Super Brain Blog – Season 3 Episode 11

Your body is an instrument not an ornament with Anna Geary

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In this episode I chat to the effervescent Anna Geary about 

During this episode we discuss

  • Scrolling social media and self-sabotaging
  • Body Image
  • Tenacity and hard work
  • The importance of failing
  • Anna’s new documentary for RTE on why girls drop out of sport
  • Why the language we use matters
  • Dancing with the stars
  • Retiring at 27


BodyWhys have lots of valuable resources on body image 

Guest Bio

Anna Geary is an athlete. Not just any old athlete, but one of the most decorated players in the history of Camogie. Competing at the highest level she has four all Ireland wins to her name. Anna not only excelled at this tough sport, she was the Cork Rose and gracefully danced her way to the final of Dancing with the Stars. She has become a much loved household name with a broadcasting career as a sports pundit and as a coach on Ireland’s fittest family. To say that Anna is very glamorous to boot is an understatement. Anna is also a qualified performance coach who shares her wisdom and workouts on Instagram, as @AnnaGCork, you gotta check her out.

Over to You

If you would like me to take a deeper dive into any of the issues discussed in this episode please do let me know in the comments below.

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Sabina Brennan 0:00
Hello and welcome to Super brain the podcast for everyone with a brain. My name is Sabina Brennan, and my guest this week is Wonder Woman. Well, at least the very closest thing to wonder woman that I know. Anna Geary is an athlete. Not just any old athletes, but one of the most decorated players in the history of Camogie. Competing at the highest level she has four all Ireland wins to her name. For those of you listening outside Ireland Camogie involves sticks, helmet and a hard ball that travels at about 100 miles an hour. It terrifies the bejesus out of me as a kid. But Anna not only excelled at this tough sport, she gracefully danced her way to the final of Dancing with the Stars. She has become a much loved household name with a broadcasting career that spans sports punditing, if that’s verb, to coaching on Ireland’s fittest family. To say that Anna is very glamorous to boot is an understatement. Anna is also a qualified performance coach who shares her wisdom and workouts on Instagram, as @AnnaGCork, you gotta check her out. She’s absolutely fab online. And actually, very welcome Anna. And thank you very much for joining me today for Super Brain you’re a perfect guest, because you’re like, you’ve always been like a superhero. Okay, so what I really want to kind of talk about actually is what you do on Instagram. Because whilst there are like, you just scroll through Instagram, and there’s tons of people doing fitness stuff, and wellness stuff. And what I love about you, is about what you’re doing with the fitness stuff is; You do the fitness stuff. You set little challenges for people. You work out yourself, but you very much underscore that this is about being healthy and being fit. And you also do a lot of posts around body image and body positivity. That’s something that you very consciously decided to do?

Anna Geary 2:04
Yeah, like Sabina I think with the world of social media. Now, for anyone that’s on it, the vast majority of people are affected by it in some way, either in a positive way, but equally in a negative way. And I think sometimes we go on to social media, and we’re scrolling. And I myself am guilty of this. What are we looking for? Like, you know, why are you scrolling? You know, and if we are in bad form or not feeling good about ourselves, we often find ourselves gravitating towards things that are going to end up self-sabotaging, and we’re going to actually end up feeling worse. Because if you’re not feeling great about where you are in your body shape, maybe your jeans are a little bit tight. Hands up there, I’ve been that person in the last 12 months. And you’re looking at someone that maybe is in the shape of their life, because maybe then we’re caught for time in the last 12 months, they’ve allowed themselves in lockedown to maybe set themselves up in a healthy regime. We’re comparing ourselves to people that aren’t in the same life or environment as we are.

Sabina Brennan 2:58
I just saw that the other day like I don’t know if you follow on on Instagram, and they have nice stuf fand interesting and you know, it’s light stuff and…, I’ve noticed lately, they’re showing and there was literally one before I came on here, Eva Longoria I think it was does this amazing trampoline routine while on a Yacht. You know, like, seriously, seriously, you know, like I’m struggling to do my work out

Anna Geary 3:24
Very like us – yeah, yeah

Sabina Brennan 3:25
… and I’m looking at a 46 year old and she’s not only trampolining a complex routine, but it’s on the yacht. But also, what’s really actually is starting to niggle me is, in lockdown actually it’s happened, because for a lot of celebrities, they have nothing to do you know, and so they’re doing these reveals so and so so and so 56 reveals her eight pack on Instagram, and you kinda go, okay, could you please just show me so and so so and so actually doesn’t have an eight pack? She’s fit, she’s healthy. She’s in the right weight. And do you know what? Fair Play to her.

