Boston Globe reported that the ‘top foreign entries’ would be the likes of Mario Cuevas of Mexico, Jose de Jesus of Puerto Rico, Vilho Paajanaen of Finland, Rich Hughson of Canada and one Danny McDaid.
He competed in a lot of the big city marathons.
“Every couple of weeks, I would have been in France, Belgium or wherever,” he said.
“I was working in a full-time job, though. I would be only back on a Monday night from, say, Paris, and the secretary could ring me up and tell me about a race in Belgium.[adrotate group=”37″]
“Unfortunately the first things I had to think on were: will I get off work? When can I get to Dublin? What about flights? Will I get back for work, if not for Monday, certainly on Tuesday?”
The Olympics were the highlights of a glittering career, but perhaps the crown on the achievements list was captaining Ireland to a World Cross Country silver medal in 1979.
“If I had to pick the best moment it would probably be competing in the Olympic Games they are two different things though,” Danny mused, though ‘79 in Limerick still holds a place close to the heart.
He said: “Cross country was huge at the time. All over Europe, it was the main event of the year and distance runners’ lives were built around it.
John Treacy won it in Glasgow in 1978 and we had already been allocated in ’79 – there was real hype about it, the build-up was big for the winter, getting the team ready.”[adrotate group=”53″]
He had been running well at the time. He finished 31st in Glasgow and felt he, along with the rest of the team, could really step it up.
“I always feel that we could have won in Glasgow had all of us been up to form,” he mentioned.”
The build-up for Limerick was huge and Danny was helped along by the timely post office strike.
It lasted 19 weeks from February and it could hardly have been timed better – the Cross Country Championships were in March.
“We had been down to the course in the New Year and were all ready for it on the weekend of it,” he said.
“We went down on the Friday and trained on the course on the Saturday. It was bone dry, but it rained from the minute we came off it to half-way through the race and it was a quagmire.
“We were in good shape and I knew I was running well – I hadn’t run a bad race all winter.”
The Irish team read like a who’s who of Irish athletics: Danny McDaid, John Treacy, Gerry Deegan, Mick O’Shea, Donie Walsh, Eamon Coughlan, Tony O’Brien et al.[adrotate group=”60″]
Danny finished eleventh and Ireland won silver.
“It was good to have it in Limerick, it was at home and we were relaxed – of course it rained as well!”
Born in 1941, the fourth child of Pat and Maggie McDaid of Fahykeen,
Glenswilly, Danny became National Marathon Champion on four occasions.
The first was in 1970 at Ballinamore, County Leitrim and his best marathon time came nine years later in Limerick when a time of 2:13:06 ranked him 14th in the world.
These are perhaps eclipsed by the victory on home soil in 1983, when he crossed the finish line at the Community Centre on the Pearse Road, some three minutes ahead of his nearest challenger.
“It was good on the way back with no-one breathing down my neck!”