Football

10 Irish Sportsmen With Legitimately Fascinating Careers Outside Of Sport

10 Irish Sportsmen With Legitimately Fascinating Careers Outside Of Sport

Last year,  the football world was shocked to learn a few years back that former Everton and Real Madrid midfielder Thomas Gravesen earned even more money after he retired than he had during his playing career.

On his early retirement at 32, the Danish press scolded him for throwing his life away, citing a couple of unsavory incidents in the process.

Gravesen instead invested the dosh he'd accumulated over a thirteen year playing career in various carefully-chosen financial ventures. These came up trumps. His career as an investor has been wildly lucrative. He now has a fortune of worth over £100 million and currently lives in Vegas.

Even more remarkably, there is the case of Mathieu Flamini. Side by side with his professional football career, he presided over a company called GF Biochemicals, who recently announced that "they had become the first company in the world that can mass produce levulinic acid", a substance which can work as a replacement for oil. The company is estimated to be worth £20 billion.

What of the off-the-field careers of Irish athletes? While there may not be any billionaires out there, a few Irish sportsmen have bucked the stereotype of the retire- rugby-star-turned-banker and GAA-playing PE teachers to forge legitimately fascinating second careers.

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These are the Irish sports stars with the most interesting, out-of-the-ordinary professions.

 

David Hickey - Dub star and rugby player turned consultant urologist

He was the pin-up boy of the 1970s, though, regrettably, he only discovered this was so in the 1990s.

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Hickey was the thinking man's idol in the Dublin 1970's team. When he's interviewed these days, his puckish wit and cool intelligence shine through. While not a bit stuffy or pompous, you still get the sense that 'Up for the Match' wouldn't quite be his scene.

Obviously, he won three All-Ireland titles with the Dubs. In the early 80s, he departed for France with Ollie Campbell, playing two seasons of rugby union with La Rochelle.

Returned in time to begin winter training with the Dubs ahead of the 1983 campaign. He did his cruciate and missed out on a fourth All-Ireland medal.

For years, he had the kind of job where he's often described as 'eminent'.

'Pre-eminent', even. There's another word.

Up until his retirement almost two years ago, Hickey was the country's foremost transplant surgeon and a consultant urologist based out of Beaumont Hospital.

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As of January 2015, for instance, he had performed all 118 pancreas transplants that had ever been performed in Ireland.

 

Tony O'Reilly - Lions record try-scorer turned media magnate and ketchup king

It's been a rough half-decade for the former titan of Irish industry.

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The richest man in Ireland at the turn of the century, he's now bankrupt, having accumulated massive debts following his purchase of Waterford Wedgewood at the end of the noughties. Reilly had to flog off his Castlemartin mansion to a US mogul.

He had a stellar career in his day, rising to become chairman of the Heinz company in the 1960s and 70s. O'Reilly became a newspaper baron in the 70s when he acquired a controlling stake in Independent News and Media, owning titles in Ireland, the UK, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

He first made waves in his business career when he was appointed general manager of Bord Báinne in 1962 at the tail end of his rugby career.

He played for Ireland between 1955 and 63 and traveled on two Lions tours. It is for the latter he is most feted. He remains the Lions record try scorer, having scored a whopping 38 tries in two tours.

His numbers for Ireland are much less impressive. He only managed 4 tries from 29 caps. Though, this can perhaps be explained by the fact that he was a winger and Ireland presumably found it harder getting the ball out to the wing than the did the skillful Lions backline.

It was a generally flat era for Ireland, though nowhere near as bad as the 1990s. At least in O'Reilly's era, we still usually beat Scotland and won at home to France a couple of times.

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He famously came out of retirement for Ireland's trip to Twickenham in 1970. Winger Billy Brown pulled a hamstring and the ludicrous Irish selectors recalled old man O'Reilly.

Seven years after his previous cap, the then chairman of the Heinz company showed up in a limo. Ireland and Ulster back Roger Young described the scene to Peter Bills a few years back.

No one really knew what was happening until the Friday morning at the HAC ground in the City of London, where we used to train. Suddenly, this limousine arrived and the chauffeur got out. He went round and opened the door and out stepped Ireland's replacement wing.

