Two questions about role models

Something interesting happened in Irish sport at the weekend.

Sam Bennett, the sprint specialist pro cyclist, won the Green jersey at the Tour de France, capping off his sensational performance over the past three weeks by winning the iconic final stage on the Champs-Élysées.

Bennett became the first Irish winner of the Green jersey — which is awarded for the most points, and often goes to a powerful all-rounder or a sprinter who collects a lot of points in the flatter, faster stages, away from the torture of the mountains — since Sean Kelly in 1989.

But the most interesting thing is this:

Both Sam Bennett and Sean Kelly come from Carrick-on-Suir.

Now here are a few things to know about Carrick-on-Suir.

  1. It has a population (according to the most recent census in 2016) of about 5,800 people.
  2. That makes it just the fourth largest town in County Tipperary in the south of the country (Clonmel, Thurles and Nenagh are all larger)
  3. County Tipperary is just the 12th most populous county in Ireland, despite being one of the largest counties by size

It is all but impossible for a tiny town such as this to produce two elite level pro cyclists who are not blood related.

So what role does role models play in our success?

How much of Sam Bennett’s success down to the fact that he’s followed in the footsteps of a hero from his home town?

Would Bennett have believed success in pro cycling was possible if he’d grown up anywhere else in Ireland?

These questions are all but unanswerable. They can’t be set down in a spreadsheet. They’re ephemeral, perhaps even a little spiritual.

It could just be a massive coincidence.

But true coincidences are rare.

When a coincidence happens, it can be a good thing to look hard for cause and effect.

We have no way of knowing how influential the torch held by Sean Kelly in the 1980s has been on the career of Sam Bennett.

But we know that role models are vital.

This circle of influence, which can be beautiful and can be corrosive, goes on indefinitely. I follow in the footsteps of those who went before me. Those who come after me will follow in mine.

Every new day we have these questions to answer.

What kind of role model do I want to follow?

What kind of role model do I want to be?