Among the Winter Olympics dreamers, Brendan Doyle’s story hits home

Former Garda was on the verge of taking his own life in 2013 but now has Beijing in sight

Nothing gets the smartarses limbering up quicker than Paddy at the Winter Olympics. And with good reason, most of the time. It is not our milieu. I have never felt more out of my depth in this gig than when I had to traipse around Sochi in 2014 trying to find somewhere that sold suncream. I didn’t know a lot about winter sport heading to those games but the one thing I was confident about was that it would be cold. Couldn’t have been more wrong.

We were up the top of Rosa Khotur mountain watching the women’s downhill and we may as well have been at a Munster final, such was the strength of the sun. All the seasoned Winter Olympics hacks were resplendent in their t-shirts, shades and suncreamed visages. Meanwhile, the man from The Irish Times was sweating endless rivulets of shame in his fleece and long-johns, with his nose scorched like he’d fallen asleep on a beach in Ibiza.

Thankfully, the actual Olympians who go out and ski and sled and slide about in Irish green are far more serious about their endeavours. Which, when you consider the paltry amount of notice anyone back home takes of them, makes what they do all the more fascinating. You dedicate your life to something, you empty enough of yourself into it to make it to the Olympics and yet there’s a fair chance they don’t even recognise you in your local Spar.

That’s why every Irish Winter Olympian’s road to the start line is a deeply personal one. Not only are they not funded to any significant extent, there’s no real appetite to find them a bigger slice of the funding pie. They are on their own, doing it for themselves. There’s no one else to do it for.


Home-grown dreamers

For the most part, the Irish team in Beijing five weeks from now will be made up of second- and third-generation kids from the US and the UK and beyond. They will hopefully be joined by a handful of home-grown dreamers, fighters of their own good fights. The next 10 days or so will decide whether or not Brendan Doyle will be one of them.

Doyle is a 36-year-old Dubliner who missed out on competing in the skeleton in Pyeongchang in 2018 by a single, miserable place. You would have forgiven him after that for just getting on with his life. He would doubtless reply that getting on with his life is precisely what he did. There are some circles in life you can’t leave open.

Brendan Doyle was 28-years-old as he stood on the platform at Malahide Station in 2013, waiting for the train to pass so he could jump in front of it. He had his mind made up. For four years, he had ground his way through brutal mental trauma, the comet’s tail of an arrest gone wrong early on in his time in the Garda. Now it was time to bring an end to it.

He had only been a young lad, not long out of Templemore, when he was called out to a domestic disturbance in May 2009. Next thing he knew, the man of the house was coming at him with a kitchen knife and though they were able to overwhelm him to make the arrest, Doyle came away with his thumb slashed and his little finger in bits. He went to hospital to get it patched up and as far as he was concerned, it was just a flesh wound.

If only.

There followed four years of night terrors, PTSD, panic attacks, insomnia, the whole bit. In the beginning, Doyle would get into his car and drive around Dublin when he couldn’t sleep. After a while, it became so bad that he would drive to Cork or Sligo and back to kill the hours until dawn. If he did manage to sleep, he would wake up screaming, convinced that he was being attacked with a knife again.

It all came to a head in 2013, when he decided there was nothing for it but to end his life. The only thing that stopped him was the voice of a young girl behind him on the platform that day, telling her mam that she was really looking forward to their trip into town. It pierced the fog on Doyle’s brain for just long enough to stop him going through with it.

“I thought to myself, ‘I can’t do it in front of her. She’s just a kid,’” he told the website a few weeks ago. “So I stood there, and let the train go by.”


In the years since then, Doyle has been a mental health advocate, unafraid to tell his story and unflinching in the detail of it. Where the skeleton comes in is partly down to chance but mostly down to his own drive and talent.

Doyle had been a decent athlete growing up and when he needed something to pull him out of his funk he got back to the gym and back to running. At the National Track & Field championships, he ran into an official from the Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association who told him he was always on the look-out for converts. Doyle had dabbled a bit away back in the 2000s and the official recognised him and wondered had he any lingering interest.

Seven years and endless thousands of euros later, Doyle is within touching distance of the big show. His final qualifying event is in Altenberg, near the German-Czech border, in the middle of next week. With two races to go, he is right on the brink of getting there. A couple of top-10s will most likely be enough - he finished third in his last event a fortnight ago in the US so he is rounding into form at the right time.

Fingers crossed.