LEGENDARY jockey Mick Kinane – who rode racehorse 'Rock of Gibraltar' for Alex Ferguson – has credited the Manchester United manager with prolonging his career when he contemplated early retirement.
Kinane, who was Irish Champion Jockey 13 times and rode almost 1,500 winners, only retired from racing at the age of 50 in 2009.
"I've got to know Sir Alex well over the years. Initially, it was through 'Rock of Gibraltar'. Personally, I found him to be a great man," Mr Kinane said last night.
In what subsequently proved to be a major controversy for the Scot, he was named as joint owner of 'Rock of Gibraltar' by racing tycoon John Magnier in 2001.
'Rock of Gibraltar' won a record seven consecutive group one races in 2002, with Kinane on board for all but one race.
Ferguson celebrated in the parade ring as enthusiastically as if he witnessed an injury time winner at Old Trafford.
"Outside of football, racing is a great passion of his and a great switch off for him. He really enjoyed his winning," Mr Kinane said.
Had it not been for Ferguson's assistance, Kinane admitted that he "absolutely" could have left racing much earlier as he was hampered with back pain.
"He helped me when I had trouble with my back," he said.
"He was fantastic and, like anything in sport, he just boiled it down to simplistic terms. He gave me the frame of mind that I needed to stay going forward."
Mr Kinane said Alex told him to remain as a jockey for as long as he enjoyed his sport.
"Then I thought to myself, yes, keep doing it as long as you can while you are enjoying it, and that was the last time I thought about it – all thanks to him.
Mr Kinane – a devoted Manchester United fan – said the pair occasionally reminisce about their successes at various racetracks.
'Rock of Gibraltar' became best known after Ferguson and John Magnier fell out over future potential earnings from the thoroughbred on its retirement to Coolmore Stud, Co Tipperary, in 2002.
"We stayed in contact over the years," Mr Kinane said. "He loves his racing – he loves chatting about it, about horses and current form."
Mr Kinane said retirement "had to come at some time" for his friend.
Among Ferguson's many admirers in Ireland is Adam O'Sullivan (10) from Abbeyfeale, Co Limerick, who was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour in June 2010.
His mother, Joanne O'Sullivan, said Ferguson personally rang Adam at his home and enquired about his health.
The following year, Ferguson arranged for Adam to lead out the Manchester United team at Paul Scholes's testimonial match.
"They met in the tunnel briefly and Adam walked out onto the pitch with the team.
"It was a very special day," Ms O'Sullivan said.
In Cork, former Vita Cortex worker Jim Power thanked Ferguson for his support of the workers' sit-in.
During Christmas 2011, the Manchester United manager rang the factory during the 161-day protest.