I'm looking forward to seeing The Brothers Movement live in Crawdaddy later on tonight. I like their new single, Blind, which is available on DownloadMusic.ie.
I'd say we can expect to hear more of this group in the months and years to come.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
A quick google search on Ben Dunne reveals a few things. Firstly he's a "business tycoon". Secondly, he believes in "real, better value" and thirdly he's opening an art gallery. In a recent interview he said:
"The Nora Dunne Gallery will be a friendly place, a place of quality.I find art one of those tricky things to talk or write about. While I can appreciate the creativity, hard work and effort that goes into a piece, I have difficulty envisioning it hanging above the fire place. The price tag on most Irish art in galleries is also forbidding.
"It will be a place where everybody will be welcome, where people will buy many, many pictures and get lots and lots of pleasure out of looking at those pictures."
Take a quick walk at the top of Stephen's Green Shopping Centre to look at the art in their gallery. Here's a portrait of Bono for €3,700. Try a still life for €2,700. Even a simple watercolour of Connemara will set me back €570. All lovely pieces of art in their own right, but not right for me.
I've never bought a piece of art other than photographs. I've never been able to afford it or see it as an investment.
This, however is something that Dunne wants to change for people with his gallery. He told Ronald Quinlan :
"The whole way that people sell art or buy art in this country will be changed with the opening of the Nora Dunne Gallery. It will change an awful lot of the old ways of doing business in art.Certainly looking around the gallery yesterday highlighted just how he plans to bring this to life. Ably assisted by curator Karen Harper, one of the most genuinely friendly and enthusiastic people I've ever met, gathered in this gallery is a wide range of art at very reasonable and realistic prices.
People think because they spend big money on a picture, that it must be very good. The first thing they want to remember is that if they buy it from a gallery, 50 per cent of what they're paying at least is going to the gallery. In my case it's going to be 25 per cent maximum."
From cityscapes to seascapes, photographs to stained glass, huge oil paintings to small portraits, Karen's choices represent a huge range of the best of Irish art. "I have a simple criteria" she tells me. "If I could do it myself, I wouldn't sell it here"
Certainly with artists including Philip Gray, Ailve McCormack, Rita Pettigrew, Vincent Keeling, Gerry Flaherty, Elsie Sheridan, Tony Murray, Anne Louise McDermott and a pleasant surprise for me, Sean O Dwyer, there's a unifying theme or choice in the paintings - they are paintings that you could envisage in your home.
Yvonne O' Neill's work.
"Black suit lovers"We're not out to suit the 4% of art collectors", says Karen, "They're catered for. We want to provide the general public with art at affordable prices. I wouldn't choose anything for here that I couldn't see in somebody's home". Indeed, with almost 40 sales since they opened on October 14, it's difficult to argue with such a sentiment.
Red lips pout
Red nails flash
Swinging hips the dance begins...
Comments in the guest book reflect the welcoming nature of the place: "The gallery is lovely. Very relaxing place. Great variety of pictures" writes Claire from Rathmines. "Great to have such a lovely gallery in the area - great art" is written by Shirley from Kimmage. "Well done, will be back again". "Very impressed will be back". "Well done, Ben Dunne." others add.
Even the ones that ask for a coffee shop will be catered to. "That's on the way", says Karen. "Ben thought it better we focus on one business first without worrying about two. But we have all the facilities in place. He's passionate about this place. He wants it to be right".
The coffee shop won't be the only addition. "We've got space upstairs for classes", Karen says, "There's been great interest already. Between felting, patchwork, jewellery, oil, pastels and life drawing, this place will be a hive of activity. The gallery itself can be rented out for occasions too".
Karen, herself a jewellery designer and experienced curator knows every artist exhibiting personally at this stage. "The application process is simple - we ask them to email in three images of their work including the sizes and the price they see it as selling for. If I like it, I take it from there. Ben has seen every piece of art in the gallery - so much so that he came in recently and told me one of the images on the website was upside-down. He's given some of his personal collection to the gallery also."
Indeed the artists themselves seem to have no elitism or snobbery attached to their work - they present it and themselves as simply as possible. Rather than the usual qualification and CV based biographies in some galleries, this gallery chooses to present the artists as they are, real people.
Ailve McCormack: "My Art work doesn't have a specific theme running through it. If I like something I paint it. I am not interested in recreating a scene from relity but more concerned with capturing a particular moment in time."
Gabriella Szazo: "I have never studied the art of drawing or painting, I don't think it is necessary to use studied methods at all. I hope my paintings speak for themselves"
Elsie Sheridan: "I am a self taught artist. Having loved to paint all my life, it was not until 2001, when I gave up working full time to concentrate on painting that I made real progress. I put a lot of effort into developing my own way of expressing my reaction to whatever visually stimulates me. I paint in a strong passionate style using paint liberally.
