Con Houlihan

Con Houlihan’s artistic view on staying in sport and life

The next Jumping the Gun podcast will be recorded tomorrow. I wrote this impromptu piece below when my friend was thinking about giving up running altogether this evening. I referred to my long lost friend Con Houlihan for a sense of perspective.

by Feidhlim Kelly 18 March 2014

I rang my friend this evening to go for a run and was surprised to hear that he wasn’t going to go for his regular run. I thought the excess of the St Patrick’s weekend had gotten the better of him – he had rang me earlier in the day for a lift to his car – but I was even more surprised when he said he was thinking of not running at all anymore. 

Twelve years of dedicated running and pounding the miles have taken its toll on him –  more in the general sense than a physical toll. His dream goal appears more like a mirage in a desert than a clear view on the horizon.  

Anyway, it got me to thinking what would my dear departed friend Con Houlihan have to say about this. Con, for those who don’t know, was a leading journalist in Ireland for many years and passed away in the summer of 2012 during the Olympics at the age of 86. He was my best friend and I typed up his copy for the last four years of his life. 

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Con and I was reminded of a true reflection of his loss today by an article on bereaved parents in the health supplement of The Irish Times: 

“Inside we are broken and nobody can see the scars.”

When I attempt to think great thoughts and impart some piece of wisdom I generally refer to my days with Con. A “what would Con say?” type of thing.

I instantly understood the conundrum and instantly thought of Con’s question when I would swing through the middle door of his house where he was perched in his high chair of the tv room and tell him about my latest activities. His simple question generally consisted of: “was there drink taken?” He would always sigh and give a disappointed slight shake of the head when there wasn’t. I used to smile to myself but as the days and years roll by I believe it is sound advice to stay the course in your endeavours. 

“Was there drink taken?”

I’m not advocating drinking alcohol but when things are going awry, maybe you just aren’t enjoying it. Con believed he would never become a professional athlete because of the sacrifices involved – drink being one but mainly in the sense of freedom and not being tied down to one pursuit. 

I remember leaving his house on a summer’s evening to run in a 5k around the Liberties for St James’s Hospital in a vein attempt to arrest the slide of my “running career.” I was bedecked in elite adidas gear worn by the professionals, given to me by Ian Chaney, and Oakley shades and I was going to come back into my hero with a first place finish. 

Not only did I not win the race but I got beaten by a guy wearing earphones. This was a glorious defeat – beaten by someone who wasn’t really trying and my battered ego was at an all-time low. Admittedly I had a bad cold but this was depressing. 

I sulked back into 2 Martin Street and was told to get the wine – the usual evening ritual for Con. I obliged and I think I even partook in a glass (I wasn’t drinking at the time) – well a cup, there was no glasses in the house. Con always joked “I don’t need glasses.” The defeat was put into perspective and was his general way, he didn’t actually give any direct advice. Sitting there watching Sky Sports News and listening to the wireless eased the pain of the latest setback.

I was sick of running and wanted quit the whole f***ing thing. But I didn’t. I kept tipping away and let go of what and who I thought I was going to be. I took the copy for Con and reassessed. I decided I’d run how I wanted to run and enjoy it. Forget the dream goals and how good I thought I could and should be. “F**k that,” I thought. “I should be enjoying this otherwise what’s the point.”

So the point of this story as I reminisce in my loss of Con is to ask yourself when you feel like giving up on running or whatever it is that you have a passion for: “Was there drink taken?” 

It doesn’t have to be alcohol but maybe it’s the coffee and danish down in the local café or going out on a trip to the cinema with your boyfriend or girlfriend or even just burying your head under the pillow and sleeping it off. Don’t let your running  overburden you. Brian O’Driscoll’s success and swan song last weekend was exciting and heart-stopping but remember it came with great sacrifice. I thoroughly enjoyed his, and Ireland’s, success with a pint down in Gibneys.

You have to chase your dreams and believe in yourself and as 1996 Olympian Shane Healy says: “You’ve got to be aggressive. It’s like the third lap of the 1500m. Dig in.” But you should also temper it with the wisdom of an old man who must have suffered many losses and fruitless journeys along the way. Was there drink taken?




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Feidhlim Kelly

Feidhlim Kelly

Con Houlihan once told me that tomorrow is now. In taking on this venture I’ve started to try and put his words into action.

I worked for Con from 2007 till his passing in 2012 taking down his copy and a whole lot more. I have a Con Houlihan section which will go in to more depth on that.

I’m a long-time contributor to the Irish Runner magazine and am also working for the Irish Examiner.

1 Comment

  1. Darragh Mccashin
    March 18, 2014 at 8:32 pm — Reply

    Nice work

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