Today would have been Ben O’Donnell’s 80th birthday and it’s fair to say he’ll be looking down on the Lifford Athletics facility now named in his memory with immense pride this evening.
The club he helped to found in the 1960s finished the All Ireland Juvenile Championships for 2017 as second top club in Ireland.
Lifford-Strabane AC finished the season as the top juvenile throws club in the country with 13 national medals in the throws.
“Our achievement was made all the more remarkable by the fact that of the 26 juveniles who qualified through Ulster, we came home with 19 medals,” John O’Donnell, one of Ben’s sons who is now one of the club’s coaches, says.
This evening, Lifford-Strabane AC are hosting a celebration this evening at 6.30pm to mark the achievements.
In the National Juvenile Championships this year, Lifford-Strabane AC won 8 gold, 9 silver and 2 bronze.
O’Donnell says: “We were 4th overall club in 2016 with 14 medals so our aim this year was to improve on that. 13 of our medals came in the throws events alone this year – 5 gold, 7 silver and 1 bronze – giving us top throws club nationally on the medal table for the second year in a row ahead of Liscarrol AC from Cork both years.
Lifford-Strabane AC’s 8 gold medals:
Shannon Craig u19 Girls High Jump (John O’Donnell)
Ashleigh McArdle u12 Girls High Jump (Brendan O’Donnell)
Brendan O’Donnell u19 Boys Hammer (John O’Donnell )
Jude McCrossan u15 Boys Hammer (John O’Donnell )
Cormac O’Donnell u14 Boys Hammer (John O’Donnell)
Aine Marie McBride u14 Girls Hammer (John O’Donnell)
Gareth Crawford u19 Boys Javelin (Damien Crawford)
Alan McGinley u19 Boys 1500m (Michael McKinney)
9 silver medals:
Adrienne Gallen u14 Girls Hammer (John O’Donnell )
Ross Henderson u15 Boys Hammer (John O’Donnell )
Ryan Henderson u17 Boys Hammer (John O’Donnell)
Adrienne Gallen u14 Girls Shot Putt (Sharon Foley Gallen )
Una O’Donnell u13 Girls Shot Putt (Sharon Foley Gallen )
Darragh Kirk u16 Boys Javelin (Damien Crawford)
Ellie McCurdy u13 Girls Javelin (Damien Crawford)
Harriet McCrossan u13 Girls 60m
Alan McGinley u19 Boys 800m (Michael McKinney)
2 bronze medals:
Olivia Cuskelly u16 Girls Hammer (John O’Donnell )
Stephen McCallion u18 Boys Triple Jump (Sharon Foley)
On top of that, Brendan O’Donnell – the club’s bluechip athlete (main picture) – won the Under-20 Men’s Hammer throw and Gareth Crawford also took home a javelin title this season.
O’Donnell won international comp in Luxembourg and finished 5th in international meet in Germany as well as attaining European Junior hammer standard in Cork back in May.
O’Donnell made final of Hammer at European Youths Athletics Championships becoming only second Irishman ever to throw over 70m at a major championships (European/World/Olympics) at any level after Declan Hegarty at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles
Emily Neeson (U14 girls shot putt), Jack Moore (U13 boys shot putt) and Rebecca Quinn (U16 boys long jump) won medals at the National Juvenile B Championships this year.
All of them are coached by Sharon Foley-Gallen – one of the finest athletes to come out of this county.
Foley won ten Irish high jump titles during a storied career and still holds the Irish Women’s Senior Record for the heptathlon (5394 points).
Foley competed in the high jump at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart.
O’Donnell says: “We have integrated a number of new coaches into the club in recent years, primarily parents of some of our younger athletes who we have up-skilled and insisted on attaining AAI coaching qualifications.
“Our coaching philosophy is that athletes up until their mid-teens should be given the opportunity to try all event disciplines and not specialise until around 15-16 years of age.
“We have found that sometimes when kids specialise too young, they drop out of athletics sooner or later when success doesn’t follow in their chosen specialised event.
“We also put an emphasis on children engaging in the fundamentals of athletics – agility, balance and coordination – during their younger years which can then be applied to all event disciplines later on.
“Our success this year is evidence that this philosophy is working.
“Our experienced coaches help up skill our newer coaches and we ensure that we have the capacity to coach all athletics disciplines, from throws to jumps from endurance to Hurdles, sprints and middle distance, we coach them all which is evidenced by the National medals won this year in a variety of athletics disciplines.”
Shannon Craig (High Jump), Tom Mullen (400m Hurdles) and Conor Breslin (Hammer) all represented Ireland at the SIAB Schools International in England in July 2016
O’Donnell (Hammer) and Crawford (Javelin) both represented Ireland at Celtic Games International in August 2016 in Wales, both athletes winning their respective events.
Liffird-Strabane AC had five athletes on Ulster team for Tailteann Games Interprovincial back in June: Aine Marie McBride and Olivia Cuskelly in the Girls Hammer, Jude McCrossan in Boys Hammer, Xavier McCann in Boys Javelin and Tom Mullen in Boys 400m Hurdles.
Young Darragh Kirk was selected to represent Irish Development Team in the Javelin at the Celtic Games International in Dublin in August.
These were just some of the many highlights.
Their amalgamation with the Strabane Track Club helped to take the club to new levels and the addition of coaches like Damien Crawford, who won several titles in his own career, to men like O’Donnell – a competitive high jumper in his time – has given it a real edge.
Around 15 coaches work with the juvenile athletes. The club has in excess of 300 members, with around 150 of those at juvenile level.
The old line about building it and they’ll come rings true around the Ben O’Donnell track.
“We are blessed to gave facilities second to none,” John O’Donnell says.
“We have an Olympic standard 400m tartan track. It is the same tartan that was laid for both the Beijing and London Olympics – a Mondo track, which is renowned for fast times and performances.
“The Italian crew which laid our track was the very Crew that laid the track in London for the 2012 Olympics just prior to ours.
“Until 2012, we had a 400m all weather track which was laid in 1972 and which incidentally was only the second ever all weather track in Ireland after the famous Morton Stadium in Santry.
“The new track contains a full tartan high jump area, full tartan long jump, triple jump, pole vault and Javelin run ups as well as a very fast shot putt circle.
“Just this year we erected an international standard hammer throw and discus cage, the only one of its kind in the county.
“We have all the resources associated with hosting provincial and national Championships including full set of hurdles for 7 Lane 400m hurdles events, pole vault landing area, high jump landing area and steeplechase barriers and water jump.”
Associated facilities in the gym, cardiovascular room and indoor work have all aided the medals flow and the club also struck up a partnership with the Naomh Colmcille GAA club in Newtown, using their facilities for developing athletics and athletes in the Newtown, St Johnston and Carrigans areas.
Ben O’Donnell was a man before his time in the athletics world. He had the likes of Sharon Foley, Liam Doherty, Malcolm McCausland, Pauric McKinney, Louise McGettigan and Gerard Dunne under his wing.
He was coach of the year in 1993 and welcomed teams from Germany and Finland to the land in Lifford he helped to purchase for the club.
His legacy lives on and continues to grow.Tags: