Fitting tribute to Jerry Kiernan as Irish athletes leave it all on the track

Former RTÉ athletics analyst would have relished collective team’s sterling efforts in Poland

Phil Healy reacts after her fourth-place finish in the Women’s 400m final at the European Indoor Championships in Torun, Poland in which she delivered a personal best time of 51.94. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

David Gillick recalled those times when he’d return to his hotel after competing at a major championship and the first thing he’d start wondering was “what did Jerry say, what did Jerry say, what was he moaning about?”

Rob Heffernan was the same. “Jerry’s was the first opinion I looked to through my whole career – if he was happy with what you did in a competition, you knew you did okay”.

The chat was part of a very lovely tribute on Friday to the late Jerry Kiernan ahead of the start of the European Indoor Championships, Peter Collins reminding us that it would be the first major athletics competition on RTÉ without his presence in 20 years.

So, after every Irish performance through the three days, you’d be wondering, ‘what would Jerry think?’


The runner John Travers talked about how much pleasure Kiernan would take in his charges registering personal bests, “that was as good to him as any medal winner”, so you’d imagine he’d have been well happy with the bulk of the Irish team in Poland, a fair chunk of whom ran their fastest ever times.

Still, though, you’d miss the spiky auld cantankerousness which would, more than likely, have been applied while tempering our medal-winning hopes/expectations before the championships, in a “hold yer horses” kind of way. There was never a better man to educate those of us who assume a PB on a wet Wednesday night in Athlone should automatically transfer in to a medal of the major kind.

You’d guess, though, that he’d have doffed his cap to the Bandon Bullet herself, Phil Healy, after she finished fourth in the 400m final with her fastest-ever run.

Those of us who watch these things from the couch would generally prefer to finish last than fourth, deeming the barbarity of missing out on a medal by a single place a bit too barbaric. But Healy was rightly proud of her run, in quality company, which would have earned her a medal in the previous five championships.

“She should get a visor, I want to see her smiling,” said Rob Heffernan as the masked Healy spoke to Gillick, him seemingly locked in a broom cupboard in an undisclosed location, talking to our athletes via his telly. And his right arm was in a sling too, adding to the mystery of it all.

“You win some, you learn from more,” said Healy, intent on banking the experience to ensure she’d come back stronger.

And that was the gist of the conclusions of most of our competitors – learn from it, move on. Like Sarah Lavin, who had a personal best in the 60m hurdles, her very charming assessment of her athletic life, in light of this pandemic lark: “At the end of the day, I’m just running and jumping over stuff, but it’s really tough for everyone at the moment.”

And Longford teenager Cian McPhillips after Gillick saluted his tactical maturity in his 800m semi-final: “Ah, it’s really not that complicated – try not to pass on the bends and accelerate a bit on the straights.”

For their post-race interviews alone, most of our athletes deserve medals.

Anyway, you’d be half dreaming of Jerry Kiernan punditing on Sky Super Sunday and giving his thoughts on that banner that flew over Anfield – “Unity Is Strength – Let’s Go Reds YNWA” – while they were losing to Fulham. Jerry was never speechless, but this might have rendered him so. Not least because the cost of hiring that pointless plane would have financed running shoes for a whole heap of little ones.

“So often last year Liverpool were mentality monsters – now they are more like mentality midgets,” Jamie Carragher sighed as his lads moved even closer in the table to the relegation zone than they are to Manchester City.

Things can always change, though. As Sky’s Wayne Riley said of Jordan Spieth’s mighty efforts at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, “he’s been through hell – four months ago he was having more hits than Lady GaGa, now look at him”. There’s always hope. Although, for now, there isn’t much of it in those Anfield hearts.