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Monday, July 15, 2024

Sportsworld Running Club History

Researched and written by Sean O’Byrne, February 2016


In 1983, the year of the first Women’s Mini Marathon, a small group of ladies met for the first time under “the tree” next to the Bushy Park entrance beside Our Lady’s School. They came to train for the 10k distance, a daunting prospect for many as very few had ever run before. Nevertheless help, coaching and advice was on hand from one Emily Dowling, an International and National athlete who has been involved in sport all her life.


Sportsworld team in 1984 & running the 1986 Dublin Mini Marathon

A senior International Cross Country runner for Dublin City Harriers (DCH) for many years, Emily has completed 5 World Cross Country Championships on the Irish Team, won the Dublin City Marathon in 1981 in 2h 48m 22s, was a Gold Medal winner in the World Cross Country Masters (O50) 5000m in Oregan USA, and has competed in the World Senior Marathon Championships in Japan and Australia.


Emily Dowling Racing (center in Sportsworld Singlet)

Emily also held the course record for 16 years for the Ballycotton 10mile Road Race, with a time of 56.00mins. She was ably assisted by her husband, the former Olympic boxer Mick Dowling. Mick had competed at Bantamweight on the Irish Team in both the 1972 Munich Olympics and the 1968 Mexico Olympics after winning 8 consecutive titles in 1968 and European Bronze Medals in 1969 and 1971.


Mick Dowling sparring with his opponent from the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, Cuban Orlando Martinez,  in Havana in 2015

Mick retired from the sport in 1975 after winning 8 National Senior Bantamweight titles. Also around at the time was a fellow DCH club-mate and friend of Emily, Ailish Smyth who went on to compete for Ireland in the Marathon in the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. So those first Sportsworld members certainly had quality coaching from the beginning.


Ailish Smyth (3rd from right) departing with the 1988 Olympic Squad at Dublin Airport. Photo from the Dublin City Council Photographic Collection

Some original members included:

Ruth McGann, Tony McGann, Deirdre Steadman, Ann McGrail, Ann Kissane, John Kissane John Delany, Vera Delany, Jackie Wright, Nessa Waldron, Kathleen Dempsey, Tommy Dempsey (Dec) Ann Cowzer, Alan Cowzer, James Wright, Mary Whelan, Adam Jones, Dr. John Walsh (Dec), Anne Mulveney, Basil Kennedy, Eilish Barry, Rita Reid, Mick West, Anne Murphy, Maeve Foy, Veronica Boylan, Teresa Mullen, Carol Lynch, Paddy Lynch, Frank Kelly and more.

Sportsworld 1988

Group Photo around 1992


1983 to 2005

Early Years

The Group continued to meet and train after the first Mini-marathon was completed, gathering at ‘the tree’ in Bushy Park in the summer and the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Templeville Rd\Springfield Rd junction during the first winter (you run by it at the start of the Terenure Lap in training), because the street lighting in the vicinity was good.

the tree

That infamous tree in Bushy Park – still in use today as a start point for sessions

In the winter of 1983\4 the club was able to use the facilities of St Pauls School, Greenhills, Walkinstown and this link with the school continued for 28 years with it being the registration and prize-giving venue for the Sportsworld 5 Mile Classic Road Race.  


From 1986 the winters were spent using the facilities of Mike Dowling’s Boxing Club on Mount Tallant Ave, Kimmage.  Sprint training was held in the car-park of Rathfarnham Shopping Centre since at the time the centre closed at 5.00pm.  The “Ballyboden Lap” was used for longer training runs.  Summer training always centered on Bushy Park as it does today. The club during these years went from strength to strength, gaining many members and losing only a small number each season. Mini-marathon training for new members continued with a new group starting every April organised by Emily. 

