Over the past year JumpingTheGun has been providing entertaining coverage of Irish athletics through live commentary and weekly podcasts, comprising discussion and athlete interviews. Now it’s their turn to be in the hotseat. James Sullivan talks to the characters behind the enterprise, Feidhlim Kelly, Cathal Dennehy and Ronan Duggan, in the first of two parts.
James: Thank you for taking the time to talk to The Running Review. To begin, can you briefly describe your background in athletics, your running achievements and where you are at now with regards competing in the sport?
Feidhlim: A wannabe professional soccer player, I was always flirting with athletics in school in Belvedere College. Never quite good enough at kicking the ball into the onion sack, I gave athletics a crack properly when I finished school in search of sporting success. I started well, running 1:52.02 for 800m in my first proper season as a junior under Dick Hooper. My rapid improvement didn’t continue and now have a PB of 1:50.77. I’ve trained with lots of good athletes from Mo Farah to Ben Limo and Sonia O’Sullivan to Fionnuala Britton. I’ve finished 4th and 5th in the national senior 800m outdoors and third indoors. Snaffled an Irish vest once at the Welsh senior championships in 2005. The sub 1:50 barrier is proving elusive as I edge towards 31 and compete in every event from the 60m (7.68) to the marathon (2:36:52). I’ve also been known to pace a few races.
Cathal: I started in Community Games; it was a means to get to Mosney to wreak havoc. I went there 10 times, won on my last attempt. Yeah, I WON. Got a few soft Irish singlets later on, schools internationals, Euro Cross and the like, won some junior/under-23 slogger races in Belgium and Holland over the muck. Then it all went arse-ways when I was 20. The body didn’t fancy it anymore and I kept getting injured whenever I tried to train like a real athlete. If bolloxing up my legs wasn’t enough, I went and got chronic over-training syndrome then, fried my endocrine system, which never really recovered, and here I am, a 26-year-old retired failure, talking to you. Jesus.
Ronan: My mother essentially forced me into trying every event until i found one which i didn’t entirely suck at! Started training properly at 16 and my greatest claim to fame has to be three fourth places in a row at the Irish Schools track and field. Consistency is key is my coaches mantra but unfortunately I took this too literally. Picked up a few sneaky u23 and Varsity medals when the big guns were missing, discovered alcohol, morphed into someone who cared about life and work rather than his lactate threshold. I wake up every day riddled with the guilt of unfulfilled potential. Well it could be that or the asparagus.
James: These days you are making names for yourselves within the sport due to your media representation. What sort of journalism work have you done to date?
Feidhlim: Frank Greally was the main man for giving my words space on a page and I worked for him for close to ten years from 2004/5. Frank also introduced me to Con Houlihan in 2010 and I became his copy boy, making me realise I’d only be second rate but an experience I’ll never forget. Both are great friends and mentors, with Con now providing his influence in my mind and from the sky. I currently write for the Irish Examiner as their athletics correspondent and set up Jumping the Gun to give myself a new voice and promote athletics. Thankfully the likes of Cathal and Ronan have come on board to add some much needed input and there has been great support from the athletics community in our attempts at being informative and entertaining. Our weekly podcast was the brainchild of Thomas Chamney.
Cathal: Oh, I’ve won lots of sports writing awards. Okay, two. I’ve written for Running Times, the Sunday Indo, Sunday Tribune. They all wanted to give me a job but I enjoy watching Countdown too much for that. I’m a big deal. So what.
Ronan: I wrote some stuff once. My mam put it up on the fridge!
James: How did Jumpingthegun come about originally? Can you briefly explain what the website is all about and what areas it covers with regards athletics?
Feidhlim: I decided to set up the website because athletics to me was in a lull in Ireland and there seemed to be great apathy. People like David Campbell (1:45 800m runner) encouraged me to set it up and Brian Murphy (400m runner extraordinaire and national champion) helped me come up with the name. Thomas Chamney (5 times national 800m champion) played a key role at the start with some serious pot stirring and getting the podcast going. The goal is to have an international appeal. At the moment it is an Irish website with some international news. All sponsors will be accepted to pay us a wage and develop the site. That or help us with an emigration podcast as we swan off to South America with the loot.
