Liz McDonagh: DSD’s coaching stalwart hangs up her boots

2021 has been a funny aul year. The pandemic that has dominated our lives for the last 18 months is finally receding as vaccines roll out worldwide. We feel a bright new dawn is beginning even as we head into the winter months. Like everyone else, DSD members have had their lives tossed around. Thankfully, training returned earlier this year and then competitions with restrictions took place. Soon we will be back to normal! But it won’t be normal. Not for DSD. Because for the first time in our Club’s history, Liz McDonagh will not be in Marlay Park or on the side of the Irishtown track coaching DSD’s future champions. This coach, who has trained generations of kids from South Dublin and further afield, has decided it’s time to hang up her coaching boots. This is a significant occasion in the life of our Club. DSD, and Dundrum AC before that, has been blessed to have such a dedicated and determined sprints coach volunteering her skills for decades. And Head Coach Ed Carthy has a job to do: to reallocate his coaches to cover this new Liz-shaped gap among its ranks. No easy task, because it will take more than one coach to do what Liz did. She may be stepping down from coaching, but she says she ain't disappearing off the scene. She cannot; the Club she co-founded will always be close to her heart. Let's go back a wee bit and find out more about Liz and how athletics has been so much a part of her life. Elizabeth Gilles grew up in Terenure in a GAA home. She played Camogie for 15 years. She had a reputation for speed on the pitch, and demonstrated this when she won the 100 metres, 200 metres and 400 metres at the Dublin Camogie Sports in Croke Park in the late 1960s. Liz joined Metro Harriers (now Metro St Brigid’s) and soon won Road Relay medals. There she met a young Garda called Edward McDonagh; they hit it off. As Metro Harriers didn’t have a strong Seniors in those days, Liz joined Raheny Shamrocks while Eddie went for Civil Service. With Raheny, Liz excelled, winning medals in the 4 x 100 metres and 4 x 400 metres relays and fought her way to the final of the National 400 metres in Santry. Eddie and Liz were now helping to run the Dundrum Family Recreation Centre (DFRC) as a volunteering outreach project. Their love for running led them to establish an athletics offshoot - DFRC AC, and two years later, in 1975, it became Dundrum Athletics Club. Liz, having worked in Irish Shipping, now took on the role of Secretary of Dundrum AC. The runner in her wanted to see other kids excel on the track, so she volunteered as a coach after work hours … and the rest is history. And it is indeed a history decorated with medals left, right and centre. Eddie gravitated to endurance and Cross-Country coaching while Liz stuck with the track. Her rock-solid commitment to coaching – volunteering her time seven days a week for the majority of her life - helped DSD's stature rise in the Irish athletics community. Under her tutelage, DSD won more 4 x 100 metre National Relays than any other club for a period of 12 to 15 years. And she coached juvenile athletes to win thousands of medals across regional, national and international championships, with many of them securing scholarships to universities in the USA on the back of their performances. This winning culture led to the DSD women winning the National League six years in a row. Liz and Eddie were blessed that their daughters, Shireen and Grace, inherited the same love for athletics. Grace launched the javelin and Shireen focused on the hurdles and relays, and both sisters added to the family's pile of national medals. And the volunteering ethos firmly established by Liz and Eddie rubbed off on Shireen, who has become a formidable coach for DSD. In recent years, Liz has coached many sprinters to reach and win medals at FISEC (Fédération Internationale Sportive de l'Enseignement Catholique). DSDers who have had the privilege of running the Dublin Marathon over the years remember the oasis that greeted them just after Rathgar - the DSD station. For years now, Liz has been a fixture here, the chief with a team of twenty busy volunteers giving drinks and gels to thousands of worn out but grateful runners. And she has done the same with the Women's Mini Marathon, having been there when it was established. Always in the thick of it. In fact, in addition to her gargantuan volunteering commitment, Liz worked for the Women's Mini Marathon office for 15 years, and helped it become what it is now: one of the world's largest women's races. For most of her life, Liz has been a DSD coach. With tens of thousands of hours coaching in sun, rain and, yes, snow, she has helped give the Club the necessary edge to win medals, produce Olympians and become one of the best and most accomplished athletics clubs in Ireland. Looking back on Liz’s contribution to the Club, Declan Ryan, DSD’s chairman, cannot hold back on his admiration for her: “She’s been an ever-present rock in DSD. I’m 53 now and Liz was coaching when I was a teenager in DSD. She’s one of the reasons I do this job now for DSD”. While recognising and nurturing talent, she acknowledges effort as well; her regular reports from the various meets, leagues and championships heap praise on those who busted a gut even if they didn't bring home a medal, even if they didn’t manage to get a PB. And she does all that, and a lot more, with good humour and her ever-infectious smile. The Board would like to put on record its huge debt of gratitude to Liz. Hers is an extraordinary example of the massive impact one committed volunteer can do to advance the Club. Liz, thank you for always being there by the tree in Marlay and on the side of the track in Irishtown. We owe it to you to continue your awe-inspiring legacy. From all the members of DSD Athletics Club