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'Sam beat us by 10 minutes'

Rovers defender on growing up in Carrick with Tour hero Bennett


Shamrock Rovers’ Lee Grace (pictured) used to race Sam Bennett in their home town of Carrick-on-Suir

Shamrock Rovers’ Lee Grace (pictured) used to race Sam Bennett in their home town of Carrick-on-Suir

Shamrock Rovers’ Lee Grace (pictured) used to race Sam Bennett in their home town of Carrick-on-Suir

Sam Bennett landing the green jersey in Paris will, clearly, earn more praise in his native Waterford than anything achieved by fellow Carrick man Lee Grace in the green-and-white shirt of Shamrock Rovers this year.

But the Hoops defender believes the duo made the right call in sticking to their chosen careers despite flirting with a couple of sports when they were wide-eyed kids back in Carrick-on-Suir.

"I know Sam well. It's brilliant for the town, brilliant for Sam, I see how hard he worked all through the years," says Grace, his week off to a good start with Monday's 6-1 win for Rovers at home to Waterford, Stephen Bradley's side now eight points clear at the top with six games left to play.

"I used to cycle with him when I was younger up in Carrick myself, up in the woods. That's where he started, he used to beat us by about ten minutes. I'm delighted for him, he worked so hard, his father said he dedicated the last ten years of his life for this. I'm delighted for him.

"When I was a young fella, about 11 or 12, there was a track up in the woods, for mountain bikes, I think that's where Sam started. We used to go up there once a week, race against your own age category on a Sunday. It was a good bit of craic, but Sam was just destroying anybody."

The green jersey winner had a good pedigree in football as his dad, Michael, impressed with Waterford United and earned a move to Belgian side Eendracht Wervik, Sam born in Belgium while his dad was playing there.

"I think Sam played a bit but was never interested, even though his father was a player. For Sam, cycling was No 1," added Grace.

"Sam was two years ahead of me, he was in the same class as my brother. You could see back then he was hungry. Even in his teenage years, you'd never see him out in the pubs, he was always training, he was always working.

"Cycling is massive down there. Everywhere you look, there is people cycling and talking about Seán Kelly and talking about Sam," Grace added.


The defender is pleased with his week's work to date, scoring his first goal of the season in Monday's win over his own local club, Waterford. "I want to add goals to my game because I can attack the ball and I can jump, all that kind of stuff. I just need to work on my timing and hopefully more will come. I don't really mind who scores as long as we're winning games," he says, joking that he's on course to lose a €50 wager with fellow defender Roberto Lopes over who scores more goals this term.

A win away to Dundalk on Sunday would put Rovers even closer to a first title since 2011, but Grace is keen to hold back on the celebrations.

"You can't start thinking about that. If you start thinking about that you won't turn up next week and you'll get turned over and then all of a sudden they are back in it. We're just focusing on Dundalk on Sunday," he says.

"All our focus is on Sunday. We have a good few days in between to get stuff done and get ourselves prepared and we'll go there with the mentality of wanting to win."