The will to win, on and off the field

Top 1000: Driven, disciplined and organised – it’s no wonder sportspeople and athletes are sought after in the corporate world. But it’s tough to train and compete while also pursuing a career

Paddy Andrews

Private client manager at Metis Ireland /Dublin footballer

Paddy Andrews made his debut as a Dublin footballer in 2008. Given the nature of the sport as an amateur endeavour, he has had to build a career in tandem with developing his high performance sports life.

Now a private client manager at Metis Ireland, a financial planning company, Andrews has a “pretty hectic” schedule. While he works during the day, he trains three nights a week and his whole weekend is also taken up with Dublin football.

But he’s used to having a busy schedule, given that he started playing for the Dublin minor team while studying business and finance in Dublin City University. And his sports successes – Andrews has won six all-Ireland medals – help in the business world.

“There are definitely characteristics that you bring from your sporting field into your office,” he says, particularly where teamwork is concerned. “You don’t go on holidays and you’re not socialising [at the weekend], so you’re definitely more fresh than some of your colleagues,” he adds.


But he has found having a full-time career and training can be hard at times, especially when he was younger and playing inter-county football. “You miss out at summer holidays and hanging out with your friends for nine months, but you get used to that over time.”

Being a high performance athlete also helps with lessons around leadership and culture. “I was involved with Dublin when we weren’t as successful as we could or should have been and you learn pretty valuable lessons about the consequences of that,” he says.

“Dublin football is about continuous improvement and striving to get better. Studying for my professional exams and work is about evaluating yourself and striving to get better.”

Like most elite athletes, Andrews’ regime has been troubled by the spread of Covid-19, although he notes public health is most important in these times. “The hardest thing from a business and sports perspective is the uncertainty about when we can get back to normal,” he says.

Sporting perspective

It is difficult, however, from a sporting perspective – especially for those participating in team sports. When the Dublin fgootball team stopped group training, all of the players took some equipment from the team gym and set up a home gym. They were also given programmes to do from their strength and conditioning coaches.

“The biggest challenge is the motivation and the structure,” he says.

Whenever the GAA does kick off again, Andrews will be as ready as he can be as he enters into what looks to be a busy second half to his year – he’s also getting married in December.

And as he moves into the next phase of his life, how does he reflect on combining a career with also playing sports at a high level?

“If you see playing as a sacrifice, one, you won’t enjoy it and, two, you probably wouldn’t do it for as long as I did. It is a really an honour to be part of such a group of people. I never would have wanted anything else. I think it’s helped as opposed to hinder my career in Davy and now in Metis.”

Catherine McManus

Sales, Google/Sprinter for Ireland

Catherine McManus is on the women's 4x400m national relay squad and also does the 200m and 400m sprint. In her limited spare time, she also manages to squeeze in a full-time job with tech giant Google in sales.

But before joining Google, she had avoided working in a sales role, seeking to avoid onerous targets. Her mother, who previously worked in sales, told her that given that her life as an athlete revolves around goals and targets, sales would be a natural fit and with that McManus made the jump.

One constant over her life from the age of six was athletics and she now trains six days a week, two in the gym with the rest either on the track or in Phoenix Park for a session that usually kicks off at 6:45pm and continues until after 9pm.

Does that bode well for her social life? “I really don’t have a social life during the week. I have Friday off so I go to the cinema quite a lot. I don’t go ‘out out’, but I don’t really miss it because it was always that way,” she says.

And how does the high performance athletics interact with her work? “It makes things easier because I come into work and I know what I have to do that week, because if I don’t do that, my evenings will be more stressful and my weekends would be more stressful. If they’re more stressful, then I’d have to spend less time on my running and I don’t want that.”

Full-time job

But she is perhaps an outlier in having a full-time job and also maintaining a career as a sprinter. Some friends in athletics are students and some are teachers.

“I think I’m the only one working in an 8-to-6 job that’s not teaching so it is unusual,” she says. “I’d love to be a full-time athlete, but I don’t think that would suit me either. My interests are elsewhere – I do have an interest in business.”

Wherever her interests lie, it’s clear that she is extremely driven, as shown by the fact she graduated first in her class for her undergraduate degree. But being driven doesn’t necessarily require being first at everything, she notes. “No one cares if you come last if you try your best – I apply that in sport and in work.”

