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THE COACH’s DREAM: Peter Hart remembers coaching a 15 year old Mikey Clancy

We have just received a touching tribute from windsurfing guru Peter Hart. With the first PWA Wave event of the year just a few weeks away, Hart reflects on his experience of coaching Mikey Clancy, who was due to be competing in Pozo before his untimely passing. You can enjoy Hart's words below.

Three hours to go on a transatlantic flight, I was running out of film options. It boiled down to a choice between a Bollywood musical spectacular or something called ‘Phar Lap’ about a racehorse. I chose the latter because it sounded less noisy and would have a better chance of sending me to sleep.

It was actually quite good. Based on real events in the Depression era, it told the story of Australia’s most successful racehorse. Phar Lap won 37 out of its 51 races and all that despite being shot at by rival syndicates and being given crippling weight penalties by corrupt authorities. 

The story was all the more extraordinary since Phar Lap was a bog standard nag with no racy bloodline. It was also a stroke of luck for his struggling, second-rate trainer Harry Telford, who got rich on the back of all the success. 

The ending wasn’t so Hollywood-esque in that Harry spent all his money on fancy stables but never bred or trained another winner and died impecunious. With Phar Lap he thought he’d hit upon revolutionary training methods. But the truth was that he’d just chanced upon a unique specimen with a 14lb heart and a will of steel. He could have locked it in its stable and feed it doughnuts all day and it still would have won.

I had a Phar Lap moment on a clinic in Donegal in 2005. The course was made up of mature, grizzled Ulstermen and Dubliners keen to offset a little wave action with a lot of heavy drinking – except for one. Standing out like a very sore thumb was a fresh faced 15 year old. Teenagers on courses make me nervous.  They’ve usually been dragged along by a dominant Dad who is desperate they get it so he can disguise windsurfing trips as a family holiday. If they don’t, it’s my fault and I’m left having to deal with a hormonal,grunting Kevin.

But this kid seemed different. He was quiet and unassuming. We had a chat about his ambitions. 

“You want to do the waves? Good good – and how long have you been windsurfing? Nine months?  OK.” Oh dear. A dark cloud of disappointment loomed above. This was surely a fantasy sparked by a windsurf magazine centrespread. Similar to other teenage fantasies sparked by centrespreads from an altogether different class of magazine, it was surely a little unrealistic. I was at least reassured that the ambition seemed to be his own. His Dad was on hand but he didn’t windsurf. He was relaxed and affable and told me his son was nuts for windsurfing. Given that there’s nothing like sport to divert an adolescent from the attractions of drinking cider on the steps of an ‘8 til Late’ supermarket, he was delighted to act as taxi-driver, rigger and general facilitator.

His name was Michael Clancy and his son’s name was Mikey.

We kicked off with a warm up session on the inland sea behind Magheroarty beach. It transpired that in the 9 months he’d been windsurfing, Mikey had already learned to sail an 80 ltr wave board, carve an OK gybe and handle any wind on offer. 

The rest, as they say, is history.  By the end of the course Mikey was not only planing out of gybes but also riding and jumping proper waves. He also scored 3rd in an impromptu GPS speed contest against some chunky, well-tuned rivals. 

He was the coach’s dream. Take someone who has no bad habits (no habits at all actually), who is supremely motivated, fit, agile, fearless and blessed with a great dollop of natural talent and you can’t go far wrong. He was my ‘Phar Lap.’ He would have excelled whatever advice I gave him, good or bad, and left me to bathe in reflected glory. 

In truth it was like training an elite athlete. Don’t tell him how to use his own body, they can already do that.  Just show once and stand back.  Use words sparingly. Words are what he gets from his teachers and he’s all too adept at tuning them out. Mikey’s desire to improve was so great that you’d asked anything of him and he’d give it a lash.

Onwards and upwards

I kept in touch and some months later got an email from Michael, saying that Mikey was really going for it, had got a bit of sponsorship and had his eyes set on the PWA tour.

It was at this point a part of me wanted to take him by the shoulders, stare him in the eye and tell him straight: ‘Mikey – you don’t live in a upturned boat on the shores of Hookipa. Your Dad doesn’t shape boards or run a huge windsurfing centre. You live in cold Dublin where the wind is fickle and the nearest decent waves are a 4 hour drive away. You’re 16, the age at which Naish and Dunkerbeck had already bagged a hatful of world titles. The kids in Bonaire can forward and do every freestyle trick in the book by the age of 10. Enjoy the sport please but PWA? Come on now!”

But I didn’t say it. Just as well. Everything that’s good in life has resulted from the extraordinary efforts of a few extraordinary people. Mikey went for it and kept on going for it until just 4 years of unrelenting training later he was accepted onto the PWA tour and was mixing it with the best at Pozo. 

The loss of Mikey’s life in January of this year is the most tragic and wasteful I can think of. Would he have made it right to the top and realised his ambition of a top ten finish? Given his horrific ankle injury, the bookies would have bet against it, but knowing the boy, I wouldn’t have.

Peter found the original video tapes from that week in Donegal where he first met and coached Mikey Clancy and has put together a tribute to him. You can view his touching tribute video here.

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