A Tribute to Joe Doonan, International Coach of the year 1992
James Joseph Doonan was born on March 28th 1947, the year of the big snow, at Church Street, Carrigallen, the eldest child of Bernard Doonan and Elizabeth Donohoe. Joe, as he is usually known, has five brothers and four sisters, all of whom still live in Ireland with five of the ten settled in Carrigallen. He spent his formative years in the Mill Lane where his father operated the old corn mill and vividly remembers the installation of the town sewerage and the coming of the ESB. He attended Carrigallen National School where his first teacher was the late Mrs Farrell. He did quite well at the books but recalls the very effective ducation available to children of the time long before audio visual aids were heard of.
Joe says he can still 'smell' the shoemaker's shop, the smell of leather in the saddlers, burned hooves and cooling iron in the blacksmiths, oats drying in the kiln, and soda bread baking on the open fire in his grandmother's house; and he can hear the sound of the anvil, Billy Cosgrove hammering segs into a half-sole and the rhythm of milk flowing into a frothy bucket as his grandfather hand-milked a cow. He sat the primary cert at eleven and went to the Latin school, Moyne, on a County Council Scholarship in 1959. He spent his five years there despite being offered a scholarship to St Mel's, and made the daily journey by bicycle with around ten others from Drumeela and Carrigallen.
It was in Moyne that he met the man who, after his father, had the most influence on the formation of his character and attitudes. This was the late Fr Jimmy Faughnan. He fondly remembers him as a great mathematician, a pragmatist, an inspiring philosopher, and most of all a man of great humility who shunned all publicity and notoriety. In 1964 Joe entered St Patrick's, Drumcondra, as a trainee teacher, and graduated in 1966. It was back to County Leitrim straightaway and he became principal of Jamestown NS in July 1966. He moved to Rossan NS in 1967 where he was to remain as principal for 17 years. In the early years he toyed with the idea of a career in the hotel trade or in music but these fantasies were put to rest in 1971 when he and Sheila McCormack from Keadue, Co Roscommon were married. They decided to settle in Carrigallen and this family of seven children, five girls and two boys, have grown up and gone to school locally.
Joe was a decent footballer, hurler and handballer and played with the local club. He also shared the local traditions of hunting and fishing. He was a tireless community activist serving as an officer in the GAA Club, Handball Club, Angling & Tourist Development Association, Youth Club, Gun Club, and as a member of the Drama Group, the Variety Group and St Mogue's Ceili Band. A serious footballing injury in 1973 was to change the direction of his leisure activities. With his playing career suddenly terminated he became interested in coaching children in football and other sports. Very soon he formed the opinion that this was a task that required some knowledge and expertise, and he started a quest that has continued ever since. In 1974 he became a member of Ballinamore AC and for 18 years worked with children in the club, coaching and bringing them to competitions. During this time he coached a host of provincial and national juvenile champions at a variety of events. In 1975 he organised community games for the first time in Aughavas, and for a number of years served in that organisation locally and at county level.
By the early 80's Joe had emerged on the national scene having attended numerous courses on coaching athletics and having qualified in a number of events. He became BLE Event Coach for race-walking, then middle distance, and finally had responsibility for 5000m and 10,000m walks, cross-country and marathon. This involved coaching national squads, coach education and conducting training camps and attending internationals. He helped prepare the Irish teams for the Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988 Olympics. Meanwhile he was now coaching a number of senior athletes and from 1986 to 1992 helped Patricia Griffin of Ballinamore AC to a number of national titles and international honours including world CC challenges and world 15k road challenges.
In 1987 he was approached by Fr Oliver Reilly from Cornafean, a classmate in Moyne, to help out a girl of 17 who was interested in running. This of course turned out to be Catherina McKiernan. Using his by now wide experience he slowly and carefully charted her development, and by 1989 she had gained her first international cap. In 1990 she won her first national senior title and from there steadily but surely emerged as a respected international runner and finally as a world-class distance athlete. She has to date competed in eight consecutive World CC Championships, two World Trade Challenges, and one European and two Olympic Games.Catherina is rightly regarded as the greatest female cross-country runner in Europe, having won the World Grand Prix series four years in a row and silver medals in the World Championsips four years in a row. She was European champion in 1994 and is highly placed on the all-time world lists for 5,000m, 10,000m and 15,000m. She is the only athlete ever to achieve such success from home with a home-based coach and illustrates the expertise and dedication of the schoolmaster from Carrigallen.
As national coach, Joe was selected for quite a few prestige international events as team coach and travelled to such places as Japan, New Zealand, Poland and Iceland. He has been team coach at four World Championships and two European challenges. In 1992 he was appointed Irish team coach for the Barcelona Olympic Games. This is the top honour that can be given to any coach. He was also voted 'Coach of the Year' in 1992 by his peers. This remarkable career in coaching has brought him to every country in Europe and places as far flung as New Zealand, Tahiti, Alaska and South Africa. He has sojourned for altitude training in the Rockies, the Pyrenees and the Alps, and worked in warm-weather camps in Portugal, France, Italy, Yugoslavia and Spain. He is on first name-terms with many of the household names of world athletics and has met and exchanged views with the world's top coaches. (Above) Joe Doonan (extreme rightmiddle row) and the Irish Olympic team, Barcelona 1992.
Joe often shares with his pupils his first-hand knowledge of places and peoples about which most of us can only dream or at best see on video. He will tell with enthusiasm of some of his more remarkable experiences. He was in Yugoslavia a short time before the revolution there and at the first world event held in the new, free South Africa. He was in Atlanta when the bomb went off and remembers being in an isolated country hotel in Thessalonika, Greece, with the Cypriots, Israelis and of course the Irish. The hotel was guarded by a battalion of the Greek Army as all were regarded as a security risk.
Finally in 1996 Joe trained the Cavan senior football team and got a fair share of the credit for their remarkable improvement. In fact he has started a quiet revolution in the training of Gaelic footballers and is highly regarded country-wide by team managers and coaches. Though he admits it is very hard work and involves many sacrifices, by his wife and family in particular, he is extremely happy with the satisfaction it has brought him over the years.
Last Updated: March 27, 2012