From Frank Greilly “The Matt Busby of Clonliffe Harriers” Lar O’Byrne, an icon of Irish athletics, died early today at Francis Hospice, Raheny after a long illness. He had turned 80 last December.

A native of County Wicklow, Lar was a rare and wonderful character. He was an inspiring coach and a pivotal force for many years in the ongoing development and success of his beloved club, Clonliffe Harriers in Santry, where he coached many of the great stars of cross country, track and road during the late 1960s, through to the 70s and early 80s. He also served in all of the club’s honorary volunteer positions, including Club President and Club Captain.

It is poignant too that Lar’s passing comes just over a month short of one of the most successful occasions in Irish athletics – the famous World Cross Country Championship victory at Limerick Racecourse in 1979 by John Treacy, the current CEO of the Irish Sports Council.

Lar O’Byrne played a central role as Irish team coach on that occasion and he served in the same capacity a year earlier when John Treacy won his first World Cross Country title in Glasgow. In 1984, Lar was involved in another John Treacy triumph – this time at the Los Angeles Olympics where he was Irish Track & Field Team Manager when Treacy won his silver medal in the marathon. It was an occasion made all the sweeter for Lar by the performance of Clonliffe’s Jerry Kiernan who finished ninth in the same event.

“Lar O’Byrne was always very special to me and he was always on my lucky side,” said John Treacy. “He had great wisdom and he was always of great help to me over the years.”

Another memorable day for Lar was a Sunday in Ballinasloe in 1976 when the Clonliffe Harriers’ team of Gerry Finnegan, Jerry Kiernan, Frank Murphy and Padraig Keane combined, under Lar’s guidance, to win the club’s first senior men’s national cross country title.

A successful long distance runner in his younger days, Lar also ran the demanding London to Brighton ultra-distance event. He was also present as a spectator at Iffley Road in Oxford on May 6th, 1954 when Roger Bannister became the first man in history to break four minutes for the mile.

Always bright, cheery and upbeat with a warming smile, Lar O’Byrne made an indelible impression on several generations of Clonliffe Harriers’ athletes, including Olympians such as Danny McDaid, Jerry Kiernan and Frank Murphy. In later years, he was also made an Honorary Life Vice President of Athletics Ireland. He was described by Clonliffe stalwart Padraig Keane as “the Matt Busby of Clonliffe Harriers”.

“Sweat is the nectar of good health,” was one of Lar’s favourite sayings, of which he had many. He lived by the Clonliffe Harriers’ motto – Nil Desperandum (Never Despair). He will be greatly missed by his family, many friends and by all in Irish athletics. A man of unique vision and spirit has now gone to his final rest.

Frank Greally