Today (Wednesday) marks the 50th anniversary of Leitrim’s first major success in Schools Athletics when Pat Joe Leddy, a third year student at St Felim’s College Ballinamore, emerged as the unexpected winner of the Connacht Schools Senior Cross Country Championship.
The school, established in September 1962 on the site of the closed Cavan/Leitrim railway headquarters, had only around eighty student from third year downwards at that time. Over half of those had engaged in internal trial races in the late autumn of 1964.
With the running interest firmly established four students competed in a roadrace in Lanesboro in late November and on Sunday January 24, 1965 a team of six U14s took fourth behind Laytown, Tuam CBS and Garbally College in a team cross country race in Ballinasloe. There followed some local contests in February the first of which was a triangular race with two Carrick schools, Presentation College and Rosary High School, in the Boyle Road Showgrounds.
A week later six schools, Presentation Brothers College, Rosary High School, Mohill Vocational School, Sligo Grammar School and Bishop Hodson Grammar School, Elphin and St Felim’s College, competed for the newly presented Smithwick Cup at the same venue.
It was on this occasion that Pat Joe Leddy showed his potential by winning the race. A short time later he again won when St Felim’s took on St Patrick’s College, Cavan.
The day itself, Wednesday March 10, was dry but cold and a strong breeze blew across the old racecourse when the Intermediate race over two one mile laps took place at 5.30 pm.
Here the St Felim’s team finished fifth on 92 pointswith Kieran McGovern qualifying for a medal. Presentation Brothers College had also joined the Ballinamore school in making their Connacht Schools Cross Country debut and finished 8th on 116 points.
Pat Joe Leddy took an early lead in the three mile Senior race and was never headed. The boy who finished second was later disqualified when it was found that he had “rested” behind a racecourse jump during the second lap. The young Ballinamore team were seventh on 130 points, Presentation Brothers College finished tenth on 161 points.
In addition to Pat Joe Leddy’s gold medal St Felim’s took home two further medals through Kieran McGovern and Thomas Patrick McManus while Presentation Brothers College also had two home with them through the efforts of Brendan Flanagan and John Feely.
Leddy went on to finish 17th in the second All Ireland Schools Championship in Belfield two weeks later. He was to retain the Connacht title in 1966 and 1967 finishing fourth and third in the respective All Irelands.
His brother Eddie took the title in 1968, 1969 and 1970, achieving a unique and never to be repeated double in 1968 by winning both the Intermediate and Senior titles on the same day at both Connacht and All Ireland level and taking the All Ireland Senior titles in 1969 and 1970.
This day fifty years ago was truly the beginning of a golden era for Leitrim athletics.