Jason Callaly by Darach McQuaid: The Sheriff taken far too soon

Posted on: April 17th, 2018

Jason Callaly Darach McQuaid 

Jason Callaly with islanders on the Tour of the Philippines in the late 1990s. He sadly died last week and in this piece his close friend Darach McQuaid salutes the man he knew so well.

 

Jason Callaly: An appreciation by Darach McQuaid

 

Sport has a way of throwing up fantastic characters. It also tests people; very often bringing their true spirit to the surface, especially in times of pressure.

Jason Callaly, who sadly died last week, was one of those people who revelled working in the sport of cycling.

He really was an unforgettable character who left an indelible mark on the people he met; even if many weren’t quite sure what to make of him at first!

Our story together started in school; St Kevin’s CBS, Ballygall, Dublin. Jason was one year behind me. The Callaly family were deeply involved in Irish cycling at the time.

And Jason’s father Tommy and uncle Kevin had been big figures in the sport here in the 70s and 80s as I was growing up.

The Callaly families were also particularly close to my own family. And Jason was certainly very proud of his cousin Paddy’s success on the bike.

Academic studies were not where Jason’s ambitions lay. His personality was almost too big for a classroom.

During the mid 1980s Jason would end up spending more time in McQuaid Cycles, the bike shop owned by my brother Oliver just a few hundred metres from our school, than he would studying.

After he left St Kevin’s, working in the shop and attending bike races consumed Jason’s young life.

He moved in with my brother Paul and I when we were racing. Even though Jason was also racing as part of Emerald CRC; we were taking things a bit more seriously.

We’d be in bed very early and sometimes, late at night, we would hear a roar from downstairs as Jason’s other passion, watching the World Darts Championships on TV, was in full flow.

And if his favourite player “hit a double top” or something, Jason would lift the roof off and wake Paul and I from our athletes’ slumber.

During the years 1987 to 1990 Jason would also travel with Winning Magazine, which my sister Ann was managing out of London.

 

Jason Callaly Darach McQuaid

Jason and his beloved son Stone on podium at 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge, Colorado USA.

Jason Callaly Darach McQuaid

With Darach McQuaid, early 2000’s at Philadelphia US National Champs.

 

Selling Winning at Kellogg’s City Centre races, the Kellogg’s Tour of Britain and the Nissan Classic allowed Jason’s personality to flourish. All of the team remember him very fondly.

He was a big hit with the crowds; persuading many a stranger to part with hard cash for a cycling magazine.

Bear in mind, this was a period when cycling was not nearly as mainstream as it is now.

I’m sure many a casual spectator arrived home with a Winning Magazine and thought “that little freckly Irish charmer got me to buy something I have no interest in!”

Jason’s skill as a bike mechanic was soon apparent. He became a regular fixture on the Rás and other races as the chief mechanic for the Carlsberg, then Foster’s Emerald team.

My father, the late Jim McQuaid Snr, would often drive support car in the early days. Jason and my father had a great rapport. Jason soaked up the stories that Daddy was so fond of telling of racing years ago.

Jason would continue as Emerald chief wrench into the early 90s, managed by my brother Jim Jnr, when we guested Stephen Spratt on our team, Emerald Emmelle, in 1992 and won the Rás.

Jason would work in bike shops such as Richie’s Bike Shop in Swords; owned by his close friend Richie McNamara.

He also worked in various other McQuaid Cycles in Clondalkin, Dun Laoghaire, Swords and Rathmines over the years.

The national team beckoned and Jason’s mechanic skills were soon being put into practice on international duty.

So many international riders had their bikes looked after by Jason. The passion and precision he had for his work was infectious. He left a lasting impression on riders and team staff alike.

 

Jason Callaly Darach McQuaid

Sheriff Callaly with actor Robin Williams and Jens Voigt at Tour of California.

Jason Callaly Darach McQuaid

Late 1980s mountain biking in Wicklow with Kieron McQuaid.

Jason Callaly Darach McQuaid

Tour de Georgia 2005 stage finish, Rome, Georgia. Lance Armstrong winning sprint, Jason at left waving flag.

 

When I had finished racing my sister Ann and I got together and began to broaden her already wide level of business post-Winning.

That included the official Channel 4 Tour de France Guide. And we also entered the US market, publishing the official guide to the Tour DuPont.

Jason had been working with my brother Pat on the Credit Junior Tour of Ireland and had begun to show an interest in event organisation.

I put in a word for Jason with the organisers, Medalist Sports, and he was delighted to get a job as stage start co-ordinator at the 1995 Tour DuPont.

He immediately made his mark on this big format race, arriving at 0-dark hundred hours every morning to set up the start in a shirt and tie.

In the casual world of US sports business, he was an anomaly. But lo and behold, it wasn’t long before all the event directors were wearing shirts and ties!

Jason worked with Pat on races as far afield as the Marlboro Tour of Philippines and the Tour de Langkawi. He had really found his true calling – big time international professional bike races.

When my brother Paul finished racing in 1996 he set up Celtic Trails; a cycling holiday company in the west of Ireland.

Jason was a key player in Paul’s organisation and lots of clients – mostly Americans, but also Japanese, South Africans and European cycle tourists – lapped up Jason’s unique sense of humor and storytelling on the tours.

Jason and his wife Grainne moved to the US and became US citizens, settling in Boulder, Colorado; the heart of the US cycling scene in the early 2000s.

The pro scene was just about to pick up, and with events like the Tour de Georgia, Tour of Missouri, Tour of California and Tour of Colorado, Jason really found a place as stage start co-ordinator par excellence.

I was also working on these events. And it was such a great pleasure to spend time with Jason in many varied parts of the wonderful American landscape that these world class events brought us through.

With their wonderful son Stone; life in the US was looking good for Jason and Grainne.

 

Jason Callaly Darach McQuaid

Jason in school uniform working in McQuaid Cycles, 1985.

Jason Callaly Darach McQuaid

At his happiest in team car supporting Carlsberg Emerald CRC 1986.

Jason Callaly Darach McQuaid

Jason front row, left, member of Foster’s Emerald CRC, 1988.

 

Sadly, in 2003, Jason was struck with illness; Multilatyered Sarcicosis. It was a chronic illness, but one that he bore with great dignity.

Returning home to Ireland, Jason continued to work in cycling. When the Tour of Ireland was re-booted in 2007, it was such as pleasure to see Jason revel in his role as stage start co-ordinator on home turf.

He’d join us on stage reconnaissance trips putting the race together from 2007 to 2009.

And he played a key role with me on the preparation work of the 2014 Giro d’Italia Big Start.

I always remember a large group from RCS Sport coming over in July, 2013, for important technical site visits and not quite knowing what to make of Jason.

It didn’t take them long to warm to him. And the same went for various Northern Irish Government agency personnel.

He loved his props. On many races Jason was known as “The Sheriff”. He’d appear in his cowboy hat, technical vest with his personalised “Sheriff Jason” badge.

He’d have a Cohiba Cuban cigar ready for lighting up when the race had left and he had successfully packed another stage start.

If all of the above reads a bit like many McQuaids having an impact on Jason’s life, in fact it was the opposite – his personality and warmth enriched all of our lives and for that we will be eternally grateful.

Most of all, Jason was proud of his wife Grainne and son Stone. He loved telling me stories about how Stone did this or that so well. He was such a proud family man.

He will be missed by all who knew and loved him. His family, friends and Irish cycling, have lost a true star.

 

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