Athletics community saddened by the death of Seán Kyle

Seán Kyle with his wife Maeve
Malcolm McCausland

THE athletics world was saddened to hear of the death of legendary coach Seán Kyle (88). The Ballymena man, with the assistance of his wife Maeve, pioneered women's athletics in Ireland.

Apart from Maeve Kyle, he was also associated with many of the outstanding figures in northern athletics including Dame Mary Peters, the Kilpatricks from Ballymena, Colin Shillington, James McIlroy, and Mark Kirk.

Although a promising high jumper and hurdler at school, Sean's first love was rugby and he played in the Ballymena Academy Medallion XV that reached the semi-final of the competition.

Seán and Maeve met on a blind date in 1953 and were almost inseparable from then until Sean's sad passing. Maeve had played hockey that day for Ireland and was persuaded to meet this eligible bachelor from Ballymena at a dance in Antrim.

Sean had been playing for Ballymena in a cup game away at Dungannon and suffered a puncture on the way, meaning he arrived late for the date. However, love seemed to blossom immediately. Maeve was a native of Kilkenny and lived in Dublin but moved north after they were married the following year.

"I was playing on the wing for Ballymena, and that fateful afternoon at Dungannon we were involved in a cup match. We won. Little did I know I was heading into another match, a very special one!"

Under Sean's direction, Maeve became the first woman to represent Ireland at the Olympics in Melbourne when she had to pay her own way. She went on to compete at the 1960 celebrations in Rome and again in Tokyo four years later where she reached the semi final of the 800m.

While Maeve grabbed the headlines, Sean worked assiduously in the background. He had been inspired to turn to athletics coaching by Leni Riefenstahl's film of the Berlin Olympics. He brought an unparalleled attention to detail to his coaching and was equally adept with sprinters, throwers, jumpers and middle-distance runners.

Although never one to grab the limelight, he was widely recognised as one of the best coaches to ever emerge in Britain or Ireland and coached the NI team at several Commonwealth Games.

Sean and Maeve founded the Ballymena Athletics Club, later to become Ballymena & Antrim AC, in the 1950s and was active in the sport until just a few years ago. Sadly in later years Maeve could no longer take care of him on her own and he went into a home.

Tributes have been pouring in from all quarters. Athletics Ireland put out a press release describing him as "a top class coach alongside his wife Maeve well into his 70s, their great contribution to the sport was the work they did at grassroots level and influencing many far and wide along the way to leave a long lasting impact."

Athletics NI tweeted: "Athletics NI are very sorry to hear about the death of Sean Kyle, Ballymena & Antrim AC. Thoughts are with the family at this sad time."

Sympathy is extended to Maeve, his daughter Shauna, granddaughter Indy and the entire extended family.


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