Running is in the blood for top athletics coachJanuary 20, 2012 - 9:00am
GALWAY City Harriers’ PJ Coyle is to be honoured for his contribution to athletics at the 47th annual Galway Sports Stars Awards in the Ardilaun Hotel this Saturday evening. So engrained has he become in the fabric of the sport locally, it is an accolade he justly deserves.
Over the past two decades or so, thousands of athletes in Galway City and its surrounds have benefitted from the guidance of Coyle, who is not only an inspiring coach but also a founder member of the juvenile section of Galway City Harriers – or GCH as they are also known.
Some may wonder why Coyle continues to give up his time towards the advancement of the youth, particularly given his two sons, Ronan and Ruairí, have graduated from the juvenile academy.
However, athletics for him has forever been in his blood . . . ever since those dark evenings in the early 1970s, when he could be seen running out the Old Armagh Road in his native Monaghan, his silhouette – and those of his companions – framed in the headlights of his coach’s car. The former St. Macartan’s College student was committed though – his second-place finish in the Ulster U-18s 1,500m in his youth reinforcing the measure of his endeavours.
It was this love of the sport that led to his decision to take up study in UCG in 1972. Granted, his sister Maria was already a student at the university, but so dominant was the third level institution in athletics, particularly cross country, at the time it seemed to be the next logical step for him in terms of honing his talent.
Liam Kavanagh – who, coincidentally, also received the same Special Dedication Sports Star award in 1993 that Coyle will collect this Saturday – was to prove “a great influence” on his and many other careers at the College, taking the athletes out for runs a couple of times a week.
“He brought us along,” says Coyle. “That first year in college we won the county novice, Connacht novice, the county intermediate, Connacht intermediate, county junior and Connacht junior. We swept the boards. We had a lot of great runners,” says the former Arts student.
Indeed, Coyle arrived at the university at a time they were dominating inter-varsity cross country, all but owning the Green Fox trophy. “I think we had a run of six straight victories,” he recalls.
“Around that time, though, you had the likes of Gerry Staunton from Kinvara, Joe Scanlon (former Irish 5,000m champion), Brian Geraghty (former mile star), John O’Connor from Craughwell, Seamus Keehan from Gort, John B. Doherty from Donegal and Brendan O’Neill from Carlow.
There were a lot of other strong runners. We had a very good squad.”
After university, Coyle spent some time in London, where he ran with London Irish, competing in both the 1,500m and 5,000m. He later returned to Ireland and Galway and joined Galway City Harriers. In the subsequent years, Coyle – who won an All-Ireland intermediate cross country title with Galway in 1978 – has enjoyed many successes and excelled in many events, from cross country to marathon.
Indeed, the marathon was a new departure for Coyle in the early ’80s, but true to his spirit – and his passion for running – he proved to be a solid competitor. He ran the first three Dublin City Marathons and in 1983, the then 27-year-old posted a notable time of 2hrs 29mins to finish in the top 25.
In 1984, Coyle underlined his pedigree when winning the County Galway senior cross country championships, before Gerry Reilly of Loughrea stripped him of his title the following year when the two fought out a tremendous duel over the final lap of the seven-and-a-half-mile event at Loughrea Golf Course.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.