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Author Archive for Jonathan Drennan

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Vasyl Lomachenko: ‘All fighters think about their legacy. I’m no different’

Lomachenko won 396 fights and two Olympic gold medals as an amateur. His next aim is to beat Jorge Linares and become a three-weight world champion after just 12 professional fightsBy Jonathan Drennan for Behind the LinesVasyl Lomachenko may be the mos…

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Cora Staunton, the Gaelic footballer who switched continents and sports to go pro in AFLW

Cora Staunton won everything in Ireland then, at 35, took up a sport with a ‘funny-shaped ball’ and became a full-time athleteBy Jonathan Drennan for Behind the LinesCora Staunton, one of Ireland’s most decorated Gaelic footballers, is finally getting …

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Carl Frampton: ‘I never feel any fear but that doesn’t mean my family don’t’

The boxer talks about postponing his retirement, fighting in front of his kids and how Thomas Hearns kept him humbleBy Jonathan Drennan for Behind the LinesThe first day of training camp is over for featherweight boxer Carl Frampton and he finally has …

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The Glaswegian BMX rider whose redemptive story has hit Hollywood

John Buultjens fell in love with cycling when he saw ET as a kid. Now he hopes a film about his life will inspire a new generationBy Jonathan Drennan for Behind the LinesJohn Buultjens, a Glaswegian who made his name and fame by riding and designing BM…

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Cédric Anselin: I was ready to take my own life but phoning Clarke Carlisle saved me

Cédric Anselin played alongside Zinedine Zidane in a European final aged 18 but his career faltered and his life spun out of control – until he called an old friendBy Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkLast year, t…

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What is 2,011km long, lasts 82 days and takes 20,093 shots? Golf’s longest hole

Two retired rugby players needed a fresh challenge, so they set off for Mongolia, fell in with a stray dog and completed the longest hole of golf ever played

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Adam Rolston squatted and measured his putt. The early evening sun at Mt Bogd Golf Club in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia still hadn’t quite dried the moisture off the green, and he approached the ball tentatively. Two hundred spectators surrounded the green, including locals, close friends and family as he holed a seven-foot putt perfectly. The longest hole in golf had finished after 82 days and 20,093 shots across Mongolia.

Rolston has played many rounds of golf in his life, but he knows he will never complete a more satisfying scorecard. A former rugby international for Hong Kong, Rolston and his caddie Ron Rutland played the longest hole ever completed across Mongolia, covering 2,011km of difficult terrain, playing through the desert, icy water, rocky ground and glaciers. The most obvious question remains: why?

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The boy whose commentary for his blind friend inspired his sporting heroes

When the Sydney Swans heard that a 12-year-old boy had been commentating for his mate at one of their matches, they went looking for the two young friends

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

“Mateship” is an Australian expression that stands for friendship and equality, even in times of great challenge. Mark Smith and Jarryd Haines, two young boys from Sydney, embody this ethos of close friendship. The pair have known each other for most of their lives and always enjoyed playing sport together. If there was a ball involved, they would be in the backyard, acting out a crucial Ashes test or taking a spectacular mark in the Australian Rules Grand Final for their beloved Sydney Swans.

A few years ago, when Mark was only nine, he was diagnosed with cancer of the brain and spine. It robbed the young boy of many things: his sight, part of his hearing and his ability to play the sports he loves. Throughout the gruelling medical treatment that left Mark nauseous and exhausted, Jarryd remained his close friend, sharing their continued love of sport, particularly the Sydney Swans.

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From Belvedere to Barcelona, Bulgaria and beyond: the life of a football nomad

Cillian Sheridan’s career has taken him from telling Leo Messi to ‘fuck off’ in Camp Nou to challenging for the Polish league, via Cyprus, Sofia and Scotland

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Cillian Sheridan sits in his apartment in the picturesque city of Bialystok in Poland preparing for training with the local top tier football team Jagiellonia Bialystok. Sheridan lives here with his girlfriend, Jodie, and their Irish accents have already marked them out as slight curiosities in a city that adores its high-flying football club.

