| 19.1°C Dublin

Vincent Hogan: Running man

He was a 17-stone heart-attack-in-waiting who began running and couldn't stop. Gerry Duffy smoked more than a coal-fired power station and had the calorie intake of a Mississippi school canteen. His idea of endurance was the 25-minute wait for a pizza delivery. If you were to tick 10 boxes for bad living, Gerry probably qualified on nine.

Golf was his only saving grace and, if there is a tinge of melancholy in his story now, it is the photograph that inspired it. For Seve Ballesteros looks tanned and radiant as he shakes a meaty hand at Mount Juliet in 1995.

Gerry barely recognises himself in the picture. Ballesteros was his god, but he remembers being "shocked and disgusted" by the corpulent figure standing to Seve's left.

And that was when Gerry Duffy decided to start running.

He has all the bulk of a darning needle now and a half-marathon to him is a sprint for a bus. Last year, he achieved something that shouldn't, logically, have been possible. With his friend Ken Whitelaw, Gerry ran 32 marathons in 32 days.

For his next trick, he's planning to abseil from the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, using a line of dental floss.

Actually, that last bit isn't true, though I suspect he'd probably consider it. On Friday last, Gerry explained that his next challenge is something called a 'Deca Ironman'. He flies to England on Wednesday to try to complete 10 Ironmans in as many days.

That's a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, then a full marathon run, all repeated 10 times in a week and half. I'm thinking of giving him Anthony Stokes' phone number.

Now it goes without saying that there's a point to what Duffy is doing. The 32 marathon challenge raised in excess of half a million euro for a selection of charities, chief among them Irish Autism Action.

Every time Duffy explores his durability a little further, another worthy cause will benefit. And the experience has empowered him. His estate agent business was swallowed up by the property crash, but this once shy and reticent figure now has the confidence to coach on fitness and lifestyle.

At a time when the mediocre are so grandly mythologised, his book -- 'Who Dares, Runs' -- should be compulsory reading for any sports professional inclined towards preciousness.

Honestly, does the small detail of last week's deluge of no-shows for the Carling Nations Cup, the nonsense of who had a scraped toenail and who didn't, really matter? If a footballer can't be bothered returning a call to his national federation, then -- frankly -- all the medical scans in the world won't excuse his ignorance.

Last week's itinerary was, patently, an inconvenience for some. Hence the epidemic of end-of-season niggles and, worse, the subsequent blaze of newsprint about garbled communication.

Giovanni Trapattoni got it in the ear for his shortcomings as a babysitter and the FAI got hammered, well, for just about everything from oil prices to tectonic movement in the Far East. It was pathetic.

Stokes escaped the worst of the criticism because, at least, he managed to find a telephone. He was tired, he said. Too tired for a 40-minute flight from Glasgow to Dublin. To the best of this column's knowledge, he started fewer than 30 games for Celtic this season and, given the great majority of those games would have been competitive as a fish-kill, his exhaustion was difficult to fathom.

But the kid, who turns 23 in July, had -- apparently -- been all spun out by his bit-part in the two-team grudge that is Scottish football. Bless.

So the excuses accumulated like a sewer backing up. Mysterious injuries were identified. Players who looked pictures of health the previous Sunday now stopped just short of scribbling a will. The week became a pantomime.

It's an old story, of course, this high self-regard that turns talented young men into Ming vases.

Yet, the week felt like a new low. For, if James McCarthy might be considered a potential stalwart of future Irish teams, the other no-shows belonged to a low-grade repertory company.

Gerry Duffy, incidentally, is 43. He says his gut feeling is to, maybe, start down-sizing the challenges from here. Which, probably, means scaling mountains. Reading his book, you get the sense that human endurance is as much cerebral as physical. You don't fight the miles, you ignore them.

It's the power of positive thinking.

One of many beautiful observations he quotes is one from Norman Mailer. It reads "Every moment of one's existence is growing into more or retreating into less. One is always living a little more or dying a little bit."

Sounds like a motto that should be stamped on every footballer's pay-slip.

Irish Independent