North Down AC was formed in 1974 by Hilary and Arthur O’Neill and was based until 2001 in Ward Park, Bangor using the former cricket pavilion, now demolished. An earlier club Bangor AC goes back to about 1958, having been founded by Moira Drive resident John Oettinger, who subsequently emigrated to New Zealand, and the coach was Polish-born international decathlete Richard Weglarz. Bangor AC moved with the Rugby Club to Uprichard Park when that ground was opened but later was amalgamated into North Down AC. A lot of winter training is still held in Ward Park. Among the founding members of North Down were the Hamill family and Geoffrey Weir with Daphne Hamill the first Treasurer and Geoffrey the first Mens’ Captain. The leading figures in the club in the early days included Arthur and Hilary O’Neill, Billy Brannigan, the Elliott family and Noel Kane. Its fame at this time was mainly in the hands of veteran cross country and road runners and a group of talented girl throwers. Many events were promoted, the most famous being a series of 10K Bangor Classics which included Zola Budd and many other famous runners.
In the early days there were two main areas where from the beginning the club dominated. Girls throwing was one where Noel Kane coached Alison Moffitt, Anita and Lisa Kane, Jacky Crawford and many others. The other was veteran athletics mostly after Billy Brannigan became a veteran athlete. Billy was the originator of cross country and road running in North Down AC and in fact most of the early training runs started and finished from his house in Somerset Avenue. In 1980 Billy became a vet along with teammates, ex-boxer George Graham and Terry Mallon, father of Roma McConville the Belfast Marathon winner in 1983 and grandfather of decathlete Brendan. Alongside the slightly older vets, John Dawson, Vince Elliott and Ken Hawtin, the vets were never to lose a team race for at least ten years. Time moves on of course and other clubs caught up but the club still has a major veteran presence, especially in the older categories.
North Down AC is now based at Bangor Sportsplex, Ballykillaire, on the Old Belfast Road and since the move there in 2001, there has been a dramatic increase in its profile. The Senior Mens Track and Field Team is the most successful in Northern Ireland, winning both [Not a valid template]the Golden Four League and Team Trophy from 2001 to 2005, continuing in 2006, 2007 and 2008 with the Team Trophy now the only team competition. The Northern Ireland Young Athletes Boys League was won in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005 resulting in a place in the National Auxiliary Finals in Birmingham. The Womens team also won the Golden Four League in 2003 and 2004 and the Team Trophy in 2005 and 2008, and the girls were marginally second in the Young Athletes League. The Mens’ Team in 2004 were runaway winners at the first attempt of the All Ireland Mazda League Division 1 and were promoted to the Premier Division, where they were second in 2005 by 4 points to Crusaders. However the team were winners in 2006 and 2007 gaining eligibility to European competition, and becoming only the 6th team to ever win the Premier Division. They were second again in 2008. Entering the BAL Cup in 2007 led to a third place finish in the Golden Jubilee Plate Final at Bedford. The Womens’ team has also had some success in the Irish National League and were third in Division 1 in 2007 and second in 2008.
A big improvement in cross country took place in recent seasons with the odd team victory including third team in the Northern Ireland Junior Championship with an individual win by Francis Marsh. The Malcolm Cup was won in 2007 while the girls won the U20 Championship from 2004 to 2006. A surge in recruitment led to a large pack of endurance athletes on training nights, particularly on Monday evenings from the Sportsplex when a pack of forty or more runners of all standards may be seen, usually on the roads.
Recent GB Senior Internationals are Brendan McConville (decathlon) and Eva Massey (shot) with Tom Reynolds (decathlon) a GB Junior and U23 International and Michael McConkey a GB U23 International. Brendan and Eva competed in the 2006 Commonwealth Games and Eva also competed in the 2002 Games. Eva has also represented Great Britain in the European Cup. Former GB Junior Internationals included Allison O’Neill, Roger Sexton, Darragh Murphy and Alison Moffitt – also a Senior Irish International. Ben Reynolds and Peter Glass are the latest GB Junior Internationals, Ben having competed indoors at a combined events International in March 2008 and Peter in a U23 decathlon later. Paul Curran represented Ireland in the Europa Cup in 2004 as did Michael McConkey and Jeremy Harper in 2008. Competing for Ireland Amy Foster won silver at the European Youth Olympics at Lignano in 2005 and has competed in both the World and two European Junior Championships as well as gaining medals at Senior level in the Indoor and Outdoor Irish Championships. Eva is a current Northern Ireland record holder and Alison a former holder and there have been a multitude of Northern Ireland Internationals.
Three athletes reached the selection target for the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2008 and two were selected for the Games in India, Ben Reynolds reaching the 110m hurdles final. [Not a valid template]Hannah was a big success at the Games with a long jump silver medal and in the preliminaries, the longest jump in the competition. She later represented Ireland in the relay at the European Junior Championships of 2009, the team breaking the Irish record. Mark Patterson also represented Ireland in the World Juniors of 2010, reaching the 800m final and Ben, representing GB was edged out in a tough 110m hurdles semi final. Tom Reynolds and Amy Foster went to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Tom finishing 9th in the decathlon and Amy reaching two sprint semi finals.
The club has continued to promote events and the flagship event, the Bangor Classic 10K, was revived in 2005 on a different course and is held in September. Other promotions include a trail race in Crawfordsburn and a track meeting for juniors in August and the January cross country relays in Castle Park.
The winter of 2009-2010 saw the club having its most successful road and country season by far with the womens’ team winning team races at Laganside and Bangor Classic 10K’s and the mens’ team winning the Bangor Classic 10, the McConnell Shied and another Malcolm Cup and a victory in the Castllewellan Cracker by Francis Marsh and Simon Seaton. From then on the club became a major player in both men and womens’ team events. The womens team in particular based on a blend of home-grown former juniors and converted fitness runners, is a contender wherever there a womens team prize. The climax came in one afternoon at Stormont in 2011 – North Down won the Northern Ireland Junior Championship (for the first time plus an individual win by Niall Robinson), the Womens Intermediate (as holders with the previous years team ineligible, plus an individual win by Lauren Scott), the Womens Masters Championship and the Mens 60 plus Masters Championship.