Monster challenge complete

Coalisland championship winner Gerard Devlin ran 52 marathons in the last 52 weeks to raise money for club funds. He completed his final leg on the Camino de Santiago at the weekend and Michael McMullan caught up with him…

FR Peter Campbell Park in Coalisland is nearly 1,700km from Sarria, on the North West corner of Spain.

Last Saturday, thanks to commentary from TeamTalkMag, former Coalisland Fianna star Gerard Devlin was tuned into their relegation play-off with Moortown.

For someone with Fianna blood gushing through his veins, the 51 marathon distances in the 51 weekends beforehand were totally irrelevant.

Gerard Devlin’s mind was on home soil. It was all or nothing at the foot of the table. And it was fitting that his son Niall kicked the final point to put the icing on a comfortable win.

“It was unbelievable,” Devlin uttered of a result that takes the Fianna into a play-off with whoever appears from the top end of Division Two.

“It would’ve spoilt the day if we had got the wrong result in the end. Thank God Niall had a good game and the whole team performed well.”

As Devlin, alongside Coalisland trio Jason Procter, James Conway and Bosco McShane, were coming along their 31-mile Saturday route the Fianna had their own challenge. Staying up is everything.

“Niall had just put over the final point and there was a man in front of us, he was close to 80,” Devlin explained, “and I let a big of a roar out of me…it scared the poor crater.

“It was a big result for us but we have another big hurdle to climb yet, but it won’t be for three or four weeks yet.”

In a bid to raise funds for Coalisland Fianna, Devlin devised the idea of running 52 marathons in 52 weeks. It’s even tiring thinking about it.

From the first week, trotting around 112 laps of Fr Peter Campbell Park, Devlin has been chocking up the miles and, as of Monday evening, had raised nearly £20k for club funds.

Speaking from Spain, Devlin stressed the importance of the Fianna Runners’ club, the three men who completed the camino with him, the wider Coalisland community and all the neighbouring clubs as a collective shoulder of support.

“I’d like to thank them all,” he said, also pointing to the “instrumental” help of Niamh Hughes with her spin class every Tuesday.

The perfect recovery ahead of another marathon effort.

Devlin also thanked to those who joined him in the latter stages of the weekly runs in the locality, just when company was needed most to pull out the final ounces of energy.

“I got messages from people in Canada and America, with money coming in from all quarters so I have a lot to be indebted to for their support,” Devlin added, referring to the pinging of his phone since heading to Spain for the final weekend of the challenge.

The final count has yet to be made, but Devlin’s total of £20k has doubled his expectations with others still to pledge sponsor money.

“I am indebted to the club for the years I played for them. It is a marvellous club to be part of and it is a little way of giving something back,” he said.

He modestly wanted to take the focus away from his own part. But it’s impossible to. Gerard Devlin is the challenge.

“The focus has to go away from me because I am going something I enjoy,” he stresses.

“All I was doing on a Saturday was going out and running a long distance.

“That wee committee is the group where the praise should be heaped. Without them, this would not have happened.

“I would’ve done it for £10k, but now that has sitting at double with possibly more to come in, it gives me a chance to give a bit more back to a club I owe so much to.”

The committee members include James Conway, Jason Procter, Eileen Murtagh, Sharon Haynes Paddy Devlin, Brian McKernan, Gerard McStravick and Dominic O’Neill.

Devlin finished Tuesday’s final leg in front of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

It was a special moment after carrying the memory of Vinny Fee and Fergie Harte, two staunch Coalisland men, every step of the way around the 106km course he referred to as a “walker’s dream” despite the testing terrain.

When Devlin initially floated the 52-week fundraising challenge to Harte, the club’s vice-chairman, he set the wheels in motion.

As the weeks passed, there would be a number outside the pitch to keep the locals informed of the challenge’s progress.

“When I was in the middle of the year, Fergie drove past me one day in the van with 52 on the window saying: “that’s the one you are looking for.” I would’ve given anything for him to see the 52nd leg but unfortunately he was taken too early.”

“Vinny Fee was another massive club man and I have done it in memory of them…we badly miss the two of them.”

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