Friday 23 August 2019

Sport secrets of success from homegrown inspirations

Stephanie Roche
Stephanie Roche
'Sean Boylan harnessed passion's play in the '70s, '80s and '90s. Meath played with an almost unique blend of vagabond and creative at the same time.' Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Europe team captain Paul McGinley celebrates winning the 2014 Ryder Cup
Johnny Murtagh will prepare Royal Diamond and Mutual regard for the Melbourne Cup. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE
Olympic silver medallist Sonia O'Sullivan is one of the elite athletes that analytics company Orreco have worked with
Ruby Walsh
Mick O'Dwyer
Eamonn Coghlan
John Treacy
Padraig Harrington

We asked some of Ireland's most accomplished figures in the worlds of sport to share with us what they believe made them the successful people they have become.

STEPHANIE ROCHE FIFA Puskas Goal of the Year nominee

THE secret of my success lies in having had strong family support from the very beginning. I was also very lucky that I had great friends growing up, including a lot of lads in Shankill who let me join their football games and gave me the chance to develop my skills. I was also committed to practice from a very young age and was always working on my technique, banging a ball against the wall for hours.

Dedication is another factor. I made a lot of sacrifices to become a professional footballer and along the way missed out on a lot of things, like opportunities to go on holidays with friends. However, every time I pull on an Ireland jersey I feel it was worthwhile. Preparation and planning are also vital. Before turning professional I spent time on the FAI's Project Futsal in Corduff, where Denis Hyland and Martin Doyle prepared me for the demands of full-time football.

Another key factor was meeting a like-minded soulmate in my boyfriend Dean eight years ago. He is as committed to his football as I am to mine and it is great to have somebody like that to share the ups and downs of life. If anybody has a dream, they should go for it because then you'll never worry about 'what if?'

PAUL McGINLEY Triumphant Ryder Cup Captain

THE key for me was figuring out who I was, coming to terms with my DNA and then nurturing everything that fell within those parameters. This has dominated my approach to my career, from tournament golfer to Ryder Cup captain.

It was the advice I got from Jack Nicklaus back in 1992 when I had just turned pro, and my only regret is that I didn't adhere to it more closely. Jack told me he had real clarity about what he needed to do to be successful and when things went wrong, he always returned to those fundamentals, never going outside them.

In my experience, the most common mistake people make is to become obsessed with results, with things they can't control, rather than doing the simple things that will give them the best chance of success. By being over-analytical, they climb the wrong branches of the tree.

Become obsessed with results and you're in trouble.

RUBY WALSH Champion National Hunt Jockey

I HAD two good jobs and I worked very hard at them for two very good men, and I still work for one brilliant man in Willie Mullins. It's the team of people around you that helps you achieve success and I've been very lucky to have a great team behind me from a very young age. I had a great coach in Dad and my sister Jennifer is my agent, she is very sharp. When I was younger Mam looked out for me, and you need someone to go home to and my wife Gillian is a great support.

I love what I do and I never needed any motivation to go out and do my job. I suppose as long as I wasn't injured I was always able to go out and do it. It never felt like work though, as this has always been my passion. I never thought I'd have the success that I have achieved so far, though, and it is a privilege to be living a dream.

For personal reasons only, Papillon winning the Grand National in 2000 was the greatest success. I've been very lucky to ride some good horses in my career, the likes of Kauto Star, Masterminded, Big Buck's and Hurricane Fly but the Grand National was so special. I was just 20 years old and it opens so many doors, propels you to another level and to win on a horse trained by my Dad was incredible. I don't think he ever thought he would train a Grand National winner and it was just magic.

WILLIE MULLINS Champion Horse Racing Trainer

I THINK the three elements that are vital for success are experience, hard work and the ability to get on with people. You have to have all these things and running a training yard is like any other business, you are dealing with all sorts of people at different levels, from staff to owners to the press and administration. The scope of the success we have achieved now wasn't something that we ever dreamt about. Being successful was a dream we hoped to achieve but we never dreamt that the operation would grow to this size and become as big as it is now. I think you've got to try and learn from your experiences and put that knowledge to good use.

