Sunday 25 February 2018

Readers enjoy front-row seats for an Off The Page exclusive

Neil Francis and Colm O'Rourke at the Sunday Independent 'Off the page' event at Elverys, Dundrum. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Neil Francis and Colm O'Rourke at the Sunday Independent 'Off the page' event at Elverys, Dundrum. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Paul Kimmage
Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

Off The Page started with a bang last Wednesday night when the 120 Sunday Independent Sports readers who had gathered in Elvery's flagship store in Dundrum were treated to an exclusive by Paul Kimmage.

The award-winning journalist gave his account of why he had stepped back from writing Brian O'Driscoll's autobiography. The venue was silent as Kimmage detailed the pain and devastation he was feeling and likened the end of the collaboration to the breakdown of a relationship.

The mood lightened after Kimmage's revelations when the other panellists, Colm O'Rourke, Neil Francis and Gary O'Toole, recalled their early introductions to sport. Francis entertained the crowd with his memories of being embarrassed into improving his game and made no secret of his long-time aversion to most types of physical training. "The realisation that I had to train really hard upset me," said Francis.

Of course having competed at the top level of their sport means that each one of the panellists is extremely competitive and with that trait comes regrets. For O'Rourke, it was losing the 1991 All-Ireland final. "I can't remember games we won, I remember every kick when we lost," he said.

O'Toole regrets not peaking for the Olympics and said that sometimes you have to know when to stop training, while Francis revealed that he still cries when he watches Ireland lose to Australia in the 1991 World Cup quarter-final.

Off The Page was a chance for the readers of the Sunday Independent to interact with the paper's top sports writers.

And throughout the evening questions presubmitted by the guests were put to the panellists.

There was plenty of rugby chat but very little of it was positive. Francis believes that 90 per cent of rugby games are rubbish and O'Rourke agreed with him.

"I'm finding rugby increasingly boring, too much time-wasting and I wouldn't like a son of mine to be playing it," said the All-Ireland medal winner.

O'Toole, who is a surgeon, recalled operating on a rugby player who wanted to get back on the pitch immediately after surgery and admitted that he believes the biggest problem for rugby is the head injuries that are occurring now. He also revealed that GAA players are they easiest to treat.

"They do what you tell them and they don't complain."

The discussion, led by Sunday Independent Sports Editor John Greene, moved seamlessly through several fascinating topics including the always interesting issue of drugs in sport. The audience was captivated as Kimmage and O'Toole shared their stories and experiences of dealing with the problem first hand. Francis too competed against players he suspected were using performance-enhancers. "I knew I was playing against guys on PEDs. But the big guys were never caught."

"Seán Boylan had us drinking herbs that could also be used for stripping paint off the gate," joked O'Rourke.

Irish Independent

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