Sunday 18 March 2018

Michael Lyster is... Back in the game

Michael Lyster is not letting his health scare change his life. Photo: Tony Kinlan
Michael Lyster is not letting his health scare change his life. Photo: Tony Kinlan
Michael and Anne Lyster. Photo: Gerry Mooney

For Michael Lyster, Father's Day was set to be marked a little differently this year. Along with his 19-year-old son Jack, he had taken part in a fashion shoot for Weekend, which was due to appear in print that weekend in a celebration of men's style.

As it transpired, Father's Day was marked dramatically differently for the Lyster family - with Jack and his three siblings visiting their dad in hospital.

On June 6, not long after a fun day spent modelling for our photographers, Michael suffered a near-fatal heart attack. If it wasn't for his wife Anne, who did CPR that kept Michael alive until an ambulance arrived, the father and son photoshoot may never have appeared.

The Sunday Game anchor had spent that day playing golf with friend, and Irish Independent writer, Vincent Hogan, who dropped him home. He'd left his phone in the car and called Vincent, who arrived back at the house just a few minutes later to find Michael lying unconscious in the hallway. "Everyone was in bed, so Vincent called up the stairs to my wife Anne, and she came down and started CPR, while he phoned for an ambulance," Michael says. "I don't know if I would have stayed as calm as Anne did, she's very good under pressure. The clock was ticking, I suppose, so she was told to keep the CPR going until the ambulance got there. It was a very bad situation and I was actually gone, so when the paramedics arrived, they had to keep me going until I got to the hospital."

Michael was always a fit guy, but it was discovered at a check-up three years ago that he had a blocked artery in his heart. He was put on medication, and thought everything was OK until the collapse. That's the problem with heart trouble, he says. It's unpredictable, so even when you think you're doing everything right, something could still be going radically wrong.

While the broadcaster knows that he owes his life to Anne (it will take more than a bunch of flowers to make up for saving him, we joke), he also wants to pay tribute to the fantastic paramedics and the staff at both St James's Hospital and the Mater. He has now been fitted with a small defibrillator under his skin that will give the heart a jolt if anything goes wrong, and is on a "bucket load" of tablets. He's also watching his diet and alcohol intake, and fans of the show often approach him on his evening walks and wish him well, which touches him.

It is less than a month since the incident, but when we meet, Michael looks great and has a good colour. While there is no outward sign of the trauma his body has suffered, he gets tired in the evening, he says, and is being careful not to overdo things. As for the psychological impact of his near-death experience, Michael seems very philosophical about the whole thing. He says that he and the family have remained calm and he doesn't show any signs of having been shaken by the experience.

Does he worry that something might go wrong again with his heart down the road? "There's no point worrying for the rest of your life," he says matter-of-factly. "I had a shaky call, obviously, but the recent tragedies in Berkeley and Tunisia put it all into perspective, and show how unlucky you can be to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was never a worrier anyway, as I spent 20 years involved in rally driving, and let's face it, there's no point worrying about your health in that particular sport."

Michael is from Barnaderg, seven miles from Tuam in Galway, and was always into drama, GAA and soccer growing up. His media career started off at the Tuam Herald, where he found himself reporting on everything from local football matches to council meetings. Then he saw an advertisement for a job in the sports department of RTÉ radio, and decided to apply.

"I only applied as I wanted to go over to RTÉ for the day to have a look around, thinking I might spot Mike Murphy or Gay Byrne around the place," he laughs. "I fancied the day out, but had no intention of joining RTÉ or leaving Tuam, because I was engaged at the time to a local girl and was planning on building a house in the west. I couldn't believe it when I actually got the job. I couldn't turn the opportunity down."

That was Christmas 1979, and once ensconced at RTÉ, Michael loved working on international sporting events. He didn't become a city person straight away, he insists, but grew to love Dublin eventually. His engagement was a casualty of the relocation though, as he was based in the capital and his former partner couldn't leave Tuam as she had business interests there.

He was asked to take over the flagship GAA show The Sunday Game in 1984, but the first year was slightly difficult as he was contracted to radio sport. "Things have changed now, but it was a bit silly back then as radio weren't happy with me doing TV, so I had to complete all my radio shifts first and do TV in my spare time," he recalls. "I was exhausted, and even though I would have loved to do both, after a year I made the official shift to TV."

In 1983, Michael met his wife Anne, a press officer for ACOT, Teagasc's predecessor. He was coach and manager of the RTÉ ladies' soccer team, and Anne was one of five "outside" girls recruited to the team. While he describes his glamorous wife as "strong, sensible and pragmatic", her particular brand of straight-talking saw them clashing, initially. "Anne tells you what she thinks without sparing you, but at the same time, she's very open and it's a very good quality," he says. "She was inclined to question some of the routines and decisions, which could be hard when I was trying to lay down the law as a coach. We had a clash of personalities at the beginning, but when we got over that, I knew I liked her."

They were married in 1985, and have four children, Mark, Rebecca, Ellen and Jack, aged from 25 to 19. Mark works for an IT company, Rebecca is in childcare, Ellen is a student nurse, and Jack has completed a year of sports psychology and works at RTÉ at weekends.

Like their mum, the Lyster children prefer a life away from the spotlight. However, Jack agreed to be part of our fashion shoot so that he could have fun with his dad. "He was quite apprehensive because photoshoots aren't his thing, but he settled in quickly and enjoyed it," says a proud Michael. While he enjoyed the shoot, Michael has no intention of swapping commentating for a career on the catwalk. In fact, he has no intention of doing anything but The Sunday Game, which he hopes to return to this month.

Since he got sick, some people have advised him to leave the pressure of working in TV behind. "RTÉ has been good to me, and I don't see any need to reassess my life," he says. "I'm very happy in what I'm doing and am looking forward to going back."

Shortly before his near-fatal heart attack, RTÉ sports presenter Michael Lyster played model for a Weekend photoshoot. Now on the road to recovery, he talks to ANDREA SMITH about his health scare and why he refuses to let it change his life

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