I see painting as a challenge to improve and grow as an artist. This challenge will take the rest of my life, but what a joy it is to be able to do the one thing I love to do. Paint."
As for the name - it's named after Ben's mother, herself an artist. When asked, Ben said
"It means that I'm going to stick at it, and I hopefully will make it successful. You don't name something after your late mother without it stirring up a certain amount of emotion and love, and a desire for it to be successful and stand for the standards that my mother had."
When asked to choose my favourite piece, I hesitate. My familiarity and respect for Sean's work points immediately to The Traveller (above), but Elsie Sheridan's work (and story) has grabbed me too. I find Vincent Keeling's work so impressive but would happily have Rick Mettler's Phoenix above the fireplace. There's so much choice, so much expression, it's so accessible and attractive that I find it difficult to choose a piece I don't like.
In the end I settle for Phillip Gray's I see the light. A massive canvas, it presents a stark landscape with two figures in the distance. The photo above does it no justice - as indeed the photos I've taken can't capture the gallery's real essence - I'd have happily looked at it for ages, something Karen admits she enjoys from the vantage of the reception desk where herself and the lovely Catherine Michael are ready to welcome people.
The gallery is having its official opening tonight, Saturday 29 November from 6 to 8pm. "Come experience the atmosphere for yourself" is the invitation. All are welcome, though the rumour that Bono will be there may not, in fact, be accurate. With this sort of place and welcome though, you'd never know who'll walk through the doors. I'll certainly be back, hopefully with a credit card.
The Nora Dunne Gallery is open Monday to Friday 11am to 7pm and Saturday 11am to 5pm. It's based on Kimmage Road West and you can see more of their art here and find their blog here.
Friday, November 28, 2008
That's about it really. Nothing majorly memorable, though I thought the choir from St Mary's School for Deaf Girls (website here) was interesting.
Nothing traditional or what you'd be alright seeing - no Billy Barry kids, no Zig and Zag, Podge and Rodge, Dustin or Soky, no June Rodgers or anything related to Irish acts or performances on over Christmas.
No focus on Irish toymakers or manufacturers. No memorable appearances from major celebrities or personalities apart from Top Gear presenters Jeremy, Richard and James. Nicky Byrne dropped in with the twins. Sarah Ferguson popped in for a minute or two basically to say she was in Eason's of O' Connell Street tomorrow at 12 noon. McFly put in a mediocre performance. There was a video plug from Ben Stiller and Chris Rock for Madagascar 2. Nothing worthwhile, nothing unique.
As David pointed out, only two Irish authors mentioned in the book reviews, they cut to ad break during Kilkenny's St Canice's Jazz band performance - who had arranged a special medley for the show and no doubt practised loads and Pat referred to the whole I don't want the tickets incident of last week so much that it became tedious.
As Suzy said, the camera work during the dance-fusion exercise by the Hood Rats was appalling. Some of the young presenters - Gabriella, the book reviewer, Robert the milkshake maker and Mark Boylan from Offaly were excellent, but overall it was stilted, over rehearsed and wooden.
More and more it's just one long advertisement with little personality, humour or soul. There were few aww moments, no opportunities for children to shine, no inspiring or emotional moments.
Fine, The Late Late Toy show, Irish tradition that it is, has never been brilliant, but surely to God it could be better? In fact, the only thing that made it any way interesting were the conversations on Twitter and the live blog, something Anton seems to have agreed with.
Is The Late Late Toy Show only on because it's a tradition, not that there's a need for it?
Did you see it? If so, what did you think? And if not, did you purposely not watch it?
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Thanks to John Breslin, here's the full list of winners, (before of course they're on the Golden Spiders website). Congrats on the win for Boards.ie, John! Also a big congratulations for the well deserved best recruitment site goes to Gary and the team at Prosperity Recruitment. They're the best I've used both as candidate and client and deserve the recognition.
It was a spur-of-the-moment experiment - could I live blog an event I wasn't at, based soley on the tweets from those I follow who were at it? Answer this time is no, unfortunately.
It's 00:24 and it doesn't seem there's anyone tweeting from the Burlington. Hopefully they're too busy enjoying themselves.
The 2008 Golden Spider Award winners (that I know of) are as follows:
- Best indigenous website - Movies.ie*
- Best Digital Media Website - TV3.ie
- Best Blog - Mulley.net
- Best Education, Research & Training website - OSI.ie
- Best Web design & development agency - Webfactory
- Best Retail & Home Shopping Website - Toyota.ie
- Best e-government Website - OSI.ie
- Best Social Networking & Community Website – People's Choice - Boards.ie
- Internet Hero - Aodhan Cullen, chief executive of web analysis firm Statcounter. Cullen, 25, started the company when he was 16. Great interview here.
