It’s a rivalry that has served up some memorable battles over the years.It's also a rivalry that’s helped ensure that Donegal continues to produce some top-quality athletes who have made an impact in the sport, not only at national level, but on the international scene as well.

Finn Valley and Letterkenny athletic clubs have that special relationship that goes back for years.

But for those who say, love knows no bounds, well Ciaran and Teresa Doherty are the perfect example. Because when it comes to their other passion in life - the sport of athletics - their loyalty to their respective clubs remains as strong as ever.

“Teresa has friends for life in Finn Valley and I’m the same with Letterkenny,” Ciaran said.

“That’s the way it is in athletics.”

Ciaran (41) recalls his first ever big race with Letterkenny, which was a cross-country meeting in Killybegs. He might have been the new face on the team, but he quickly knew the task at hand.

“I was told I’d be met by Sean McFadden and he had a vest for me,” he said.

“It was my first big race but even then, we had to beat Finn Valley. You knew then that it was about Letterkenny having enough in our scoring team to try and beat them.

“In athletics, I always say, if you don’t have rivalry like that, you won’t get up for a race. You won’t get your team up for the race.

“But that’s as long as it’s healthy rivalry. As long as it doesn’t get nasty.

“I think myself, it’s a great focus to have between two clubs. It has to improve the standards.

“It wasn’t that you were anti-Finn Valley. You were more jealous of their success. You wanted to beat them because you wanted to have that success too,” he said.

Ciaran though, did soon find himself taking more than a passing interest in the fortunes of Finn Valley. He first struck up a relationship with a certain Finn Valley athlete who initially caught his eye during a 5k race in Ballyshannon.

“I remember asking some of the other Letterkenny lads who she was,” he said of Teresa McGloin.

“But it was after we’d finished a North West 10k race, I remember having to go out to the car and she was in the car park. We got chatting and I asked her if she was going out that night.”

They met up in Voodoo, Letterkenny, and let’s just say, they were off and running.

That was in May 2010. Teresa (37), had been first woman home in that North West 10k, underlining her status as one of the top female 5k and 10k runners in the county.

She was a talented runner when attending secondary school at Sacred Heart in Ballyshannon, where she was coached by Pat McManus. A native of Kinlough, Teresa spent some time in Australia after school and she then came back to live in Letterkenny.

She remembers attending circuit classes in the town and one evening got speaking to one of the other class members.

“I was new to the area,” Teresa said.

“I didn’t really know anybody and the running allowed me the chance to meet people .

“I was at a circuits class in Letterkenny, and I remember I got chatting to Brigid McGlynn. She was with Finn Valley then. She was wearing a Finn Valley T-shirt and I asked her about it.

“She told me she’d a friend who went over to training. It was Mary Bond who collected me one night and took me to training with Finn Valley.”

Finn Valley AC found themselves a real gem when Teresa arrived for her first training session.

She quickly became an important member of the club, helping Finn Valley to national success, and setting all sorts of team and individual records.

Teresa speaks fondly of her fellow club athletes and coaches. She found herself training with Kay Byrne and Catriona McGranaghan, two athletes she’d read all about in the paper.

“All of a sudden, I was training with people like that, it was brilliant,” she said.

Ciaran had an interest in athletics from a young age, but playing Gaelic football with his local Naomh Muire club was his priority back then.

“I was running under Sean McGinley in Rosses AC, when I was U12 and U14. But by U16, I was doing so many different sports, there weren’t enough days in the week,” he said.

As he got older, he started working on his dad’s fishing boat and weeks at a time would be spent away from home.

“When I’d come home again from fishing, I’d play Gaelic,” he said.

“But I still had an interest in the athletics. I was watching it on BBC and reading the results in the Democrat, I knew the characters who were competing at the time.”

As a young boy, Ciaran remembers watching Francie Ward from Keadue ploughing a lonely furrow around the roads of the Rosses.

“I’d be in the garden, and I’d run along the grass as he passed, just to see how fast he was running,” he said.

“We’d meet him when we were in mum and dad’s car. You’d see him in Kincasslagh and then an hour later up by Dungloe somewhere. I never understood the concept, but I know now, that was him doing his long runs on his own.”

Years later, it was Francie who helped link Ciaran with Letterkenny AC.

“One year I went up to watch the 5k in Dungloe,” Ciaran said. “I was looking at the runners wondering how I would do. So the next year I went to do it.

“After the race, Marty Gormley (Letterkenny AC) was asking me who I was. Then I met Kieran Carlin (Finn Valley) at the presentations.

“But Francie Ward ran with Letterkenny and he came up to me and said he’d been on to Herbie McDaid in Letterkenny to get forms. Francie said to join Letterkenny. He said ‘It’s a good club for you’.

