Monday, 8 February 2016


Thanks to Midleton & District News for this lovely article in their latest edition, by John Walshe:


Tuning in to C103 FM last Sunday week a few minutes before seven in the evening, the familiar tones of John Cashman announced that Neilus Aherne had taken the M60 title at the GloHealth Athletics Ireland National Masters Cross-Country, writes John Walshe.

The first thought was, ‘Neilus Aherne, over 60? – that can’t be right’. But yes, it was true as the Ladysbridge man had reached that milestone - now known as the ‘new 40’ – just five days before. With a bronze team medal from the M55 category at the previous year’s championship, the Midleton AC athlete travelled to Dundalk not knowing what to expect from his new age-group. “I suppose I would have been delighted with a medal of any description, so to win the gold I’m absolutely thrilled – I’m still pinching myself,” admitted the still-elated Neilus this past week.

With over 250 runners ranging in age from over-35 to over-75 in the 7km race, it was extremely difficult to know where you were in relation to those in your age-group. When the initial results were displayed, Neilus was placed in second position. “When the results were put up on wall, there was another runner ahead of me,” he explained. “Then someone said to me I’d won so I asked Paddy Buckley [Cork team manager] to double check and he arrived back out and said ‘you’re number one’, and shook my hand.”

With a time of 28:44, Neilus finished over a half-minute clear of Derry runner Gerry O’Doherty and he was one of only three Cork runners to win individual titles at the Louth venue, the others being Leevale athletes Tim Twomey (M35) and Carmel Parnell (F60). Although there is no M60 team contest at this level, Neilus’ brilliant performance can be put into perspective when you realise he was the first scorer on the Cork M50 team who finished in fifth position.  

In a long career which has seen the man from the ‘Bridge compete with distinction over a variety of distances, it all began at the age of 12 when he first joined the Youghal club, as he recalled a number of years ago. “I first started off with Youghal but then I went to boarding school to St Colman’s where the hurling took over. I played in a few Harty Cup games while there and when I finished college I played with Fr O’Neill’s, although we didn’t win a whole lot in those days.”

Neilus was in his early thirties before the attraction of running lured him back. He remembers his first marathon, the Cork event of over 30 years ago, for a rather special reason: “My brother Dick was one of the first from this area to run a marathon but sadly he died a year later so Michael Holland and myself decided to run the Cork and Dublin events in his memory that year,” he remembers. Five years ago, he ran both the Longford and Dublin marathons and in the latter achieved the ultimate ambition of any club runner when breaking the three-hour barrier, his chip time showing 2:59:55.

There is another marathon, however, that’s firmly etched in Neilus’ mind. It was the Olympic Games of Los Angeles in 1984 where John Treacy won a famous silver medal for Ireland. “I was working in Sydney on a pipeline at the time and we were listening to the radio commentary of the marathon. Robert de Castella was the great Australian hope but as we listened we heard how Jerry Kiernan and Treacy were moving up the field and when Treacy crossed the line in second place, I can tell you we weren’t long in coming out of the trench to celebrate.”

As that Cork Sports Sunday programme drew to a conclusion, presenter Rory Burke bowed out with a song that was certainly appropriate to the occasion – ‘The Winner Takes It All’ from Abba. For Neilus Aherne earlier that day around the playing fields of Dundalk IT, you could certainly say winning was never as sweet.