In 1987\8 Sportsworld first registered as an Athletics Club with Bord Luthchleas na hEireann (BLE, the forerunner of Athletics Ireland) and formally became Sportsworld A.C. Coincidently Myles Nugent as Secretary of Kilcullen A.C. was at the meeting of the Dublin County Board that considered and eventually accepted Sportsworld’s application.  Mick Dowling served as Chairman and Tony McGann as Secretary.  Later Frank Kelly became President of the club and served for many years, becoming one of only three life-members of the club alongside Mick and Emily.

first board

Ruth & Tony McGann in Lanzarote – Front row far left Tony McGann and front row far right Frank Kelly

The club participated in many away races throughout these years, with coach travel organised by the President Frank Kelly, an owner of Silverdale coaches. (Frank also owned a beautiful classic car, a touring open 2-seater 1940 MG sports car, red in colour. If he gave you a jaunt in the car you were very honoured).


Sportsworld trips to France (top left) and Galway (top right) have contrasting reasons for the umbrellas while Frank & Emily led out the Sportsworld 5 mile classic in style

Club members travelled to the Enniskillen 10k every year for some time. During that period Northern Ireland was a dangerous place to visit as the civil strife, euphemistically referred to as the “troubles” was ongoing. Crossing the border meant driving through a heavily armed area with both the British Army and RUC Police inspecting the coach in both directions.


Checkpoint leaving Northern Ireland

Alcohol was cheaper in the North at the time and the back of the bus as it returned to Dublin resembled an off-licence with “slabs” of Carling, Harp and Carlsberg lining the seats. Not that any of this was consumed prior to our arrival home of course!!!!  Club AGMs during this period were held in various venues around Terenure including CYM Sports Club (Now Terenure Sports Club), Spawell and Terenure Inn.


Just some of the clubs championship winning teams over the years – see the clubs titles page for the full listing

During this period Sportsworld gained many honours for both individual achievements and club team successes. These are recorded elsewhere on the club website (Click Here) and are too numerous to list here. The club had teams running at all levels of competition from Meet and Train to Marathons, as well as at all levels of BLE\A.I. competitions. Club members also ran at Novice, Intermediate and Senior level in National, Leinster and Dublin races. Many members competed for Dublin and other county teams during this period and the club became a regular competitor at races throughout Ireland.

Some notable achievements over these years included club members making Irish teams for international competitions (Click Here) and the winning of National, Leinster and Dublin Titles (Click here).



Internationals clockwise from top left: Lucy D’Arcy, Sandra Gowran, Ed McEntee, Orna Dilworth, Jean Wilson, Helen Dixon, Aoife O’Leary, Carol Lynch

Lanzarote Connection

In 1994 Mick and Emily’s daughter Lisa, a club member also, went to work in Club La Santa in Lanzarote, which began our annual connection with the International Running Challenge held there in the last week in November.


Lisa Dowling with husband Sean at the clubs 25th Anniversary Ball, Club La Santa in Lanzarote & Julie Dowling racing in La Santa green team colours

Over the years club members won many of these races and team events across all age levels.  Hundreds of club members over the years have enjoyed this warm weather week of training\running coupled with sun, sea and sandals (See club Galleries for photos: Click here)

Emily and Mick’s family continued their Club La Santa connection over the years with their sons Mark and Stephen and daughter Julie-Ann also spending time working there. Sportsworld members have made lasting impressions on the disco floor and at karaoke nights, as well as becoming experts on local restaurants and very knowledgeable about a certain golden liquid called Cruz Campo. The Club’s annual week away in La Santa continues to the present day.


Administrative Changes

During these years the structure of the club went through a number of changes. With growing membership and the need to attract sponsors for the 5 mile Classic a formal Club Constitution became necessary. Work on this was completed by members Tony McGann and Sean O’Byrne and was formally adopted by the Club AGM in 2001.


Sean O’Byrne: author of this article and the club constitution!

This gave the club the structure we have in place today, with President, Chairman, Treasurer, Secretary and Club Committee positions. At this time the Club adopted the logo of two runners side by side to go with our red and white club colours. Club tracksuits and tops first became available also.



Winter Facilities

The Boxing club continued to be used for winter facilities until local residents objected about the amount of cars parked in a small suburban area and the Club had to move again, this time to the Tennis Pavilion (the building next door to our current club house) in Bushy Park in 2002. This was totally unsatisfactory as the building had no heating, no showers, toilets only fit for use by the very brave and sometimes no electricity.

