The TOM KEENAN CUP – A Tribute to a stalwart of Cycling Ireland.
Naas CC hosts the latest round of the Cycling Ireland Women’s Intermediate League – the Open TT this June 15th. However, the event takes on new significance this year as the club has commissioned a new cup for both the fastest man and fastest woman on the day over the 38.3km test from Kilcullen to Athy and back. The name of our own Tom Keenan will be etched for evermore on the latter trophy. Tom shared some of his stories and observations with us, revealing a man entirely committed to looking after cyclists, especially youth and junior riders, while filling vital roles at nearly every stage race held in the country at some time or other.
There isn’t a single racing cyclist of any renown who hasn’t met Tom at some event or other in the past 25 years. He is often the man at the finish line, clock in hand, calm and stoic regardless of the conditions, unflappable no matter what chaos ensues around him; and he almost always has a laugh and a witty comment for whoever he meets, especially a lad who is feeling a bit sorry for himself or has an excuse for having a hole in his shorts or a lump on his head. Tom is a true roadman and cycling purist.
So how did Tom end up organising cycling events? Perhaps it started when himself and his brother cycled from home in Carrickmacross into Dundalk to the Army Apprentice School. Life’s subsequent journey brought Tom towards The Curragh, a marriage with family, and only in his late 30’s did cycling as an organised endeavour begin to make any appeal. Initially it was simply something to keep “youngsters” occupied, during the boom time of Kelly, Roche and all the great names of the 1980s. Tom’s son Brian was one of several local youths itching for some racing action. Along with another Naas man, Tom Ryan, and others, Sunday Spins out to Beggars End and back prompted further interest and in time, a Renault Traffic van was bought to ferry the boys, minus any seats or seatbelts, to all sorts of places to compete, with wildly varying degrees of success.
1 Two Toms: Keenan (L) and Ryan (R)
Tom remembers attending his first youth race at Donadea, organised by the long-standing Donadea Wheelers. It was where the late Gabriel Howard (RIP) admonished a Naas rider – as only Gaybo could – for wearing the wrong jersey. One can only imagine the colourful nature of the exchange to this day. It was one of Tom’s many encounters with officialdom and in time, Tom grew very adept and indeed very much respected, as a man who understood the need to do things properly and to look after riders.
2 Tom Keenan pictured with 2018 Open TT Winner Michael O’Loughlin (Team Wiggins)
When asked if Tom considers himself a coach, his resounding answer is no. He has always put the management and the care of riders first. With an army training, he is very much a logistics man and a hard, but very fair, taskmaster. In his own words, he is the man who loads them on the bus or gets them on the ferry and he is the man who sticks them back on the bus or the train home after the time away. And things are done right, even if not everybody agrees at the time.
His catalogue of successful stints as a manager speaks for itself:
• He was the first team manager to look after Mark Scanlon, at the Youth Olympics, 2 years before he won the Worlds in 1998
• Junior Tour of Ireland team manager when Simon Coughlan won
• Junior Tour of Wales manager for 10 years
• Multiple times Team Manager at the World Junior Championships, including a hilarious time in Hamilton, Ontario, getting lost on a motorway with Philip Deignan
• Team Manager to the first and only Kildare team to win the County Team Title at the Ras Tailteann in 2000
His management of the successful Ras team in 2000 stands out as a highlight. Along with Aidan Crowley, Philip Finnegan, Andrew Meehan, and Brian Lennon, (RIP) Dave Smyth formed part of the team and to this day Dave remains a member of Naas CC and one of the few who encountered Tom right from the early days.
3 Kildare County Team – Ras Tailtean 2000. Tom Keenan pictured on the right
In time, Tom fell into organising part of the Ras itself, initially driving foreign teams and guests around the route, much to Tommy’s amusement and bewilderment at times. He became timekeeper, which aligned with his growing popularity as a sharp administrator of time trials, most notably at big stage races like Gorey, Kanturk or Charleville. His friendship with Alice Sherratt and her wonderful crew of race officials has brought him to every corner of the country, and abroad, to face all kinds of ups and downs along the way. If the inside of those time-keepers vans could talk….
4 Tom Keenan – in typical pose at the Gorey 3-Day TT
So when asked why he liked cycling so much, Tom says that it is an interesting question. He certainly loves his personal cycling – getting out and about in his own time. He also loves meeting all sorts of people and has a knack for leaving an impression upon those he encounters. He has an endless list of yarns from all kinds of races, most notably the A4 chap who turned up at the Kanturk TT with an aero helmet on backwards; or another suitably confused competitor who missed his TT time by nearly an hour because he pinned his frame number on backwards. Did they get any sympathy?
It is truly fitting that the perpetual cup for the fastest woman rider at the Open TT will henceforth be known as the Tom Keenan Cup – a tribute richly deserved for this stalwart of road cycling in the country.