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'It was the most special day of my career and I spent it with Jerry Kiernan'

Sport Ireland CEO and former athlete John Treacy pays tribute to his late friend.

Ireland's John Treacy pictured competing at the 1984 Olympics.
Ireland's John Treacy pictured competing at the 1984 Olympics.
Image: S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

JOHN TREACY, Sport Ireland CEO and the man who shared an Olympic stage with Jerry Kiernan, today paid tribute to his late friend.

Speaking this afternoon, following the news that Kiernan had passed away at the age of 67, Treacy said he was “in a state of shock” and described the Irish athletics legend as “an outstanding person that gave his heart and soul to running”.

Treacy got to know Kiernan in the early ’80s, when the pair would often train together around Marlay Park and up the Dublin mountains.

“Jerry was an intellectual in a way, he read a lot,” Treacy tells The42. “You’d be able to talk to him about anything. He’d have an opinion about everything as well.

“The 22-mile runs used to go very quickly, and we wouldn’t be hanging around, running up the Dublin mountains, let’s put it that way. It used to be a good test on a Sunday morning.”

Treacy famously won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics Games in the marathon, while Kiernan finished ninth in the same event.

“Jerry’s greatest race was Los Angeles in ’84, where he ran absolutely magnificently in that race,” he recalls. “He came from a long way back to catch us up front to finish ninth in that race where the cream of Olympic marathon talent at the time were assembled. 

“And of course, he had a stellar career on the roads in Ireland as well as other places internationally.”

On the ’84 Games, Treacy adds: “We had Dick [Richard Hooper] on the team as well. That was some Olympic team we put together. 

“It was the most special day of my career and I spent it with Jerry Kiernan, and I think reflecting back on his own career, Jerry would probably say it was his greatest performance as well. It was 87 degrees Fahrenheit. We were running world-class times in that weather. 

“When you came off the Coliseum track that day having run the last 500m in the stadium, and you knew you’d given everything, you could only be pleased with how you ran. That’s how both of us felt.”

And does Treacy believe that amidst all the inevitable and deserved praise for his silver medal, Kiernan’s achievement was somewhat overlooked?

“It was, yeah. Everyone is going to talk about the medal. I remember saying it in the Mansion House when I came back, I said: ‘Let’s not forget what Jerry Kiernan did.’ It was an outstanding achievement. Ninth in the Olympic Games. Fantastic running. It was just unbelievable and it should never be forgotten. If you look back at the sport of athletics in terms of track and field particularly, that performance would be right up there.”

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jerry-kiernan-digital Jerry Kiernan has passed away at the age of 67. Source: Patrick Bolger/INPHO

Owing to that display, as well as many other impressive feats over the course of his career, Treacy believes Kiernan deserves to be considered among the pantheon of great Irish athletes.

“Along with Dick Hooper, they put road racing on the map in Ireland, they really did. The two of them, they had stellar careers, particularly in the ’80s. There was a rivalry between them as well, but that’s what happens when you have two great athletes competing in many of the great road races around Ireland. Apart from that Olympic marathon, he had a lot of fantastic other races, including Dublin City Marathons and all that.

“I remark as well in terms of all he’s given to the athletes he’s coached down through the years. Ciara Mageean and John Travers would be the two best-known, but he gave a huge amount to these people, and was very dedicated to the sport.

“His punditry in RTÉ was second to none, he knew his stuff. He had all his facts and figures, and he knew how to analyse things properly, and really did a good job in terms of bringing the sport of athletics to Irish families.

“He’s left a fantastic mark, but it’s all too soon for his passing.

“We lost another mate, Paddy Hooper, not so long ago. And now, Jerry is gone. So it’s very, very hard.”

Away from athletics, Kiernan also had a big impact. He spent around 40 years teaching at St Brigid’s Boys School, Foxrock, before retiring in 2013, and a number of his former students paid tribute to him on social media today.

“I’ve met loads of his students down through the years,” Treacy adds. “I ran into them in different parts of the world. And they all told me they loved Jerry Kiernan, and that he was an outstanding teacher. The parents of these kids at the time told me that he was a standout teacher and he really put a huge amount of energy into it. But that doesn’t surprise me. Jerry was great at everything he did. He did it to an exceptionally high level and he gave it everything. That’s just the way he approached life.

“The students I spoke to of his down through the years, they worshipped him. And they carried that legacy through life. He gave them confidence, they believed in him and gave him the time. That’s some legacy to leave behind.”

While they both led busy lives and didn’t always see each other on a regular basis, Kiernan and Treacy remained good friends after their respective retirements from athletics and the emotion with which the latter speaks about the Listowel native is a testament to their longstanding bond.

“Track-and-field athletes, we’re a bit different. We spend an awful long time running around hills or mountains. So you do have a deep appreciation for your colleagues. A lot of people I ran against down through the years, we might have been rivals, but once we crossed the finish line, we were always the best of pals. And that was just the way the sport was. 

“We’d socialise together. We’d earmark the Los Angeles performance, the three of us as well, Dick, Jerry and myself. I think it might have been the 20th anniversary or whatever it was at the time. But we did mark it and it was a special day for the three of us. They were the kind of things you do in life and I wouldn’t have been on the phone to Jerry all of the time, but the minute we’d meet each other, we’d pick up straight away. You might be talking about Ciara Mageean or whoever Jerry was coaching, but it rolled off your tongue. That was just the way life was. He’s gone far too early. It’s terrible.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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