By Shane Stokes
The prospects for Irish cycling took another step forward this week with the launch of Ireland's second Continental-level cycling squad, Team Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group. The team will comprise of fourteen Irish riders and, while it will be primarily based in Ireland, will spend time in Belgium and also compete world-ranked races in Europe, Canada, South Africa and Asia.
Former Irish road race champion and Belgium-based professional Morgan Fox will act as captain for the squad, sharing his experience with the other riders and also striving to get back to his top form. He will be joined by established international and domestic riders such as Conor Murphy, Paul Healion, former Rás winner Andrew Roche, John O'Shea, John Dempsey, Adrian Heddermann, Philip Finegan, Simon Kelly and John Wall. Promising young riders Mark Nestor, Barry Nolan, Derek Burke and Urban Monks complete the squad and will be its hope for the longer-term future.
"This is second to none in terms of the development of Irish cycling in terms of the last ten or fifteen years," said Fox. "When I got my pro contract I had to go to Belgium and do it the hard way; the riders will still need to ride the big races and make their mark, but the difference is now that they will have a big support network that wasn't there before. That should help a lot."
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was guest of honour at the launch and while his experience is in another sport, he said he was impressed by the setup of the squad. "It is great to see young professional sportsmen working within a well organised, structured environment that will get the most out of them," he stated. "The Murphy and Gunn/Newlyn Group team is a great boost to Irish cycling and to all these young riders."
The launch comes five weeks after the unveiling of the Sean Kelly Racing Team, another continental level squad which will line out in world ranked races in 2006 and beyond. This marks the first time Ireland has had teams of this standard, greatly increasing the chances of future success on a world level.
First up for the team is the Giro del Capo in South Africa. Conor Murphy, John O'Shea, Andrew Roche, Derek Burke and John Dempsey will fly out from Dublin on Sunday with team manager Myles Gallagher to the 2.2 ranked event, which runs from Wednesday to Sunday week.
Also confirmed for the team are events such as the Paths of King Nikola in Serbia / Montenegro, the International Presidential Tour of Turkey, the Tour de Beauce, the Sun Tour, plus several races in Belgium. The Irish FBD Insurance Rás is a target, as are Premier Calendar races in Great Britain.
"We are waiting to hear back from more race organisers," said directeur sportif Declan Byrne this week. " We were a little bit concerned because the team wasn't registered until December, and obviously the European races - which are the races teams most want to do - were full by the time that we applied to get into most of them. Especially those in the first half of the season. But we have been lucky with the invitations that we have secured so far, and are on the waiting list for others."
Race organisers can contact the team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.