Bruno rolls with the punches at Croke Park sports conference

Paul Merson, Hope Solo and AP McCoy among the contributors at One-Zero event

Guest speaker and former professional boxer Frank Bruno on stage at Croke Park in Dublin. Photograph:   Patrick Bolger/Getty Images for One Zero

Guest speaker and former professional boxer Frank Bruno on stage at Croke Park in Dublin. Photograph: Patrick Bolger/Getty Images for One Zero

 

Frank Bruno cracked his standard one-liner early into the interview. It was a deep, sub-baritone “heh, heh, heh, heh, heh”. Then everyone replied in unison. “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.”

The former heavyweight champion and panto king boxed to earn money. He described how when he went into the ring it was to fight to win and he never really picked up on tricks, spitting out the mouth guard, holding his opponent or going down on one knee to catch breath.

Despite some beatings, a detached retina, depression and a bipolar diagnosis, Bruno remains the darling of Britain. And in the One-Zero sports and leadership conference talk shop in Croke Park, he was still an Irish luvvie. Oh no he isn’t ! Oh yes he is !

“Still ducking and diving, thank God,” said Bruno. “Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh.”

He could have been one link of an adversity theme with Arsenal and England player Paul Merson along with US soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and champion jockey AP McCoy speaking.

But the day was wider in breadth than back stories and campaigns as athletes, support teams, social media and data experts pooled their knowledge for entertainment and public consumption.

During Merson’s 11 years with Arsenal and 21 caps for England he sandwiched in a parallel life of drinking and taking drugs which also cost him his first marriage.

McCoy lived a maddening work life of denial to keep his natural 75 kg to 63.5 kg.

Solo, twice an Olympic gold medallist, was sacked from her job in the United States team for speaking out about the rights of international women players in the US, while Bruno was a poor black kid growing up in the south-west London suburb of Wandsworth to a Jamaican mother and Dominican Republic father.

“We are still treated like second-class citizens,” said Solo of the USA soccer team. “We have the highest viewership, more trophies and are the most successful team in history.

Personal cost

“We took $20 million in 2016 and the men lost $2 million. We are not as strong and we are not as fast. But we have value and we get paid less when we are bringing in more.”

The articulate Solo has become campaigner and a thorn in the federation’s side. Her stance has ensured a personal cost as the US federation will not pick the 36-year-old .

“You can’t ask for power. You have to put your foot down and take it,” she said to a question about the Irish women’s soccer team, who went on strike over similar issues.

“I’m really proud of what the women of Ireland did,” she added.

Solo lost most of her sponsors including “Just Do It” Nike, who would have preferred if one of their highest profile stars had not taken their slogan literally

Adversity maybe, but nothing is complete without a rugby element with Irish flanker Seán O’Brien and prop Tadhg Furlong also on the main stage.

Cork City captain John Dunleavy, MMA fighter Will Fleury and dual soccer and GAA player Sarah Rowe shared a platform in one of the ‘breakout’ forums.

“I think League of Ireland is under-advertised and undervalued,” said a critical Dunleavy. “We wouldn’t have James McClean without it.”

An articulate Fleury defended his sport.

“A lot of media attention on it [MMA] is based around blood sport. I don’t see it different to any sport where there is a high element of risk,” he said.

Contrasting ideas are the fuel of these conflagrations. Different views make them turn over and move forward.

“I think soccer has gone back a bit and GAA has gone a step ahead at the moment,” said Mayo player Rowe.

She should know. And the whopping attendance of 46,286 who watched her Mayo team lose to Dublin in last month’s All-Ireland final might just agree.

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