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Opinion: Paul Kimmage Is Driven By A Passion We Can Never Understand

Opinion: Paul Kimmage Is Driven By A Passion We Can Never Understand
By Conall Cahill Updated

At the start of his 1990 book 'Rough Ride', Irish journalist Paul Kimmage quotes from W.B. Yeats' poem, 'He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven'. "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams". And near the start of the book, he recounts an exchange he had as a child with his late father Christy, who himself was a fine cyclist and who had just built a bike for his keen son.

Da sat me down in a chair and asked me if I still wanted to race. After getting the bike, I didn't think 'no' was the right answer so I said that I did.

'Well, that's fine but you must remember, Paul, that in cycling you will experience more heartbreak than happiness.'

God, Da, how right you were.

For Kimmage, sport was always more than just a way to pass time. As a youngster, into his late teens and early twenties, he developed an obsessive desire to reach the top in cycling. To compete at the Tour de France, win it even. But this desire had its roots in a love of the sport that he inherited from his father and nurtured on weekend trips to Wicklow as a child with Stephen Roche. Trips where they "laughed and joked about how lucky we were".

Kimmage went to France and the scales fell from his eyes. The beautiful and pure love he had carried for the sport since he was a child ended up leaving him bruised and scarred.

When I think of the professional life with its glamour, its corruption and its suffering and compare it with those times of innocent purity, I scratch my head and wonder why I bothered.

Those of us who have never had such experiences can talk about the need for clean sport, for fairness, for the ability to believe what we can see before us. But Kimmage can feel it. He can feel what it is for young sportspeople now to gaze into the distance and dream of endless possibilities, completely enraptured by the unspoiled joy of what they practise.

For Kimmage, growing up in a tough environment in Dublin, cycling was a beacon of light, a symbol of hope. And like so many young Irish men, sport was the way he connected with his father. Their mutual love of cycling was something precious that they shared and embraced together. After Kimmage finished the Tour de France in 1986 his father "threw his arms around" him.

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And that is why, in the introduction to the 'Rough Rider' documentary about him (see above), he says he tried to "address" doping, "because for me, that's what love is". When Kimmage raises suspicions about Bradley Wiggins or Team Sky or cycling in general, it's not out of hate, or bitterness. It's the opposite.

On an adult level sport is one of the few things that can truly bring people together, allowing them to connect with other human beings in a way that is often only possible at times of great sadness or triumph. It allows us to express our emotions, to take pride in something that represents us. And when Kimmage spoke about shedding tears at the All-Ireland hurling final this year it showed that he understands this, and the need to protect it, better than most. Because if we cannot believe in sport, none of that - what it can do, what it stands for - matters.

But, more than anything, watching sport for many of us is reminiscent of an innocent happiness, a simple joy. A love of kicking a ball, pucking a sliotar against a wall or cycling up a hill.

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And when Paul Kimmage seems to go overboard, as he did when laying into David Walsh on Sunday, or as he does pretty much any time he discusses doping in sport, it is perhaps because he remembers when he, too, felt this joy. And how he felt when he lost it, at the cruel hands of professionalism and all the dirty secrets it held, including doping.

And it is perhaps because he still retains the passion for sport he always had, and the passionate belief that others should able to enjoy it and believe in it the way he believed in it when he watched Tipperary v Kilkenny in a packed Croke Park.

Once, when writing a piece for UCD's 'University Observer', I asked Kimmage whether he was driven by passion or anger.

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I’m gonna ask you a question now. Do you think there’s a difference between passion and anger?

I replied that I believed there was.

There’s your answer. I’m driven by passion, not by anger.

What drives me is the passion to expose and correct what is wrong with the sport. That is the passion. That’s mistaken for anger because I get, clearly, worked up about it. But it’s not anger. And you know, initially - and even to a degree now (people say), ‘Well, he was never any fucking good (at cycling), look at him, that’s why he’s fucking angry. He’s just bitter 'cos he was never any good.' So yeah...I make it very easy for them, because you can mistake passion for anger.

They ain’t the same things.

Passion. The same thing that drove him to cycle his bike as a youngster. The same thing that took him to France in his early twenties. And the same thing that at times - like at the weekend - seems ready to consume him.

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SEE ALSO: What Happened When Joe Brolly And Paul Kimmage Went For A Pint After The All-Ireland

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