Philip Morgan Conway was born in 1948 in Dublin and went to boarding school in Rockwell College, Tipperary from an early age. It was here that his love of sport began. Reminiscing about his school days at Rockwell College Phil said “I was fortunate to have been in Rockwell where there was a great athletic tradition and sports culture. I remember the cross country lads running “the hill” and the rugby team getting “egg flips” (an early version of protein shakes) for the morning break. They produced the first Irish schoolboy high jumper to clear 6ft (1.83m), and the first Pole Vaulter to clear 11ft and 12ft (3.35m and 3.66m). We had athletic leagues where everyone did everything; I once ran a 3 mile race for a point that nearly killed me.”
Philip’s long career of achievement started more than 50 years ago – he was Irish schools champion in the shot in 1964, British AAA Junior champion in the Discus in 1966. By 1969 word came back from his university in America that he was also now throwing the hammer – indeed that year – age 21 – he was captain of the Irish athletics team and competed for Ireland in Shot, Disc and Hammer. In fact, he even considered giving up the Shot to concentrate on the Discus, but fortunately decided against this – becoming the first Irish shotputter over 60 feet – Ireland had not yet converted to metres – and competed in the Shot in the 1972 Olympics
When he finished his masters degree in America and came home, Philip was already decided on a mission. He was going to lead a revival of the throwing events in Ireland – almost every gold medal in the hammer throw between 1896 and 1936 was won by an Irish person, but then we fell behind, the throwing events became unfashionable – he was going to restore them to a key place in Irish athletics.
And with the help of other throwers and coaches – people like [Bernie Hartigan, Paddy Creagh, Frank O’Shea, John King], he set to work. Driven by his own fierce determination and boundless energy, and helped by a powerful personality and an overwhelming physical presence, that is what he did. So by the mid-70’s the talk was of getting an Irish hammer thrower through the 200 feet (61 meter) barrier for the first time in a decade – then the talk was of finding an Olympic qualifier, then of breaking 75 metres. And the throwing revival continued as young men and women in all the throwing events took on this mission as their own – on a wet winter Saturday morning in Dublin, one could find 50 or 60 throwers doing drills on the track, and in other places around Ireland, too, these events grew in popularity – little groups of people fed off one another’s progress.
Conway guided many of athletes to the highest level in our sport, a place at the Olympic Games:
- Sean Egan – 1980 Hammer
- Conor McCullough and Declan Hegarty – 1984 Hammer
- Patricia Walsh – 1984 Discus – Finalist
- Conor McCullough – 1988 Hammer
- Paul Quirke – 1992 - Shot
- Nick Sweeney – 1992 – Discus
- Roman Linscheid – 1996 Hammer
- Nick Sweeney – 1996 Discus
- Peter Coghlan – 2000 – 110 Hurdles
- Paddy McGrath – 2000 – Hammer
- John Menton – 2000 Discus
- Nick Sweeney – 2000 Discus
Philip was never exclusive – his coaching and advice was not confined to a particular school, or a particular club, or even just to athletics – he could be heard giving wise, if sarcastic, advice to a hammer thrower in the throwing circle, while shouting encouragement to a rugby player doing his fitness training on the track. He helped with conditioning – and ‘mental realignment’ – with rugby players, winning Gaelic teams, yachting and rowing groups and more.
Philip inspires and guides a generation of up and coming Irish throwers who are the children of that first generation of throwers in the Conway revival - young stars Conor McCullough, Colin Quirke, Aoife Hickey to name jsut three. Conway is not only the father of a generation of Irish throwing, he is the grandfather of the next throwing ‘revival’. But Philip’s most important gift was that as he helped to form many of these teenagers into decent athletes, he helped to form many more into decent adults.
It is now nearly 35 years since a newspaper reported in 1980 - that Philip was easing out of the Coaching role to spend more time with his family. Well no-one really believed it – after all, he was secretly teaching his babies to say ‘discus’ as their first word!! And now – half a century and most of a lifetime since he first made his mark on a throwing ground – he has made his mark on so many athletes – truly a lifetime achievement.