In 1972 a bitter civil war in Irish cycling made headlines around the world when a group of riders gatecrashed the Olympic Games in Munich. This Saturday the Documentary on One presents Green and Gold, the story of how Irish sport and politics collided on the biggest stage and an Olympic dream that lives on to this day.
Contributors include Shay O’Hanlon, John Mangan, Pat Healy, Mary Peters, Kieron McQuaid, Hennie Kuiper, Neil Teggart and Matthew Teggart.
The documentary’s co-producer and narrator David Coughlan writes for Culture on RTÉ about the summer
There’s a yellow jersey from the Rás - Ireland’s most famous cycling road race - hanging in the Teggart household in Banbridge.
In 1972 that would’ve seemed impossible.
Back then the Rás was only for riders from one side of a bitter divide in Irish cycling. Noel Teggart was on the other side.
1972 was the year Noel rode for Ireland at the Olympic Games in a race that would change the course of cycling here forever.
A race that made international headlines, caused a political storm and is the subject of this documentary.
This was the earthquake moment in Irish cycling when a civil war in the sport here came to the surface on sport’s biggest stage.
The day when seven Irish riders with no race numbers gatecrashed the Olympic cycling road race.
One even took the lead.
At that stage, there were two internationally-recognised Irish cycling organisations on the island - one in the south and one in the north.
But there was also a third organisation.
Known as the NCA or National Cycling Association, they were led by a group of prominent republicans and represented the entire island of Ireland, all 32 counties.
For decades the NCA riders had been barred from international competition. In 1972 they were prepared to take drastic action to highlight their cause.
Munich was their moment.
Stitching the story together took me the length of the country from County Down to Killorglin in County Kerry as those involved recalled a very different time in Irish sport and politics.
There were stories of sabotage, subversion and secret plans, but most of all there was a universal love of sport.
John Mangan was one of those involved in the story and one sunny September afternoon he showed me around his home near Killorglin.
It was built in the traditional style of the houses he had seen in Brittany, where he spent much of his cycling career.
John took out jerseys from his days winning races in France, where he had beaten the likes of Laurent Fignon and pushed Bernard Hinault to the pin of his collar.
He also had newspaper clippings from French newspapers after his involvement at the Munich Olympic Games and the jersey he wore in the controversial race almost 50 years ago.
Just down the road lives his friend Pat Healy, another former cyclist involved in the story.
On the wall of Pat’s living room is a painting of the greatest moment of his career, winning the 1979 national cycling championships.
That was the first time the race had been run under a unified All-Ireland banner.
Seven years earlier, in Munich, the situation was far from unified.
Dubliner Kieron McQuaid was on the opposite side of the Irish cycling divide to John and Pat back then.
But like so much in life, there were as many crossovers, connections and contradictions as there were contrasts.
One connection was Joe Christle - a charismatic Dublin barrister and prominent republican and the man behind the Rás.
He was also the man behind the protest that saw seven Irish cyclists attempt to infiltrate the 1972 Olympic road race in Munich.
For Kieron, the events of that day still provoke strong feelings.
And yet, as a former student of Christle’s in Rathmines he has nothing but admiration for the enigmatic figure.
Another connection is Shay O’Hanlon -like John Mangan and Pat Healy, the four-time winner of the Rás was on the opposite side to McQuaid.
But just a few years later Shay and Kieron were running a business together selling bikes in Dublin.
The day before I met Shay in Finglas on Dublin’s northside, he had been climbing at an indoor centre.
At 78 years old, age is no barrier to him or any of these great athletes.
The same could be said for Mary Peters.
When I met the 1972 Olympic pentathlon gold medalist, she was wearing a moon boot after a recent leg injury, not that you would’ve noticed.
1972 was a bleak time in the north with the Troubles, starting with Bloody Sunday -the day 13 unarmed civilians were shot dead in Derry.
Born in Liverpool, Mary represented Britain at the Olympics at a time of heightened tension for a divided community in the North.
An avid boxing fan she became friends with Derry’s Charlie Nash, who competed for Ireland at the 1972 Games in Munich.
Just a few months earlier Nash’s brother Willie had been one of those killed on Bloody Sunday.
But out of the darkness came rays of hope and today the picture is much different.
The days when Mary was carrying her starting blocks across Belfast to training while bombs were going off are thankfully long gone.
Likewise the days when Irish cycling was split.
Mary has spent decades promoting athletes from across all communities in the North since her win in Munich.
Among them the owner of that yellow jersey hanging in the Teggart household in Banbridge, County Down.
And if you want to know more, tune in to the doc…
Documentary on One: Green and Gold airs on RTÉ Radio 1 on Saturday, July 25th at 1.00pm, repeated at 7.00pm on Sunday, July 26th or you can download this documentary as a podcast, wherever you get your podcasts, from Friday July 24th.