Liam Toland (centre), Mick Galwey, Paul Wallace, Craig Chalmers and Zinzan Brooke enjoy a well deserved swim in Galway after stage four of the Rugby Legends Cycle
The Cross Atlantic 1000 charity event is a timely reminder of just how lucky we are.
What does one do the week before the Rugby World Cup begins? Well, for the Irish squad I’m sure there’s plenty of last-minute preparation but for the rest of us there’s the Wild Atlantic Way!
So for Cross Atlantic 1000 (crossrugbylegends.com) I sat behind the biggest rugby player I could find to break the northerly winds as we travelled from Skibbereen along Ireland’s beautiful coastline all the way to Donegal Town. Thankfully big Bob Casey, Irish secondrow and now chief executive of London Irish, and Malcolm O’Kelly were in front of me as the last time I sat on a bike was when I got off it last year.
Kilometre after kilometre, I stared at him with the now famous blue ‘WW’ symbol in the middle of his back. To distract me from the pain, my mind drifted, reading and rereading the logos, the various names of those companies supporting this great cause and the countries from where the Legends had originated but my eyes kept coming back to ‘Lifes2Good’ right there in the middle of every cyclist’s shoulders.
For so many of us, life is too good. Over breakfast yesterday morning the extremely impressive Prof John Reynolds explained what Cross, an acronym for cancer research of the oesophagus and stomach at St James’s Hospital, is doing through its research for those much less fortunate.
Listening keenly to him and feeling less sorry for our own bottoms, legs and flagging energy levels, we discussed how Irish society continually expects improvements in our understanding in science and medicine. It struck one cyclist how we struggle to make the link between this ambition and the financial support required to make it happen.
So when Paul Wallace linked rugby, cycling and cancer, it was to support the high-tech equipment that would afford Prof Reynolds and his team access to knowledge and understanding in cancer research that is undertaken at the Institute of Molecular Medicine in the Trinity (College) Centre at the hospital.
Each morning 200 cyclists would head off along the Atlantic 1000km. Interestingly Prof Reynolds also explained why he was not in cycling gear. As we were in Castlebar my suspicions were aroused. I wondered how far Enniscrone Golf Club was
With a beautiful road ahead into Sligo and Donegal the memories were already piling up. Having crossed the Shannon on the ferry we arrived exhausted at St Senan’s National School in Kilrush, Co Clare. I handed my bicycle over to schoolboy Matthew Curran who kindly cycled it into the school. His short trip may have been a tad more painful than ours to that point: in not reaching the saddle he was forced to sit on the crossbar.
Inside principal Avril Bolton, her team and a packed assembly area made us extraordinarily welcome.
It was one of many amazing interactions with communities along the way and with the Legends stacked up on stage in front of the well behaved school kids, British & Irish Lion and Ireland player Paul Wallace began the introductions of each player; he played for this team and won that trophy and so on. Zinzan Brooke stood particularly tall.
Each spoke but Munster players received the largest roar and for some reason Leinster players didn’t. Then as the kids settled down a cry came from the floor: “Could the lad from New Zealand do the Haka?” Yes, I kid you not: “the lad from New Zealand”.
There in St Senan’s National School, possibly the greatest but certainly the most skilful number eight of all time stood front and centre and delivered the Haka (Facebook Rugby Legends Cycle; it’s worth it). I’m not sure the schoolkids fully grasped the terror this has bestowed but in time they will cherish who was in their midst.
Last year I was consumed by the concept of Legend where the late Donal Walsh proved that not earning 50 or 100 interprovincial caps was not a barrier of entry into the hall of fame. Prof Reynolds is one, so too Luka Bloom who togged out; not on his bicycle, but in Flanagan’s Bar in Lahinch to give us a real treat. And for a musical moment Luka Bloom and French openside Serge Betsen’s cultures collided on stage in perfect harmony.
Exiting Lahinch the following morning, on little sleep, the peloton dragged itself up the long winding road to reach the Cliffs of Moher where 200 bikes invaded the cliffs. It’s a timely reminder of our beautiful country when world-travelled internationals Craig Chalmers, Lee Davies, Zinzan Brooke et al were blown away by the majestic views.
Much later after a well-earned Irish coffee in Peacockes of Maam Cross the route from Leenane to Louisburgh past Doo Lough was a grand favourite. And once again the welcome received in Louisburgh was off the charts. Every man, woman and child must have been baking all week with 200 cyclists engulfed in homemade sticky buns.
Then up popped giant “Dude” signs along the Mayo route. As the kilometres slipped by it became clear Mayo were referring to Tony Fenton and his untimely passing from cancer.
Ambling along the majestic highways and byways of the Wild Atlantic Way, soaking in the sea views with old rugby friends, meeting many new friends and conscious of Ireland’s Rugby World Cup journey ahead, life really is too good.