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