Martyn Irvine

HE’S four days into retirement and Martyn Irvine is invisible. But that’s nothing new.

He walks down a street in Dublin’s bustling city centre and no heads turn, no eyes flicker with recognition.

Irvine was something special. Few Irish athletes in any sport have ever won seven medals in a row at major competitions.

And Irvine went to the top of the heap, becoming Ireland’s first track cycling world champion in 117 years when he triumphed in 2013.

Yet he never got to enjoy the profile that his achievements warranted.

“Not a person would know me. Maybe, initially, walking through the airport after I became world champion, a few came up to me but only because they were cycling fans. Never mainstream,’’ he said.

“I suppose that was half my fault for falling off my bike and breaking my hip a few weeks afterwards!

“Then cycling is very much a niche sport. You have to be a bit crazy to like it.

“I couldn’t even milk the Worlds a bit. I just vanished.

“I lost out financially because of that too but I’m not bitter because the sport taught me to just roll with it.

“If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. I have a philosophical head on me these days.”

Irvine was the unlikeliest of Irish sporting heroes. Growing up in Newtownards, he was a self-confessed couch potato who was allergic to PE at school.

But some pals pressurised him into giving cycling a go when he was an apprentice mechanic and he never looked back.

“I wasn’t a sports buff growing up. This was a freak thing I ended up doing,’’ he said.

“Where I’m from, you don’t do sport for a living.

“For half my career, I never described myself as a cyclist.

“If anyone asked me what I worked at, I used to say I was unemployed.

“I always thought I was dodging work when I was cycling, that I was kind of cheating.

“Cycling for a living…’you should be working nine to five’, that sort of mentality.

“Growing up, sport was something you watched on TV, it was never something you did.”

Irvine hasn’t seen the documentary about AP McCoy — ‘Being AP’ — but he’s intrigued by it.

At one point in that film, McCoy’s wife, Chanelle says to him ‘it’s not all about you’. His reply is a muttered question — ‘since when?’

Mention this to Irvine and he nods in recognition.

“My wife Grace has caught me on being a bollocks, so self-centred at times and I didn’t even notice it,’’ he said.

“I was going away from home for months so you are a bit of a pig, like.

“I think I’m lucky that I got away with being a pig but coming across nice!”

Near the end of that documentary, McCoy talks of retirement meaning that his life is over.

“He should come and sit in my seat because he earned a lot more money than I did!,’’ said Irvine.

“I’m maybe wired differently but I never felt that I was the best at anything.

“I hate talking about money because it never drove me.

“I met AP McCoy at a sports awards. A nice, humble guy but with a fat bank account.

“For guys like him, it’s the afterlife. For me, it’s a whole new life.

“They have money made, I have to find something to do. I have to make a living.”

Irvine is a qualified mechanic, which is one option.

“That would be the worst case scenario but I am prepared to do it,’’ he said.

“I’m not a super proud person so that wouldn’t bother me.

“Staying in sport…coaching nine to five, do this today, do this tomorrow — that doesn’t appeal to me.

“But track coaching at high performance level — tuning athletes up — that would be something I’d look at.

“Even the sports marketing side of it might be an option, or PR or something.

“I always envied the people floating around the bubble that I was in but they were in suits. They didn’t have to bust their nuts like us.

“I’ve learned so much that it’d be silly not to tell people what I’ve learned.”

Doping casts a long shadow in cycling.

And Irvine knows he didn’t compete in a sport with a level playing field.

“There were guys that I raced against that were banned for taking stuff,’’ he said.

“But, deep down, I always felt I could beat anyone.

“I wasn’t swaggering around but I’d be thinking ‘I can tear you apart when it comes to the crunch’.

“But it wasn’t healthy the way I raced. It took years off my career.

“I had no skills. I just had an engine. I could punch pedals around, and punch them harder than anyone on the day.

“I hate cycling. I hate that ‘going out for a chat’ cycling. I love racing, love winning.

“Hanging out the back of a bunch on a race never appealed to me.

“But that satisfaction from all the work you’d done paying off…it’s such a buzz.”

Ireland will have an indoor velodrome in the next few years.

It’ll be too late for Irvine, but he’s hopeful that a new generation will follow in his footsteps.

“When you’d go to the tracks, GB would have a pit half the size of the infield and we’d get a slot about the size of a table,’’ he said.

“We were down there as a third world outfit in track cycling.

“So it was good that I could make friends within that high performance bubble as, for years, I was ‘yer man’.

“I got so many messages this week, heartfelt messages from people I don’t know who watched me and took up cycling.

“It’ll take a few years…the indoor velodrome is coming. If it was there when I was winning, you’d have seen a serious boom.

“You definitely need a velodrome, as they’re addictive to race in.”

SIDEBAR

MARTYN Irvine had his sights set on the Rio Olympics.

When that looked beyond him, his motivation was gone.

“I went to Glasgow for a race at the end of November. I haven’t been on a bike since,’’ he said.

“The last year was a chore. Breaking my collarbone and missing a few rounds of races…when I sat and looked at the numbers, it was a mountain to climb.

“Deep down, I knew I was sick of cycling.

“It’d be going through my head ‘what happens if I just need a holiday?’

“But, when I look back, I hated every race I did last year.

“It’s not like road racing where you can use some races as a training race.

“There were a handful of races every season and I had to show off to get funding.

“It became unpleasant last year when I knew my grant was slipping away.

“I would have got zero funding in 2016. I couldn’t make a living from cycling.”

Like many Irish sportspeople, Irvine would prefer if funding was granted on the medium-term basis, as a bad season can cut you off financially.

“I was pretty average for most of my career so I didn’t get a decent grant until the year before the London Olympics,’’ he said.

“I was on e12,000 a year. That’s how much of a sucker I was then. I just loved it.

“I had some savings from working and went through that but, when it becomes your career, you need to make a decent amount of money.

“And it’s not in it, especially if you miss the Olympics because you’ll have no sponsors coming in.

“In cycling, you lose 99 per cent of the time, you really do.

“Honestly, every cyclist will tell you that they’re probably tempted to walk away every year because it’s tough, very tough.

“That Worlds win was a year and a half in the making to get that fit, it really was.

“Because I’m not awesome on a bike, I had to slog away at it.”

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