Katie was a knockout success, but Dad gets the gong for me

I had to think long and hard about selecting my sportsperson of the year and while Rory McIlroy and Katie Taylor would be top of the list for most people, it was the latter’s gold medal performance at the Olympics that inspired my choice.

Watching that final in a packed bar at the Round Tower Hotel in Ardmore, where Katie was already a sporting hero to the many kids watching in awe, got me thinking about my sporting heroes who influenced my career? Growing up I was made very aware of the genius of iconic Cork figures such as Christy Ring and Jack Lynch by someone who was fortunate enough to boast that he had played with them.

That person was a bit of a sporting icon to me given that I would regularly read press cuttings of his achievements as a Gaelic footballer and a boxer of note. I would often hold his Irish international singlet and wonder would I ever be fortunate to wear the green of Ireland one day. This guy was, after all, a Munster senior and Irish junior heavyweight champion but I could never see myself emulating those feats.

I did however play a lot of Gaelic football and having worn the famous red jersey once at the old Athletic Grounds when representing Cork primary schools, felt this represented the best avenue for me to make my mark in the future. After all I had seen this guy’s many medals, proudly displayed on an ornate timber shield which he made himself.

Adorning centre stage in that display was an All-Ireland junior football medal positioned in between two Munster championship medals won playing for Cork. As a proud Kerry man however, he tended to keep that to himself. Equally prominent was a Cork county senior football medal won playing alongside Lynch and Ring. Surely that made the achievement even more noteworthy. Other medals that caught the eye included an East Cork junior football medal won with Cobh and a West Cork one won playing with Bantry when Ralph Keyes’ father Michael was a teammate.

My father, now 84, has issues surrounding his short term memory and recently underwent emergency surgery on a stomach complaint that resulted in him spending a number of days in the ICU department of the Mercy Hospital under the excellent care of the doctors and nurses there.

Seeking a break from the ward one afternoon, I strolled up to the Mardyke where UCC were playing Midleton in an AIL local derby. Standing at the railing, I was approached by an elderly Midleton supporter. “Do you mind me asking but is your father still alive”? Without getting into a conversation concerning his current state of health, I simply replied “yes, he is”.

He went on to describe a county championship game involving my father in the early 1950’s, played in Bandon.

“My God, St Nick’s had a full back line that day of Gerald Mulcahy, Cork All-Ireland winning captain Tomás’s dad; Paddy Martin, father of Fianna Fáil leader Micheál and your father Gerald, who was full-back.”

He went on to describe how ruthless that unit were and that absolutely nothing was allowed to pass anywhere near the goalkeeper. “I will never forget it” he said. When you consider that game was played over 60 years ago, you begin to think, he mustn’t have been too bad. Given that he and Paddy Martin were also prominent member’s of the Glen boxing club at the time, I suspect it may well have been a case of reputation preceding them.

Due primarily to issues surrounding his memory, my father had no idea who Katie Taylor was and found it fascinating that there was so much interest in a female boxing contest.

When I explained she was fighting for an Olympic gold medal, all of a sudden his ears pricked up, he started rolling a bit with the punches and was even offering a little advice as to what Katie should be doing with her hands. He was completely captivated by the event but unfortunately within a few minutes of being awarded her gold medal, he had no recollection of watching the fight. Katie Taylor had once again slipped into oblivion.

What struck me was his love for sport and how, on reflection, he had been an inspiration, a source of pride and a great support to me on my sporting journey. While he never interfered and never sought to engage or influence any of my coaches — if only some of today’s parents could learn to step back a little and let their kids get on with enjoying themselves — he was always there and knocked a great kick out of following my career from a respectable distance.

Seeing his eyes light up, even momentarily, when Katie had gold around her neck, made me reflect on the sporting influence he had on me. Katie has been the deserved recipient of most awards as the sportsperson of the year but I am sure she will forgive me on this occasion for realising my father wasn’t half bad either.

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