Our Own Clubhouse 

Over these years many discussions took place, especially on the long Sunday runs, of the possibility of building a Clubhouse. It was felt to be an impossible dream as the chances of obtaining a site in leafy Terenure close to Bushy Park would simply be beyond Club resources.

However Mick decided to seek a meeting with the Parks and Landscape Services Division of Dublin City Council (DCC) in 2003 to discuss the feasibility of getting a site for a Clubhouse in Bushy Park itself. After some discussion DCC offered two sites, one behind the existing football pavilion and the other at the bandstand. Both of these were unsuitable; the first because of the existence of a stand of oak trees which must not be damaged during any construction work and the second because the low lying area near the bandstand is basically a flood plain for the Dodder river.

clubhouse position

Eventually after further meetings with DCC a site was offered and agreed alongside the existing Tennis Pavilion. This news was amazing and members simply could not believe that a Clubhouse was now no longer a dream, but something that might actually happen.

2004 was a year of meetings and fund raising as the reality of paying for a large building in the park really came home. Finance became all important and it was agreed initially to fund €40,000 from our own resources.  A levy of €150 on each member to “buy a brick” was agreed (indeed, some members contributed much more).  Quiz-nights in Faughs GAA club, bag packing in Tesco’s Rathfarnham organised by Ellen Lavin and other fund raising activities all helped towards reaching our target.


The club was very fortunate to have an Architect, Sarah Davenport as a member at the time. She designed the Clubhouse and the plans drawn up by her were submitted and accepted by DCC after a number of meetings with them.


Sportsworld Architect Sarah Davenport in center (race number 520)

Joe Byrne, a Quantity Surveyor assisted Sarah with this process.  In the meantime Mick had spoken to both the Sports Council and the Minister for Sport John O’Donoghue and an application was made to the National Lottery for funding of €100,000. In November 2004 the news came through we had been granted €80,000.

clubhouse team

Fundraiser Ellen Lavin, Quantity Surveyor Joe Byrne & Project Manager Trevor Lloyd

A builder was sourced; Joe Duke Ltd.  DCC had agreed to match the finance provided by the club and so, with grants of €160,000 and €40,000 of club funds, the construction went ahead. Club member Trevor Lloyd offered his services as an Engineer to project manage the construction over the timeframe of approximately 6 months during the winter of 2004\2005. However, the funding which the Club had started out with was insufficient to completely finish the building.  After further discussions with the Sports Council another application for funding was successful and the Club was granted €25,000. This ensured that the Clubhouse could be finished.



It was agreed that Dublin City Council, as owners of the building, would hand control of the Clubhouse to Sportsworld A.C. on an annual licence basis with conditions attached. This is the situation to the present day.

Sportsworld was now in the position of having not only a Clubhouse in the very park we train in but also having no building debt hanging over us – a  truly marvellous achievement which all club members have benefited from in subsequent years.

clubhouse in bushy

The Clubhouse was officially opened in June 2005. Some members had spent the previous month busily painting and decorating so it was looking fantastic on the beautiful summer’s evening when the Minister for Sport, John O’Donoghue T.D. officially declared it open (Ministers Speech: Click here). Also in attendance was the Deputy Lord Mayor, Andrew Montague.  Many club members attended the celebration and it was a wonderful evening with speeches and wine which marked a fantastic job of work and a new chapter for Sportsworld.


The Official opening with Minister for Sport, John O’Donoghue T.D. and Emily & Mick Dowling

5 Mile Classic Road Race 1985 to 2011

In 1985 under the leadership of Mick Dowling, Sportsworld began a remarkable local event by putting on an international 5 mile road race – The 5 Mile Classic. It became an annual event on a Sunday in May, continuing for 26 years on the same course and becoming synonymous with racing excellence.

