Sunday 18 August 2019

Amateur golf champion Cannon going strong in Laois football set-up

Dual star: Laois fitness coach Robbie Cannon with his silverware
after winning the AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship in 2018. Photo: Pat Cashman
Dual star: Laois fitness coach Robbie Cannon with his silverware after winning the AIG Irish Amateur Close Championship in 2018. Photo: Pat Cashman
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

The cross-pollination of sports in GAA backrooms is widespread, with former world boxing champions and Irish and All Black international rugby players among those who have lent a hand to inter-county team efforts in recent years.

Golf and GAA are less likely bedfellows, however. Amateur golf even less so.

That's why Robbie Cannon's involvement with the Laois football team to face Meath in Sunday's Leinster football semi-final is particularly interesting.

Cannon is the Laois strength and conditioning coach, a role he also performs for Shane Lowry. He's also a three-time Irish amateur golf Major champion over the last 10 years, being the current Irish Close Champion in 2018 thanks to his European Club win last August, and having won the 2009 South of Ireland in Lahinch and the Irish Amateur Open title for 2013 in Royal Dublin.

Lowry, Rory McIlroy, Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke were all amateur golf champions on this island before him and while Cannon acknowledges he was never likely to follow their path to the professional game, his achievement in winning a first amateur Major when in his 30s is notable nonetheless.

It's rare that an amateur golfer wins a first Major in his 30s.

A switch in career has helped him to achieve that, he stresses, his days as an industrial chemicals salesman traded for something that has helped him pursue his passion, taking him into a Croke Park dug-out once more this weekend.

"It wasn't actually until I got into the field of sports performance that I started to play a lot better and win tournaments," the 40-year-old Balbriggan man reflected.

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"I used to have my own business selling industrial chemicals and while I could make a lot more money from it, it didn't excite me too much," he said.

"I had a passion and I always wanted to chase that passion. My goal and my ambition in life was to try and win a championship and play golf for Ireland. If I was going down the route that I was going down with my business career I probably wouldn't have achieved that.

"When I saw the improvements that I was making it was a lightbulb moment in my head. 'I didn't have this when I was 17 or 18, I'd love to help young players reach their potential,' I said to myself. I didn't get near mine until I was 30."

He played amateur golf tournaments with McIlroy and Lowry, realising "after five or six holes that these guys had it all".

With a Masters in Strength and Conditioning completed, he has worked with various sportspeople and teams, linking up with Lowry in the winter of 2014 before the Offaly man landed the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

When Sugrue came calling he felt he was speaking to a kindred spirit, he says.

"I had been offered jobs before and I'd met with managers that I didn't gel with or seem the right fit but I met John and within five minutes I felt we'd hit it off because we shared the same beliefs. He has a great growth mindset, he sees huge potential in Laois football.

"With Laois, as in golf, work that helps to prevent injuries has a big emphasis," said Cannon, a former underage footballer with O'Dwyer's in Balbriggan, north Co Dublin.

"The modern-day golfer carries the ball 290-300 yards and when you are putting that amount of force into your body you need to be very strong and stable to withstand that, otherwise you are going to really increase the chances of picking up an injury and that's the first and foremost rule for me.


"My job is to reduce the risk of injuries for golfers and Gaelic footballers and other sportspeople that I work with."

Cannon has already missed the West of Ireland Championship because of Laois involvement in the recent Division 3 league final and will have the famed Amateur Championship, run by the Royal and Ancient, in Portmarnock for the first time since 1949, in the week of either another Leinster final appearance for Laois or a trek through the second round of qualifiers, an unusual build-up to say the least.

"I'm getting myself ready for that. My tee-time on the Tuesday is early and will allow me to go to training on Tuesday evening," he said.

"But amateur golf, even though I treat it professionally, at the end of the day it is a hobby. I'm fully committed to my job with Laois. I've no problem missing these events if I have to. I love working with the players, it's part of my 'day job' and I am really passionate about helping them to reach their potential."

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