Remembering Peter Brazel’s Golden Era
He recalls with great clarity that Sunday in July 1971.
Early rising, mix of adventure and excitement. They loaded up the Ford Cortina. Turned right out of Ennafort and headed towards the City Centre.
There was no M50 back then, it was a swathe of farmland out the North County. Bound for Roscrea, Co. Tipperary, flask and sandwiches, enough to feed an army. And Swiss roll for after the race.
They were headed for the National Juvenile Championships. Through Fairview, the city, cross the Liffey at Islandbridge, on past Inchicore and Bluebell in search of the Naas Rd.
After that the old Shell Map would guide them. The Dad, Peter Snr drove, his mother Netsy beside, on pre-Sat nav duty.
Eyes peeled for the road sign commodity in short supply the further south they ventured.
Peter Brazel, age 11 was feeling good. Loving the expectation the atmosphere in the car hinted.
A month earlier at the Dublin Championships which bought the qualifying license for the Nationals he had bagged six individual victories.
Wins at 100m, 200m, 400m, High Jump, Long Jump and Triple Jump had turned a lot of heads. He was the talk of track land. Losing was not in his DNA.
At North Strand near Cusack’s they picked up Anto Glennon, his training mate. Anto was four-years older. Big, strong and flamboyant, he too had won a couple of events in his age group at the Dublin’s.
Nearby, Croke Park and Ballybough was preparing itself for an Offaly v Kildare Leinster Football Final.
It felt good to have Anto in the car there with him. In truth he was in awe of his older club-mate. It was an age thing. Here he was heading for the Nationals his greatest fans in the front seat, his hero beside him and the unfettered confidence of youth.
Even today, almost 49 years later, his recall of that day in Roscrea is vivid. The programme dictated that competing in six events again was not possible.
Besides he was also required by the Relay team. They dropped the 400m and Triple Jump and decided that in a two-day programme the other four plus the relay were within his compass.
On that first day in Roscrea as was his forte he was out of the Blocks quicker than anyone else, blitzing the 100m.
The Long Jump won the previous year, an hour later the title had been retained.
Happy to win this time. Anyway his ground breaking leap of 4.66 metres the previous year had written record which would stand for 29-years.
That jump he muses was his finest performance ever. Later his Dad jokingly compared it with Bob Beamon’s Mexico 1968 effort.
The rest of the afternoon was spent jumping higher than the rest of the country.
Faster, longer, higher an embodiment of the Olympic ideal of Baron de Coubertin.
The first weekend was a breeze. He knows Anto medalled but for the life of him cannot recall the colour. Definitely not Gold. Only room for one Golden Boy in the back seat of a Cortina.
It was in Newbridge they stopped for Chips on the way back, he is almost certain.
Sunday’s second leg was in Santry. Familiar stomping ground. The old Ford Cortina worked off auto-pilot on that trip.
Left at the Church, Springdale, Tonlegee, across the Malahide Road, Cadburys on the right and on up through the narrow country road that once was Coolock Lane.
Right onto the Swords Road then the track of dreams to the left. Never a bother parking, his Dad always knew the lad on the Gate.
On 11-year-old legs he scorched the 200m on Morton’s cinders in 28.8 seconds. That record still stands. There was no tartan cushioned carpet of Tullamore, no fit for purpose footwear.
And you marvelled at Jesse Owens achievements. Later that day the Nation’s finest underage athlete of 1971 anchored the Dublin 4x100m Relay team to victory.
Five gold medals in a single Championship. Sure Jesse only managed four in Berlin. 10-years of age. World at his feet. A Juvenile superstar.
Peter Snr was friendly with Bill Coghlan. He introduced him to his son Eamonn who was at that time finding his way on an Athletics scholarship at Villanova University, a mecca for aspiring Irish athletes of that era.
He was still at National school and already there was talk of Athletic Scholarships. The Munich Olympics were talk of the town. Valeri Borzov, Dwight Stones, John Akii Bua, Mary Peters et al, he dreamed his dreams.
The following year brought a single National title at Under-12, another High Jump. After that, like a coronavirus, the taps started shutting down.
