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'That's when people will realise that Jerry's not here anymore'

David Gillick shares his memories and stories of the late, great Jerry Kiernan.

Jerry Kiernan and David Gillick (centre) at the launch of RTÉ's Rio 2016 Olympic coverage.
Jerry Kiernan and David Gillick (centre) at the launch of RTÉ's Rio 2016 Olympic coverage.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

HE WILL BE missed. And he’ll be missed next week in RTÉ.

He was meant to be there, he was meant to be a pundit alongside myself and Derval. It’ll be a sad day. I think that’s when people will realise that Jerry’s not here anymore.

There will be a notable void in the RTÉ studio next weekend, as the focus switches to one of Europe’s biggest stages.

The late, great Jerry Kiernan won’t be there to delve deeper into the action at the European Indoor Athletics Championships in Torun, Poland, and to provide box-office punditry alongside David Gillick and Derval O’Rourke.

It’s hard to imagine watching RTÉ’s athletics coverage without Kiernan, but unfortunately, it will become a reality in a few days’ time.

Since Kiernan’s death at the age of 67 in late January, many touching tributes have been paid and heartfelt eulogies have poured in from all four corners of the country, and further afield. From athletes he ran with and against, to others he coached and others he critiqued. From students he taught, and others he met along the way. From family, friends and strangers.

Jerry Kiernan meant so much to so many, and the outpouring of emotion after his passing showed just that.

Everyone has their own stories and memories. Ciara Mageean’s many tributes have been powerful; how Kiernan was like a father to her, how he was much more than a coach and how he now leaves a lasting imprint on her heart. In the days after his death, she painted so many lovely pictures of Jerry the person, sharing stories about his grá for cats and his beloved Er Buchetto coffee shop in Ranelagh.

From the track to the field to the studio, David Gillick, likewise, has many of his own treasured memories and stories with Kiernan at the centre of them.

“Athletics is a small community in Ireland,” the Olympian and double European champion begins, as he casts his mind back through the years.

His first encounters with Kiernan came at underage cross country races in Dublin’s Phoenix Park; the pair crossing paths just as many stalwarts of the sport and blossoming young athletes do.

“Jerry was at all athletic meets from junior all the way up to senior,” Gillick smiles. “It was in his blood. Athletics was in his blood.”

As Gillick progressed through the sport and his star began to rise, Kiernan was The Pundit, “the guy who was in the studio critiquing my performances,” as he puts it.

Race after race, the former 400m sensation couldn’t help but think about potentially feeling the wrath afterwards should things fail to go to plan.

“It was always a bit like, ‘Ah, what’s Jerry gonna say?’ You always had that respect for him because of what he had achieved, but then you also had like, ‘Ah, he’s gonna have a pop at me here,’ particularly if it didn’t go that well.

“Jerry always had this thing about I should have been moving up [distances]. ‘You need to do 800, you need to do 800′ For years, it was like, ‘Ah Jerry, would you ever eff off?’

“The thing about Jerry is he would say that on air, but he would say it to my face as well. He wasn’t trying to be critical on TV just for the sake of it, he was very much well able to back up his opinions. I think that’s what stood to him.

“He would say it to me, ‘David, you need to run 800′ and I’d say, ‘No I don’t Jerry’ and he’d go, ‘Ah you do!’ We’d have that sort of craic, but then when I was performing and running a bit faster, he was very much a supporter.

“There were times when I might have a bad run but Jerry would back you up in a way. He was nice, he knew the talent that I had and he had that belief in me as an athlete. That was always nice.”

Gillick got to know Kiernan on an even more personal level through working with him on RTÉ programmes. Fresh off retirement, coming into a TV studio and analysing and critiquing athletes you know — some of them good friends – wasn’t the easiest thing to do.

But Kiernan helped an awful lot as Gillick found his feet.

That’s something he’s forever grateful for.

jerry-kiernan Jerry Kiernan is sadly missed in athletics circles and beyond. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Even in terms of preparation, he was always willing to share his notes and stuff that he knew, his knowledge,” he nods. “He wasn’t going to just throw something out there to make me look inadequate on air. He wasn’t like that.

“He was very much a warm and welcoming person. Jerry would have worked with a lot of athletes and a lot of people from junior level to senior level to world and Olympic level to just domestic level. He gave people a lot of his time, and a lot of people would miss that from him. There were no airs or graces about Jerry Kiernan. He was a very warm and helpful person.

“He gave so much to athletics, through his own athletic performances and then obviously through his coaching, what he gave back.”

And what he brought to the sport too: more exposure, more visibility, more conversation and debate, which all goes a long way.

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“What really stands out to me is he gave athletics headlines,” Gillick concludes. “He was controversial, but he had his valid points. When you’re in Ireland, and you’re a minority sport, and you’re very much up against it in every kind of way — participation numbers to financial support and all the rest of it, Jerry gave us headlines. He had a pop at the big sports.

“He was a Kerryman and he hates GAA… crazy! But he gave it a right go, he gave the lads a bit of fuel to think about and go, ‘Maybe we’re not as good as we should be down there.’ I welcomed that. I played GAA myself, but I think sometimes, a lot of athletes don’t get the credit that they deserve.

“Jerry, he shouted from the rooftops about the work and the ethic and everything that’s involved in terms of even getting to a major championship. Those headlines were worth their weight in gold, you know.

“Like I said, though, he always was able to back them up He wasn’t like, dare I say, other certain pundits that would just be controversial for the sake of it.

“There was a bit of substance to Jerry Kiernan.”

That, there certainly was, and that is something that will indeed be missed next weekend.

And forevermore.

***

David Gillick was speaking at the launch of the new Olympic Federation of Ireland campaign, ‘Don’t Scroll By’.

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About the author:

Emma Duffy

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