Thursday 15 November 2018

'Babies are adorable, but privacy is adorable too...I would advise any client not to go there'

Why do sportsmen parade their offspring on the pitch, asks Tanya Sweeney

Paul Flynn (left) and Bernard Brogan with his two-month-old twin sons, Kéadan and Donagh after Dublin’s All-Ireland Final victory over Tyrone. Photo: Piaras Ó Midheach/Sportsfile
Paul Flynn (left) and Bernard Brogan with his two-month-old twin sons, Kéadan and Donagh after Dublin’s All-Ireland Final victory over Tyrone. Photo: Piaras Ó Midheach/Sportsfile

Tanya Sweeney

Apart from the winners of last Sunday's All-Ireland Final, there was one thing that was almost as predictable. Whichever team got to lift the Sam Maguire Cup would enjoy a huge victory lap in front of fans around Croke Park. And there would absolutely, positively be babies involved.

Sure enough, post-match footage was replete with teeny-tiny GAA jerseys, jubilant toddlers wading through streamers and a general sense of cuteness overload.

New dad Bernard Brogan wasn't on the Dublin panel for the match owing to a serious cruciate knee ligament injury, yet brought his two twin sons along to the showpiece.

The collective ovaries of social media all but fizzed as two-month-old Kéadan and Donagh joined in the celebrations as they were snapped next to the Sam Maguire.

He certainly isn't the first to enjoy such a jubilant moment with his little ones. Back in 2012, Donegal Manager Jim McGuinness took his 18-month-old son Jimmy on to the pitch for celebrations when his team won the football decider.

And even in moments of darkness, babies can provide a much-needed salve, as Kerry star Kieran Donaghy found in 2016 when he was comforted in an empty Croke Park by his toddler daughter Lola Rose after a crushing defeat against Dublin.

Brian O’Driscoll with his daughter Sadie after his last game for Ireland. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Brian O’Driscoll with his daughter Sadie after his last game for Ireland. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Over in the Aviva Stadium, the cutesy quotient runs pretty similar. Brian O'Driscoll regularly brought his toddler daughter Sadie on to the pitch after match wins.

Talking on The Ray D'Arcy Show about carrying the one-year-old on to the pitch for his last game playing in the green jersey on Irish soil, he said: "I was just trying to take in the moment, it was great fun. I was just trying to enjoy the moment because it passes by in an instant and to share it with her [Sadie] was great."

Countless others have done the same, from rugby star Johnny Sexton to footballer Robbie Keane. And outside Ireland, the tradition is even more entrenched in sport.

Some trace the co-ordinates of the cute kids in sport trend back to Alex Higgins in 1982; the year the volatile snooker star introduced his daughter to the game after his win at the Snooker World Championship final. Who knew 'The Hurricane' had a human side?

Before the advent of the 'new man' in the 80s, sports stars were known for their physical prowess, their occasional love of post-match excess, and, well, the odd communal bath. But at some point around the late 80s or early 90s, things seemed to get wholesome. Footballers like Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne would turn Saturday afternoons into something of a family affair, respectively bringing their sons George and Regan to stadiums.

Yet can the pint-sized pitch invasion, in its current iteration, be traced back to David Beckham? Certainly, Brand Beckham went into overdrive when David brought his little mascot - then 18-month-old Brooklyn - on the pitch to celebrate a match win against Tottenham in 2000. Suffice to say, it didn't hurt his reputation as a dedicated father and husband - and by extension, his sporting reputation - one bit.

Chelsea's Dennis Wise may have been a fiery sort on the pitch, but his temper was quickly forgiven once he was spotted cradling both the FA Cup and his baby son Henry after a win in 2000 (the early exposure to the beautiful game clearly worked on young Henry as he went on to join Queens Park Rangers as a youngster before moving on to Arsenal).

The temperamental Roy Keane, too, was partial to bringing his little ones on to the pitch during his time at Manchester United. In time, Wayne Rooney and even Cristiano Ronaldo would follow suit with their own progeny.

Given the slings and arrows of sport, cooing at a baby is a great way to put paid to a hard-man reputation. If you're known for your ruthless and capricious on-pitch reputation, parading the adorable fruit of one's loins is certainly a great way to make everyone forget about that grim foul/handball/yellow card.

And for some reason, nothing appears to make some women go gooey like a sportsman thought to be hard on the outside and soft on the inside. Perhaps it's a no-brainer in some ways. In terms of sponsorship deals, bankability and the like, nothing warms the heart cockles of certain multi-million brands like a wholesome all-rounder. Men whose clean-cut reputations can embody the simplest, best tenets of sport. Men - to borrow a cliché - who men want to be, and women want to be with.

If scandal, sex and super-injunctions are sport's messier side, it's the visual reminder of fatherhood that becomes the antidote to the nasty stuff that no one likes to acknowledge. It certainly helps to be reminded that, at the end of the day, whether victor or loser, or whether they made your Saturday or lost you that accumulator, sportsmen are only human. And what better way to do that than with the patter of tiny boot studs?

Besides, maybe it's as simple a case as sharing a brilliant memory. "I presume it's to show [children] the pictures when they're older," posits GAA player-turned-pundit Colm Parkinson. PR consultant Joanne Byrne agrees. "They want to share these moments with their family members," she says. "Plus, a baby is easier to hand over a barrier than trying to get Mum, Dad and a few siblings on to the pitch!"

Still, communications expert Terry Prone offers a note of caution for sports stars picking out the cutest tiny sports jersey for their kids.

"Babies are adorable," she says. "The contrast between baffled roundy babies and their muscular fathers is adorable. We love them.

"But I would advise any client, whether they're showbiz people or sports people, not to go there - for two reasons.

"First, not to be pompous, but the child can't consent. Ergo the child is being deployed to serve parental needs they may later not like to have served. Secondly, sacrificing privacy is a once-off. You can't un-sacrifice it. Or at least it's difficult. You put your toddler out front, willing to have their picture in mainstream and social media - it's not easy to retreat from that. And, if circumstances change, you might want to help your youngster retreat into anonymity.

"There are two sides to this coin. [Bringing your baby on to the pitch] is adorable. But think long and hard, because privacy is adorable, too."

Irish Independent

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