The start was on Greentrees Rd\St Peters Rd in Walkinstown and the route was Templeville Rd, Lr Dodder Rd, Terenure Village, Templeogue Rd and back along Templeville to the finish on Greentrees Rd. Mick had chosen the name from a race in the USA that Emily’s brother had run,  called the “Cresent City Classic”.

classic map

The race was also to raise funds for the Children’s Hospital Crumlin where Irish Olympian athlete Eamon Coghlan was Executive Director of Fundraising and Development. This relationship lasted nearly thirty years and well in excess of €250,000 was raised by the participants over that time. In 1985 the men’s winner was Noel Harvey 24:04 with Dick Hooper 2nd in 24:10. Emily Dowling won the women’s race in 27:43 with Deirdre Walsh 2nd in 29:38.

5mile classic

Past winners: the 5000m world champion Ismael Kiriui & world cross country silver medalist Catherina McKiernan

Over the years some great athletes competed in the race: in 1993 the world 5000m champion Ismael Kiriui ran 22:07 for the distance, 1991 Eamon Martin 22:17, 1994 John Treacy 23:06, 1994 Catherina McKiernan 25:43, 1988 Jill Hunter 25:24, 1989 Jerry Kiernan 23:06, 1986 Ailish Smyth 26:50, 2000 Magdalen Chemjor 26:13.  In 1988 1500 runners participated in the race, an indication of its popularity at that time.

The 1989 Sportsworld 5 mile classic highlights on RTE!

For the two years 1995 and 1996 the Race was sponsored by the ESB, at whose request the distance was reduced to 5k. It was held in Dublin city centre, starting and finishing on Merrion Square. The winners in 1995 were James Karuiki 13:38 and Catherina McKiernan 15:35 and in 1996 Rob Denmark 13:30 and Rose Cheruiot 15:12. In 1997 the race returned to the course in Walkinstown\Terenure.

5 mle

Sponsorship was forthcoming for most of the twenty eight years due in no small part to both the networking of Mick Dowling and the tireless efforts of Tony McGann in cajoling club members to bring in sponsorship. Over the years sponsors included Woodies Ltd. Asics, Nike, Insight Ltd. Manor Farm Chickens Ltd.  For 26 years until 2009 the Race Director was Mick Dowling and the Course Director Tony McGann. Tony Mc Gann took the position of Race Director for 2010 and Michael Cunningham took the position for 2011.


However, various changes over time impacted negatively on the Classic Race and these required a response, described below, to enable Sportsworld to continue with an annual event in its home locality of Terenure.

Other Charitable Activities

Sportsworld’s Annual Cake Sale organised by Nessa Waldron has contributed to a number of charities over many years, including Harold’s Cross Hospice and Guide Dogs. Throughout the 90s one of the summer evening’s training sessions was devoted to an egg-throwing and dizzy-stick contest, again to support various charities.


Deirdre Steadman, Ellen Lavin & Nessa Waldron at the 2015 cakesale

2005 to Present

Changing Times

Responsibility for a clubhouse meant that the club always had to have sufficient funds to cover payment of bills, ongoing maintenance and any accidental damage to the building that might occur. Having its own facilities in Bushy Park raised the profile of Sportsworld and encouraged the growth of membership. New members are a feature of nearly every weekly training session, in particular during the summer months. In 2007 the original layout of the building was modified to remove the office area which matched the kitchen area on the opposite side. This necessitated the removal of a wall and re-covering the floor. This modification created the space for the rowing machines and exercise bikes.

2011 saw a major change in the Club’s management with Mick Dowling stepping down as Club Chairman after 28 years. His association with Sportsworld has continued both as Club President and an Honorary Life Member.

mick dowling

Mick Dowling – club chairperson for 28 years and current president 

At the 2011 AGM the election for Chairman had two candidates in the field, Paddy Lynch and Sean O’Byrne. Paddy duly won the election and has been re-elected Chairman in 2013 and 2015.

DSC_0087 (3)Former club chairperson Paddy Lynch 

2013 saw the celebration of 30 years of Sportsworld with a formal dinner to mark the event in the Hilton Hotel on Charlemont Place (For Photo Gallery: Click here & Speech by Conor Kenny: Click here).


At the 2016 AGM Sandra Gowran was voted in as the clubs third chairperson as Paddy Lynch stepped down and was awarded honorary lifetime membership of the club for his exceptional services over the years.

New chairperson Sandra is a long time member of the club and holds Sportsworlds women’s half marathon record of 78min 27seconds, when selected for Irish International duty in Bristol in 2004.

