Seamus Kennedy Winner Of The Health Race Rás Tailteann1978
Jan 19, 2020, 14:28
Seamus Kennedy Winner of the Health Race Ras Tailteann 1978
When Seamus Kennedy won Irish cycling’s greatest prize, the Rás Tailteann, in 1978, he declared that he had achieved his life’s ambition, and that he was going to retire.
“I’m finished now. I will retire at the end of the season. I have won everything I can,” he is quoted as saying in July 1978. But that was never going to happen. Kennedy’s passion for cycling was such that he would never retire from the saddle. Fr Stan Deegan, PP, Kilcloon, celebrating his funeral Mass last week, said that Seamus Kennedy had never envisaged finishing early, withdrawing from the action. But he had lived a full and complete life, Fr Deegan continued. Kennedy passed away on Monday of last week, following illness. he was aged 65.
And a perusal of the Meath Chronicle archives shows that, for decades, the Boardsmill native did win everything it was possible to, with his name prominent for forty years, from the 1960s, up to veteran categories in the early 2000s.
his introduction to cycling was through the short-lived Ballivor club set up by enthusiast, Jack Bird, in the early 1960s. The club had a circuit which passed by the Kennedy homeplace at Fearmore, in Boardsmill, where the young Seamus, then active in the local GAA club, decided he was going to get involved with bikes. Kennedy later paid tribute to Jack Bird’s role in his cycling career.
he won a league for beginners in Ballivor in 1964, before moving to navan Road Club the following year, where he stood out as one of the more impressive novices. Gene Mangan, a fellow Rás winner and work colleague of Kennedy’s, recalls first meeting him as a 16 year-old at Mick Christle’s training camp in Carlow in 1965, and says Kennedy had a chirpy enthusiasm and was all muscle, and who could run well too - unusual for a cyclist. he was a perfectionist and was fascinated by the bicycle as an object, Mangan says.
Over the next few years, he started collecting prizes - in 1968, the All Ireland 1,000 metres sprint final at Ceannt Stadium; the Belfast-Dublin Classic and All Ireland 100 miles mass start, and the following year, the 25 miles time trial championship and the 75 miles Rás Ceatharlac.
Writing in the Chronicle in January 1969, the correspondent, ‘Courer’ said that if Meath gave annual awards to sports stars, there would be little point in looking further than Seamus Kennedy, whose performances throughout the season placed him well above most of his compatriots in any merit ratings.
Listing out his achievements for 1968, which included Meath and All Ireland titles, both road and track, the writer says he was the first Irishman (seventh) in the overall placings in the Rás Tailteann, only yielding defeat to the dominant Czechs.
The Rás Tailteann had been founded by Joe Christle in 1953, and Kennedy first took part in 1965. At the time, Meath, Kerry and Dublin were providing most of the prominent and successful riders of the era, when the event captured the imagination of the country as an Irish Tour de France.
By the time of his eventual win in 1978, Kennedy had set a record of sorts - since his first outing in ‘65, he had lost the Yellow Jersey more times than anyone else. he had worn it for a total of 13 days and won eight stages, but had lost it four times without winning.
he was regarded as a wonderful cyclist, with a very professional attitude and a meticulous approach to his preparation, diet, and any aspect of his life that impinged on cycling. While not an exceptional climber, he was fast, focused, aggressive and ruthless in the sprints. According to Tom Daly’s history of the Rás, he was a classic single-day racer, a feared rider who never gave an inch, always generating breaks, staying away and winning the sprint. Such tendencies didn’t always help in a team-led Rás Tailteann which needed a multi-day strategy, and at times led to acrimonious finishes to stages.
Kennedy was unlucky, and very disappointed, to lose out on winning the 1975 Rás. he had a puncture on the second last stage, riding for the Ireland team. he had snatched the lead at the end of the opening Dublin to Monaghan stage, and held the advantage until the blow-out at Ballymore-eustace. he finished up third overall to Paddy Flanagan and German rider Zebisch, only beaten by 43 seconds overall that year.