PADRAIG HARRINGTON Winner of three Golf Majors

I was lucky. Being the youngest of five boys gave me greater opportunities growing up than my older brothers. I also had the good fortune that my father got involved in the building of Stackstown Golf Course, 15 minutes from our home in Rathfarnham. That meant I spent a lot of my free time there as a youngster. Otherwise, I would probably have concentrated on Gaelic football and be retired by now.

Then there was my love of competition, which most people hate because of their fear of failure. I embraced failure, which made me want success all the more. I believe that talent has played the smallest part in my success. Where a successful sporting career is concerned, I would place nurture way above talent.

People see me as a determined individual; a fighter. What they don't see is my resilience, which is all nurture. I also have massive self-belief; failure is not an issue in my life. I especially like the story of the Olympic skater who was asked how she had won a gold medal. Her reply was that she had fallen down more often than anybody else. You have to be resilient, determined and optimistic.

JOHNNY MURTAGH Champion Flat Jockey

I don't know where that will to win came from, whether I was born with it or it was something that developed, but I feel it was always in me. From an early age I always wanted to be the best at whatever sport I was playing. I think that definitely helped me. The right attitude is very important and I've got a very positive take on life. I always think of great achievers, and when all is not going well they are still able to pull it out of the bag. Some of my biggest successes were achieved in adversity, and I think that ability to still perform to your best even when things are going wrong is a true measure of success.

One of the most important elements for anyone who wants to achieve success is having the right people around them and I was very fortunate to have met great people along the way and in the end I had a great team supporting me. The people in the background don't get any credit, but they work hard. Success for me wasn't one race or riding one horse. Group Ones are the ultimate prize in racing and any time you win one is fantastic, but just making it as a jockey was a huge achievement. I had no background in the sport, my father was involved in building and my mother was a housewife. I never rode a horse until I was 15. I worked hard and got a bit of luck along the way, but I'm a firm believer that the harder you work, the luckier you get. Sitting around waiting for your luck to change isn't going to bring you success or make anything happen.

Now that I'm training nothing has changed for me, except I no longer ride the horses. My attitude is still the same, I still want to be the best I can be, I still want to win and my outlook is positive.

EAMONN COGHLAN World 5000m Champion and Senator

There are definitely many factors that combine to bring success and I think it was a combination of all of them which helped me achieve so much in my sporting career. The most important of all those factors, I believe, are hard work and self belief. You have to have talent - and that needs to be nurtured carefully through your early years and career by a support team, but if you depend on talent only then you're not going to achieve all that you possibly can.

For me self belief is something that grows as you achieve success in your selected field. You can grow up without much confidence and all of a sudden when you begin to derive some success then confidence builds and that helps you achieve even more.

That can apply across all aspects of your life. You may not be in as much control of other areas as you are of your sports career, but when it comes to achieving goals in life you can take the discipline, hard work and patience that success in sport demands and apply that to other goals and areas of your life.

As your sporting career winds down, that self-belief begins to wane and a lack of confidence seeps in, but once I began to grow within my new career after athletics as Director of the Children's Medical and Research Foundation it began to come back. That same determination to win on the track became my determination to achieve goals for the organisation.

Winning the World championships in 1983 brought me an enormous amount of self-fulfilment. It was redemption in a way for missing out on medals in two Olympics. My work with Crumlin over the years has been very successful too, but I am only part of a team in the office and a further team of volunteers which is similar to athletics. People only see the athlete, but success is a collaborative effort between an athlete, coach, physio, wife, the close people around you who share your joy when you win and your despair when you lose.

JOHN O’MAHONY GAA manager and TD for Mayo

If you talk about success in football then the Connacht championship win with Leitrim in 1994 and getting Mayo back to an All-Ireland final for the first time in 38 years are up there with the two All-Ireland titles I won with Galway.

Those successes came about through meeting the challenge every manager faces, which is to maximise the potential of any group they are working with. When the goals are set by the group it allows everyone to buy into them and it works. If it was just me dictating what the group should achieve then it just wouldn't work. Everyone has to want to achieve the target and have an input. The power of that is enormous and it can allow teams that are less talented to defeat teams with more stars, as they might not have the same unity of purpose within the group.

Success is all relative. With Galway our aim was to win the All-Ireland, but winning a provincial championship with Leitrim was almost as big an achievement. I think people, if they see progress is possible, stay focussed and fresh and keep pushing the bar of what they can achieve.

