Seán Hehir becomes first Irishman to win since John Treacy 20 years ago
Maria McCambridge has to call on all her strength and endurance to close 50-second gap on Clare McCarthy
Seán Hehir has that winning feeling in the Airtricity Dublin Marathon. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Emil Zatopek always said the marathon begins around 20 miles. Sometimes that’s also where it ends. Here, it was where the race for victory was both won and lost, the turning point for the first Irish men’s winner of the Dublin Marathon in 20 years.
Because when Seán Hehir slowly closed up on Joe Sweeney, then swiftly overtook him, the race was indeed over – Hehir running the last six and a bit miles in cruise control, winning handsomely in 2:18:19.
Not since John Treacy survived a minor hamstring cramp in the last mile to win the 1993 edition had Dublin produced an Irish men’s winner, the mix of utter relief and joy on Hehir’s face proof of how special it felt to end that long wait.
That feeling was shared by Maria McCambridge, the first Irish women’s winner since Sonia O’Sullivan, 13 years ago – her relief partly explained by the fact she’d been forced to make a bathroom stop, around 18 miles, during which she was passed by Clare McCarthy.
Aged 38, McCambridge had to call on all her strength and endurance to close the 50-second gap, the Dubliner eventually hitting the front again in the last two miles, winning in 2:38:51.
Both Hehir and McCambridge are coached by former three-time Dublin Marathon winner Dick Hooper from Raheny, who’s always instilled the importance of winning first, worrying about times later, and Hehir didn’t disappoint on that.
And even if he wasn’t quite the hometown victor, if felt as good as: living in Dublin for the last decade, running with the Rathfarnham club, and teaching at Scoil Mhuire Gan Smal in Inchicore, Hehir was greeted at the finish by several family members from his hometown of Kilkishen, in Clare, including his mother Cushla, herself a former distance runner of some quality.
His Clare roots, especially given the year they’ve had, also demanded hurling had some say, and Hehir didn’t disappoint on that, either: not only is he a former class-mate of All-Ireland winning captain, Pat Donnellan, but his father, also Sean, played centre-back alongside Ger Loughnane and Sean Stack on the revered and much-feared 1978 league-winning team, which helps explain his hardiness for marathon running.
The absence of any elite international runners – not invited this year because of initial budgetary constraints – made for a more tactical if not cautious race, and the 28-year-old Hehir, who was second Irish finisher last year, in 2:17:19, 13th overall, made his experience count: Sweeney, in contrast, was making his marathon debut, his lack of experience, particularly when surging ahead around 18 miles, coming back to haunt him, even if he hung tough to finish second in 2:19:26
Both runners also had to contend with a stiff headwind in the closing miles, although the winter storm steered well clear, and it felt more like a day borrowed from spring.
“Around 12 miles I could feel Joe was itching to go, but I decided to keep my cool,” said Hehir. “I remember last year I got a little undone towards the end, and didn’t want that to happen again. I just kept within myself, even when Joe opened the gap.
“Even then I got past him my legs were buckling a little, starting to cramp, and I’d a little incident with a cyclist around 22 miles, as well. It was a bit of a struggle over the last few miles, but I have to say, the support was incredible, a great help.
“I got a glimpse of Joe, behind me, with four miles to go, and could never let up. But it was all about the win.
“I’ve been living here in Dublin for over 10 years, since I was 17, and to win this race, absolutely delighted. We do have a great marathon tradition. We’d a talk with John Treacy, about two years ago, as part of the Dublin Marathon Mission, where he spoke about what it’s like to win Dublin. Only coming round the final corner did I really believe I would win. It’s a very special feeling, it really is.”
Hehir might have been some 10 minutes outside the course record of 2:08:33, set two years ago by Kenya’s Geofrey Ndungu, but he was rewarded with a new Renault Fluence ZE electric car – valued at €30,000.
McCambridge also won herself a new Renault, while McCarthy ran well to take second place in 2:39:27, a full nine minutes quicker than her previous best, with Pauline Curley third.
“It’s a great feeling to win my home town marathon, something I’ve always wanted to do,” said McCambridge. “It was tough, having to take a pit stop around 18 miles. My legs just started to go on me as well, but I’m very proud now to have finally won Dublin.”