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Ronnie Delany Gives A Dignified Response To McGregor's Inaccurate 'Sports Illustrated' Claims

Ronnie Delany Gives A Dignified Response To McGregor's Inaccurate 'Sports Illustrated' Claims
By Conor Neville
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Conor McGregor announced via Instagram this morning that he was proud to be the first Irishman to make the cover of Sports Illustrated.

This was emphatically not true, as his twitter account operator was reminded with great frequency over the course of the morning.

One didn't even need to be a nerdy historian with an archive of dusty old SI's sitting in the garage to know that @Notorious was talking through his hoop.

McGregor is not even the first Irishman in the last twelve months to be plonked on the cover. Rory McIlroy was featured ahead of the US Masters last year.

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Eamonn Coughlan, meanwhile, appeared on the front on three occasions in the '70s and '80s. Though, as of yet, no correction or clarification from McGregor's camp has arrived. 

And the first Irishman to appear on the cover is one of our greatest ever Olympians, if not our greatest ever. He was featured on the front only three years after the magazine was launched.


On receiving the Freedom of Dublin alongside Ronnie in 2006, Bob Geldof said that, as a youngster running to catch the 7A bus, the driver would roar out 'Who do you think you are? Ronnie 'Fuckin' Delany?'

We spoke to Ronnie about his appearance on Sports Illustrated and touched on his career more generally.

Congratulations to Conor. It's a nice honour for him. Delighted to hear that. I was on it back in '59 I think and I can probably claim to be the first Irishman on the cover. It is the most incredible sports magazine in the world as you probably know.


In the late '50s, the Americans were indulging in some fretful navel-gazing about their dearth of success in track & field.

The magazine wondered aloud whether the USA was a second-class nation in athletics. Delany, who hadn't lost a race indoors in the US in five years, was placed on the cover as a symbol of their failings.

You weren't approached then. You were just told you were doing it. I was the leading athlete in the world at 1500m then. I was the Olympic champion and indoors in America, I was in what turned out to be a five year winning streak. I had never lost a race from 1955 to '59. And I think the thesis of the article was 'Is America a second class track power?' Which it wasn't. It was just people like myself coming from Ireland were beating them. There was no money in it in those days. You were just honoured when someone came along and asked you.

Back in the 1950s, the 1500 metres was considered the showpiece event of track and field, occupying a similar status to that accorded to the men's 100m these days.

Delany came of age as a miler while studying finance in Villanova where he trained under Jumbo Elliott. His triumph was not anticipated in this country but American observers had observed him up close and tipped him to win.

I was expected (to win) in America. I wasn't expected to win in Ireland because we were not terribly informed on international track and field then. But the Americans had me in the picture because of seeing me running in America. I was the youngest four-minute miler in the world going down to Melbourne. I was the seventh man in the world to run a four minute mile. So, knowing me, the American magazine, US Track & Field, which was the bible of athletics in America, they selected me to win.

My athletics career in America wasn't very well covered here because of the economics of the time. So, for example, my racing in America, where I won 40 races without losing races, was done by Associated Press or United Press, and they (the Irish newspapers) took a feed off that. They never sent anyone to see me run. In fact, only one Irish journalist was in Australia.

In the 1990s, RTE showed live but deferred coverage of Premier League games, something which conned those of us youngsters who believed our parents had unique powers of clairvoyance in predicting the result.

BBC Radio adopted the same strategy for the Melbourne Olympics, broadcasting the race hours after it took place but doing so as if it was live.


BBC Radio covered it (1956 Olympic final) so radio could travel the distances. But there was no television but the radio was done. The reality is people thought it was done live. It wasn't done live, it was done some hours after the race but they covered it as if it was live. People who listened to it here in Ireland, I had already won the race before they listened in to it but they didn't know that fortunately, otherwise it wouldn't have been as exciting.

On McGregor, he doesn't pretend to be familiar with his sport, but he acknowledges him as an 'extraordinarily talented athlete' and warmly welcomes him to the club of Irish Sports Illustrated cover athletes.

Do I follow Conor McGregor's sport? No. I think it's pay per view. It was a convenience thing of literally just switching TV and watching a championship fight I would do that but I don't have that facility. I don't know the sport. It seems to have captured the imagination of the public and I congratulate him on that.

How does he feel about the last gold medal winner on the track from Ireland?

Well, it's a great distinction. Without being immodest, it's extraordinary that... Having said that, my joy would be if we won another gold medal. But then we've done extraordinarily well. We've John Treacy's marathon in '84. We've Sonia's 5,000m in 2000. The silver medals and those were extraordinary races. The ultimate is, of course, to win the gold. And there's a degree of destiny in that. I was destined to be the Olympic champion. And the differences between me and others who are equally talented, committed and trained as hard is that it wasn't in their destiny. I believe there's a degree of destiny in achieving the ultimate as I did.

Full interview below:

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Read more: The Most Scandalous Omission From The Second Captains Good Wall Riles Us Still

Read more: Conor McGregor Doesn't Know His Place In Irish Sport History Judging By Latest Claim




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