Under her stewardship the club committee has focused on building teams, high performance, upgrading the clubhouse workout zone, club social events and inviting expert speakers (CPR, dietitians, stretching etc).

Current Sportsworld Chairperson Sandra Gowran

From 5 Mile Classic to Terenure 5 Road Race

As time moved on and Irish society changed, the 5 Mile Classic course became difficult to police and to steward.  Sunday trading became a normal part of society bringing an increase in Sunday traffic and the “celtic tiger” period added to this. In addition, construction of the M50 Motorway (which certain Sportsworld members used a number of times for long Sunday morning runs prior to its opening!!) and the opening of the Square Shopping Centre in Tallaght impacted on the race.

The Gardai could no longer hold up traffic on the main routes leading to the motorway and Tallaght, so the Club reluctantly had little option but to change the Classic course in 2009. With a new start time of 9.00am and a new course, numbers were very low and the race costs had to be borne by the Club at a time when little sponsorship was available due to Ireland being in the depths of recession.


A decision was made in 2011\12 to rebrand the race as a community event, the “Terenure 5” and to change the course so as to allow traffic flow on one lane with the runners using the opposite lane. This meant the Guards were prepared to allow a start time of 11.00am. Terenure College was approached and kindly agreed to offer their facilities for registration and prize giving. The Club also decided to allow a Sportsworld Men’s team and Women’s team into the race.

terenure 5aThe Terenure 5  Race has proved a successful event since 2012, with numbers exceeding the 1000 mark each year. In addition the race now has a dedicated webpage (click here), web entry and electronic timing. It requires a dedicated team to work hard to ensure a safe and enjoyable race for all the runners.

The Race must meet the high safety and event management standards of Dublin City Council and the Gardai and costs in the region of €20,000 to stage. Charities supported have included Debra Ireland, Jack and Jill Foundation and Fighting Blindness.

charityClockwise from top left: 2014, 2010 & 2004 charitable donations

The Race Director for 2012 was Tony McGann and from 2013 to 2016 Michael Cunningham has undertaken this role.  The Race Organising Committee Chairman was Trevor Lloyd in 2012\13, Paddy Lynch in 2014\16 and Sandra Gowran 2017\18.

mich cunningham

2013-2018 Race director Michael Cunningham 

Under Michael’s leadership the race has grown year on  year with the 2016 and 2017 editions being a 1500 runner sell out event! The new flat and fast course has proven a hit with elite athletes which the race attracts each year, fun runners and walkers alike.

The 2018 race is scheduled for May 13th and has grown even bigger with a host of additions including finish line spot prizes from a range of local businesses and post race refreshments.

After the 2016 race, Sportsworld Running Club donated €6000 to the Irish Society for Colitis and Crohn’s Disease (ISCC) and in 2017 another €6000 to the Prader Willi Syndrome Association of Ireland!

The 2016 and 2017 Terenure 5 sold out  

Sportsworld Club Leagues

Myles Nugent agreed to organise a number of Club Leagues using a handicap system, the first being held in Tymon Park in 1998. Further leagues were held over the years the last being 2014 using the Terenure Lap. These were a great success with much “discussion” on allotted handicaps. At the 2017 AGM Myles was awarded  honorary lifetime membership of Sportsworld for his exceptional work and coaching at the club! 


Club stalwart & coach Myles Nugent

In 2015 the Club used the Tallaght Track for this event, the format being a men’s and a women’s 1500m race followed by a mixed team event of 4 X 400m (For race report: Click here & Photo Gallery: Click here). Its now a really enjoyable and successful day each year.

track day

The 2015 Club Track event


Back to the Future

Sportsworld has always been much more than simply an Athletics Club which has sporting success as its only goal. The “real” history of Sportsworld is the human one: the friendships made and sustained over many years, relationships established, support in times of adversity, in times of loss, in times of trouble.

In 2018 Emily started her 35th consecutive year coaching Sportsworld runners! This dedicated commitment to the Club and to athletics in Ireland is a remarkable achievement and continues to encourage everybody.



Head Coach Emily Dowling!



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