I try to take that philosophy of teamwork into politics, but it is very difficult as you don't have the same unity of purpose in politics that you find in sport. What happens in the dressing-room stays in the dressing-room, but in politics there are leaks left, right and centre - that makes it much more difficult to solve problems. If you're trying to come up with a solution to a problem that is on television every day with commentators and analysts dissecting it, it is more difficult to come to a conclusion.

My motto in life is to put everything into everything you are doing at that time.

SONIA O’SULLIVAN World and European Champion, Olympic 5,000m silver medallist

The main thing that you need for success would be the ability to get the right people around you. People think that you are out there running by yourself and training on your own, but you don't become successful by yourself. You need a coach telling you where you can improve and what to do. There are people dependant on you and your training, not just your racing but on knowing how you are going in training and giving you guidance. As an athlete you need the ability to listen to that advice.

Success is deciding that you want to do something, planning how you are going to achieve that target and then going out and doing it. Fulfilling those targets doesn't always translate into winning medals and sometimes medals aren't the ultimate goal. Putting in the best performance you are capable of on the day is an achievement. You have to think that every other athlete in the race has probably been targeting it, planning how they will achieve their goals and they might just be better than you on the day.

A simple analogy is to look at a race like an exam. You've been studying and preparing and the race is the test. You have a deadline to meet and you put everything into reaching that deadline the best way that you can.

Sport can be compared to so many things like that and the more people I meet from different areas of life the more I realise sport is comparable to many things. It's easier to visualise when looking at it in those terms.

Without looking at results and races, I had a total disaster in 1996 and to pick myself up and win the World Championships two years later and a silver medal at the Sydney Olympics to me is the ultimate example of success in my career. Being able to put all that behind me and come at my career from a slightly different angle, it took a lot of hard work and determination. I tried numerous times and failed, but the people around me really encouraged me.

The encouragement wasn't to get back and win medals, they just wanted me to go out and run because when I'm running I'm happy and that's all they wanted for me. It was a step-by-step process to get up there and we did it in a gentle way, approaching running as if it was the beginning all over again. Starting all over again was hard, but putting the past behind me and getting back running was the greatest triumph.

PAT SPILLANE All-Ireland winning Kerry footballer

To discover the key to success you have to delve into the background and in Kerry family, tradition and bloodline is hugely important. My father played football for Kerry and was a selector for the Kerry senior team and three of my uncles also played for the county. I had it from both sides, a bloodline of Kerry football of father and uncles and you carried on the torch and tradition. It was not something that was demanded of you, rather it was expected. It's gas now that the third generation of the family, my nephew my brother Tommy's son played on the minor team last year and made his senior debut last Sunday. Tradition is key to success in Kerry.

I wasn't the most gifted footballer, not blessed with a wide array of skills but I trained hard, savage hard. I trained and trained and trained and the older I got the harder I trained. In my last years with the senior team I was training 12 times a week, two sessions six days out of the seven. I decided a long time before then that if I wasn't blessed with a sublime talent then I would be the fittest player. I practised kicking for hours on my own - morning, noon and night - just kicking for hours. Kicking into the goals, kicking into ditches, scrambling into briars to retrieve the ball. That was what drove me.

In Kerry you are ever only as good as your last game. That is ingrained into the psyche of every player who pulls on a Kerry jersey. Past achievements count for absolutely nothing in Kerry and that drives you on for more. Two or three days after a final, whether you win or lose, the talk moves on and it is all about next year and winning the All-Ireland final again. The bar is being constantly raised and it doesn't matter how many Munster championships or National League titles you win, in Kerry these count for nothing if you don't bring Sam Maguire back to Kerry.

Look at Declan O'Sullivan last year. He shouldn't even have been playing with how bad his knees were but he drove himself to keep on playing for that chance to win an All-Ireland medal. That is how much it means in Kerry and that is why success is so important. It goes back to the late Paidi O'Se and what he said about effing animals. How he said it was bad but he was spot on. Kerry supporters are so, so demanding and so expecting of you and that is part of the psyche. Whether you are a success or failure will be determined by winning an All-Ireland medal.

Hard work, tradition and belief, not arrogance, are what makes Kerry teams successful.