Fourteen open-mouthed Irishmen stood there gawping. O'Reilly hadn't played an international since 1963 and wasn't even on the reserve list. The chauffeur opened the boot, took out O'Reilly's kitbag and carried it into the changing room. But I can remember distinctly O'Reilly putting his own kit on! Wing Alan Duggan leaned across at a team-talk and said "You know Tony, it's three points for a drop goal nowadays."

He was given the runaround by England's Keith Fielding and Ireland lost 9-3. An out-of-shape O'Reilly was knackered for most of the match.

His comically desperate performance that day formed the centrepiece of his after-dinner speaking for years afterwards.

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Liam Hayes - GAA player and GAA journalist

There are enough articles by ex-players in the papers today.

But there are relatively few, if any, articles by current players. None at all if you exclude the occasional ghosted player's diary.

Neil Francis wrote columns during his playing days but these were personal accounts of tours he'd been on and matches he'd played in.

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During Liam Hayes' career, he was put in the rather unusual position of having to write reports of matches in which he'd played.

Eamon Dunphy became a journalist in the 1980s, long after his playing career ended. Hayes is one of the few who worked as a journalist while his sporting career was in progress.

This created friction at times.

I don’t want to name names because it would be unfair to them but at one point on the Meath team my relationship with one of our top players broke down completely because of something I had written.

He took it very badly — to the point where he pretty much refused to want to have anything to do with me on the field or off it. Even refused to pass a ball to me.

And in that case, Seán (Boylan) actually took me and the player in question aside and spoke to us both, and mended fences to the best of his ability. But he never was able to fully mend them.

 

Dick Spring - Ireland fullback turned Labour leader

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Jack Lynch's sporting prowess is well-known. Less well known is former Tánaiste Dick Spring's sporting career. Spring led the Labour party to what was their best ever result in the November 1992 general election.

Spring played three times for the Kerry seniors in the 1975 League campaign. He didn't make the side for the championship. He also played club football for Kerins O'Rahilly's.

Another of those Gaelic football converts to rugby that are so numerous in Kerry, Spring played for Munster and won three caps for Ireland at full back in the 1979 Five Nations.

Final cap arrived in a 12-7 win over England in the third game of the campaign.

Nowadays, Spring is spearheading the possibly doomed Irish bid to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023.

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Paul McCloskey - pro boxer turned pro barber

Irish sportsmen with interesting jobs

After his final professional bout at the end of 2013, the former European lightweight champion had no clue of what was coming next.

The Derry Journal reports that by December 2014, he had taken up hairdressing. By the end of the year, he was working with Denis McDermott barbers in Derry.

Tabloids made hay with puns about 'McCloskey's New Upper Cut'. Quality.

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He is not the only sportsman who has gone into hairdressing. Robbie Savage has gone into the business, opening a shop called 'Savage Cuts', which, of course, sounds less like a hairdressers than a newspaper headline on the morning after budget day.

 

Anthony Maher - Kerry midfielder and star scientist

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Kerry's rangy midfielder enjoyed an annus mirabilis in 2014. He won his second All-Ireland medal, the first he'd won on the field of play.

And two months later, Dr Anthony Maher won the Science Foundation of Ireland Research Image of the Year. You see, Maher is both a brilliant midfielder and an acclaimed scientist. His PhD was modestly titled 'Crystal Transformations and Crystallisation Methodologies: Polymorphic Transformations of Piracetam'

His award-winning photo, 'Starship Enterprise', can be seen here. In the words of the UL website post on his victory, his image is an "Optical Micrograph image that shows a Form II piracetam crystal (rough, dissolving) undergoing a polymorphic transformation to a more stable Form III crystal (smooth, defined faces) in methanol at 25°C."

These days, he works as a doctor of pharmaceutical science with Pfizer in Cork.

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Sean Boylan - manager, herbalist, mystic

Boylan is described in one profile as a fifth generation herbalist. He has run Dunboyne Herbs for years. The business attracts customers from all over the country.

The homepage on the company website describes their mission.

Herbs and Remedies have been used by the Boylan family for generations to cure and relieve the symptoms of illness.

The pharmaceutical drugs used by doctors today are derived from the plants traditionally used by herbalists. Using these plants in its traditional way is gentler on the body as it works in harmony with the body's natural ability to heal itself.

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This isn't even the most interesting thing about Sean Boylan. Not by far.