- Grand Prix Award - TV3.ie **
It's a real pity the Golden Spiders didn't have a dedicated twitter feed for the Awards, or someone there tweeting the results, especially given their hefty attendance fee of single seats costing €300 each while a table of 10 cost €2900, plus black tie dress code.
With the amount of liveblogging and livecasting technology available, you'd have assumed they'd have tried something. Even setting their website to update at midnight would have been a help.
However, we can wait until the morning when the results are out I guess. No harm done. Big opportunity may have been missed though.
Congrats to Vincent from Movies.ie on a well deserved award and of course to Damien too!
God bless Twitter for such occasions.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
One of the names synonymous with the Northern Ireland Peace Process for me has been Colin Parry. Colin's twelve year old son Tim was killed following the detonation of two bombs hidden in dustbins in Warrington, Cheshire by the IRA in March 1993. Among the 50 people injured by the bombs which exploded on a busy shopping street the day before Mother's day was three year old Johnathan Ball, who died from the blast.
Tim survived the impact with multiple injuries but died in hospital five days later. In a moving tribute to Tim, Colin tells how he and his wife Wendy were in Manchester for the day but heard of the bombing from a neighbour. They quickly moved to ensure their three children were okay, but with no news of Tim headed to the hospital:
"We were told he had sustained very serious head injuries and that it was unlikely that he would live through the night. Nothing can ever prepare you for losing a child. It is unbearable and is something you can never imagine.In the time that followed Colin has become a respected and prominent campaigner for peace. He and his wife campaigned tirelessly for peace in Northern Ireland, the UK and further abroad.
On the Sunday, we went to see Tim. What greeted us was terrifying – his head was completely bandaged, his upper body was pock-marked with shrapnel and tubes were coming from his mouth. Also, there was a distinctive smell, probably of Semtex.
The next five days were a roller coaster. We just had to get through five awful days of waiting. And after Tim died, we had to get through the week before the funeral and then the funeral itself."
They founded the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace (website here) in 1995, which promotes "the understanding, management and non violent resolution of conflict". Since its formation in 1995, it has worked to enhance relationships and promote respect for diversity.
In the year 2000, 7 years after the bombing, the Warrington Peace Centre was opened. This is "a unique centre, providing young children and young adults from Britain, Ireland and beyond with a range of learning programmes on the theme of non violent conflict resolution."
When Parry invited Gerry Adams to a Foundation for Peace event, he said then that yes, the meeting was difficult, but it was
"infinitely easier than holding my son dying. It was infinitely easier than carrying him for the final time in his coffin. It was infinitely easier than saying my final farewell to him with my wife. I can also tell you it is infinitely easier for Gerry and I to talk than to fight."Tony Blair has said of the Parrys: "In respect of Colin and Wendy Parry, they have shown a quite extraordinary spirit of forgiveness and determination to promote reconciliation. They can be very proud of the work that they have done over the years. It is interesting that the spirit they represent has ultimately triumphed over hatred, discord and conflict. Surely that should give us hope for the future."
Colin was at Chain Reaction to talk about his centre and the ongoing campaigning for peace. I was lucky enough to be invited to interview him, as unprepared as I was. Truth be told, I was nervous meeting this man who has dedicated his life to a cause with such a personal impact on his life. I'm inspired by people like Colin and the amazing actions he and his wife have taken to promote peace.
Thanks to Colin for the interview and his time and to David Wilcox for filming.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Pat Ingoldsby's new book of poetry has recently been published. Once again, he presents a unique, individual record of Dublin life in poetic form. From the sublime to the ridiculous, the poignant to the ludicrous and the inane to the dubious, it's yet another collection - his 19th of poetry and 23rd overall, for his fans to treasure and for new readers to discover and enjoy.
COOOOOOL!!!With poems ranging from childhood memories to his love for a woman, from people he meets on the streets to completely off-the-wall ideas, it's a book that made me gasp, laugh and think. Some of the poems have stuck with me for days - his tribute to a homeless girl called Fiona is quite something; some - including the one about the cow who thought "fuck the ozone layer" and farted - have stuck in my head and won't leave. It's certainly one I'll be rereading.
The way they arrive at your house,
wet and wretched, homeless and abandoned.
Within months they're giving out to you
for moving in your own bed!
IT'S A CHRISTMAS KIND OF THINGI'm particularly gratified to be one of the many people he thanked in the introduction of this new volume. Every time I stop to chat I leave with a different perspective, a smile or something new to look out for on the streets of Dublin. Therefore his addition of my name, though small, made me smile very brightly when I found out.
The homeless are handy at Christmas.
You do not even need to know their names.
They're out there somewhere.
You are helping them.
It feels seasonably good.
You don't have to meet them,
or touch them or anything like that.
Your son is at it too,
sleeping out for a whole night
with the sons of other better-off folk,
to help this anonymous, kept-at-a-distance,
disadvantaged group with no names
but known collectively, and for convenience
as the homeless.