Sheridan has enjoyed some remarkable highs. He has played against Lionel Messi twice – for the Republic of Ireland against Argentina in the first international at the Aviva Stadium in 2010 and for Apoel Nicosia in the Champions League in 2014 – but his career has always been peripatetic. Poland is the latest stop in a professional career that has also taken in Scotland, Cyprus and Bulgaria.

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Graham Stack: the Arsenal Invincible who has more fans in India than Islington

Graham Stack was on the bench for Arsenal on the day they won the league at Tottenham in 2004, but that fixture offered little preparation for life in Kerala

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Graham Stack knew that playing football in India was going to be different. The goalkeeper enjoyed a successful season with Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League last year, but a single game, a 5-0 defeat against Mumbai City FC told him the fans there were unique. “I had let in a hat-trick from Diego Forlán,” he remembers. “It was an away game, so when we returned to Kerala I was a bit nervous about facing our fans. First time I see them after this bad defeat, they’re all profusely thanking me for trying my best and assuring me that the team would come back stronger. I thought I’m seriously a long way from home now.”

Stack started his career as a goalkeeper in the Arsenal academy and graduated to become part of the famed Invicibles squad in the 2003-04 season. The former Republic of Ireland U21 goalkeeper lifted the Premier League trophy at Highbury surrounded by Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira. As a member of that great squad, Stack is welcome at the club any time and he recently visited Arsenal’s training ground for lunch with his old boss, Arsène Wenger. Stack’s privileged football education in north London shaped him and he continues to apply the lessons he learned at Arsenal for Eastleigh in the fifth tier of English football.

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Has Australia fallen out of love with rugby union?

Australia were well beaten by England on Saturday but the sport is facing bigger troubles at home, where participation, investment and interest are falling

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

The Wallabies have returned home after a heavy defeat to England in front of a capacity crowd at Twickenham. Taking a beaten from England is never easy for any Australian sports fan, but the result was softened by the fact that the match reports hovered slightly above the weekend’s lawn bowl results. Rugby union is largely out of sight and out of mind here.

If you don’t live in Australia, it is hard to believe that rugby union features so low on the sporting agenda. The Wallaby jersey has been worn by some of the game’s greatest players and the country’s contribution to the sport has been enormous historically, but the game is losing relevance for Australians. The country’s stadiums are barely filled and the crowds are muted.

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From Fiji to Sweden: how a Scottish cricket coach taught the world to play

Colin Siller has enjoyed a nomadic career in his beloved sport, from playing in Northern Ireland to coaching in Fiji, Austria, Sweden, Rwanda and Canada

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Colin Siller is an unlikely cricketing disciple. He was born and bred in Edinburgh, but somehow has made spreading cricket across the globe his life’s mission. Siller has been the national cricket coach of Rwanda, Austria, Fiji and Sweden and the assistant coach of Canada. The Scotsman’s life has been dominated by cricket and the sport remains his passion. “When I’m asked to describe myself, I just say cricket. It defines everything about me, it’s what I think about every day. I wake up in the morning and check out the results from all over the world and think about the players I’ve looked after, it’s been everything to me.”

Siller owes his passion for cricket to his mother. Mrs Siller spent three years working as a nurse in Melbourne and played social cricket in a women’s league before returning home to Scotland. Siller’s early forays as a spin bowler in the Scottish club game were encouraged by his mother and he became a strong player. His first job after leaving school was playing as a cricket professional in north Wales; he would alternate between Great Britain in the summer and the southern hemisphere in the British winter.

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Meet the actor who is set on playing for Hong Kong at the 2019 Rugby World Cup

Ed Rolston fell out of love with rugby when he was knocked back by Leicester Tigers but, after working as an actor for a few years, he rediscovered his passion for the sport and is now hoping to represent his country at the Rugby World Cup

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

On Saturday, Hong Kong will play Russia in a rugby match that will go unnoticed across most of the world. The All Blacks are returning to Dublin intent on revenge, leaving little time to focus on rugby’s developing nations. Hong Kong player Ed Rolston understands the disparity between the two games in the rugby world’s consciousness more than most. Rolston was born and bred in Hong Kong, but spent every summer with his family in Ireland. He is incredibly proud of his roots but on Saturday his only focus will be on captaining Hong Kong.