It turns out that Sean Boylan - Meath's Sean Boylan - was best friends with the late Tony Wilson, the owner of Factory Records and the legendary Hacienda club in Manchester.

So, the man who managed Joy Division, the Happy Mondays, and New Order was a best mate of Sean Boylan.

He described the details of this friendship to Tom Dunne on Newstalk.

Tony was seven, when I first met him. My father had Parkinson’s disease, and he went to see a consultant in Cheshire. My mum and dad went to mass in Marple Bridge. Daddy was shuffling up the town and a car pulled up, and the door opened and this lady said ‘could I give you a seat to the top of the hill?’

That was Doris Wilson, Tony’s mother. Tony was in the back, Sydney was driving,” After realising they had a mutual acquaintance in Tony’s teacher, “by the time they reached the top of the hill, they were into their house having tea, and that was the start of a lifelong friendship.

 

Victor Costello - Irish rugby international, Olympian, pilot

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Along with Jim Gavin, Costello is the most renowned sport-playing pilot in Irish life. Costello worked as a captain for Ryanair for several years after his retirement from rugby and according to Linkedin is now a Boeing 737 captain.

Victor Costello first represented Ireland on the big stage at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He was the Irish shot putt champion four years in a row from 1988 to 1991. He completed the three in a row when still in his teens.

In Barcelona, he failed to make the final, finishing 22nd.

A year after Barcelona, he was playing 'interpro' rugby for Connacht, then very much the poor mouth of the provincial scene. He won 39 caps for Ireland between 1996 and 2004, battling it out with the late Anthony Foley for possession of the No. 8 jersey, occasionally being accompanied in the same back row. Many rugby players find work in the financial sector after hanging up their boots. Costello took to the skies.

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Norman Whiteside - footballer turned foot doctor

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Was forced to retire at the age of 26 after persistent problems with his right knee. Eventually called it a day in the summer of 1991 though he hadn't played first team football in almost a year.

His career probably felt longer than that retirement age suggests, because he was playing top level football at such a young age.

Post retirement, Whiteside enrolled in Salford University and subsequently qualified as a podiatrist. After qualifying, he wrote to the PFA and succeeded in getting work with them, screening youngsters in 88 out of 92 clubs in the Football League.

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He told Four Four Two about his later career.

I’d thought about becoming a physio, then one day I went to a podiatric clinic in Salford and decided on going down that avenue. I’m now a qualified chiropodist and podiatrist.

We deal with problems from the hip down to the big toe. I do full assessments that analyse how people move, and we can build special insoles. I have a pressurised foot tread, which shows the foot in 3D, so we can find out what the problem is.

It was quite hard going back to the classroom and sitting with kids who’d just done their A-levels. I’m no academic, I just had to work really hard. It sounds impressive that I’ve got a load of letters after my name, but it’s been the toughest thing I’ve ever done! Give me a football and even if there’s a million people watching, I’m OK. Standing up and getting the question wrong in front of the class is much scarier.

 

Tomás Corrigan - rising GAA star and trainee lawyer 

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Every second rugby player back in the day was either barrister or a doctor or a businessman. And plenty of GAA players have got ahead in the legal profession.

There's Tony Hanahoe from the Dublin '70s team, a team who were remarkably successful in their professional life afterwards.

All-Ireland winning Galway corner forward Niall Finnegan retired earlier than he might have otherwise done, due to his work commitments as a solicitor in Malahide. Mayo's All-Star corner Dermot Flanagan is a senior counsel these days. Eoin Brosnan runs a solicitors firm in Killarney.

Equally Chopin-playing motormouth Joe Brolly is surely now the most famous barrister on the island; more so than bloody Brendan Grehan or Patrick Geoghegan or Michael McDowell.

Brolly laments that there is less scope for GAA players to tend to their careers now. He wrote that every member of the Derry All-Ireland winning team of 1993 was either a tradesmen or a professional. Nowadays, he claims players live like eternal students.

In honour of his attempts to keep the tradition of GAA solicitors going, we're plumping for Tomás Corrigan, who is a trainee solicitor at Arthur Cox. 

Conor Neville
Article written by
Perennial finalist in stand-up comedy competitions and former Contract Lawyer/ Coal Salesman with Corless, Corless and Sweeney

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