A large group of better-off sons in sleeping bags,
huddling together under canvas
in the middle of O' Connell Street.
Helping the homeless.
are sleeping someplace else,
In ones or twos, under cardboard,
in doorways and skips, up lanes.
One or two might even flit past
during the night. They'll keep going.
They know their place.
By January they'll have been forgotten.
In the same spirit, I'd like to offer a signed copy of the book to someone who'd like a smile. It's great if you're a fan but equally, if you've never read Pat's poetry before, here's your chance to grab a copy.
Just leave a comment below with a way to contact you (if I don't know already) and I'll get in touch. Let me know what you think of it.
[All poetry by Pat Ingoldsby from Once Upon A Wicked Eye.]
Monday, November 17, 2008
"Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that."Before The Apprentice and before Penny Apples, I knew who Bill Cullen was. The mere mention of his name sent Michelle, the lady I was dealing with in the Irish Youth Foundation into a flurry of adulation every time we tried to arrange a meeting for the Indo. "He's a gentleman", I remember her telling me "But he's very busy. I'll see what I can do." The meeting never happened.- Norman Vincent Peale
Fast forward seven years and I'm here sitting in the Kelly Theatre of the National College of Ireland awaiting the entrance of said gentleman, now one of the most famous and recognised names in the country. If it's not for his books it's for the Apprentice. If not for that it's for his ambition to be the first Irish Astronaut. If not any of those it's Tom Dunne's "Ah be the hokey cokey, toora loora lie" impressions of Dr Bill on Gift Grub. Since the 2002 publication of his book "It's a long way from Penny Apples", Bill Cullen has been one to watch in the public eye.
The theatre is full. Thanks to the lovely Emma, I'm in the second row near the front. I'm keen to learn as much as I can here. I have no aspirations of being Bill Cullen's apprentice but I wouldn't mind learning some skills from him. In front of me, the president of the College introduces top level execs from Newstalk to other such people. Claire Byrne is preparing for her interview and suddenly, quietly Bill is just there. No fanfare, no ceremony, no fuss - he just walks in and over, greeting people he knows, ready to be put in his place and for the chat to begin.
He's looking well for a man of 66. Immaculately groomed, dressed well but not ostentatious, he complies happy with the sound engineer fixing his microphone, still scanning the audience and nodding greetings to those he recognises.
From the offset it's clear that Bill Cullen is a personality. Even during the introduction of Paul Mooney, the college President, he interrupts with comments and jokes to endear himself to an audience who also don't seem sure where the present day media image of Bill Cullen as affable but tough corporate boss ends and the real Bill begins.
After all, here is a man born into the rough inner city slums of Summerhill in Dublin, one of fourteen children who was selling Christmas decorations, flowers, fruit and match programmes on the streets of Dublin by the time he was six to help support his family. In Ireland, we're watching him now on TV3's The Apprentice where he's seen to make ruthless, often unpopular decisions about who to fire and why, but is this a fair reflection or just good television?
Claire Byrne made it her goal to find out. Here's some of what Bill had to say:
- On The Apprentice.
Bill doesn't see the Apprentice before it's aired on TV3. He doesn't get to see the rushes or pre production screenings - he simply doesn't have the time. He meets the candidates on a Monday morning for their task briefing, Brian Purcell and Jackie Lavin are with them during their tasks and then Bill sees them Wednesday evening for the boardroom scenes.
He makes his decision purely on the briefing from Brian and Jackie and in the boardroom, based on his "own instinctive wisdom". Sometimes, he said, if you see him wincing during scenes, it's Jackie kicking him under the table. Valerie Shanley has written a great editorial piece on their relationship, as well as the other strong women in his life.
He knows the production team might want him to keep a certain candidate because they're good TV, but he has no time for this - he makes the ultimate decision. He had no personal say in the selection of the candidates. They had 1,600 applicants, 800 interviews that was narrowed down to 50 from whom the final 14 were chosen.
He's been asked to do the Apprentice for a couple of years but has always been too busy. Now though with Renault sold back to the company (for considerably more than the £1 Cullen originally paid for it and its debt of £20 million) and the training courses at his Europa Academy in Swords taken off, he found it the right time. It also helps to raise the profile of the Academy, where the boardroom scenes take place.
- On the candidates:
When asked what he thought about Joanna Murphy, he let out a big laugh and says "Sure we all know Joanna!". He recalled the first time they met, where he was introduced to all the candidates for the first time - just as viewers saw on TV. They all stood in a line and said hello and their names, but Joanna stepped two steps out in front of the line with hand on hip and said "Hello Bill, I'm Joanna, I'm your warrior, I've got the liathróidí, I'm your man, I'm your next apprentice." He remembers saying to Jackie that her fixation on winning, on being his apprentice had the potential to smother her ability or talents.What will the winner be doing?
