JIMMY Deenihan received a phone call at around lunchtime on Thursday which stopped him firmly in his tracks. The news on the other end of the line was not good. One of his best friends and former school mate, Jerry Kiernan, had, sadly and unexpectedly, passed away.
Having known each other for the best part of 60 years, the five-time All-Ireland senior medallist with Kerry was left shell-shocked by the untimely death of the 1984 Olympian at the age of 67, just one year younger than Deenihan himself.
“I got to know Jerry first when we played schools league football in Listowel in the 1960s. I was playing with Killocrim, even though I went to school in Dromclough. We both then went to St Michael’s College, where we ran cross-country and did athletics together,” he said.
“We won numerous cross-country events, we also won the County Cup which was a big football competition in the Kerry Colleges. There is a photo of us on that team somewhere in St Michael’s, and another one I saw online recently of myself and himself and Pat Riordan from Ardfert, when we were the first three home in the U16 road championship in Kerry.
“We had a very good relationship down through the years, and would have been in constant contact. It was a real genuine friendship. I was also very friendly with his parents, especially his mother, Mary Downey, who was originally from Brosna.”
While Deenihan’s sporting career took off in Gaelic football as part of Mick O’Dwyer’s ‘Golden Years’ team of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Kiernan kept on progressing down the athletics route that would eventually lead to two Dublin City Marathon victories and a ninth place finish in the Los Angeles Olympic Marathon of 1984.
“We had two great coaches, Johnny Flaherty and John Molyneaux, who were way ahead of their time.
They brought in this interval training that we used to do up the hill in the town park in Listowel and I remember on Sunday mornings running along the banks of the river in the town.
“They also put us on weights at an early stage and, with that and the professional coaching, that really made Jerry what he was. I went the football road, Jerry went the athletics road, and it was all very much down to the training of Johnny and John,” added the Finuge man.
While Kiernan’s wonderful performance in the sweltering Los Angeles heat 37 years ago was overshadowed that day by John Treacy’s eye-catching silver medal, Deenihan believes that his old friend’s overall athletics achievements often went under the radar in his own county.
“Kerry is very much a Gaelic football county. They recognise their Gaelic football stars above international success, and that includes rugby stars, or soccer players, and so on. Jerry’s achievement in Los Angeles was not fully grasped, not fully understood or appreciated.
“For Jerry himself, the Olympics was water off a duck’s back. He was one of the most modest people that I’ve ever met. Jerry was always more concerned about the next challenge, not any past achievements. Without a shadow of a doubt, he is one of Kerry’s greatest ever sports people.”
Of course, for those of a younger generation, Jerry Kiernan was the RTÉ athletics analyst who would appear on television for the Olympics with his distinctive grey mullet. As an expert in his sport, the Listowel man had few peers.
“He was a great analyst, because he really knew what he was talking about. In the sense of punditry, Jerry was similar in athletics to what Roy Keane is in soccer today. They would have very similar styles, both are fearless in what they say. From that point of view as well, Jerry is a big loss to Irish athletics.”
Last year, as part of Listowel Food Fair, Deenihan had been planning a celebration of Jerry’s career, where the likes of Eamonn Coghlan, John Treacy, Neil Cusack, Frank Greally and other athletics figures would travel to north Kerry. However, Covid-19 intervened to stymie all that.
“I will probably do it in the future, but it will now be in Jerry’s memory. I’m also going to personally sponsor an event for Jerry, because he was such a very good friend.
“What I will miss the most is his presence of just being there and watching him on the television. I’m not a big TV fan, but would always listen to Jerry. I always valued what he said, and had confidence in what he was saying.
“Jerry is another one of my era that is gone. It makes you conscious of your own mortality. Jerry was always running up to quite recently, but he also really got into walking in a big way. He used to walk with weights on his back. That summed him up.”