James: Lately you’ve been a big hit on the airwaves, providing commentary for a variety of Athletics Ireland sanctioned indoor meets. How did this all develop?
Cathal: Well, essentially, we are anti-establishment rogues, trying to stir the pot, upset the apple cart, rattle a few cages, you know. Then the AAI came to us and said: “lads, we think ye’re fantastic, hilarious, massively intimidating and distressingly handsome to boot, would ye be willing to commentate on a stream if we give ye €20,000 each per broadcast?” So, to feed our methadone habit, we said yes. As Morgan Freeman said in Shawshank Redemption, every man has his breaking point.
James: Banter has been a key ingredient in your podcasts and commentary. How important is it to be light-hearted and have some fun when discussing the sport, and could these attributes be brought more into athletics as a whole in Ireland?
Feidhlim: Let’s face it: the general public have no connection with the sport and find it boring. We need some WWE style sports entertainment to liven the whole thing up. Musical entrances and more compact programmes can help improve the sport domestically and internationally. Athletics is supposed to be fun and entertaining. It is the number 1 Olympic sport after all. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea but if we can generate debate and opinion then we are doing our job. The poor man’s version of the RTE soccer panel. Or maybe we are just that little bit better on a lot less money.
Cathal: No; stupid question James. Cop yourself on. You muppet.
Ronan: Well none of it is fun, its dour, boring, wretched stuff. Athletics is grinding out a monk like existence for little to no possibility of gain, all while enduring a miserable life just for one day in the sun which soon will be forgotten about, so I guess you could say we could be providing the anti-depressive medicine needed to survive.
James: The response towards your live commentary has been overwhelmingly positive. However, there has been the occasional slating by isolated members of the athletics community. What is your response to negative reviews? Do you welcome all feedback?
Feidhlim: We’ve put ourselves out there to be shot at and it takes a bit of time for you to be man enough to take it and not be a spoilt child. Of course the party line is we welcome all feedback – just make sure it’s positive! Honestly, we want people to care about the sport and give their opinion. It’s become too much of an “isn’t everybody great and we’re trying our best” type of sport. Essentially developing a minority attitude to the minority sport label it has in the media. We need to think big and hopefully, in our own small way, we are generating more of an interest in athletics.
James: Comparisons of your coverage of the sport are being made by some to John Giles, Eamonn Dunphy and Liam Brady, of RTE soccer punditry fame. How do you cope with the pressure associated with such comparisons?
Ronan: Well if you ignore the fact those three were all professional soccerball players with excellent knowledge, great personalities, years of experience, great chemistry and are well respected in their field of expertise, then yeah i guess the only comparison is that there are three of us and three of them and I think I can handle that.
James: Feidhlim, you hold a keen interest in the Melbourne Track Club. Can you delve a little deeper into this obsession?
Feidhlim: Obsession? It’s only a 24/7 thing. That’s not really obsessive is it? I suppose it started when I moved to Teddington in London in 2005 and started tagging along on runs with Sonia O’Sullivan. It developed into her being one of my best friends, and as a result becoming friends with her husband Nic Bideau, the commander in chief of the Melbourne Track Club. They are great friends and mentors and they have a great passion for the sport which has developed my “keen interest” in the Melbourne Track Club. The MTC has played a key role in developing middle distance running in Ireland in the last decade.
James: What is your opinion of backwards running (retro running)?
Feidhlim: As Colin Farrell once said on the Late Late Show on the right to your own sexuality, “Love is love man”. Each to their own I say. I won’t be taking part in any competitions any time soon though.
Cathal: 85 million years of evolution can’t be wrong. We’re made to move forwards. Anyone who doesn’t should probably be shot. And tortured. Torture them first, then shoot them.
Ronan: I think that the world is run by psychopaths and sociopaths. Big Brother, X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent. The world rewards narcissistic delusional weirdos. These are the people involved in retro running. The Mental Health system has a lot to answer for.
This is part 1 of this interview with JumpingTheGun. Click here for part 2.