“My Dublin is  Hard-Working” – Conal Keaney

“My Dublin is Hard-Working” – Conal Keaney

Dublin Sportsfest 2019, on September 23-29, is the second multi-sport event organised by Dublin City Sport and Wellbeing Partnership to promote opportunities for Dubliners to participate in a wide range of sports all year round, regardless of age, ability or background.

Sportsfest2019 incorporates existing events like The Great Dublin Bike Ride, Park Run and The Daily Mile with additional special events for schools, women, families and senior citizens and all details are on www.dublincity.ie/sportsfest.

As part of Sportsfest’s #ThisIsMyDublin campaign, Conal Keaney (36), who has played senior hurling and football for Dublin for the past 18 years, speaks about the key part that sport plays in his and the capital’s life.  His company CP Adventures runs the bike rental outlet in the Phoenix Park and an outdoor activity centre in Russborough House and Blessington Lakes, Co Wicklow.

“I grew up in Knocklyon and my dad was heavily involved in Ballyboden St Enda’s so I was thrown down to the nursery there, probably two or three years before I was even supposed to be there.

My earliest memories of sport are going to the nursery and going to the Dublin games in Croke Park in the early ’90s with my dad. Our house was always sport-mad and my sister Roisin also played (camogie) for Dublin for years and is still playing senior for the club.

At an early age I was all into hurling and football and the natural progression after sixth class was to go to Colaiste Eanna where most of my classmates went, but I wanted to try doing different things and Terenure College was the best option for me. I wanted to try rugby, I wanted to try tennis and badminton and cricket and golf. I tried everything and loved it.

Every year in Terenure I was plucking something different from each sport to bring it to whatever sport I wanted, even things like the mentality of other players. I learnt a lot from the lads who were playing rugby.

I played second centre in rugby and played to Junior Cup level, got beaten in a semi-final by Blackrock College but I never gave up hurling or football. I’d play a football game in the morning and a rugby game in the afternoon. Like most kids you’ll try and do everything and just love it.

In fifth year I edged away from other sports to concentrate on hurling and football but I still love a game of squash or tennis and I play golf whenever I get time which isn’t too often anymore. I play in Hollystown GC with the (Dublin) footballers. The last time I had a handicap it was 10 but I really just put my cards in to get it and it’s hard to get time to play these days.

The GAA is clearly a big part of Dublin’s identity so you can’t miss the ‘Drive for Five’ talk at the moment. Can they do it? They’re such unbelievable favourites that you could probably put a handicap on them now to win it. It won’t be easy but ‘five’ would be historic and huge for Dublin and the GAA.

But there’s so much more stuff happening around the city now than just GAA, rugby and soccer. You’ll see lads on a stand-up paddle board coming up the Liffey or kayaking in Dun Laoghaire or cycling in the Phoenix Park. The more people get out and get active the less we’ll talk about obesity in kids and health problems and especially mental health problems, which is so huge nowadays.

All those problems can stem from maybe sitting at home or being on a computer. There’s a lot of time spent away from interacting with other people nowadays. Everyone nearly feels better after doing some kind of an activity, not necessarily GAA. It could be as simple as going for a walk or a cycle. Getting out in the fresh air generally makes everyone feel better.

We have the bike rental business in the ‘Park for nearly six years now. We have 300 bikes but 80 per cent of our business is tourists and we’re trying to change that, to get more Irish people, especially families, out cycling. When we started it I couldn’t believe the amount of young kids who had never been on a bike before because it was perceived ‘not safe’. Cycling’s something we always did at kids!

So we have all different projects to try and get more families and kids cycling. We have lessons with instructors and things like maps and treasure hunts and and cycling to see the deer. When I was growing up I always imagined that if you wanted to go kayaking or climbing you had  to have some experience and couldn’t just turn up at an adventure centre on your own.

But of course you can. It’s all guided, there’s instructors to help and everything is open to every level, right from beginners. For me the important thing is that no one should be afraid to let their kids try new sports. In our centre in Russborough we have a new zipline over 100m long that goes down through the forest like a little tunnel and the kids love it. It’s the parents we have to bring back down off it!

I really feel you should let your kids do as many different sports as possible, obviously always in a safe environment; but don’t pigeonhole them because you don’t know what they’ll like. You see the same in the GAA; people trying to pigeonhole kids into picking hurling or football when they’re 12 or 13. Let them play as much as they want until they gravitate to one or the other.

I’ve never come across any kids who were disappointed or upset after trying a new activity. They mightn’t be too positive about being challenged at the start but, by the end, they love it and want to come back. Sport helps people develop in so many ways. Some kids are shy, but doing a sporting activity can help them to make friends in an easier way than any other walk of life.

Working as a team player is part of sport and also part of business and life, so sport gives you building blocks for life. It really develops you as a person.

If I hadn’t concentrated on hurling and football maybe it would have been golf, I really love it. I’ve always loved the challenge of trying different sports that I’m not good at with someone who is, to see if I can be better than them. Whether that’s being competitive or just loving a challenge I don’t know, but even my time off seems to be sport-related. Playing for Dublin (hurlers) again this year I’ve heard more than enough about ‘age’ but I don’t believe it’s any barrier in sport.

If you’re 22 or 70 it makes no difference, there’s an activity there for everyone. You mightn’t be able to go to the same extremes as others but, at any age, you can always definitely get out and get active and do stuff, especially in Dublin now.”

To see the full #ThisIsMyDublin Video Series, check out the playlist below

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