The Killorglin Cycling Club has produced many champions, Gene Mangan is one of these champions. The following is the report from the 1955 Rás courtesy of the anpostras.com website. Over the next few months we hope to follow up with stories of other club members that have excelled in our sport.
In the spring of 1955 Gene Mangan emigrated temporarily to England, where he began his career as a draughtsman. Three days before Rás Tailteann he returned to Dublin in peak condition and determined to help Kerry establish itself as a cycling power equal to the best.
Except for the absence of Terry Carmody, the Kerry team was the same as that which competed in the previous Rás. The only major difference between the 1955 team and that of the previous year was that this time they had a supply of spare machines, a top mechanic in Maurice Cantillon of Tralee and capable mentors in Liam Brick, Jimmy Leahy and Walter Doyle.
Thousands lined O’Connell Street, Dublin, as Padraig O Caoimh, General Secretary of the G.A.A., set the race in motion, and this time there were no slips by the Kingdom lads. Mangan and Fitzgerald were well away and stayed to the front until the finish of the stage. From the beginning the pace was intense, the first 52 miles being covered in two hours five minutes even.
Leading the break across the Border was eighteen year old Denis O’Connor of Dublin, and he held on to win at Newry by five seconds from another Dubliner, Malachy Denney, with Mayo’s Mick Palmer third. Fourth came Mangan and fifth, Paud Fitzgerald.
On the second day the race moved from Newry to Dungannon and on to Omagh, and then down to Sligo. Near Omagh a break was made with Fitzgerald and Tommy Flanagan, the pride of Royal Meath, leading the way.
A few miles further on, Mangan moved from the main bunch and rode a brilliant seventy mile solo to finish in twelfth position in Sligo. Tommy Flanagan won the stage with Kerry’s Fitzgerald second.
The third stage, with Westport as its destination, produced some of the finest cycling in the whole Rás. A cracking pace was set from the beginning, and the first twenty-four miles were covered in eight minutes short of the hour.
At Tubbercurry, Mick Palmer moved ahead and was first to cross the line into his native Mayo. For over thirty miles the gallant Westport man held the lead, and for a while it looked as if he might make it, but the exhausting strain of leading the field began to tell, and his pursuers, Mick Christie, Christie Dunne, Tom Gerrard and Cork’s Pat Hickey were touching thirty-five miles an hour in an effort to close the gap. At this stage only fifty seconds separated the leaders from the main bunch.
At Tourlough, twenty miles from home, Mangan broke an axle which caused him a brief delay, but he rode magnificently to reach the bunch again, and together they closed the gap between themselves and the leaders.
At Castlebar, misfortune hit at Mangan again, when he sustained a bad fall. Despite this he doggedly strove on, and with an almost inhuman effort, he left the bunch and joined the leaders with only three miles to go. As Westport drew in sight, Gene, head down and legs moving piston-like, moved to the front and crossed the line a length ahead of Steve Abbott and Pat Hickey, with the dauntless Mick Palmer fourth.
Mangan had won his first Rás Tailteann stage. His time was two hours, fifty-nine minutes, nine seconds, an equivalent of twenty-seven miles an hour for the 76 mile course.
The overall leader at Westport was still Dublin’s Denis O’Connor, and his minute’s bonus at each stage had him 3 minutes 39 seconds ahead of Paud Fitzgerald, with Brian Monaghan of Down third, Joe McIvor of Tyrone fourth, Steve Abbott fifth, and Mangan sixth, and seven minutes behind O’Connor. In the team placings, Kerry were third to Dublin and Kildare.
