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Obituary: John (Sean) Kyle, renowned athletics coach who spent half a century working with local stars

Published 11/11/2015

Sean Kyle and his wife Maeve in March 1997
Sean Kyle and his wife Maeve in March 1997

The death was announced yesterday morning of John Noel Kyle, known universally as Sean.

Born in Ballymena on December 28, 1926 the youngest of three children to John and Dorothy Kyle, he was called Sean by his mother to differentiate him from his father and the name stuck.

Having been a student at Ballymena Academy from 1932 to 1944, where he developed a love for rugby, he joined the family firm of John Kyle & Son Insurance Brokers where he would remain until his retirement.

His rugby interest continued with Ballymena Rugby Club, where he played on the wing and in the centre, and he is recognised as being one of those responsible for the reorganisation of the club following the Second World War.

Through his many business and sporting interests he was a respected part of the fabric of the town throughout his life.

It was in the sport of athletics, however, and not rugby, that Sean was to make his greatest contribution and his reputation in this arena spread far beyond the streets of Ballymena.

Having whetted his appetite engrossed in the exploits of Jesse Owens and others at the Berlin Olympics, his lifetime involvement in the sport was cemented when he met, married and began to coach Irish international hockey player, Maeve Shankey.

Under his guidance, Maeve would make history as the first female Irish Olympian, by which time she and some fellow hockey players had founded Ballymena Ladies AC, soon to be joined by a group of men.

Sean found himself as the only coach to a group of diverse and ambitious athletes and history shows that he was not found wanting.

Within a short space of time Ballymena athletes such as Barry Bamber, Bob Catterson and a young Mary Peters were making an impact on the local scene and over the next half century Sean would impart his immense coaching knowledge to many who would have international success, from Northern Ireland Championship level through to Olympic Games.

Athletes of the calibre of Johnny Kilpatrick, the Kirkpatrick's, CJ, Billy, Angie and Ivan, Sean O'Neill, Ricky Robinson, Mark Kirk, Pauline Quinn, John McAdorey, Anna Boyle and countless others will credit Sean with their success.

Recognised as the Northern Ireland National Coach for 20 years before the professional era, Sean was happy to offer assistance to athletes and coaches far beyond his Co Antrim base and he was recognised in his appointment as coach to several Commonwealth Games, as an official observer at the Olympics as well as receiving numerous individual awards.

Despite failing health, Sean maintained his attachment to the sport right up to last year when he could be found on the timekeepers' stand at Antrim.

Sean leaves behind wife Maeve, daughter Shauna and grand-daughter Indie.

Belfast Telegraph

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