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Rock of the Suir
Caricature by Jon Knight
Sean Kelly is from a place called Carrick-on-Suir, in County Tipperary. Suir is the name of the river passing through the town, while Carrick derives from a Gaelic word for rock. And 'Rock of the Suir' sounds so bloody perfect for Kelly that it should have been his nickname.
Kelly was a simple lad, the son of a farmer, and a boy who had a very basic upbringing. Academically speaking he was no shining star and it was his brother, Joe, who first got him into cycling; I think there is some story of the Kelly boys arriving at Sean’s first race with the future Classics legend on a bike half his size.
Growing up horsing around on the family farm, Kelly acquired the kind of strength that only comes with repeated daily manual labour. He's the kind of guy I imagine having spuds for breakfast, lunch and dinner and you would also imagine little in the way of luxuries. I doubt there were many Mars bars in Mrs Kelly's kitchen cupboards.
People mention how disciplined he was (he famously went to bed early every night) and he was certainly money hungry. His compatriot, Stephen Roche, was also brought up on simple means but whereas Roche seemed drawn to the flashier side of stardom, Kelly always seemed grounded.
Kelly would drive all round France to clean up at the criteriums, sleeping an hour here and there in his car. He was undoubtedly physiologically gifted and always claimed he didn’t have to train as hard as the rest of the peloton. I’m convinced that his farm upbringing, with its emphasis on manual labour, served Kelly well down the years. Bernard Hinault had a similar background, as did Miguel Indurain. These were men whose philosophy toward life, and riding, was forged from working the land. Farm boys. Tough lads. Rocks of the road.
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