In 1978, Kennedy was riding for his father’s native Kerry, in a team sponsored by Allied Irish Finance, where he worked. The race was won on the Letterkenny to Warrenpoint third last stage. With a tail wind aiding the riders, the 101 miles was covered in a very fast three hours, 37 minutes and at the finishing line, Kennedy outsprinted Christy Reynolds of the Meath PJ White team.
In his history of navan Road Club, noel Coogan writes: “That gave Seamus the yellow jersey and he held the coveted garment on the Saturday spin through some tough roads in Louth and Meath on the way to Balbriggan. The final stage went through Skerries, Swords, Ratoath and Clonee en route to 15 laps around a short circuit in the Phoenix Park.”
Gene Mangan recalls that it was a very decisive Rás, and that Kennedy tactically rode it very well. he became the fourth Meath man, after Ben McKenna, Brian Connaughton and Colm Nulty, to win the race, and was to be followed by Philip Cassidy’s first win five years later. his brothers, Michael and Timmy, rode in the Rás that year, on the Meath Sheerin team.
That victory also drew down the curtain on part of the national Cycling Association’s chequered history. Kennedy was the last N C A man to win the Rás under the old regime. The Irish Cycling Tripartite Committee had brought together the three different factions in Irish cycling, the N C A, the northern Ireland Cycling Federation, and the ICF. Kennedy went on to win a major race in the naul, which included teams from england, and was the first major event after ‘Unity’ of the factions, and was a significant race to win.
he rode the Rás 18 times, every year from 1965 to ‘81, and in 1983 for the last time. On three occasions, in 1969, ‘72 and ‘75, he won the first stage of the race, and shared in six team victories. With his brother, Michael, Shay O’Hanlon, Paul Tansey and Seamus Reynolds, he rode with a Trim team sponsored by Michael Vaughan and Tirolia, and managed by Noel Clarke,
he won the 100 miles road championship four times, and national sprint and points titles were among his many successes. Stage race successes included the Rás Uladh, Rás Mumham and Rás Connacht. With other Meath riders, he represented Ireland in the three-day classic international race, the Grand Prix humanite in France, and spent some time on the Belgian circuit.
he won the first stage of the Tour of Tunisia in 1978, and was fourth overall, and was third overall in the tour of Israel in 1975, when he finished second to Kilmessan’s noel Clarke in a stage. Kennedy was on the 1980 Olympic panel, and expressed regret at not having taken part in an Olympics. Up to a decade ago, he was still winning races as a veteran, in the Klondyke Cup, navan RC championship, Beechmount Cup and Cycleways Cup. In later years, he became involved with the Dunboyne club close to his Kilcloon home, and his last race was the Gerry Brannigan Memorial in Clonee last november.
Philip Cassidy of the Dunboyne Club pays tribute to Kennedy, who had a major influence on his career.
“Seamus, along with Brian Connaughton, was a major source of help to me,” Philip says. “he brought me to many races, and when I won the national Championships in enniskillen, we set off at 6am. And you always wanted to race that bit better when you had Seamus in the car, because you’d want to repay the efforts he was making to be there.”
Cassidy described his as a role model, valued adviser and a really good friend. Another close friend, Brian Connaughton, who read at the Funeral Mass, said Seamus was an incredible perfectionist who would never take part in a race unless he felt he was totally fit to ride. Members of the 1978 Kerry team placed a jersey on the coffin as it left St Oliver Plunkett’s Church in Kilcloon for the adjoining cemetery on Thursday.
Son of James and the late Sheila (O’Brien) Kennedy of Boardsmill, deceased married teacher Eileen Linnane from Kilcloon and settled in her native Killeaney, where they brought up their family. Seamus Kennedy initially worked with the hire Purchase Company of Ireland, later Allied Irish Finance, with Gene Managan and Ratoath cyclist Gerry Keogh and also worked for CIe for a time. he rode with navan Road Club for most of his career, with stints in Dublin clubs, Setanta and AIF. eileen died in 2000, aged 50, and deceased is survived by family, Derval, Colm, Ian, Kieran and Alma; father, James, sisters, Maureen and Una, both Chicago; brothers, Mickey and Timmy, both Boardsmill, grandchildren, in-laws, nephews, nieces, relatives and many friends in the cycling fraternity.
|Seamus Kennedy with the George Plant Trophy|