Poster boy with the happy-go-lucky nature was born to run for Munster
Zebo senior was 27 when he first met Lynda who was 18 while on holiday in Paris with a friend. Arthur followed Lynda to Cork after they married, but despite well over 25 years there – working the first 20 of them with Pfizer and latterly with Yves Rocher – save for the word “like” peppering his conversation, he still has his French/Caribbean accent, “which is pretty cool,” says Zebo junior.
Family holidays to Martinique were bi-annual childhood events, and while parts of the island are quite poor, he describes the majority as paradise. “That’s the only word I can use to describe it. It’s just beautiful. White sandy beaches, unbelievable scenery, mountains and palm trees. There’s a volcano and the beaches underneath when it erupted in 1906 or something like that are all black sand still. It’s class.”
Alas, the familial Olympic curse also hit Jessika, a 400 metre runner; injuries preventing her from reaching last year’s London Games and forcing her retirement at 27.
“She couldn’t get a good run of form going because of the injuries. After missing out on the Olympics she was a bit heartbroken, having previously qualified for the Europeans, and said the commitment was too great, not being paid greatly for it. She’s a social worker now, although she still trains a bit.”
Athletics can be soul-destroying, acknowledges Zebo with a rare hint of sadness in his voice, “especially when she had the talent to do great things”.
It also makes him appreciate his profession.
“Everything you want you can have, and you just can’t take it for granted because it doesn’t last that long. You’ve just got to be grateful that you’re one of the lucky few who has this job and loves to go into work every day.”
As well as heroes in the flesh, he watched in boyhood awe of Jonah Lomu and Christian Cullen “and all these cool payers”, and resolved to emulate them. “Getting the ball and trying to beat players, I just loved it, just trying to do things that I saw on the TV and try to get better and better and be like them.”
A broken leg when 14 at “Pres” stalled his progress, but in his penultimate school year he was part of the 2007 Munster Schools’ Cup-winning side.Despite being one of eight Irish Under-18 players on the team along with Peter O’Mahony the following season, Pres were mugged in the semi-final by Castletroy and, again sidelined by injury, it was through playing for the Munster Under-20s that he broke into the Munster academy a year later. For this, he says, he’ll always owe a debt to his club.
“After school I didn’t want to play for UCC, I wanted to try and play for the best team in the country at the time, and that was Cork Con. They had a great coaching staff with Brian Walsh and Brian Hickey and they were very good to me. Like, they had real honest chats with me, they were very knowledgeable and they believed in me the whole time. They gave me my chance when I was 18.