Monday 20 January 2020

Thomas Molloy: A decent man who has suffered perfect storm

Thomas Molloy

DJ CAREY, who was admitted to hospital in Kilkenny yesterday, is many things. Indisputably the greatest hurler of the last 50 years, he is also a decent man who has given thousands of hours to the children and teenagers who worship him.

He is also the founder of a company that once employed dozens of people; a compelling public speaker; a devoted father and one half of a power couple whose other half was an internet entrepreneur who made millions from the dotcom bubble.

Unfortunately for him, Mr Carey has also become the quintessence of the Celtic Tiger years.

DJ Carey is a natural sportsman who would have risen to the top in almost any sport. Alongside a cabinet full of hurling trophies, he also holds scores of awards for handball and would have undoubtedly played in the English Premier League if he had been born in England, or even Dublin.

The premiership's loss was the Gaelic Athletic Association's gain but the GAA's amateur code meant that Mr Carey was always forced to earn a living as well as playing for his county for more than a decade.

While many great GAA players are public-sector workers, Mr Carey earned a crust by setting up DJ Carey Enterprises to supply cleaning products in the south-east. Even today, many of the hand dryers in pubs and restaurants in the region are emblazoned with his name.

He has always been an innovator. He was unusual among sports stars for owning a company and was the most high-profile GAA star to support the Gaelic Players Association which campaigned for a professional sport long before the idea gained traction.

Unlike most other sports stars, he also made the jump from the cosy world of dinner dances into the mainstream. Children unable to name any other hurler knew his name, although he never quite managed the knack of turning himself into a brand like some of his successors.

He was, perhaps, the GAA's first modern superstar. His cruel fate was to be feted without earning the sort of money that the famous need to sustain their lifestyle.

There is nothing cheap about living a red-carpet life and it seems that Mr Carey, like so many before him, is both repelled by fame and somehow attracted to it.

Like many others, he clearly lost the run of himself during the boom. Since the economy collapsed, it has become obvious that many small-and-medium-sized companies were really just lifestyle vehicles, borrowing money from the banks and recycling the cash to support the owners in the style to which they quickly became accustomed.

The owners of these companies sincerely thought that they were doing well but they were floating on an ocean of easy credit and quickly became flabby. Accounts became confused but nobody was keeping track or bothering themselves with pettifogging details like the profits and losses.

Some of this seems to have happened at DJ Carey Enterprises before it hit rock bottom last year and was eventually taken over. Towards the end, gardai had to be called in to investigate how hundreds of thousands of euro went missing following a number of "unauthorised transactions".

Who ran the company in Mr Carey's picturesque home village of Gowran is an interesting question. DJ Carey lived in the salubrious Dublin suburb of Monkstown with internet entrepreneur Sarah Newman, while his sister Catriona, who was financial controller of her brother's company until 2009, owned her own filling-station business and was often busy commuting between Gowran and Dublin where she played hockey.

Everybody seems to have been pretty busy and clearly nobody was minding the shop with enough diligence to prevent the unauthorised transactions that bedevilled the firm.

Not only was Mr Carey distracted by his sporting interests and Dublin life, he and Ms Newman made the classic Celtic Tiger mistake of indulging in a property splurge. In their case, this included a Georgian redbrick on Alma Road in Monkstown for millions, along with expensive bolt-holes in Mount Juliet near Thomastown in Kilkenny, the K Club and a five-bedroom chalet in the Swiss Alps that was then extended to include a home cinema and a 'Wellness centre' replete with massage room, yoga space and outdoor hot tub.

IT is not known how much the couple spent on bricks and mortar but we do know that judgments were made against both of them in the Commercial Court last year for more than ¿9m and in favour of Allied Irish Banks.

While Sarah Newman did make millions from the sale of Needahotel.com, it was never as much as many newspaper reports suggested. The dotcom company had other shareholders and company directors must pay taxes like the rest of us which all ate into the amount of cash she had to splash on property.

Like most of us during the Celtic Tiger years, the couple lived it up and ignored the detail. Like many, they are now nursing a financial headache of almighty proportions.

Again, like many people today, that financial headache has been followed by heartache and a split. In Kilkenny yesterday, people who know Mr Carey well said their modest, almost shy, friend had suffered from a perfect storm -- his lengthy relationship with Ms Newman had broken up; his company had gone belly-up and his family were divided, with some members now involved in a rival business.

For more than a decade, Mr Carey's opponents found it almost impossible to land a punch on a hurling genius but like so many others, the greatest hurler since Christy Ring has been hurt by the empty bling of the Celtic Tiger years.

Unlike most, however, he always donated huge amounts of time and money to help and inspire others.

That investment will undoubtedly stand to him as he recovers and starts to put his financial problems behind him.

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