When asked how he think her deception on the show (context here) would harm her future prospects, he doesn't think it hasn't helped. He was told during the tape changing of the show, when the candidates have to wait outside while he makes his decision and was amused by the way the lie that she didn't know Ray Murphy was hovering on her lips.
On the most recent show, he felt that Orla did a great job as project manager other than the silly, basic mistake of checking the business name. He felt Paddy was the right person to go as he didn't have the same sense of urgency about him. He shared that he gets very pissed off when he sees people who he's paying that say they "don't have anything to do".
Nobody, he says, who has been fired so far would have a chance of working with him.
When the audience is asked who they think will win the competition, the names Brenda, Shane and Stuart are called out immediately.
"I have seven or eight jobs in mind for them already" says Bill. Between hotels, cars and the training academy they'll be kept busy, never mind the research for the four books Bill has committed to completing by the end of next year. He cites how he was in Ballymena on Saturday and Cork on Sunday so his apprentice will be dealing with sorting his itinerary. There's also a project on a hotel in Killarney with Jackie that he has in mind.
They'll also have to work with the famous Bill Cullen early start. Bill believes in a 6am start, "especially in an anxiety laden society". Bill has had early starts since he was a boy in Summerhill heading to Howth at 4:30am to get fish fresh from the trawlers rather than wait for them to be delivered to the market where he'd pay more.
In the car business too he never subscribed to the 8am to 6pm philosophy, preferring to work 6am to 8pm. His early morning starts put him in front of the top businessmen in his industry and helped him advance when he needed to.
On business and being a leader:
When asked if he had learned to be a leader, he told how he felt awareness was the key. "Leaders are made by having them challenge themselves." This came from the training his mother would give him, learning the names of streets on the left, then the right that he'd pass on his way from the markets to her stall, then the names of shops on each sides, then the names of the people he's meet. It taught him a valuable lesson in watching everything that goes on around him, he said.
He also feels a hard neck is the key. He told the story how, of a young boy of 8 years old, his mother would send him back to shops with messages he'd just bought in order to nurture this sense of being able to talk to anyone. He remembered how he went to Guiney's to replace a pair of trousers that were too small for him to hand down to his brother.
When the manager of the haberdashery department couldn't help him, the 8 year old Cullen asked for the head person and apparently ended up having tea with the owner Mrs Guiney and going home with seven pairs of trousers instead of just the one. (He told the story with considerably more charm and polish than I'm relaying it now.)
When asked if he was good at managing or getting the best from people, he spoke about how managing involves the practical side of running a business day to day and how leading is about vision, about future plans and seeing where the business could be in the next few years. "Praise in public, criticise in private" he says. He would "never lash anyone out of it" in public for a mistake, just get them to agree that (a) they did it wrong, and (b) they'll do it right the next time. He gives everyone two chances only.
Being a leader he concludes is about getting people to do what you need them to do because they want to do it. There are 3 Ds to it - discuss, delegate and depart for the Golf Course.
On the economy
There's a lot of things happening that we're not aware of, he said. It's becoming obvious though that politicians aren't in touch with people - the budget is a big indication of that. He strongly questioned the wisdom of cutting the medical cards and was quite vociferous about the cervical cancer checks decision being ludicrous. None of our politicians have the business acumen or experience necessary to run the country effectively.Education vs experience
Cullen himself says he has no political aspirations. One point he made was that the government probably can't afford the right people they need.
When Claire asked him what he looks for in a CV, whether he scans submitted CVs for degrees and qualifications, he admits that while experience is often better than education, a college degree does show a certain commitment or a focus that the candidate has. However, he values 'moxy' or street smarts a lot more.
Questions from the floor:
When opened to the floor questions raised about the contrast between Mary Harney's role of minister for health and her own appearance ("Your health is your wealth" was the point of Bill's response to that one) to the prospect of hiring women knowing they may get pregnant. He handled each question with consummate ease and a wry sense of humour.
Time and again he referenced his own youth and experience, never pushing his books or his experience as the ultimate guide, preferring instead to let the facts speak for themselves. He is motivational, enthusiastic and encouraging, a stark contrast to a lot of business media people talking about the recession.
He ends by admitting he loves Tom Dunne's Dr Bill sketch. "It's not really me, is it?" he says to the audience. He finishes by meeting people, shaking hands, signing books. His final remarks include how the sales manager of Eason's suggests that an unsigned copy of Penny Apples will be a rarity and one to hold onto.
I leave the talk with considerable enthusiasm, glad I've taken the opportunity. He's an inspiring person. I could never work for him - I lack the discipline, the drive and the patience but he's certainly someone I admire. You can hear the talk in full from Newstalk here.
The Legends in your Lunchtime talks bring top business people to talk about how they think and what makes them the people they are today. Danuta Grey, CEO of O2 and Denis Casey of Irish Life and Permanent are next on the list. Check out the National College Website for more details.
