McKenna ready for An Post graduate education
The ink is only dry on his degree certificate but Sean McKenna is already focusing on his Post-graduate education. After completing a four-year Food Science course in UCD the 22-year-old Dubliner has cleared his diary to concentrate on his first full year with An Post-Chain Reaction.
The tall, lean former Terenure College student was on the books with the Sean Kelly-backed outfit last year, but with his final year studies taking priority, McKenna only joined up with the team as a stagiaire, or apprentice, in August. He got a little taste of life with the big boys but after a long year, on and off the bike, it was all a little more than he could chew.
“It's been a balancing act for the last four years between cycling and college so it's nice to just have it done and to be able to focus now completely on one. I'm happy out now and ready to give it a good lash, we'll see what happens,” says McKenna, who starts his season at the Volta ao Alentejo in Portugal today.
That juggling act required some unorthodox methods, and upsetting his mother. But McKenna's family has cycling in its veins; his father Mick and uncle Ciaran raced in the 1980s. Ciaran is the current president of Cycling Ireland. His mother would have known what to expect.
“When you're in college from nine till four or five, whatever, and you have to study too so I used to do turbo sessions (at home) at 10 o'clock at night for two hours. With my mother going mad. I'm on the rollers downstairs doing sprints and the whole house going whirr, whirr whirr,” he says laughing at the thought.
“But I just had to get it done. I love cycling so it wasn't any hassle. It was a way for me to just clear my head more than anything. So after doing a big day in college I needed an outlet. And it went hand in hand, when I was sick of studying I went cycling and when I was sick of cycling I went studying.
“To be honest, there should be more kids doing it, everybody thinks to become a professional cyclist you have to pack in school or college and just go full whack at cycling. Most of the lads here have some kind of education. They go hand in hand.
“There's no reason why you have to stop all your education and become a full-time cyclist and then panic that if you don't become a pro then you'll have to go work in Tesco,” he says smiling as he realises what words have just tumbled out. “Not that Tesco's a bad place to work or anything. I'll probably need a job there in a few years with my Food Science degree.”
That balancing act didn't prevent McKenna scoring some impressive results which helped him earn the No 1 ranking in Ireland for 2015. His overall victory in the 2015 Ras na Mumhan certainly turned heads and helped to earn a call-up to the national team for the U23 Nations Cup. No matter how good the results are on home soil, McKenna knows there's a new level of tactical knowledge required to navigate the European pelotons; the bunches are bigger, speeds faster. Being smart is just as important as being in good shape, as he discovered in Belgium at the end of last year.
“I got my ass absolutely kicked, I think I finished about two out of 10 races I did,” he admits. “Ah I made a lot of mistakes last year, I'll learn from it. I was very very tired at the end of the season. I did my exams and five days later I did the Ras and then I went straight to Belgium and I had that mentality that I'm a full time bike rider now I have to train for a huge amount of miles and huge amount of hours and ended up draining myself and by the time I started the apprenticeship I wasn't 100pc. In fairness, Kurt (Bogaerts, team manager) was nice enough to see that but he saw I had some sort of potential. I'll do it a bit more professionally this year. Train better, learn from my mistakes last year.”
That all starts for real now when he lines up in an eight-man team for the five-day event in Portugal. Former underage Waterford hurler Conor Hennebry also rolls out for his first race in the An Post colours.