Belfast Telegraph

Modest Sean Kyle was a legendary coach and mentor

By John Glover

Tributes flowed in from all over the world following the passing, aged 88 after a long illness, of legendary athletics coach Sean Kyle.

One of the most poignant tributes came from former Commonwealth Games athlete and sub four minute miler Mark Kirk.

“It was with great sadness that I heard of the passing of Sean Kyle. Sean was my coach and mentor throughout most of my athletic career,” said Mark.

“I could never thank him enough for all the time and effort he put into me when I was a developing athlete and later in my career as a senior athlete trying to juggle my career as an athlete with working life.

“Along with his wife Maeve they passed their love and enthusiasm for the sport of athletics on to me and this remains with me even now. RIP Sean, you will be missed.”

“Athletics Northern Ireland are very sorry to hear about the death of Sean Kyle, Ballymena & Antrim AC. Thoughts are with the family at this sad time,” said the sport’s local governing body.

A statement from Athletics Ireland said that they had learned of Sean’s death “with great sadness”.

Sean met his wife, Ireland hockey international Maeve Shankey, in 1953 and within three years, under his guidance, she had become an Olympic sprinter.

Born on December 28, 1926 in Ballymena, the youngest of three children, Sean would remain a stalwart of the local sporting and business community of the town throughout his life.

His status in the area is encapsulated in the plaque that hangs alongside those of his wife Maeve, Sid Millar and Dame Mary Peters at the Ballymena Showgrounds. 

Yet Sean’s reputation in the sporting world is not confined to his native Co Antrim, a fact reflected in the messages of condolence.

Australian Nic Bideau, husband of Olympic silver medalist Sonia O’Sullivan, and Liz Lynch-Nutall the 1991 World 10,000 metres champion were among the first to express their sadness on hearing the news.

But it was with the Ballymena Athletics Club and in athletics in all over Ireland that Sean had and continues to have his greatest influence.

A host of athletes benefited from Sean’s coaching since he founded the Ballymena club with Maeve in 1955.

Primarily a group of hockey girls from Mid Antrim, they were  joined by many others and under the guidance of Sean and Maeve the club soon became a major force in local sport.

One of the initial members was a young Mary Peters who would later, of course, become Olympic pentathlon champion. 

Over the next half century there were a host of champions that came off the Kyle conveyer belt.

Names like CJ Kirkpatrick, Johnny Kilpatrick, Sean O’Neill, Sharon McPeake, Pauline Quinn, Eddie King, James McIlroy, Paul  Brizzel, John McAdorey, Anna Boyle and countless others etched their names in local athletics champions lists, some achieving Olympic status.

As a result of this Sean too was entering the awards lists, twice being named Northern Ireland Coach of the Year, then UK Coach of the Year and being granted the rare accolade of Master Coach.

He was also one of only six Northern Ireland recipients of the Torch Trophy Award ‘set up in 1963 to recognise and celebrate volunteers in local communities who have shown outstanding work and dedication to sport throughout the UK.’

Yet it was not only in coaching high calibre athletes that Sean gained satisfaction.

He was as happy teaching the rudiments of javelin throwing to a 13 year old youngster as he was mentoring a sprinter in the Olympic arena.

While Sean will be greatly missed within the athletics community there is no doubt that his influence will long outlive him as many of his former athletes, like Mark Kirk, are now passing on much of what they learnt from him to a new generation of athletes. 

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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