(I'm making no promises that the above is free of mistakes or misquotes. I was writing frantically and this post should be taken more as an overview rather than an accurate reflection. I really should buy a mp3 recorder.)
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I'm off to London for a few days to work on the Chain Reaction event. I may not be going through Dublin airport's terminal 2 just yet, but it won't be long by the looks of things.
The Chain Reaction event looks very interesting. There are some amazing speakers lined up from the world of charity and social entrepreneurship. I'm looking forward to meeting and hearing Richard Branson, Mark Thompson, DG of the BBC, Nipun Mehta, Founder of Charityfocus.org, Colin Parry, Founder of Foundation for Peace and a personal hero of mine, John Bird, Founder and Editor-In-Chief of The Big Issue.
For the programme running over Monday and Tuesday, I'll be reprising my role as a social reporter, helping to blog, tweet, photograph, record, interview and video the event. I'm working with a brilliant team to help all this happen. It's something I hope to be able to help replicate in Ireland soon.
Better go. Lift in 30 minutes, need to shower, nothing packed. The usual!
We ducked and weaved, laughing a bit while we faced each other, him a world class boxer and me a guy who'd never been inside a boxing ring before. "Keep your guard up" he says as he jabs at me, "Raise your fists a bit more". I feint to the left, he thrusts with right fist, I come back with a straight right and an uppercut. I connect. He goes down. I lean over.
"Are you okay there, Kenny?"
Barely an hour before I'm sitting in the car park of the National Stadium checking I have my pen and notebook ready, steeling myself for a bout to meet someone I've admired for a while, ever since his triumphant return to Ireland after winning a silver medal - the fourth in Irish boxing history - in the Light-heavyweight final of the 2008 Olympic Games.
Kenny Egan, 26, is from Neilstown in Clodalkin, Dublin, where he still lives and boxes. The man is built like a block. A big block. When we meet I'm surprised that I'm surprised by his physical presence - it shows how little I know about what sort of training and work goes into being an Olympic medal winner.
I'm not what you'd call a boxing fan. I haven't attended the matches, couldn't tell you who any of the world champions are and before the interview had never been to the National Stadium. I did however watch Egan fight in the final against China's Xiaoping Zhang on August 24 and with the rest of the nation wondered what the hell the boxing officials were thinking. I then watched his homecoming, listened to his rousing urges for more young people to get involved in sport and for more resources to be allocated to making this happen. His passion was evident.
Showing me around the High Performance training area in the National Stadium, he impresses on me the difference between where we are now - a world-standard training room, and the school hall in Clondalkin that currently houses the Neilstown boxing club. "We still take the bags down in the evenings and tidy everything away" he says. "But that will change soon."
Looking around this training area, I'm reading names like Michael Carruth, Wayne McCullagh, Andy Lee, Darren Sutherland, Katie Taylor and Kenneth Egan on the walls. Everything is focussed towards motivation and success, training and fighting to do one's best. The walls are covered in motivational quotes from boxers who have trained here: "In boxing, tough is not enough" reads Barry McGuigan's "Combining skill, strength and persistence produces results at the highest level. Boxing is like chess: You don't think, you don't win". Darren O Neill's simply reads "Confront and overcome all your obstacles. Success awaits at the other side."
Punching bags hang at regular intervals with apparatus all around. Here a €40,000 machine to measure punching speed, there a truck tyre, frame and sticks. "You beat that into the frame" Kenny tells me "It strengthens up the stomach muscles". The weight room is no less impressive - bedecked in mirrors, motifs and what looks like top quality equipment. "The High performance programme is in place since 2003 only", says Kenny, "But we've gone from the previous four or five to 20 internationals a year."
(Photos from Flickr and my personal collection)
It was his older brother William who got him into boxing at the age of eight. "I remember watching Carruth fight at the Barcelona Olympics and knowing Willie boxed, I wanted to find out more, so Willie brought me down to Neilstown. I gave it a go and stuck with it".
Stick with it he certainly did, with eight Irish champion titles under his belt in the last decade, as well as a European Bronze in 2006. He's ranked fourth in the world and second in Europe. This year, he proudly says has been the best year ever for the club which is over 30 years old. "We have over 60 young people with us now - we can't take any more. This time last year we had 30. We're hoping to have ground broken in January for a new, dedicated building."
He's got great support at home, where he lives with his mother Maura and his father Paul. "To be honest, Darragh, if you told me before the games that I could come home with a silver medal, I'd have taken it with both hands. There was no major media presence in the Olympic Village, so apart from the internet and what the gang over with me were telling me, there was no real way to know. But coming home to the reception I got was mindblowing - I didn't really know how to deal with it.