The game against Russia will be an exacting exam for which the Hong Kong players have studied relentlessly for more than two years. If Hong Kong beat Russia, who are ranked four places above them in the world rankings, it will be the first big step towards their goal of reaching the Rugby World Cup in 2019.

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Ruan Pienaar: ‘I wanted to come to Ulster as a foreigner and make a difference’

Ruan Pienaar is being forced to leave Ulster as the IRFU want to ‘develop indigenous talent in this position’, but he is not bitter – just proud of the way he helped to develop the club and the young players who are replacing him

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Ulster’s Springbok scrum-half Ruan Pienaar remembers arriving in Belfast six years ago vividly. He got out of the club car, looked up at a slate-grey sky and a crumbling stadium and gazed at his young wife incredulously. He had just enjoyed a beautiful South African summer by the Indian Ocean in Durban and his mother’s words were still ringing in his ears. She had heard that Belfast was one of the most dangerous places in the world and asked whether he should reconsider. “She was a bit concerned, but I told her there’s no need to worry – we’re South Africans. It’s funny looking back. My wife and I went in with the attitude that we had to make this work, and six years later we’re so glad we did.”

Pienaar settled into Northern Ireland quickly with his wife and young family. Ulster boasted a conveyor belt of talented South African players who helped him gradually find his feet in a new culture and climate, even if he never fully adjusted to the Belfast winters. Instead he found warmth in the local people, “I came here initially with two years in my mind maybe, but one big thing that kept me and my family was the people. People in this part of the world are similar to South Africans. They’re family-orientated and warm. The will do anything for you. That goes a long way when you are so far from home.”

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Last Chance U: the college that gives young players a final route to the NFL

When documentary director Adam Ridley went to the sleepy town of Scooba in Mississippi he expected to make a show about gifted athletes, but his Netflix series, Last Chance U, is about education, class, success and the American dream

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

The tiny town of Scooba sits in Kemper County in the vast state of Mississippi. Its quiet streets are home to under a thousand permanent residents and there is little excitement to be found. An isolated Subway sandwich shop is the social hub. East Mississippi Community College stands incongruously in Scooba’s streets. The college houses some of the country’s finest student American football players who dream of making the NFL. They find themselves in sleepy Scooba for two reasons: their grades aren’t up to scratch or they need more playing time to prove themselves to larger colleges. For almost all of the players on the Lions’ playing roster, this is their last chance at football redemption.

Adam Ridley was working as a film director when he came across a magazine article about a team of incredible college prodigies who were toiling on the hot fields in Scooba in search of stardom. “I read up about this team and the more I thought about it the more fascinated I became. You have these incredible high school athletes, that for whatever reason things haven’t worked out for them, whether that’s in the classroom or on the field, so they come to this tiny little town of Scooba to try and turn things around. We knew we had to do something.”

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Tyson Fury is facing his toughest opponent and needs our compassion

Wladimir Klitschko has accused Tyson Fury of ‘dragging boxing through the mud’ but Fury’s mental health means more than a heavyweight title fight

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Fighters fight, or so the old adage goes. World heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury is fighting for his life against the most daunting opponent he can face, the snarling black dog of depression. The tools of his trade, his fists, will be obsolete in this fight. The battle he is facing will be ongoing with no final bell being sounded.

Fury is a man who specialises in infuriating people. He plays to the peanut gallery with soundbites that vary from the bizarre to the highly offensive. The defining victory of his career, against Wladimir Klitschko, should have been feted for years, instead his boxing triumph was obscured by the force of a feckless tongue.

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Gaelic footballers have shone in the AFL. Will college athletes from the US be next?

The route from Gaelic football to Aussie Rules was established a generation ago and now the intrepid sports agent, Miro Gladovic, hopes to open up the AFL to young American athletes who didn’t make it as professionals in the NBA or NFL

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

On Saturday, after a 62 year wait, the Western Bulldogs won their second AFL premiership against the Sydney Swans in a pulsating grand final. The ultimate Australian underdog story was played out in front of a capacity crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Grand final day is a sacred day in most Australian calendars home and abroad, as millions gather in bars and backyards to watch the game. Yet, outside of the land down under the game remains largely unknown.

To the uninitiated, Australian Football is a mysterious game that appears like 36 hungry seagulls chasing after a single chip. Originally invented in the 19th century to keep cricketers fit during the off-season, it has evolved into a multi-million dollar business that can keep a whole country enthralled during the season.