Ciaran had obviously ran well that night in Dungloe, and soon he was taken under the wing of Teresa McDaid in Letterkenny where he got training with the likes of Gary Crossan and Pauric McKinney.

His times were good and the training made times even better. But he was still playing Gaelic and a word in the ear from his coach prompted a change in priorities.

“Teresa McDaid said I couldn’t do both,” he said. “But I thought I could.

“I was trying to beat Gary and Pauric, but she said ‘how could you? You’re supposed to be doing an easy run but you’re away playing Gaelic.

“I decided then, even though I loved GAA, I’d give it a year.”

Ciaran said he felt the difference it made to his performance in training within weeks.

“All of a sudden, I was staying with Pauric and Gary. It clicked from there,” he said.

“At that time too, you had the likes of Danny Mooney, Darren McBrearty, Mark English and Ruairí Finnegan training. Teresa got me doing their training on the track. It was fast stuff with these guys, but it brought me to a better level. I have stayed with that ever since.”

Teresa ran her best ever time for a 10k - 33.52 - during a holiday in Australia last year. Her form dipped recently because of a 'flu over Christmas but she’s back training well and spends most of her lunchtimes running the roads around Letterkenny, where she works with the HSE.

She also trains with her club on Tuesday nights and speaks highly of local physio, Johnny Loughrey, who oversees her strength and conditioning.

She’s looking forward to what she hopes will be another good year on the road and track, and plans to take in some races in England and in the National League in Ireland.

Ciaran, meanwhile, continues to juggle his training with life as a fisherman. He’s just back from his latest sojourn on the seas and is looking forward to a more normal routine over the coming weeks.

He does his best not to let his work interfere with his training regime. Much has already been made about the fact that he has a treadmill on his boat. But that’s only to stretch the legs, and he admits that it’s tough being away at times.

“During winter time, when I’m away, there is no such thing as an easy run. Everything is cramming.”

He spoke about his recent time away, which included a stop in Norway. He crammed four ten mile runs into two days.

It’s gotten to the point where Ciaran does so much running in foreign ports that he now has routes there that are just as familiar as those back home.

“It could be a shed or a landmark. I have mile markers there and I have five-mile runs or ten-mile runs,” he said.

“So many times when I’m out foreign, I have my own trial race. I’ve been in great shape coming up to a Donegal Seniors but just days before the race, I’ve gone fishing.

“The day of the race, I will run 10k on the road to mimic what’s going on at home. The first thing I do when I get home is check the results, and wonder how I’d have done.”

Frustratingly, Ciaran has never won individual gold in the Donegal Seniors. But he has shone on the national stage and internationally too.

He described the final stages of the World Masters Indoors in Finland in 2012, when he took gold in the 3,000m, winning in dramatic fashion by less than half a second ahead of his French opponent.

Success in the 2011 World outdoor masters in Sacramento in the steeplechase was another standout performance.

“Teresa (McDaid) said there would be surges. I knew from my 5k times that summer that I was going good. So I went with every surge.

“I went into the last lap and I thought what’s going on here? I was in the lead,” Ciaran recalled.

“You keep thinking they’re going to pass you. You just keep running as hard as you can to see if you can get there.”

Unlike her husband, Teresa has enjoyed success in the Donegal Seniors - eight times in fact. It’s an amazing record and one that rightfully, she’s extremely proud of.

She spoke fondly of her coach at Finn Valley, Mark Connolly, who according to Ciaran, pretended to have a Finn Valley form hidden under the marriage certificate signed by the couple and the priest on their wedding day.

“Mark tried to tell me I’d signed up for Finn Valley too,” Ciaran said.

There’s probably nobody more proud of Ciaran and Teresa’s achievements over the years than their parents.

Joseph and Anne Teresa Doherty are keen golfers and Anne Teresa’s brothers were fine boxers. Her nephew John Sweeney boxed for Ireland at the World Championships in Chicago a few years ago.

According to Teresa, her parents, Mattie and Mary McGloin, are not from a sporting background, but they enjoy reading the local notes on races.

Both are also very proud of Mattie’s niece, Breege Connolly’s achievements. The Kinlough athlete recently achieved her Olympic qualifying time for Rio.

Ciaran and Teresa will also be keeping a close eye on Breege's progress.

Whether you're a top class runner, with Finn Valley or Letterkenny AC, or just a fun runner keeping in shape, it's what athletes do.

If you have a story or want to send a photo or video to us please contact the Donegal Live editorial team any time. To contact Donegal Democrat and Donegal People's Press, email editorial@donegaldemocrat.ie To contact Donegal Post, email editor@donegalpost.com To contact Inish Times, email editor@inishtimes.com.

More News

Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.

Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.