Everything from the reception in the airport to being recognised in shops to all the things I've been doing and asked to do - from opening shops to signing autographs to posing with local kids and their mobile phones - I'm sure most children in Clondalkin have me on their bebo at this stage. I've been on Podge and Rodge, with Gerry Ryan, on Seoige and of course the nine o' clock news the night I got home".
It's actually his appearance on the news that we talk about most - Kenny standing outside Boomers in Clondalkin, the local kids crowded around to get their faces on camera and him telling the people of Ireland to get young people off couches, away from the TV, the X-box and the playstations and get out into the fresh air, into a local sports club, to get out and get active.
When I ask him, somewhat tongue in cheek what exercise I should be doing, he immediately recommends a good run. "There's no secret, Darragh" he says, "No magic formula. It's about regular exercise, a balanced diet and eating good food at regular times and a big fluid intake. At the height of our training we're drinking 6 litres a day - I lost 3 kilos after one heavy exercise session."
When I ask, quite seriously, if somewhat tentatively, if boxing isn't just one person beating another up, he sighs in recognition of a common misconception, one he feels that keeps people from seeing just how skilful the sport is. "I tell you one thing", he says when I tell him I'm from Kilkenny, "You'd never see me on a pitch with a hurl. It's a weapon. I look at that sport and think it's mental. too fast and potentially violent. Fair play to the lads who do it - I couldn't."
"Amateur boxing (which means, I've found out, more that you don't get paid than it's "lesser" than professional) is four rounds of two minutes, where points are scored for landing and avoiding hits. It's not about knockouts, it's not about damage, it's about a technical approach to using your body to show your skill in movement. In the ring you need to be 100%. If you're not giving it everything, you're only cheating yourself. You can't cut corners. You're going to be found out very quickly if you're not giving what you've trained to give."
In fact, admits Kenny, that's why he didn't qualify for the 2004 Olympics. "I slipped up mentally" he says "Because boxing is about 10% physical and 90% focus and commitment. I didn't have it." In an interview before the Olympic final, Egan's head coach Billy Walsh said "At the highest level of sport you want that extra one or two per cent. All the top sportsmen in the world come under mental strain and the guys who deal with it the best are the guys who come through." Indeed, of the 54 Irish athletes that went to the games this year, the haul of three medals was thanks to three of the five boxers participating.
Talking about Christmas, he'll spend it at home with the family. "I'm very close to my mam", he says, "She hasn't watched me fight since I was 16. She didn't come to Beijing because she has a fear of flying, but she's an important part of all this. There'll be the five boys at home, still in the sitting room on Christmas morning, slagging each other and having the craic. The Nationals are on in February so I never go mad. I didn't have a 21st because my birthday is in January. But I don't mind any of that. The proudest moment of my life was qualifying for these games. This has been a goal. I've reached it."
At the moment he's looking at the future carefully. There's a lot of talk of him turning pro - he's just back from watching the Calzhage-Jones fight in Madison Square Gardens and he knows how much prestige, money and work that would bring to his life. "I don't know, I don't really want to, to be honest. It's a cut-throat game, a different kettle of fish altogether." he said in a recent interview. "I can't rule it out. But I have a meeting coming up with the Sports Council and if we can look at the future for me in the amateur game here, I'll do that just as quickly"
His passion and enthusiasm for Ireland and the future of irish boxing is evident though as he names the team behind him for Beijing. Gary Keegan, the High Performance programme director was a big influence. So were coaches Billy Walsh from Wexford and Zauri Antia from Georgia, who, Egan points out, "must make a massive commitment to training camps and fights abroad, meaning they could be away from their family up to six months of the year." Phil Moore and Gerard Hussey were the sports psychologists with John Cleary being the strength and conditioning coach. Jim Moore and Tony Davitt are training the junior team he says.
"Irish boxers have been doing brilliantly this year", he tells me. "Since May we've won four gold and two silver at the EU Championship finals, we won gold in Instanbul and bronzes in Serbia and Austria. Katie Taylor is just off to China to defend her world title, and has already won gold and boxer of the tournament award at the Women's EU Championship. 18 year old Ray Moylett from Mayo is World Youth Champion, that youth team winning one gold, one silver and two bronze medals from the tournament in Mexico. The lads have just won three bronzes at the European senior championships and there's three more Olympic medals in the country."
"I think if people knew how much work, commitment and dedication goes into the sport, we'd have a larger following" says Egan. "We need more encouragement, more support, more dedicated facilities". In a wonderful opinion piece in the Irish Times, Fintan O' Toole writes:
"Boxing does for these young men, in other words, what education and community and society ought to do but don't. It treats them as people who can achieve very tough things, not just in sport but in learning to be a man.
It gives them respect and demands in return that they respect themselves. It defines them as individuals - in few sports is the competitor quite so nakedly alone - but it also creates its own family and its own community. It has no time for self-indulgent victimhood. It both teaches and recognises the dignity that is won in struggling against unfavourable circumstances."
