Time to stop saying cheers - Kenny Egan admits to being an alcoholic

Parents of teenagers -- as opposed to those teenage parents who feature on silly reality TV shows -- will know all about the railway station effect that hits the family home at some stage of your child’s development.

It’s a good thing by the way, but it can stifle your viewing options when you have to stay in on a Saturday night and find yourself surrounded by kids almost old enough to vote in the upcoming Irish election.
The problem in such circumstances is remote. Or a remote control to be precise. The teenagers may be younger in years, but they are more ambitious in their choice of TV viewing come prime time on your Sky satellite.

As visitors, they get first call on the telly in what my mother has always referred to as the good room. Incidentally, she has still to tell me where the bad room is and I’m no longer sure I want to know!

So, as you have probably guessed by now, Saturday night was all right for fighting over the TV remote last weekend and, as usual, the daddy of the household lost out to the latest show about some family called the Kardashians with a father whose face looked like it has been lifted more times than the Liffey Bridge.

I wasn’t too upset. Instead of sharing my Saturday night with the multitude of teens, I opted for the solitude of my little office out the back of the house, complete with the two channel TV in the corner and a fascinating biography of Eric Clapton which caught my attention.

The choice of venue turned out to be a blessing. The portable TV in the corner -- that’s what we called 15 inch TVs in my day -- offered me only the two RTE television stations which claim to be free to air but charge you a license fee for the privilege.

I opted for RTE One in the background as the opening credits rolled for the Saturday Night Show, a program presented by the Sunday Independent writer Brendan O’Connor who has, if I am truthful about it, a face made for radio.

Brendan’s not a bad presenter, but he’s not a great one yet either and his program does tend to roll out the usual suspects, half of them RTE personalities with an RTE show to plug which is quite handy for RTE as you can imagine.

Saturday night, one of the few nights when I actually watched the start of Brendan’s show, was different.
And by 10 o’clock I was glad that I had moved out to the office for the evening, if a little remorseful.
My gratitude came from the choice of opening guest for the latest Saturday night show. Kenny Egan won an Olympic silver medal in Beijing three years ago and did the nation proud before he did a number of disappearing acts as he struggled to cope with his new found fame without the fortune he deserved.

I was in China, in my previous life as a journalist with the Star before the recent demise of our Sunday title, and I loved every minute of it.

We walked in Kenny’s shadow every step of the way to that silver medal in the wonderful Worker’s Gymnasium.

We spoke to him before and after every fight. We sat enthralled in the media box high above the ring as he threw punch after punch and scored point after point on his way to the final.

We commiserated with him when he lost to a local and to a decision that still seems somewhat dodgy.
We also celebrated with Egan that night in the Irish bar called Paddy O’Shea’s, our home from home on the few occasions we managed to escape the Olympic bubble.

This is where the remorse starts to kick in. I bought Kenny Egan a beer that night in honor of his Beijing cloud with the silver lining. So did all the other journalists and fans and family present on that never to be forgotten occasion.

I also bought a beer for our other Olympic champ Paddy Barnes, and I think I offered to buy one for the late, great Darren Sutherland as well. I know I definitely bought one for their coach Billy Walsh.

That’s what we do in times of triumph. As a people we celebrate with alcohol. It’s the oldest tradition in the Irish sporting book, as well I know from personal experience going back a long number of years.

I was there the night Packie Bonner saved the Timofte penalty in Genoa and we celebrated, everyone from players to press, in a little bar down the hill from the Irish team’s hotel.

I was there the night thousands of Irish fans serenaded the great man with an “Ooh Aah Paul McGrath” chorus in Malta on the night qualification was sealed for those Italian World Cup finals, and we collectively bought the great man more drink that any of us would care to remember.

On Saturday night those memories came back, probably to haunt me, as Kenny Egan followed in Paul McGrath’s footsteps and admitted, very publicly on live television, that he is struggling with alcoholism.

When the nation wanted to be Egan’s friend post Beijing, his best friend was alcohol. He went, in his words, on one bender after another and, like McGrath, became a binge drinker who didn’t know when to shout stop.
Eventually his patient and pained mother Maura had to drag him to the grave that houses his two brothers to make him see sense and realize that he was in danger of following them into the ground.

Egan was big enough and man enough to admit on Saturday night that his alcoholic downfall and the all the mistakes he made along the way were all of his own doing.

But some of us are also to blame for fuelling that alcoholism, just as we have continually offered to buy drink for Paul McGrath or, in the past, for Seamus Darby when he scored the winning goal for Offaly that denied Kerry the five-in-a-row all those years ago.

As a nation we are conditioned to celebrate with drink and, knowingly or unknowingly, we have done the likes of Paul and Kenny and Seamus no favors in the process.

Listening to a brave Egan on Saturday night made me wonder if it is time to change all that.


Sideline Views

SOCCER: Much has been made of the non-appearance of Wigan midfielder James McCarthy for Tuesday night’s Carling Cup clash with Wales, with a suggestion in some quarters that he may yet opt to switch back to his native Scotland. I hope not. McCarthy is too good a young player to lose and he’s exactly what Giovanni Trapattoni’s Irish team needs right now -- good young players. At least Everton’s Seamus Coleman and Aston Villa’s Ciaran Clark turned up in time to get their big chance against the Welsh.

SOCCER: Hands up all those who allowed themselves a wry little smile when the goal-less Fernando Torres was substituted just before his old club Liverpool scored their Stamford Bridge match winner on Sunday. Torres may eventually prove to be a big, big success with Chelsea after his staggering £50 million move, but Liverpool had the last laugh with the victory that effectively ends the Blues reign as champions of England. That feeling, I suspect, was priceless.

U.S. FOOTBALL: Thanks to a touch of heartburn, I was up half the night on Sunday and glad I was because the lack of sleep allowed me time to watch the Super Bowl live from Dallas. I have to say I liked it, all of it. And yes, I did want the Steelers to steal it at the end.

GOLF: Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn was 200-1 to win the Qatar Masters last week and did so on Sunday, at the ripe old age of 39. There’s hope yet for all us aging golfers.

SOCCER: Congratulations to Mick McCarthy for beating Manchester United on Saturday. That’s all that needs to be said on that one!


HERO OF THE WEEK

ITALY were looking like likely if late winners of Saturday’s opening Six Nations clash when Ireland launched one last offensive in Rome. As they did Ronan O’Gara set himself up for the drop goal and when the chance arose, he took it. Rog’s magical boot worked the oracle in Cardiff two years ago and it did it again on Saturday. Tales of his demise are greatly exaggerated.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK

WATCHING El-Hadji Diouf’s antics in Sunday’s pulsating Scottish Cup clash with Celtic made me realize just why he is so suited to Rangers. In fact, if dogs can start to look like their owners then Diouf may well end up looking like a blue nosed idiot during his time in Glasgow. He really is the “most vile” sportsman in Britain as one of the Scottish TV stations suggested last week. His spat with Celtic captain Scott Brown, still ongoing, did little to change that opinion.

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