Life got complicated, it always does. He graduated from Scoil Assam and moved half a mile up the road to St Pauls. Youth is wasted on the young. Before we know it’s come and gone.
He’s 60 now. Born and bred in Raheny. Spent 15 years working in London but was always destined to come back.
And when he did it would always be back to Raheny. Only difference, his new home would be even closer to his beloved St Annes Park, a mere 300 metres.
Something about that Park, the embodiment of his youth. Where he learned to run, jump and kick ball. Where he sported and played.
Weekends he loves to walk in the Park. Takes it all in. The endless matches, the Park runners, the Markets, the various Groups training. He observes the athletes especially. Most are not aware of him but he knows their feats and form. He tracks their results. Once a Shamrock.
At six feet five inches he is tall and exceptionally lean. Everything about his demeanour and carriage shouts high jumper.
Aging has not endowed him with heavy jowels, belly or high colour. He neither smokes nor drinks, he resembles a greyhound.
If you expect a litany of excuses as to what happened after 1972 there is none. No bitterness. No what might have been’s.
No poor me’s, in truth he moved on. Parked those early achievements. Racked them away in the memory bank.
It’s called growing up. Being true to yourself. Accepting life’s curved balls and learning from them.
When he moved to St Paul’s in September 1972 he carried with him a lingering Heel injury that handicapped him for almost two years.
Nobody seemed able to diagnose the issue. Nowadays the likely assurance would be that there was a Growth spurt going on and patience would be counselled. Fact of life.
Injury has few allies. It is an acknowledged lonely place. The same injury slowly sucked the drive to be an Athlete from him. Not overnight. More by osmosis.
PE teachers Con Colbert and Conal Smyth, aware of his pedigree encouraged and supported him. He competed in Schools athletics but it was not happening like it used to.
Then as his body got stronger and the growing stabilised he found himself in demand. The Basketball team fancied his height, the Soccer teams his skill. Even the Rugby boys wanted him. He was light but he still had speed to burn, if only they could get the damn ball out to him on the wing.
School teams, Club teams. The camaraderie most of all sucked him in. It’s nice to be wanted. His Secondary School sporting career was good enough to see him awarded the Sports Athlete of the year at graduation in 1977.
In a sporting context after that its importance in his life drifted down the pecking order. Social soccer with the Past Pupils team. Get on with life.
London brought its experiences and its successes. Got it out of his system. Best decision was to come home. He met and married Keava. Now there are fourth in the cluster, Peter the 3rd aged 14 and 12-year-old Ryan. Life is good.
Often in his St Annes walks he finds himself down by the Glads. The Park’s oasis of shelter. Nature’s Indoor track where his Coach Paddy Fay and Eugene O’Leary schooled him in the skills and techniques of sprinting.
He recalls to this day the mantra drilled into him by Paddy Fay. The Four How’s. “How to start, How to come out of the Blocks, How to Sprint, How to run through the tape”.
He’s never forgotten them nor the men who helped make him a cut above the rest back then.
And it was Mr McIntyre in Scoil Assam who first discovered him. Back then all the teachers were were Mr, Mrs or Miss.
Mr McIntyre picked him for the Primary School Sports, found him a pair of spikes, deep in the bag on the top press he produced each year and launched him into the winner’s enclosure.
50 years after his first National title and the start of his Golden era it is fitting Peter Brazel should be awarded his place in the historical evolution of Raheny Shamrock.
His was a career that should be celebrated. There is no requirement for adjudication.
There are many athletes, who for a myriad of reasons choose to have short careers. Experience the sport then do other things.
Whether you do it at 12, 32 or 52 it matters little. Freedom of choice is our most basic right.
Fiction plays no part here. Fact is that in that short golden period between 1970 and 72, at the tender ages of 10 and 11 he won seven national titles, five in one year. His career was short. Yet hugely significant.
Great clubs are built on tradition. Tradition is pieced together like a jigsaw over the years, decades and in time to come centuries.
Many people contribute a piece in that construction. Peter Brazel donated his piece a long time ago.
50 years after the Peter Brazel Gold Blitz those historic achievements are worthy of celebration and recognition.