While McManus had been hoping to go to the Olympics this year, but that has been kiboshed by the spread of the coronavirus. For her, the government’s restrictions proved a challenge, but she’s still trying to maintain a routine. In the morning, for example, she goes for a walk that mimics her usual walk to work.

“The hardest part is trying to find the motivation when you don’t have an end goal and everything has a question mark. If I knew my race was on May 14, I’d work my training back from there.”

And the absence of an international season this year has implications for McManus who had been thinking that this would be her last year of competitive sprinting. The decision to move the Olympics to 2021 means she’ll likely stay on for one more year. “What’s another year?” she asks.

Rob Heffernan

Retired Irish race walker/Youth adviser with Bank of Ireland

Rob Heffernan didn't have any particular skill sets when he retired from athletics, but what shone was his ability to improve and work hard, he says. And in the past two years he's been busy, working as a youth adviser for Bank of Ireland, going to secondary schools to teach students how to manage money and how to manage loans.

“They’re trying to educate people to make smarter financial decisions,” he explains, adding that he ties that in with lessons on physical and mental wellbeing.

He’s particularly suited to this, he says, because he’s made plenty of financial mistakes. “I had no sense of how I spent so much money,” says Heffernan in reference to sponsorship funds he’d received when he was in Sydney.

And then when times were tough, and he was injured, he had to work with his brother on a building site to pay the bills. “I remember back in 2005, Marian [his wife] was working for me to train. We had to bring the rubbish to mam’s house because we couldn’t afford the refuse collection,” he says.

Heffernan has learned the hard way and is now well placed to pass on advice to the next generation. But that’s not all he does.

Professional athlete

He is also training other athletes and while his experiences as a full-time, professional athlete are clearly suited to that, they’re just as applicable to his job with Bank of Ireland.

“I don’t mind being on my own. Many people would find a lot of my work lonely, but it doesn’t bother me. With the misery and isolation from athletics, you’re so well equipped for the corporate world.”

The athlete in him also leaves him a bit restless for a challenge. And when that happens, “you have to apply yourself,” he says.

But how did he stay resilient in the face of the spread of covid-19? “There are always areas you can improve on,” he says, adding that he used the time to teach the athletes he works with to fine tune areas that they often don’t have the time to pay attention do.

“The advantage they’re getting now on people who have gone to ground and can’t train – they’ve had to push themselves through really tough times even when they’ve nothing to aim for, just their own self improvement,” Heffernan says of the athletes he coaches.

And how does he apply that to business? “If I were left to my own devices, I could get despondent, so in an management role you need to push through.”

Michelle Claffey

Manager, EY/International rugby player

Michelle Claffey works in EY’s risk advisory department, having joined in July 2016, just before she was selected to represent Ireland as part of its rugby team.

While the men’s rugby team is run on a professional basis, the women’s is run on an amateur basis and Claffey, like all of her teammates, have to find a way to keep funds coming through the door.

Her routine sounds particularly difficult. In September and October, training began at 6am, so she’d have to leave her house at 5:15 in the morning. But her employer is particularly accommodating, she says. “I’m very clear and up front with EY about my relationship with rugby and my requirements. EY are very much accommodating ... They’re very flexible towards it.”

For Claffey, the interaction between high-level sport and business is a helpful one. “You have to think very quickly on a rugby pitch and I have to think strategically in my work life as well. Rugby helps with work and work helps with rugby.”

It particularly helps, she says, with focus and drive. “If you talk to anyone in the team, we’re competitive in anything. We hope to be the best at everything we do.”

New arrangements

But as with anyone who combines work and high performance sport, Claffey has had to shift her priorities. “Family and friends realise the kind of things you have to give up in the short term. But between January and March, my parents don’t see me that often,” she says.

As both work and rugby are impacted with the spread of the coronavirus, Claffey has had to come to new arrangements. “What I’ve done is I’ve set out a timetable and a structure…We’ve been staying pretty active so it’s individually driven, but it benefits you in that you can be able to get better at certain things you couldn’t put time into before. It’s not a waste of time.”

For someone with such a hectic schedule, you’d almost think that the downtime is to be relished. But for people as driven as Claffey, it’s merely a time to do more work.