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He was between the sticks for the Orchard County when they won Sam Maguire at Croke Park in 2003 and has won a huge haul of medals throughout his illustrious career.

He played alongside some of GAA’s greats and they all shared a key quality that moulded them into serial winners: desire and heart.

Now principal at St Peter’s PS Cloughreagh, Benny is keeping company with another winner who exudes the same drive and determination that led Armagh to regular silverware.

P2 pupil Archie Cunningham recently raised almost £2,500 for a charity that has supported him since birth by cycling 20k on a specially-adapted trike on St Colman’s running rack

The money will go to Shine, which provides help and advice to families affected by spina bifida.

Benny was among and supporters that cheered six-year-old Archie and dad Damian on as they completed the cycle.

He hailed his P2 pupil as a role model to other students due to his desire and drive.

“Archie is a such a special student and special person,” said Benny.

“He hasn’t let anything detract from his enjoyment in life or in school. Even though he is only finishing P2, he is a role model for pupils here in St Peter’s because there is not a hurdle or obstacle that he can’t get over.

“His personality affects everyone and he gives his absolute best in everything he does. He is an credit to this school and his family.”

Benny Tierney has nothing but praise and admiration for six year old Archie Cunningham. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Archie was born in 2015 with spina bifida. 

Mum Debbie was pregnant when she was told that her son had a condition which means he cannot walk without an aide and which affects around six out of every 10,000 babies.

She was directed towards a charity called Shine, which provides specialist support to families affected by spina bifida.

It has supported the family from the very start, so she was delighted when Archie wanted to raise money for them through the 20k cycle.

“It is an unbelievable charity - they have been involved the whole way through,” said Debbie.

“Anything we required or needed help with, they were able to do it and we have always got what we needed for Archie. So it was nice for Archie to do it and give back to them. They’re unreal, they really are unbelievable.”

Archie began the charity cycle in November last year.

He needed to cycle 20kms – 40 laps of a running track – in just four weeks.

He was just six laps short in December when the challenge had to be postponed as he required surgery and a short stay in hospital.

With strict lockdown coming into force at the beginning of January, the family weren’t sure if they’d ever get to complete the challenge.

But sport-loving Archie – who supports Sheffield Wednesday and plays wheelchair basketball each Saturday morning in Dundalk – insisted on finishing what he had already begun

Debbie said it worked out for the best as Archie’s family and friends were allowed at the track last weekend to cheer him home.

She said: “I’m glad he didn’t complete it until recently because it meant we were able to have more people there to cheer him on for the last lap, whereas we were only allowed 15 last year due to restrictions. So it worked out well.”

Archie Cunningham with his mum Debbie and dad Damian, Bessbrook
Archie Cunningham with his mum Debbie and dad Damian, Bessbrook. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/ Newry.ie

Among those cheering Archie on was principal Benny, who presented Archie with his medal and told those gathered who he was a role model for other pupils at the school.

“Benny Tierney talks so highly of him – he would actually bring you to tears sometimes the way he talks about Archie,” said Debbie.

“We asked his if he would present Archie with a medal once he completed the 20k and the speech he gave on the day about Archie had nearly everyone crying. It was just brilliant.”

Having completed 20km, Archie’s now planning on cycling a half marathon for children’s charity Solving Kids Cancer,

The task will see him taking on 53 laps of the running track instead of the 40 that he recently completed.

This time, however, his family are hopeful that he will do it on his own specially-adapted trike, which allows cyclists to use their hands rather than their feet to peddle

The Whizz Kidz charity – which works to transform the lives of children in wheelchairs – is looking to assist the family in securing their own £3,000 tricycle.

And Archie can’t wait to get back in the saddle.

The cycling superstar said “I really enjoyed doing it for Shine. When I was a wee baby I always wanted to do a cycle and now I want to do the half marathon to help sick children.”

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