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A stray boot blinded Ian McKinley in one eye but he’s back playing top-level rugby

Ian McKinley thought his rugby career was over but, thanks to a pair of protective goggles and a lot of heart, he might even become an Italy internationalBy Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport NetworkThere are few more ter…

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How it feels to be given an Olympic gold medal … nine years later at a Burger King

Adam Nelson went to Athens in 2004 as favourite to win gold for USA in the shot put. He lost by the slimmest of margins, took silver and continued with his life – until he was asked to meet an Olympics official at an airport food court

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Adam Nelson had imagined what winning Olympic gold would feel like as a young boy growing up in Atlanta. The shot putter would stand tall on the top podium and close his eyes when he heard the Star-Spangled Banner played. He won Olympic gold as an adult, but the medal ceremony came nine years after he competed and it was considerably more humble than his childhood dreams. Among the hustle and bustle of travellers in Atlanta airport, Nelson sat down outside Burger King and was awarded his medal by an United States Olympic Committee official. His medal had been upgraded due to a competitor doping nine years earlier. Nelson’s road to recognition was far harder than any gruelling training session at the track.

In 2004 shot putter Adam Nelson entered the ancient stadium at Olympia for his second Olympic Games. A harsh sun baked the dusty ground, dazzling the athletes and the spectators. The last time an Olympic event had taken place here, the ancient Greeks were using their sporting talents to impress Zeus, whereas Nelson just wanted a gold medal. He flexed his neck muscles, exhaled and stepped up to take his first throw. White chalk dust was spread all over his chin and thick neck. After spinning, he released the shot and yelled in ecstasy. He knew the throw was good and he took an early lead over his opponents. He was on course to achieve gold.

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The fighting father: how a priest became a professional boxer to save his local gym

When Father Dave Smith’s local youth centre was threatened with closure he knew he had to do something – so he took on a professional fight and earned enough money from boxing to keep the place open

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Father Dave Smith’s Sunday schedule rarely wavers. He rises early to prepare the morning service at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, in the inner west of Sydney, and then he delivers his weekly sermon. In the afternoon, he continues to serve his parishioners, this time acting as their boxing trainer in the gym across the road. The young men and women under his tutelage will listen to him calling out drills and work hard. He has earned their respect for acting not only as a spiritual guide but also for his exploits as a fighter. Father Dave is Australia’s oldest professional boxer, always training for his next opponent, whoever that may be.

Dulwich Hill is now a gentrified Sydney suburb lined with quaint coffee shops and book shops. The parish that Father Dave inherited in the 1980s as a young man was filled with gang fights and drug addiction. Heroin plagued teenagers in the area, leaving the young priest needing more than his pulpit to calm the storm he was living within.

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Life as an Olympic boxer: torture, money worries, darkness … and a dream of glory

Irish boxer Paddy Barnes lost his first 15 fights but, after winning bronze medals at the Olympics in Beijing and London, he is going for gold in Rio – and aiming to become the first Irish athlete to win medals at three successive Games

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Irish Olympic boxer Paddy Barnes will have billions of eyes on him on Friday. The 29-year-old has been given the honour of carrying the Irish flag into the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on his third and probably last Olympic Games. As Barnes prepared for the Games, making his lonely train journeys from his home in Belfast to his training camp in Dublin, he pictured the cheering crowds, flash photography and billion TV viewers, as those images helped to brighten painful sessions for the little man with the incessant fighting heart.

Barnes fights at light-flyweight, meaning he has to compete at a maximum of 48 kilograms. Outside of the competition, his normal weight is 58kg, while he is in training and eating healthily. Lacing up a pair of boxing gloves and fighting in a ring is often the easy part for a man who grimaces when he describes the horrors his body goes through to shed the excess 10kg. “It’s just not pleasant, I would go so far as saying at times it’s torture. You survive on the wits of sports scientists and dieticians and the plan they give you. When it comes nearer to the day of the weight, I genuinely can’t speak, I could walk past my best friend and not say a word. I’m not me then. As it gets closer to the fight, I just lie there in the dark. I’m not in a good way. The team know to leave me alone during those times.”

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