Monday 18 March 2019

Egan's sulk more Greta Garbo than Rocky Balboa

In these tough times, we need Irish men to stand up and be counted, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

HE grew up in one of the roughest parts of Dublin, he punches people for a living, in fact he could potentially kill his opponents with every single blow. It's happened before in boxing, and it'll happen again -- but boo hoo, they're writing things about me in the newspapers that I don't like, so I'm going to run away and hide in America like a big girl's blouse.

Not exactly Rocky, is it?

Instead it's the latest chapter in the life of Kenny Egan, Ireland's silver medal-winning Olympic pugilist, who failed to show up at the National Stadium for the weigh-in a week ago prior to his scheduled bout against American Sijoula Shabazz, then subsequently absconded to New York for a mammoth transatlantic sulk.

Now he's back and he's said sorry, and everyone's forgiven him and is saying what a great guy he is, and no doubt he is, salt of the earth, heart of gold, pick your own cliches -- but sheesh, what a palaver. In attempting to show the world that he wasn't cut out for the celebrity lifestyle, he's ended up behaving like every celebrity who ever disappeared up their own rear end in the glare of the spotlight, including the prima donna-style requests to be left alone. Greta Garbo, eat your heart out.

My personal theory is that Shabazz sounded too much like the caption underneath a Batman cartoon -- Kapow's long lost brother, perhaps, or Thwack's second cousin twice removed -- and Egan was worried about getting his lights punched out. It's certainly no dafter than the other explanations offered by his supporters, most of whom seem to think he's a modern-day Joan of Arc, burning at the media stake.

"Kenny is going through a difficult time right now in his life and he needs all the help and support he can get", seemed to be the general drift. (That quote comes from promoter Brian Peters, but it could have been said by a thousand pundits and fans).

Ho hum. I tried hard to find what exactly were the great pressures which Kenny Egan was under, and I have to say I'm struggling. Top of the list so far seems to be the complaint that the tabloid press kept linking him with women who -- are you prepared for this shocking news, people? -- he wasn't actually having a relationship with.

No way! How is this allowed to happen in the 21st century? There should be a law against it, or something.

His phone never stopped ringing; that was another irritation. Er, doesn't it have an off button?

Kenny also seems to have had a problem in that, since returning from Beijing as a national hero, he couldn't go to a nightclub anymore without: A. people giving him free drinks (trust me, mate, it's no more fun having to pay for them, especially at the inflated prices charged by Dublin nightclubs), and B. being accosted by nubile, attractive young women scratching each other's eyes out for a chance to get up close and personal.

Someone call Amnesty International, this really is torture of a most degrading kind. Not.

Frankly, there are men all over Ireland reading this who would willingly sell their immortal souls to Beelzebub to suffer that "problem" every time they go out.

Making a big noise about the need to escape the shallow media circus might also be easier to take if Kenny Egan, on landing in New York, hadn't immediately headed to West 23rd Street on Manhattan and booked himself into -- the Chelsea Hotel.

Anonymity is probably not best sought in the world's most famous celebrity hangout. The place where Bob Dylan wrote some of his best songs, and Dylan Thomas drank himself to death, and Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols allegedly stabbed his girlfriend Nancy to death. At least when Stephen Fry infamously ran away from the West End suffering from stage fright, he went to Belgium. Now there's a place where it's reasonable to expect not to be disturbed by the media.

Of course, it's all water under the bridge now. Kenny Egan flew back home last week and issued an immediate, and indeed highly gracious, statement apologising to practically everybody in the country, from his coach, Irish team mates, promoter, and boxing associates, down to his family, especially his dear old mum, for the trouble he's caused. He hasn't yet said sorry to the widows and orphans of the Irish War of Independence, but he'll surely get around to in due course. Apologies are all the rage these days, after all.

Egan also said via that same statement that he "wishes to hold his hands up" and take full responsibility for having "largely fed the media commentary" which erupted on his sudden departure from Dublin Airport. Politicians, please take note. This is how grown ups are supposed to respond when they mess up.

But the whole episode does seem symptomatic of a certain contemporary crisis of masculinity. Men don't know what they're supposed to be anymore. Stiff upper lip types, taking it all the chin, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune bouncing harmlessly off their rhinoceros-thick skin -- or sensitive New Age baby-huggers who worry about what's whispered about them behind their backs and try to get in touch with their feminine sides.

Caught between the two extremes, the chaps are losing their identity. And interestingly enough, most of the sympathy for Kenny Egan that I heard last week came from other men. This embracing of the cult of masculine victimhood doesn't bode well for the future either way. Bill Cullen told the hopefuls on TV3's Apprentice that what he wanted was "warriors". Times were tough. They were getting tougher. The future belonged to those who could fight for it. When even the real warriors lose the will to fight, we're truly sunk as a nation. We need Irish men to stand up and be counted, not fall down and be counted out.

Though let's look on the bright side. Egan got to spend a few days in New York, plus he was spared having to appear on Ryan Tubridy's woeful Saturday night chat show. That's a win-win situation in anybody's language.

Sport pages 13 and 18

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