At the moment, Kenny is busy. There's been many award ceremonies, including a People of the Year award and the Dublin Bus Community Support Awards. He's been doing a lot for charities - Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Rebuild for Bosnia ad awareness of suicide in Ireland have all benefited and he's recently finished shooting on his new DVD, which was released yesterday.
Kenny Egan: Back from Beijing is a look at what's been happening in his life since the fight and the return home. "I only watched the fight recently", he says, "I'd been avoiding it, but meself and Billy went upstairs and stuck it on the big screen. It's painful to watch." No surprise there. At the end of the third round, judges failed to score several punches by Egan that would have given him the lead. NBC announcers concurred on this point. (Source: Wikipedia)
"By my count I won the fight by 3 points. I did the best I could do, that's what matters to me. With 14,000 Chinese fans screaming in the stadium, obviously the pressure is on, the atmosphere unbelievable. The scoring was unfair. deep don in my heart of hearts I feel I won the fight, but that's sport. However in the whole tournament I was only hit seven times in 20 rounds, scoring 48 points. I'm happy with that too."
"The DVD is gas - some funny bits, some great craic with the Neilstown boys and a cracking soundtrack from the Coronas. It's been an amazing journey for me, the experience of a lifetime." One can only wonder if he'll be repeating it four years from now in London.
Standing in the training room, holding the Olympic silver medal I can only imagine what Egan, and all the other boxers put themselves through to get to this point. "It's about discipline, self respect and manners" he tells me, "It's so technical and you learn so much, it puts you in great shape physically and mentally". I decline to wear the medal, respecting how much work has gone into getting it.
It's something Egan wants to help other boxers achieve. "This has been a long time coming", he says. "If I stay on for London 2012 it's a lot of work, but after that I can see myself getting into training or something. Maybe coaching with the High Performance Unit here. Helping out up at Neilstown. I couldn't handle a nine-to-five, sitting around looking at a screen for the rest of my life. This is what I want to do. That's why I do it."
"Ah sure come on, stand over me like you've knocked me out", he says, as Niamh takes the photos. "People love getting that shot". It's one to show me mammy anyways. I look like an eejit but sure I'll never get the chance again.
Of course it's not just the DVD now. Kenny is on the internet, with blog, Flickr, Bebo, Facebook and Twitter account on the go. "I'm learning" he says, "It's a bit of work, but I'll get there". Having met him, I'm sure he will.
"Send that on to me, will you please?" he says as we shake hands, his massive southpaw dwarfing mine. "I'm sure I'll like it." I hope he does. Gentlemen though he is, I certainly don't fancy a real fight with him.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
(click image for bigger version)
I've spent much of this morning listening to cartoon theme tunes and remembering heroes, villains, monsters and adventures lived vicariously through animated characters on an old TV screen. I've actually been pleasantly surprised that I know a lot of them - growing up I thought we were in a cultural wilderness having only "poverTV" (RTÉ 1 and 2) but now I think that other than Doctor Who and the Crystal Maze, maybe I didn't miss out on much at all!
I was looking at the above illustration trying to work out how many I could remember watching on TV without looking them up. So here goes, left to right, back to front:
Round the twist (aussie lighthouse drama), The A-team, Jimbo, Count Duckula, Transformers (robots in disguise), Dogtanian and the Muskehounds, Fraggle Rock, He-man (wasn't Skeletor drawn quite scary?) Postman Pat, Supergran (I was surprised how much of the theme tune I knew!), Super Ted, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (when exactly did they become ninja turtles?), Inspector Gadget, The Flintstones, Gummi bears (bouncing here and there and everywhere), Dangermouse (Penfold, in case you're asked in a Table quiz), Sharky and George (crimebusters of the sea), Thundercats, Ulysses and even though it wasn't on RTÉ, Jim'll fix it.
I know up there there's things like Rainbow, Button Moon, Teddy Ruxpin, Roobarb and Custard, Bod and Grange Hill - all programs I became familiar with either through You Tube or the constant 100 top TV programmes that if you didn't watch as a child, you had no life. I've also remembered Eerie Indiana, The Muppet Show, The Jetsons and of course Sesame Street.
Then of course there were the truly Irish ones that seemed part and parcel of Irish youth. Bosco. Wanderly Wagon. Fortycoats. Echo Island. Mary Kingston in the morning. Anything Goes with Aengus MacNally. Make and Do with Mary Fitzgearld. Zig and Zag. The Den Christmas specials. The Beat Box with Simon Young and Peter Collins.
So, who are the rest of the above? Just how did their theme tune go? Can you remember the lyrics as well as you think you do? What other shows do you have memories of?
Not sure who's in the illustration? Head on over to Annelicious where I found out about the TV Theme Medley. It's a work of art. Enjoy the memories.