By Gerard Cromwell
Despite having produced winners of almost every professional bike race on the international calendar, cycling in Ireland takes a back seat to the country's national games - gaelic football and hurling. The best players are feted at an annual awards ceremony where they are selected on an All-Star team.
One such player is Tony Griffin. The 26 year-old plays hurling - the fastest ball sport in the world - for his hometown club of Ballyea and his county Clare. Despite being nominated as an All-Star last year, Griffin has turned his back on the chance to play regularly in front of 80,000 fans, swapped his hurley for a bike and taken to hanging around with seven times Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong.
When Griffin decided he wanted to raise some money for charity after his father, Jerome, died of lung cancer in 2005, he decided to do as he always has done, and aimed high. He put his place on the Clare team and his love of hurling aside, swapping it all for a bicycle and prepared for a mammoth six week, 7000 kilometre ride across Canada and Ireland which he hopes will see him raise a massive €1000,000 for his chosen charities: the Irish Cancer Society, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and Ovarian Cancer Canada.
During his time in North America Griffin visited Armstrong at the Tour de France champion's home in Texas, taking some time to go for a ride with the now retired cycling super-star and cancer survivor.
Griffin, who has already received over 500,000 Canadian dollars In pledges and donations, is appealing for people to join him on his 'Ride For The Cure' across Canada and Ireland and raise money for this worthy cause. With Griffin due to return to Ireland for the final two stages of his Ride For The Cure on June 30 and July 1, the organisers are looking for up to 250 cyclists to take up the challenge and ride with him on his final journey home to Ennis, where a festival atmosphere is assured. Griffin will fly home from Canada to join up with Irish fundraisers from all over the country and indeed the world, in Athlone on June 30 before his final stage to his hometown of Ennis the next day.
"We are looking for Irish people to join us on our challenge to raise one million euros to beat cancer," says Griffin's Irish sponsor Martin Donnelly. "Individuals can do the penultimate leg of the Irish trip from their nearest starting point in either Monaghan, Sligo, Ballina, Limerick or Dublin to Athlone. They can do the final leg from Athlone to Ennis, where we are guaranteed a festive welcome, or they can do part of either ride, or both rides. We want participants to raise a minimum of 1,000 euros each to help us reach our goal and we will provide food and accommodation, back-up support and insurance for the event. This is a mammoth challenge and has captured the imagination of millions of people in Canada already."
Interested parties are assured they don't have to be an accomplished cyclist to take part. "This time last year, Tony didn't even own a bike himself! We will give participants all the support you need to get through the ride and to help in fundraising for the event, which is the main priority after all. In fact you don't have to be able to ride the whole way. Raising the money and raising awareness is the most important thing".
For further information on this amazing project visit www.tonygriffinfoundation.com or for a sign-up pack call Eleanor at the Irish Cancer Society on (01) 2310500.
*Gerard Cromwell is Ireland's Tony Griffin Foundation Ride For The Cure director