Sonia O’Sullivan: Hard to ignore the Conor McGregor story

MMA would not be my cup of tea but the enigmatic Irishman is an engaging figure

UFC fighter Conor McGregor said he was not surprised on Sunday (November 13) after making UFC history by becoming the first fighter to hold two UFC belts. Video: UFC

 

I was back in Sydney for a few days last weekend, a city which strangely enough I hardly know at all even though it’s so strongly associated with one of the most important events of my life.

Even when I’m in a strange place like that there are a few constants in my daily life that everything else fits around: an hour of exercise and a coffee.

This may not sound like much, but both are basic requirements to inject the energy into my day. And as simple and predictable as they may seem, within the two parameters there is scope for a lot of variety and flexibility.

When you mostly work from home, like I do, you also need something to get you out the door and moving, rather than be stuck facing the same screen all day.

It’s a way of engaging with people, the outside world, finding different opinions from what you read on the internet or hear on TV.

It’s even more interesting when you’re away from home, trying to work out where to go for a run, then where to sit and grab a coffee. And everything about Sydney feels different to me, the city in my head compared to the city that greets you on arrival.

Because when I think of Sydney the things that come to mind are the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House and of course the big event sporting event that happened there, 16 years ago now.

Only whenever I go back there now, I start to wonder did the Olympics actually take place in Sydney at all. I was so wrapped up in the Olympic bubble at the time that nothing else mattered outside the Stadium, the Olympic Village, and the little park where I used to run each day. I moved through these three constants and that was my only daily routine at the time.

On Monday morning, I went out early for a run in Centennial Park, another part of Sydney I didn’t see at all during those 2000 Olympics.

Second Captains

My Sydney, that year, was all about Homebush, a western suburb 15km from the heart of the city. Many of the Olympic venues still remain but it’s a place you are unlikely to visit unless attending a sporting event and the track has been rolled up long ago.

Even though I very rarely get back there it’s a place I often reflect on, and it always brings back good memories, definitely one of the best runs of my career.

Winning that Olympic silver medal, on the third attempt, was the realisation of a long-held ambition. And after 12 years of trying, getting close in 1992, failing in 1996, then finally putting most of the pieces together on that one night in September over 5,000 metres, it still means a lot to me.

Sporting stories

So to my run, and a coffee. Actually I went for a coffee first, along the way, as I had worked out it was best to walk up the steep hills around Sydney, as a sort of warm up, before circling the trails in Centennial Park. This was my third coffee shop of the weekend, I knew what I wanted but none had yet satisfied the other constant in my day.

As I was scanning the morning papers, my coffee arrived and I got involved in conversation with the friendly Italian barista. He was curious about what I was reading, and as he looked over my shoulder, asked me: “Do you like fighting?”

He was looking at the picture of Conor McGregor that I had open in front of me, with a report from his latest victory in New York. I told him no, I didn’t like the fighting part but I’m always curious to read up on Irish sporting stories, no matter where I am.

With that began an interesting discussion. Of course the barista had heard of McGregor, although he told me he wasn’t too keen on his antics outside the ring, or what he had to say so brashly about his opponents. Even if we are now led to believe this is all part of the sport of the hype of MMA.

“You should watch the Irish soccer team,” he said to me, news of which had also reached Sydney. Obviously, I said, and after beating Austria they now lead their group in the World Cup qualifiers.

When you include the Ireland rugby team beating the All Blacks, the previous weekend, this is clearly a purple patch for Irish sport, and it was the only topic of conversation in a small cafe in Double Bay in Sydney on a cool November morning.

Later, as I headed off up the hill looking forward to my morning run, I thought more about how sport brings so much interaction to people’s lives. It’s not just with the team aspects, such as the Irish soccer or rugby team, but also with all individuals representing Ireland, and there’s no doubt Conor McGregor is now one of those.

I didn’t watch his fight, and only saw a few highlights which in reality are the most brutal part of the event. It’s all hype before and not really behaviour you would encourage.

The entertainment

Roy Keane

It just seems that in MMA circles there is as much focus on the entertainment as the athleticism required, and you wonder how the two combine. Some will only value the sport, and may not like the entertainment. The true MMA fans probably can’t tell the difference. It’s all part of the event; the build-up, the fight and the aftermath.

Although for all the build-up for McGregor’s most recent fight, it almost looked too easy. But when you’re top of your game, that’s what you do, make what seems difficult to most people come across as routine, matter of fact, just getting the job done.

What interests me about McGregor now is not the fighting part. I don’t like to watch that, same as I don’t like to watch boxing, or car racing for that matter. But whenever there is an enigmatic individual involved then I am curious to know more.

And for that reason I couldn’t help being drawn into McGregor’s world, and in Sydney, strangely enough, and on the way back found myself reading the book by his coach, John Kavanagh, trying to find some insight on the man, up to now known only to the the purists.

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