On the Shoulders of Giants - Mark Carroll

November 29, 2023

Just last week, Mark Carroll was inducted into the Athletics Ireland Hall of Fame for 2023. Carroll is one of Ireland's most decorated athletes, competing at two Olympic Games while also winning medals at European Championships, before turning his hand to coaching more recently. 

Given this landmark week, Run Republic are delighted to share Tadhg Crowley's great article on the career of Mark Carroll!

It is the early 1990s and up on Harbour View Road in Cork city’s northside neighbourhood of Knocknaheeny a young Mark Carroll is lacing up his trainers before venturing out on the weekly 15-mile run. The Leevale athlete is joined by his teammates on a hilly loop that takes in the surrounding areas of Kerry Pike, Tower and Blarney. This Sunday long run is the foundation of his training, building aerobic endurance and strengthening the musculoskeletal system to support and compliment the speed sessions on the Mardyke track.

A 103rd place finish at the World Cross Country Junior Championships in Stavanger Norway in 1989 provided Mark Carroll with a harsh realization as to where he ranked on the international stage. On that day, after a humbling experience, Carroll made himself the promise that this would never happen again. Returning to Cork, he approached his training with a different intensity, he upped his mileage and included the weekly long hilly Sunday morning run with his club mates. Two years later in 1991 Mark Carroll became the European U20 5000m champion.

Mark Carroll’s love of running was ignited in the North Monastery Primary School on a cool Spring morning when the students were instructed to run 2 laps of the Monastery. Chasing down the older student Declan O’Callaghan (future training partners) he fell in love with the act of running, there was something strangely appealing about the breathlessness and the burn in his legs and lungs. This passion for running was fostered by Brother John Dooley throughout Carroll’s secondary school years. At the North Monastery Secondary School, Brother John used his extensive knowledge and experience of athletics to guide his students to national success year after year.

Brother John’s influence on Mark Carroll was key, he not only supported the development of the young man as an athlete, but he also presented a pathway for him to further his education and to a scholarship in the US with Providence University in Rhode Island. Unemployment was high in Cork in the 1980s and early 1990s, particularly in the northside of the city due to the closure of many local industries, including the Sunbeam textiles factory in Blackpool. Opportunities were few for young people to further their education at universities and Carroll recognised the significance of being able to pursue his athletic ambitions while attending a third level college.

They say that people make the place, but the place too can shape the person and that is certainly the case with Mark Carroll. An athlete with incredible determination, strength and resilience, characteristics that can undeniably be associated with his place of birth.

The development of the northside of Cork city began back in the 1950s when large numbers of houses were built to accommodate people who had been residing in the city’s tenements. Cork City Council then began constructing social housing in Knocknaheeny around the early 1970s. By the late 1980s the area was suffering from negative press, due to social problems, and the people that grew up there at the time often claimed that they were discriminated against because of where they were from. With this negative perception weighing down on Knocknaheeny, its people developed a toughness, a togetherness, and an enormous pride in their neighbourhood.

This mental toughness and determination drove Mark Carroll on. In his prime he had ambitions to hold every national record from the 1500m to the marathon. Such was his range he came mightily close to achieving that goal. At one point, Carroll held the 3000m, 5000m and 10000m records, narrowly missing Ray Flynn’s 1500m record and John Treacy’s marathon record. Carroll still holds the Irish 3000m record. The two-time Olympian won European 5000m Bronze in 1998 to go alongside his seven national senior titles.

After a series of successful years on the track, the 28-year-old Carroll started the year 2000 with serious momentum. The disappointment of missing out on Atlanta ’96, due to injury, meant the Sydney Olympics were firmly in his line of sight. First up though, the European Indoor Championships in Belgium.

When Mark Carroll stood on the start line in the Flanders Arena for the European Indoor 3000m Final in Ghent, his people were crowded around the tv sets in their living rooms or were packed into the pubs along Blarney Street roaring on one of their own. Having comfortably qualified through the heats, Carroll faced an impressive field of athletes including pre-race favourite Portuguese Rui Silva, Briton John Maycock the European Indoor champion from two years previous, and World Bronze medallist Belgian Mohammed Mourhit. With the home crowd roaring him on Mourhit took the early running, leading the field through 800m in a rather pedestrian pace. By the 1000m mark, Mourhit, Maycock and the Italian athlete Di Napoli were jostling for the lead. Meanwhile Carroll was lingering in 8th place, comfortable with the pace and confident he had the ability to cover any move. They hit 2000m and Carroll began to gradually make his way through the field. Mourhit increased the pace with 600m to go, pulling away with Silva, Di Napoli, Maycock and Carroll tucked in behind. When Carroll struck, it was decisive. As they entered the final bend, Mark Carroll raced past Silva to the front and away to victory. He ran straight to Brother John Dooley to collect the tricolour and on to complete his lap of honour.

7:49.24 minutes had past and those same people in Knocknaheeny that were on the edge of their seats or high stools, were now out on the streets, they were out on Harbour View Road singing, dancing and celebrating the local lad who had come good.

By Tadhg Crowley

A huge thanks again to Carraig na bhFear AC for granting us permission to share this excellent piece on an Irish Athletics legend!
Check out Carraig na bhFear AC's social pages for more great content and support the club! 

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