Saturday 11 September 2010

JJ McCormack RIP

JJ McCormack
It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of JJ McCormack, who passed away on Thursday night, after a long illness.

Joe, or JJ as he was better known, was one of Ireland's top riders during a career that spanned a quarter of a century. Having started cycling, in his native Birr, in the late 1930's, JJ won his first national title in 1948. He followed that win with a further 28 All-Ireland Championships and represented his country 23 times. It would be fair to say there are very few cycling trophies from that era in Ireland that don't carry his engraved name at least once.

Coast to Coast Race Eagle C.R.C. Team
L/R J.J.McCormack, Tony Allen(sunglasses), Christy Lynch, Jim Kennedy, Sonny Cullen, Gerry Kinsella

After his retirement from racing in 1963, JJ then became one of the most dedicated and visionary officials in Irish cycling. He organised, or worked on, events at all levels, from Schoolboy leagues to the Pro-Am Tour of Ireland in 1982. He also served for many years on the committee of the Irish Cycling Federation and was a major player in uniting the sport on the island via the Irish Cycling Tripartite Committee. I've no doubt that his wily wit and charm smoothed many a tense discussion and opened many doors to progress.
The Irish Amateur RR Team at the World Championships in Zandvoort, Holland, 1959
From left: JJ McCormack (Eagle CRC), Sammy Kerr (Ballymena RC), Sean Fox (Eagle CRC - Manager),
Ian Moore (Zeus RC), Jim Maguire (Windsor CC)

However, by his own admission, pride of place in his many achievements in the sport was the Junior Tour Of Ireland. In 1978, JJ felt that young Irish cyclists would benefit enormously from having the opportunity to ride a proper stage race, over courses and distances within their ability, and against riders of a similar age. From that the then unique Junior Tour of Ireland was born.

Generations of Irish, and foreign, riders cut their teeth in the Junior Tour, many of whom went on to much greater things in the sport. The list of winners contains many well known names, including Martin Earley (winner of the first edition in 1978, Tour De France stage winner), JJ's own son Paul (1980, Rás winner and pro), Stephen Spratt (1983, Rás winner), Richard Groenendaal (1988, World Cyclo-Cross Champion), Mark Scanlon (1998, World Junior RR Champion) and current pro riders Nicolas Roche (2002), Kai Reus (2003) and Ian Stannard (2004).

It's a lasting tribute to JJ that the Junior Tour Of Ireland is still regarded as one of Europe's (if not the worlds) premier junior races and that it still continues to produce winners whose names grace the cycling pages for many years after their win.

Still riding in Eagle colours in Majorca, late 1980's

Of course, as well as being a great member of the Irish cycling family, JJ, with his wife Rita, had a great cycling family of his own. Of his four sons and one daughter, three of them went on to be successful riders in their own right. Alan, Paul and John all enjoyed success racing in, and for, Ireland. Alan and Paul then both went on to become big players on the US pro scene. Their living room in Donaghmede, Dublin was a cycling trophy room, containing countless cups, trophies, medals and sashes.

My own memories of JJ come from my time riding for the same club he won so many races with, Eagle CRC. As an old friend of my Dad's, JJ never had anything but words of encouragement for me, from my earliest schoolboy races, through Junior and on to Senior racing. His enthusiasm, his generosity and his humour could lift a kid from even the worst drubbing (of which there were many in my short career!). We had many laughs driving the length of the country in his Ford Cortina Estate, all through a fog of cigar smoke.

He valued everyone's contribution to his beloved sport equally, from the most esteemed pro to the humblest schoolboy, from the blazered officials to the long-suffering mums, wives and family members lining the roadside. At the same time he had no shame in recruiting anyone available for even the lowliest job, to ensure a smooth race. With a quiet word, a wink, a hand on your elbow or a playful thump on the chest, he'd have you standing on a corner with a flag for the afternoon before you'd even have a chance to get a word in!

JJ McCormack was nothing short of a giant of Irish cycling. His passing marks a very sad day for all who knew him and for the sport.

My sincerest condolences go out to his family and friends at this sad time.


  1. thanks for posting such an apt tribute to someone who will be sorely missed by all who had the priviliege of knowing him.

  2. Such sad news to hear that my former father-in-law, JJ McCormack has passed away. He had a twinkle in his eyes, and a smile on his face - I will never forget. He lives on in his grandson, Casey, who has the smile and jovialness; his granddaughter, Meagan, the twinkle in her eyes, she possessed the love of athletic competition. I will miss you JJ. Love to Rita, Alan, Brian, Carol, John, Paul, and family.

  3. we will miss you grandad hope your happy love dylan

  4. it is with the greatest of pride tinged with sadness that i have when i speak of JJ.i was priviliged to meet him many years ago when i married his son Brian .He was a great man,outspoken often loud but with the kindest of hearts and generous to a fault there wasn,t anything he wouldn,t do to help you if he could.He will be very sadly missed but very fondly remembered and always loved.As part of his family i would like to say the articles written by friends at this sad time have been very uplifting and we are genuinely thankful.May he rest in peace.

  5. JJ, you did'nt know us as you got sick before your time, but we remember you from our visits out to St. Ita's, we played on the green outside your ward as you sat in the summer sun in your wheelchair, we gave you our football to help you with your physiotherapy. Loving always our grandad from Eoin (15), Keelan (10), Aoife (8) and Ciara (5 going on 6). Go raibh maith agat le haighidh na cuimhne. R.I.P

  6. My heartfelt sympathy to you John and all of your family on the sad loss of your remarkably talented Dad....
    May he rest in Peace.

    Vanessa Rojack

  7. To all the McCormacks, I'd like to express my sadness of the passing of JJ.
    I remember him as a mentor and friend. He helped me more in life than in cycling,(because I was no good!). he helped me get a job in the Cock tavern in the 80's which earned me enough to travel to Australia. He guided me through other challenges in life. Traveling with him and Rita to the World Championships was a special memory, particularly 1986.
    You are in our thoughts and prayers, Aedan O'Connell, Baltimore, USA