The guy they named a swimming pool after !

A customer was in the shop recently who is a professional photographer . Whilst chatting he mentioned that he had a teenage girl on work experience with him at present . One day whilst going through a batch of photographs they happened upon an image of Sean Kelly . The fourth greatest cyclist of all time who hails from and resides in Carrick on Suir , just thirteen miles from the girls home . The photographer pointed the picture out and asked the girl if she knew who that was . The reply came ‘ no , not a clue ‘ . When he said ‘ that’s Sean Kelly ‘ , the reply that followed was ‘ The fella that has the swimming pool down in Carrick? ‘ ( The Sean Kelly sports centre was named after the man himself in recognition of the fame that he brought to his home town and the fund-raising efforts that he made to have the centre built )

For all of those out there who do not know who Sean Kelly is here is a very brief outline of who the man is ;

Rather than just ratteling off the facts that can be found on wikipedia or in many other places on the net , I will describe my experience of Sean Kelly ;

Thursday September 26th 1985 6.15 pm. I’m sitting in the kitchen eating my ‘tea’ watching ‘the news’ on RTE One ( we only had 2 channels at the time ) . The sports section comes on and I find myself drawn to the excited voice of Jimmy McGee as he describes a heap of cyclists racing into Carrick . I know Carrick , it’s only 13 miles from Clonmel so it catches my eye . They show clips of these cyclists tearing through the main street with a massive crowd shouting them on ( over 20,000 people were there on the day) . Some fella called Van Vliet won the stage with a Van Lanker next then a dub called Roche . He got a big cheer from the crowd but when a local from Carrick in the Yellow t-shirt was tearing mad down the street beside a fella called Van der Poel the roar of the crowd was almost deafening . I could feel goose bumps on the back of my neck , and I was only watching it on the telly .

The following morning , when I went in to sixth class in Grange national school a few more of the lads had seen it on the telly as-well . We were all chatting about it when ‘the Master’ ( school principal ) came in to the classroom and said that we were all going to walk a mile down the road to see the Nissan Classic cycling race as it passed by’ Keatings cross ‘. Sure we were all delighted , time off school . In the back of my mind I was curious to see what this cycling racing would be like . I would soon find out .

As we stood there en mass waiting for the race to pass by a lead car , a Nisan Bluebird , came flying up over the brow of the hill , lights ablaze and diddle diddle horn blowing . The car pulled up beside us and a guy announced over the PA that the local lad Sean Kelly had won that mornings time trial from Carrick to Clonmel and now had a good lead over the rest of the field . We all clapped and cheered , although to be fair we probably would have done the same if he had just said it was a sunny day .

( Kelly’s time for the 13 miles from Sean Kelly square to Clonmel’s town Hall was 24.09 , on a normal bike with a disc wheel , Roche was second on a low profile in a time of 24.58 whilst that years world pursuit champion Tony Doyle was third in a time of 25.33 )


Then the moment came , more lead bluebirds , flashing garda motorbikes and then the bunch . They passed us in all of about 5 seconds but that was all it took to get me hooked . That night I was glued to the television as they showed a half hour highlight programme . As Kelly mounted the start ramp in Carrick the whole crowd began to chant in Unison ‘ KELLY , KELLY , KELLY ‘ . He seemed oblivious to it all as he concentrated on the job in hand , and the fingers of the official timekeeper to Kelly’s left went from 5 to 4 to 3 to 2 and to 1 before waving him on his way . Glen frey began the soundtrack singing about ‘ The heat is on ‘ ( years later I think that this is where my Father got his phrase about ‘ The break is on‘ from ) Next up came Bonnie Tyler singing about ‘ Holding out for a Hero ‘ . Interspersed between these two songs was Jimmy McGees voice proclaiming that we were looking at a man on a mission , dedication intent , whatever that means , but it sounded great at the time . Kelly was hunched over the bike as sweat dripped from his nose down onto the stem and he seemed to be travelling faster than any car could go . He caught VanVliet for 2 minutes and Van der poel for 1 minute approaching Clonmel and in Jimmy McGees words ‘ A time trial is turning into a sprint , but the wileyDutchman has no answer for the strength of the Irishman , Kelly goes for it , Kelly takes it , he’s there . ‘ The crowds on the streets of Clonmel were massive and I wanted to be a part of all of this .

Kelly wasn’t the only local in the race that year . Anthony O’Gorman rode it in 1985 on the Irish amateur team and was joined by brother Dick the following year when they led the race into their hometown of Clonmel .

The race finished that evening with four laps of St. Patricks hill in Cork . Roche won the stage but once again Kelly edged out Van der Pole in the sprint for second .

Limerick was next with Roche once again winning ahead of Kelly who won the bunch gallop . In Galway Teun Van Vliet once again came out on top winning by 3 seconds .

The final stage in Dublin was won by Van der Poel ahead of MalcomElliot with Kelly running out Overall victor .

The following day Jim McArdle wrote some prophetic words in The Irish Times ‘ It could be the start of a new era in Irish Cycling ‘

For me at least it really was the start of a new era , and for many more like me . Our generation of Irish cyclists , inspired by Kelly and Roche bore testament to the fact that ‘ inspiration breeds participation ‘ We all became fanatical racing cyclists . We had a hero . In cycling it was akin to United and City in Manchester . There was Roche and Kelly and plenty of banter between the country lads who were ‘Kelly men ‘ and the lads from Dublin who were ‘Roche men ‘ , but it was all good natured .

Sean Kelly spanned an era from Merckx to Armstrong and both have said  they they greatly admired him .

Personally , seeing Kelly in that Nissan set me on a path that has greatly affected the course of my life . As a teenager having a ‘ hero ‘ like Kelly to look up to would keep you away from drink and cigarettes and out of any serious trouble . My job – together with Ray (who was also inspired to get into cycling at the same time) , owning and running a bike shop . If there had never been a Sean Kelly there would never have been a worldwidecycles .

Sean Kelly is The fourth greatest cyclist of all time and a credit to his country . He is revered on the continent and further afield even as far as America .

They say that you should never meet your Hero’s. I disagree , I think that if you have the right hero they are well worth meeting . Growing up posters of Sean Kelly adorned my walls and today I am lucky to have gotten to know the man himself . Aside from what he has achieved  on the bike , off the bike he is a down to earth, very normal guy with a good sense of humour . A straight talker who if he says he will do something , does it or else tells you up front that he cannot do it . He is also razor sharp and would have succeeded no matter what field he had gone into .

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There is always a good reason when they name a swimming pool after you !


2 thoughts on “The guy they named a swimming pool after !

  • January 12, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    That’s scary Barry !!

    I was only watching that time trial on dvd yesterday ( The Sean Kelly Story, An Irish Cycling Legend . On sale at world wide cycles, a must have for any Sean Kelly fan ).

    Great memories of that day standing outside O’Gormans pub in parnell street waiting for the moment kelly whizzed by. Went off up to Binchy’s and bought the Kelly Book by David Walsh afterwards and read it cover to cover that night.

  • January 13, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    If anyones looking for a good read Clonmel Library have a copy of David Walsh’s book. I found it particularly fascinating since I was living far from Ireland when it all happened and it helped me to gain a full appreciation of the man I have heard so much about since coming to Clonmel.


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