Irish Gather Anew for Millrose Meet
By Ray O'Hanlon
The Irish Echo
February 1st, 2012
The "chairman" returns to the Millrose Games.
As famous running foursomes go, this one ranks at the very top in the storied history of Irish track.
And three of the four will be on hand a few days from now at the famed Millrose Games, this year being staged in the cozy confines of the Armory in Upper Manhattan.
Back in the summer of 1985, and under a blue sky as opposed to a roof, the four, Eamonn Coghlan, Marcus O’Sullivan, Frank O’Mara and Ray Flynn flew around the Belfield track at University College Dublin chasing a world record.
The run, which was in support of the aid agency goal, was in pursuit of something rarely pursued: the world four by one mile relay record.
But the mid-1980s was something of a golden era for Irish middle distance running. Not only were the organizers able to assemble a world class quartet to go after the record, but they added three other top class quartets to push it to the new mark.
Put it this way, the “B” team on that day included Olympic silver-medalist John Treacy.
Still, there were no guarantees. A big crowd had turned up and it was excited and highly expectant. The pressure was on for sure.
Failure to nail the record would have been, no doubt about it, a major disappointment. But the “fab four” did not disappoint and duly laid claim to the record of 15.49.08. It stands to this day.
On Friday, Feb. 11, three of the record holding quartet will be together again at the 105th Millrose Games, though in non-running capacities this time around.
One of them, Longford native and now Tennessee resident Ray Flynn, is the meet director and the man who has been working overtime in recent months to assemble a top class array of athletes, one that will ensure a capacity crowd in a venue that is considerably more compact, thus easier to fill, than the longtime Millrose home, Madison Square Garden.
Flynn, a double Irish Olympian who set, and still holds, the outdoor Irish mile record of 3:49.77 (set in 1982 at the Bislett Games Dream Mile in Oslo) lives in Johnson City, Tennessee where he, well, runs Flynn Sports Management.
Flynn, now 54, also runs “most days,” though purely for recreation.
Flynn says he is excited at the prospect of the Millrose Games making their debut at the Armory, in large part because the track there is faster than the MSG boards.
“There is a new generation of athletes comfortable running on fast 200 meter tracks,” Flynn told the Echo in a phone interview.
“We have a whole array of great events lined up and everyone is very excited about the Armory. You really hear the noise from the crowd which brings out the best from the athletes. It’s a very intimate and exciting arena,” he said.
Flynn, like virtually all the great Irish middle distance runners of his generation, brought his running abilities to peak by attending a U.S. university, in his case East Tennessee State.
His fellow record breakers on that day in Belfield also ran track for American universities. The names of Coghlan and O’Sullivan are indelibly linked to Villanova, while Frank O’Mara ran for the University of Arkansas, and still lives in Little Rock.
While Flynn has overall responsibility for the Millrose meet, he is taking a particular interest in the reunion with Coghlan and O’Sullivan. One unique aspect of the Millrose tradition is that it combines events for world class professional track and field stars, along with competition for college and high school athletes.
And this year’s college component of the meet is sparking the reunion.
Eamonn Coghlan, seven-time champion in the Millrose marquis event, the Wanamker Mile, and the only one of the record-holding four currently living in Ireland, is flying the Atlantic in the company of a squad from Dublin City University which will compete in the Byron Dyce College Men’s Distance Medley Relay.
The DCU squad, coached by Enda Fitzpatrick, has been hailed as Ireland’s middle distance running dream team. It’s made up of Mark English Brian Gregan, Darren McBrearty and, no great surprise, Eamonn Coghlan’s son, John.
“I’ve known these kids since they were young teenagers. I’ve seen them grow up. The fact that they are all in school together, they can see what running in New York City is all about. It’s exciting for their team from Dublin University to go to the Millrose Games and have a chance to do exceptionally well,” said Coghlan in a Millrose advance release.
“The Irish used to come to the Millrose Games to support me, Marcus O’Sullivan (five Wanamaker titles) and Ron Delany (four). People are not aware of the talent coming out of Ireland. It might get them back on the scene again,” said Coghlan.
Last year, Coghlan suggested to Armory Foundation president, Dr. Norb Sander, the idea of bringing an Irish Team to this year’s Millrose event.
“I said we need a bit of the Irish influence back in the Millrose Games,” Coghlan explained.
Sander didn’t need much persuading. Indeed, the Irish presence on Feb. 11 will extend beyond the visitors from Dublin.
Marcus O’Sullivan, who is head track coach at Villanova, will be bringing a team, and there will be other college teams turning up from Virginia, Duke, Providence, Columbia and Albany. Providence is coached by Ray Treacy, John’s brother.
This week, as a warm-up for the Millrose meet, the Irish visitors will be participating individually in the New Balance Collegiate Invitational (Feb 3-4) at the Armory.
For Coghlan, now and for ever “the chairman of the boards,” the return to New York is a cause for celebration, and not a small degree of paternal pride given the participation of his son.
“My role is as a parent, coach and a nervous dad. I just want to be with Norb and help keep the Millrose Games going. Enda would like my influence to be with the kids the day before and calm them down, motivate them, and help them get ready,” he said.
“The Millrose Games are close to my heart for obvious reasons. My success in the Millrose Games has been the making of Eamonn Coghlan. Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t say something to me about winning the Wanamaker Mile.”
Ray Flynn is hoping that many people will remember Coghlan’s extraordinary feats when the Wanamaker was run at MSG and flock to the Armory, for old time’s sake, as well as to see close up an array of present day and future track and field heroes.
“Eamonn and DCU, Marcus and Villanova, Ray and Providence, as well as others, will be keeping alive the legacy of the Irish at the Millrose Games. It promises to be a great night,” Flynn said.
Tickets for the Millrose Games can be purchased online at www.armorytrack.com. More information on the meet can be found at www.millrose-games.org.