It all started with the football my father bought me as a boy in Waterville and then when I went to St Finian's primary school. There was nothing else practised there in my time anyway and I was fortunate to have some wonderful teachers. Don Kinnitty, John Casey and especially John McCarthy all had a huge influence on my career and success. From the day I was born practically I had a football with me and that love of the game was so important.

Success is not about winning. If you are really involved and interested in something in life then you should follow that. My own ambition was to wear the green and gold of Kerry, it was never about winning growing up, I just wanted to play for Kerry. Not everybody can be a winner in this life and there is a great education through sport because you learn about winning and losing and that carries through to your life as a whole.

If you are involved in something you are passionate about there is no point following through unless you are 100% committed. You shouldn't do anything in life unless you give everything to it.

To be successful in any walk of life you really have to be motivated. For me I wanted to succeed as a player and then as a manager and I left no stone unturned in my desire to be the best I could. One of the greatest things that ever happened in my sporting career was getting on to the Kerry senior team in 1956. I was the first man from Waterville to play for Kerry and nothing else mattered in life. It was all about being a good player. Winning the first All-Ireland final in 1959 was a special moment too.

When you get to the pinnacle, the trick is to stay there and it can be difficult if you don't have that motivation. If you want more success then that is the thing that drives you. Winning became an addiction for me. Some people smoke cigarettes, others take a drink but I had an addiction to gaelic football and that drove my success at the sport.

SEAN BOYLAN Meath GAA Legend and Herbalist

The secret to the success Meath had when I was manager was great players. The other important thing was enormous enthusiasm from the clubs, the county board officials, everyone which gave a great purpose to what we were trying to achieve.

I think it was important that the length of time of training sessions never much exceeded the 70 minutes of a match. That really helped with the players' concentration too.

When I went into the Meath dressing room first there were a lot of great players in there who hadn't won anything - players like Colm O'Rourke and Gerry McEntee - legends in the county but hadn't achieved success outside of Meath. Once they got a sniff of success they didn't want to let go and it just went from there. We had men in their thirties winning an All-Ireland for the first time and their desire drove them forward.

As a coach it was important to create the right environment for the players to thrive and to build and improve their fitness levels.

When that team, who won All-Irelands in '87 and '88, reached their potential other lads started to play and that just kept the whole thing going. We had great games, the four match series against Dublin, and the year after we lost to Dublin by ten points in the Leinster final we had nine new lads on the team who were just 19 years old winning their first Leinster and All-Ireland medals.

We moved on again from 1996 and won the All-Ireland in 1999. I think enjoyment has a huge role to play in success. If the fun goes out of it and you start to take yourself too seriously, not that we weren't serious about what we did and how hard we worked, but we enjoyed it and that was important.

It's hard to define what made us successful. It's not something I've thought very deeply about but I do know that there was never a sense of entitlement amongst the group. If you don't take your achievements for granted and if you work hard then success should come but if you're not prepared to put the hard work in, then you are not going to be successful. The work ethic in that team, wanting to win, wanting to work for each other was incredible.

JOHN TREACY Olympic Silver Medallist and Chairman of the Irish Sports Council

Success is focus, drive, hard work and building a successful team around you. It is essential to enjoy what you do and I have always enjoyed being involved in sport. Talent helps! I am thankful for my natural athletic ability and the opportunities it presented me.

My achievements at the Cross Country World Championships and at the Olympics will always stand out for me personally. They meant a lot to my family and people still approach me to talk about them. I am proud of my athletics career but also take enormous satisfaction in everything we have achieved at the Irish Sports Council. We have built excellent programmes in Anti Doping, Child Protection, High Performance and Participation. Along the way through our collaborative approach we have helped develop stronger sports bodies. This work relies on meaningful investment from Government; we have strong support from Ministers since our establishment and hope that that will continue.

Success has two aspects. In my running days, success was defined by standing on a podium after the competition. Personally, it was also important to train well, to feel healthy and be competitive. There is the external validation and also the personal satisfaction of reaching your goals.

At the Council it is the same. We can objectively measure our contribution through medal performances by Irish athletes, more people being physically active and contributing to a demonstrably stronger sports sector in Ireland. It is knowing also that we contributed by doing our business the correct way and by being true to our values.

Sunday Independent

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