(An appreciation by Gerry Bowe)
One of Tipperary’s and Ireland’s greatest athletes Patsy Fitzgerald died on Thursday 4th May.
In an era of very competitive cross country and middle distance running in the country Patsy shone out like a illuminated beacon from 1946-1960. His haul of trophies included thirty four all Ireland medals, plus several Munster and Tipperary awards, over twenty years.
In 1947 Patsy Fitzgerald (just over 16 years) won the All Ireland junior cross country in Ballinasloe. The Tipperary senior team mentors thought that he was too young to be pitted against the elders and more experienced in the national senior in Mount Merrion. But he was on the Tipperary panel and when his neighbour and team member, Tom Fitzgerald was unable to start due to an injuiry. Tom Healy, the manager, decided to include Patsy on the team.
Other Tipperary officials thought it madness to run him against All Ireland senior runners such as the famous John Joe Barry the “The Ballincurry Hare”. He borrowed togs and went to the start and went on to win by 200 yards to make his own bit of history.
When the Coolcroo club affiliated to the AAU the following autumn he decided to give it a try. Coolcroo’s debut in the A.A.U. junior All Ireland was in a snow-covered course in Belfast in late 1947. Patsy surprised the star-studded assembled field including Kevin Maguire who had previously beaten John Joe Barry, when he won in a canter and Coolcroo the team prize.
On the track Patsy was equally as impressive in 1952, Patsy won the All Ireland 10 miles flat A.A.U.E All Ireland Championship at Shelbourne Stadium, Dublin from a field of fourteen of the best distance men in the country. By then he had represented Ireland five times in international cross-country championships. He was on course for inclusion on the Irish Olympic team for Helsinki but decided against it. When his A.A.U. days came to an end Patsy Fitzgerald returned to the N.A.C.A and joined the Ballincurry club, winning county championships, All Ireland and Tipperary senior cross-country titles with them. He has a unique record of winning AAU novice, junior and senior titles in the same year.
He was a member of teams consisted of such great Irish runners as his club mates Jerry Kiely, Paddy Fahey, Jimmy Sweeney, Tom Fitzgerald, John Caesar, Larry Donnelly, Steve McCooke (East Antrim), John Joe Barry (Tipperary), Kevin Maguire (Donore Hrs), Michael O’Connell (Clonliffe & Clare), Charlie Owens and John Diamond (Co.Mayo).
One must have some fascination with the heroics of the cross country athletes of that period as they traversed all kinds of terrain in pursuit of individual and team glory-all for the glory of the club and “little village” in the days of the “barefotted” runner. In Tipperary he competed against such greats as Sean Hayden, Moyne, Tom Kelly, Killenuale, and Johnny Hanly, Do, Ned Fogarty Moneygall, Martin Corrigan, Do, Tim Liffey, Do, Mick Cleary, Do, Paddy Fahey, Moyne, Walter Scott (Ballincurry). John Joe Bourke, Do. He remembered with fondness, his association with the Healy family of Coolcroo, and the influence they had on his running career. Also he had fond memories of the famous Billy Morton of Clonliffe Harriers who was a good friend.
Tipperary athlete of the past 1983, the Coolcroo golden jubilee special award & certificate in 1984. He was thrilled to meet again many of his old team mates there. Knocknagow award 2010. Patsy Fitzgerald was honoured in his native village of Glengoole on Easter Sunday 2016 when a plaque was erected near the local sportsfield to commemorate his achievements and a Special souvenir booklet published.
After his athletic career he got involved in flying, being the holder of a pilots licence. He also trained greyhounds..He played hurling with Glengoole and won a Mid junior hurling championship with them in 1956.
His fame, his name, his athletic frame,
Future athletes will imbue;
His fame, his name
We’ll hold, in letters of gold-
Patsy Fitzgerald from Glengoole
Go ndéana Dia trócaire ar a anam dílis.