Brilliant sunshine saw the riders speed from Westport to Headford, and from there on the field was led by Con Carr of Kildare, Gerry Keogh and Frank Ward of Dublin, and Kerry’s Pat O’Callaghan. The rugged and ever-winding Corkscrew Hill and the towering Burren Mountains proved a stiff introduction to Clare. However, the leaders held on, and Frank Ward was first to cross the line in Ennis, with Paddy O’Callaghan second, and Meath’s Basil O’Reilly third. Mick Mooney of Down, Con Carr and Gerry Keogh came together, and were clocked on equal time with the winner. A fall near Inagh deprived Paud Fitzgerald of better time, while Mangan led the bunch to finish two minutes behind the leaders.
The overall position still saw Denis O’Connor ahead, with Brian Monaghan changing places with Paud Fitzgerald. Paddy O’Callaghan’s fine effort moved Kerry to number one in the team placings, with Kildare one minute behind. Mangan had slipped from sixth position to eighth. Three miles from Ennis on the fifth day, Joe Mclvor retired, and nearing Limerick, Con Carr crashed and broke his collar-bone. The retiral of the veteran champion was a severe blow to Kildare, for on the form he had been showing, Con looked like being well up at the end.
With Abbeyfeale in sight and only twenty-seven miles remaining in the race to Tralee, it appeared anybody’s stage. Denis O’Connor, Pat O’Meara and Paud Fitzgerald were leading, but as the riders descended into Castleisland, the gap narrowed, and coming into Tralee, a bunch finish was certain. At the outskirts of the town, Mangan moved out on a brilliant sprint, and it appeared a great day for Kerry as he streaked ahead, but then from nowhere shot Steve Abbott to pip the Killorglinman by little more than the width of a tyre.
The listing now read O’Connor, Monaghan, Fitzgerald, Abbott, and Mangan fifth and a clear fifteen minutes behind the Dublin leader. Only three stages remained.
Ahead lay the Kerry mountains …. the terror of Rás Tailteann and the true test of cycling power. The sun shone as the riders raced from Tralee on the sixth day, and began to climb. One of the first to feel the gradient of the ever-rising hills was race-leader Denis O’Connor. Mangan was with the leaders from the word go, and it was evident that the young Kerryman was now making his bid for fame. Two minutes ahead of the bunch beyond Killarney, Mangan was again hit by ill luck when he broke a wheel, and were it not for the comradeship of Paddy O’Callaghan, who came to his immediate aid, much time might have been lost. On his own, Mangan was soon tailing the leaders again and nearing Kenmare he looked all set to move ahead. Once again lady luck smiled scornfully at him and he was forced to stop and change a wheel. As a result another minute was lost. Undaunted, Mangan again rode solo and at Bantry he was once more up to the front.
The Kerry mountains had left their mark on the main bunch, and by now they were nine minutes behind the leaders. Nearing Cork the leaders cut loose, and in a lightning-like sprint, Gerry Keogh crossed the line fifteen seconds ahead of Mangan, with Frank Ward, Steve Abbott and an ever-pursuing Mick Palmer close behind. Abbott now took possession of the race-leader’s jersey, with Mangan a mere eight seconds behind him in overall time.
Except for the magnificent riding of the Killorglin star, there was nothing spectacular in the seventh stage from Cork to Wexford. At Carrick-on-Suir the large local crowd went wild with joy when two of the home team, Healy and Curran, led the field through the town. However, the Tipperarymen’s glory was short-lived, and from there on Mangan, Mick Christie, Pat Hickey and Frank Ward took over. At the finish it was Mangan all the way to take the race-leader’s jersey for the first time and leave a clear sixty seconds between himself and his nearest rival.
The eighth and final stage saw Dublin make a desperate effort to capture the team prize. However, the gallant Kerry bunch held together and picking their men, they rode with the keenness and determination of true sons of the mighty Kingdom and the roar of the crowd at the Esplanade.
Dublin, meant only one thing …. Kerry had swept the board …. the individual prize and the team honours. They had done the impossible, they had beaten the big cycling powers and so 19-year-old Gene Mangan of Killorglin had won a place with the John Joe Sheehys and the Joe Keohanes as a giant among giants in the roll of honour of Kerry sporting greats.