All’s well that ends well for Vinny’s belle

Clontarf Harriers’ annual women’s two-mile race concludes in a somewhat unusual fashion

As he opened his canvas fold-up seat, and squatted down for duty, it struck Vinny Fitzpatrick the fine folk of Clontarf Harriers were not as far-sighted as they should be.

Who else, he mused, would stage their annual track and field gathering for the Danesfort Dish to coincide with the final day of the European Athletics Championship?

The overlap had come to light too late to source an alternative date so the Harriers head honchos just moved everything forward at Clontarf Cricket Club by several hours.

The intention was to finish by 2.0pm, in time for the men’s 1,500m final in Zurich involving the two Irish lads.


For Vinny, it prompted a tardy retreat from Foley’s the night before, where he’d taken silent pleasure at the misery of the Manchester United regulars, stunned by the opening day home loss to Swansea.

Apart from Wayne Rooney, United looked abject and Vinny felt they were crying out for a new system, quality players and an injection of self-belief. Good luck with all that, Lord Louis, he thought.

Having cut short his quota at six pints, the burly bus driver was in chipper form on arrival at the start-finish line for his role as senior campanologist. For all races of more than 440 yards, Vinny’s job was to tap a mallet against an old ship’s bell to alert the runners they were on their last lap, if not their last legs.

It was a ceremonial role, which fell into Vinny's, er, lap when the previous bell-ringer, Alf 'Tupper' Warburton, keeled over with a seizure during the men's mile in the late 1980s. As Tupper, a right tough of the track, was being treated by the Malta Ambulance, the race continued for a circuit more than needed.

Late teens

In his pomp, Vinny had been a regular in the singlet of Mount Prospect, one of five Clontarf boroughs invited by the Harriers to compete for the Danesfort Dish – the others were Kincora, Vernon, Seafield and Furry Park.

Vinny's forte was stamina and he had been placed in the men's three-miler for several years from his late teens on. Indeed, but for Legs Crossan, who once ran against Noel Carroll, he might even have won once or twice.

As was custom, the day’s programme reflected the colonial origins of the Harriers. All races were run over the Imperial distance: the 100-yard dash, 200-yard dash, quarter-mile, half-mile, mile, two-mile and three-mile.

There were a relays too, and a handful of field events on the nearby rugby pitch, such as discus, javelin, hammer as well as the high jump.

As the programme jogged along, Vinny rapped the bell with gusto. He felt like the guy who used to appear before the Rank films he watched as a kid in the flicks in Fairview – if not quite as toned.

On this day, Vinny had a keen interest in the penultimate race on the card, the women's two-miler, which involved Angie's daughter, Emma. Two months shy of her 21st birthday, the Trinity College law student was as bright as a button, and a fair looker too – almost in her mother's Lauren Bacall league, thought Vinny.

From early on, it was clear Mount Prospect would not be dining off the Danesfort Dish yet, even so, Vinny hunched forward in his seat as Emma, and her four rivals, were called to attention.

“Go on Emma, my son,” he said aloud, as the starter blew his whistle.

Conserving energy

The early pace was sedate, which was probably wise as a head-wind gusted down the far straight. Shifting on his seat, Vinny appreciated the way Emma was tucked in to third place, shielded from the draft, conserving energy.

So often, tactics decided distance races, Vinny felt. Against older, more experienced opponents such as these, Emma needed to play her cards as late as possible.

With a fine crowd ringing the grassy oval, a trio of runners pulled clear. With three laps to go, the elegant Vernon athlete picked up the pace; in her wake was the pint-sized Furry Park runner, with Emma slightly adrift in third. “Go Emma go. Do it for Mount Prospect,” called out a voice which Vinny recognised as Angie’s.

Around they went, the order unchanged, the tension heightening. Through a hand-held bullhorn, Lofty Peake, the Harriers secretary, stirred up the fervour.

"Here they come, Vera Briggs, Gwen Dunlop and Emma Mooney. Let's hear it for them," chirruped Lofty.

And then, a strange thing happened. Not that many present thought anything of it, such was their focus on the three sets of legs pounding the springy turf.

The bell for the last lap rang out; loud and shrill across the Dublin 3 suburbs. As it resonated, the roar of the crowd rose to such an extent that something Lofty Peake tried to say was drowned out.

His job done, Vinny was instantly off his trotters. “Go on Emma,” he yelled.

Down the back straight they went. At the 200-yard mark, Vera pinned her ears back and kicked for home, with gritty Gwen at her shoulder. They were five yards clear of Emma, who hadn’t moved a muscle.

Turning for home, the leaders were at full pelt, arms flailing, legs pumping. For all their grimacing, victory was surely between them.

Intent clear

And then, on the outside, a tall, slender, figure appeared, spanning the gap, her stride even; the intent clear.

Within seconds, the race was turned on its head as Emma, her kick decisive, breasted the tape a yard clear of her rivals.

For Vinny, there were echoes of Dave Wottle’s throttle in Munich in ’72 when the Yank with the cap came from last to first to win gold.

Tears filled his eyes as his step-daughter was gathered into the arms of her joyous Mount Prospect team-mates.

A few minutes later, Lofty Peake intoned. “And the winner of a thrilling women’s two-mile, in a record time of ten minutes 28 seconds is . . . Emma Mooney of Mount Prospect.”

After Emma stepped down from the rostrum, Vinny gave her a bear-hug. “Fair play Emma, and a record too. What about that then?”

Emma gave Vinny a wink. “Fancy that. Then again, it helped that we only ran seven laps.” At that, Vinny pointed a finger skywards and grinned. “That’s for you, Tupper. We’re quits now.”