Frank Brandon’s Column

Katie Taylor showcases all that’s good about sport

Our man Frank on another big win for world champion Katie Taylor, inter-county heroes, the passing of renowned actor Tom Hickey, and the return of live country music…

Sport, by its very nature, is a hugely divisive subject. For those who are into it, it can give hour upon hour of exhilaration, enjoyment, and excitement – along with equal measures of despair, disillusionment, and disappointment. Meanwhile, those who are not into it can’t understand the fuss and often think that the ‘into it’ crowd need their heads examined!

  Remarkably, even for those of us who love our sport, there are lots of divisions, with supporters of different counties and clubs even holding a certain level of disdain for each other.

  Additionally, some of the most popular sports worldwide do nothing for me at all. Basketball, cricket and hockey all command huge audiences in different parts of the world, but if everything else ceased to exist, you wouldn’t find me looking at any of those three sports; I would probably become a DIY expert – or even a reasonably committed gardener!

  That brings me to boxing, a sport that I have never been fully sure of! On the one hand, I have always been an admirer of great boxers and world champions like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler, and closer to home, wee Barry McGuigan and Steve Collins. On the other hand, we’ve all been made aware of certain allegations that have always tended to taint the world of boxing.

  Back in the great days of the sixties, when heavyweight boxing was at its best and the likes of Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Ken Norton, and Sonny Liston were all serious world title contenders, the mafia’s fingerprints were all over the sport. There were widespread allegations of match fixing, cheating, and corruption, and I have to say it often left me wondering whether there was anything to those crooked rumours. 

  That is why the emergence of Katie Taylor on the world stage has been such a huge boost, because no matter how murky the waters of professional boxing, there is no doubt that in Katie we have found a true warrior, who endorses everything that is good about sport. Her will to win, her refusal to give in even when things seem to be going against her, and her total commitment to boxing are an example to everyone.

  Her fight with Natasha Jonas on Saturday night last was an epic battle, and one that will live long in the memory of all who were lucky enough to see it. Here we had two wonderful exponents of the game, each of whom gave absolutely everything to their cause, and yet again, Katie had to dig deep and earn herself a deserved, but hard-fought victory. 

  Anyone who ever harboured misgivings about the place of women’s boxing in the sport were left in no doubt – as I write this on Sunday evening, I am still buzzing with the excitement of it all.

  Well done Katie, once again you did us all proud. What a debt we as a country owe you!

 

Maurice and Niall are real life heroes! 

Heroes come in many shapes and forms. Those of us who follow our inter-county teams tend to look up to the players and make the assumption that since they’re well-known inter-county stars, everything in their lives is good, and they’re immune from the pressures of everyday life. That may not always be the case. This week, I have found two new heroes – both well-known county players – but neither has become a hero of mine for their sporting ability.

  The first is former Waterford All Star hurler Maurice Shanahan, who has become an ambassador for Pieta House’s Darkness Into Light campaign ahead of their ‘One Sunrise Together’ event on May 8th.

  Maurice is very open about his struggle with depression, and how he attempted to take his own life in 2014. His message is that if someone is finding the going tough, don’t bottle it all up – seek help from a family member, a friend, or anyone you can turn to. Obviously Pieta House is now one of the best-known places in Ireland for this kind of service, and they provide a free therapeutic approach to anyone who has suicidal thoughts. 

  Maurice says he still has the occasional bad day but overall, his life is good. The birth of his daughter Rosie six weeks ago has been great for both him and his wife Katie, and at just 31 years of age, he hopes to force his way back into the Waterford hurling panel.

  My second hero is Offaly footballer Niall McNamee. This week, he has been talking about his battle with gambling and the dangers for people who are unable to control the addiction. He has given his support to Extern Problem Gambling, a service that helps those who have a gambling problem. Niall gambled until he was 26-years-old, and it has taken him nine years to clear off all his gambling debts. Nowadays he is a counsellor, and tries to help others kick the habit. He doesn’t try to hide any of the downsides of his gambling life – the loneliness, the guilt, and the constant juggling of his emotions – and has left others in no doubt that addiction literally takes over your life.

  I’d never have thought I’d regard a Waterford hurler and an Offaly footballer as my heroes, but as I write this on Sunday evening, I can only admire the two of them, and wish both of them well in continuing to deal with their problems.

 

Thanks for the memories Tom 

For all of us who were around at the start of television in Ireland, three rural dramas, all intertwined with each other, dominated almost forty years of RTÉ, and made household names of several of the main characters.

  The Riordans, Bracken, and Glenroe were all spin-offs from each other, and they had the entire country totally fixated with the comings and goings of the many characters. 

  Nearly sixty years after the very first episode of The Riordans, it’s safe to say that three main characters are still remembered by those of us lucky enough to have been there to see them all. Miley and Biddy, played respectively by the late Mick Lally and Mary McEvoy were, and still are, revered for their roles in Glenroe. Before them however, was Benjy, played by Tom Hickey, and he was the first big heartthrob of Irish television.

  The Riordans’ story revolved around two middle-aged parents, Tom and Mary Riordan, and their slightly radical son Benjy. For 14 years, we as a nation were completely enthralled with the storyline, and when the show was finally axed in May 1979, there was widespread disbelief and shock. The public, media, and politicians all criticised the sudden decision, but it was to no avail. The show was finished.

  Then, last weekend, it all came back to me when Tom Hickey, or Benjy as he was always known, passed away, bringing down the curtain on a long and successful acting career, during which he starred on stage and screen for more than six decades. However, as Tom goes off to meet up with Mick Lally and all the other stars that gave us almost forty years of unforgettable rural dramas, to most of us he will always be ‘Benjy’.

  All I can say is thanks for the memories and may he rest in peace.

And finally…

A real sign that things may be going back to normal is the fact that Cliona Hagan, Robert Mizzell, Johnny Brady, Patrick Feeney, and others are headlining the Kilbeggan Country Music Drive-In Festival on the June Bank Holiday weekend. The event will be an open-air concert for 2,000 fans in 500 cars.

  I know it’s still not the same, but at least it’s a start. Besides, after more than a year of having no gigs, it must be pretty amazing for all these artists to have something like this to look forward to.

  I also see ads for a big weekend of entertainment with Red Hurley, Linda Martin, Paddy Cole and a host of other slightly younger artists like Keith and Lorraine in The Gleneagle Hotel in Killarney in October, so maybe the end is in sight and I can finally start to polish up my dancing shoes. I don’t know why because I can’t dance…but at least I will look nice!

 

‘Till next week, Bye for now!