Ronan Brady was a member of the Roscommon county panel 10 years ago, but a period of reflection led to him leaving the game and his teaching job behind, choosing instead to jump through hoops for a living
MANY books don't live up to their title, but it’s fair to say that abandoning inter-county football with Roscommon, as well as his career as an engineering teacher, to join the circus certainly constitutes Ronan Brady's diverging career paths as 'Worlds Apart'.
Ten years ago, he was a member of Fergal O'Donnell's Roscommon squad that tasted Connacht SFC success alongside the likes of Donie Shine and Cathal Cregg. His was a monastic devotion engrossed in football with a job in teaching, along with every other life choice, helping to facilitate his inter-county dream.
Nothing else mattered, but an arthritic ankle would soon force him to assess what he really wanted from life, and it took him in a radically different direction, somewhere he, as well as those who knew him best, could scarcely have imagined.
Brady loved the GAA and everything it embodies but it also began to grate on him. Something deep inside him craved creativity despite the fact that "a bogger from Roscommon" is not generally expected to dip his toes into something like acrobatic performance.
"The GAA is a fantastic builder in the community and brings people together, but what happens is that we all end up looking the same. We all wear the GAA gear, we all have the same boots, the same haircuts, you know what you're supposed to look like," Brady says.
"You know what you're supposed to be and what you're supposed to do. You're supposed to be a footballer and it's like there's a template and you can end up fitting into that mould because it's safe and easy.
"It was only when I got an injury that made me take a year out of football that I had time to step back and to consider whether I wanted to continue football and if it was something that I actually enjoyed or if it was just something that I was good at and knew how to do.
"I'd have seen some Cirque du Soleil shows and you are impressed and you'd love to do that, but then a little voice in the back of your head goes 'But that's not for you, that's for other people, that's not for somebody from Roscommon who grew up in the sticks.
"'That's for some exotic creature with some wonderfully soft accent that can do these wonderfully amazing things, beautiful and graceful things that you never ever imagined. I'm not that thing', and we're not supposed to think that."
After initially enrolling in a circus training class in Carrick-on-Shannon eight years ago, he found that his "whole world opened up" as he revelled in the physical and mental demands of his new "hobby" despite being an outlier in a foreign and unfamiliar sphere.
At first, it was easier not to divulge what he was doing to friends and family and he ploughed ahead despite some inner "gremlins" standing in the way as he began to master the cyr wheel – a large ring or "dance partner" that he stands inside and spin around with remarkable pace, power and poise.
A chance audition with Thisispopbaby – a production company which "rips up the space between popular culture, counter culture, queer culture and high art" – sparked a fascinating debate about whether to drive the length and breadth of the country and put himself into "a scary situation", but it would eventually parachute him into the public consciousness.
His Twitter handle (@AnomalyRonan) would never be more on the money than when his appearance in the camp cabaret 'Riot' saw him encounter renowned drag queen Panti Bliss while wearing familiar colours, albeit in the most unfamiliar manner.
"I was freaking out and wondering what I was doing there. I was the most uncomfortable person and wondering 'what the f*** I'm doing here?' with photographers taking pictures of my ass, but I went with it. Then Panti Bliss looks me up and down and goes 'you'll do'," he recalls.
"I ended up being a stripper and my outfit was a Roscommon GAA kit and I'm in nothing but a pink G-string at the end of it with my socks pulled up to the knees, it was ridiculous. A drag queen would come out from behind and call off the whole act right before we got completely naked."
A far cry from being a tight-marking corner-back or traditional circuses like Fossett's or Duffy's that Irish people are acquainted with, but by putting himself out there, he would soon grab the headlines as his career break from teaching in Swinford's Scoil Muire agus Pádraig gradually became a permanent one.
Celebrated appearances on the 2018 version of 'Ireland's Got Talent' added further feathers in his cap. Inspiring young people to think outside the box and take risks rather than settling for what they were comfortable with was one of his main motivations.
The year previous he had been in Azerbaijan for six weeks for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Islamic Games, when the radical nature of how he was now earning his living hit him square in the face flying through the air in Baku's National Stadium.
"When I was out in Azerbaijan flying through the middle of a stadium on a giant moon structure, you're thinking 'Is this my f***ing job like?' I'm getting paid to be here and you can't plan for that. You can have a life structure and plan to do this and this and this but if you have those plans, those kind of things just don't happen," he says.
"The idea of not knowing where my next pay cheque is coming from was the greatest stress of the last five years and will be the greatest stress of the next five, but the moments that I've got off the back of it are totally worth it. All the hardship was worth it."
It was also then that he received a call from his girlfriend Michelle – a former inter-county footballer with Leitrim with whom he has lived in Athlone for the past four years – with the news that his father Justin had passed away aged 50.
His deeply personal book documents his parents' fractured marriage, how their break-up affected him in different aspects of his life, while his rural upbringing in the small town of Elphin travelling to teenage discos in the tractor are sure to resonate with many.
"Making county" was something which fixated Brady for years, but his passion for football waned once it began to dictate his life and his mood.
From thinking he had "made it", he "slowly had to rip out my internal wiring, reinstall it and start afresh" as circus performance became his passion.
The 30-year-old still can't fathom how far removed he is from the GAA world that shaped him.
"It's ridiculous how much I don't miss it, I couldn't believe how much I didn't miss it when I was gone and it frightened me actually," he says.
"When I dropped it, that's that (clicks his fingers) and it was done and then I found something else.
"That's how shocking it was to me when I left it, I didn't pursue the results, I wasn't a fan and part of that was that I completely left it behind me because I was afraid that if I was to look at it I would lament over it and maybe regret it."
He never got to play in Croke Park – he ruled himself out of the 2010 All-Ireland quarter-final with Cork at GAA HQ due to problems with a sciatic nerve in his hamstring when in contention to start – but he harbours hopes of performing in a different discipline at Jones' Road in the future.
Dr Hyde Park welcomed Brady and his gravity-defying acrobatics for the half-time show when the Rossies defeated Leitrim in the 2017 Connacht SFC semi-final, while he gained more national notoriety through the award-winning show 'How to Square a Circle'.
The coronavirus stopped him in his tracks as he should have been in London this month bringing the stunning show blending contemporary circus and theatre to the masses of the English capital alongside his colleague Aisling Ní Cheallaigh.
They were also in the midst of selling the show to Australian theatres for next year but those plans have also been temporarily derailed. His love for the wonderful world of ropes, fabrics, trapezes, hoops, harnesses and wheels has certainly not dimmed, though.
"I was always fascinated with what the human body could do. As a footballer, you were often becoming more immobile by the level of football training and it wasn't necessarily healthy. When competition comes into it, health goes out the window," he says.
"Why I got into circus was because I wanted longevity and I wanted the things that I did to be good for my body and my mind. I've never looked back from football and I don't think I ever will."
Ronan Brady's book 'Worlds Apart: An Alternative Journey to becoming a Modern Man' is available for download and to listen on Audible, pre-order at Mercier Press, Eason and Amazon, Ebook at Amazon Kindle and Google Books. All purchase options available at ronanbrady.me
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