Anna Geary 3:57
You’re right in saying that, like, a few months back, I started asking people around body image and I said when you think about the word fit, what picture do you conjure up in your head? And I asked him to be really honest. And you know, we did different polls and questions and I said, does fit for you mean skinny? Does fit for you mean strong? Does fit for you mean, you know, a healthy person was a little bit of exercise and what does it mean? And the vast majority have said that when they think of a fit person, they think of skinny they think of abs, they think of, you know being really no lean, no extra body fat and like that’s not realistic. It’s not a realistic portrayal of what anybody male or female is meant to look like. And unfortunately, we’re bombarded whether it’s in tabloids, whether it’s in social media online, we’re bombarded with this perfect body that probably less than 1% of people have and also what people don’t realize is like you might get yourself into the shape of your life, but it’s a very short term pain because it’s not sustainable. Like there’s no way you could maintain sculpted 12 months a year, because we’re not designed to be like that. I think for me, you made a valid point. What I wanted social media to be is a place of like normality. And a place where people can strive to make improvements. And I’m all about that, because I think sometimes, we’re nearly looking at people saying, “Look at her there, and she’s trying to lose a bit of weight or trying to get fitter or trying to get stronger. An we’re nearly repremanding people

Sabina Brennan 5:25
Yeah, I think that’s a very, I don’t know, whether it’s very Irish thing or,

Anna Geary 5:28
iI think it’s a general thing

Sabina Brennan 5:30
you know, go for it, go for whatever you want to go for. Like, I’m not against that. And I really do admire people who worke that hard. And I talk about like, in one of my books, I talk about Ernestine and, I can never remember her name.. But she took up bodybuilding at 56, she made the Guinness Book of Records at 82, as the oldest bodybuilder, she has an eight pack, she’s a personal trainer, she trains other people, she’s amazing, I admire that I do aspire to have nice muscle tone myself, not just for looks, it’s really, really important. It’s really important for your brain health, physical exercise is one of the best things that you can do for your brain out. So I’m always pushing it. From that perspective, aerobic exercise is critical, but so too, is building muscle mass. So it is important, I’m not anti that. And a lot of people think you lose muscle mass with age No, you don’t lose it with disuse. And there’s every reason for you to try and regain that muscle mass, it’s really good for you from a health perspective. And it also will help protect you from falling. And that’s really important in later life, because once you have one fall in later life, that makes it more likely you’ll have more falls, and that actually increases your risk of developing dementia. Yeah, it’s absolutely critical.

Anna Geary 6:45
I think that’s one thing as well from when as you get older, so when you move from your 20s, your 30s, to your 40s, you start to understand that fitness isn’t about how good you look in a swimsuit, or how good you look in the little black dress. It is about the functional movement, it is about your mood and your energy and your sleep, and all

Sabina Brennan 7:05
and your bone density as a woman, when you get older, you really need the strength

Anna Geary 7:09
of your brain, like you know, your memory, your concentration, all of these things,

Sabina Brennan 7:13

Anna Geary 7:14
Yeah and I suppose that’s what I’ve tried to put across and you know, in social media is that our health shouldn’t be just attached to what size jeans we are or what we weigh on the scales. To be honest our value can’t be attached to that, because our bodies are designed to fluctuate, whether it’s that time of the month for a woman, or whether it’s, you know whether or not you’re in

Sabina Brennan 7:34
winter time. Yeah.

Anna Geary 7:36
So you know, your cortisol levels, if you’re really stressed are going to be a lot puffier, you’re probably going to weigh more. So if you attach yourself to a size or a weight, it really can be detrimental. So it is about feeling good to yourself. I’m all about that, like looking good is one thing, but feeling good is so much better. And like some of the messages that I’ve got from people around them saying, “I might have put on weight this year. But doing your classes made me realize that my body isn’t just about how it looks. And I feel great that I couldn’t do a press up before and now I half can. You know, and I love that because I just think there’s so many negative connotations attached to exercise because it is inadvertently connected to how we look. But if we remove that, like think about young people, when they’re rolling down the hill, or jumping around the place, they’re in a bouncy castle. It should be enjoyed and I think if you can enjoy the process nearly, then you’ll get all the benefits but you won’t have this, “oh, I’ve got to do it” attitude. Like I’m encouraging to have “I get to do it” That’s the attitude I should have.

Sabina Brennan 8:35
I’m kind of screwed up a bit in that way as well. Now, you know, I mean, my sense of self worth has always been linked to my size. I know it’s very hard not to grow up in this society. Without that. I am a real all or nothing person when it comes to everything that I do. I don’t see any point to doing something unless you’re going to do it like 100% I would just really go for it. But I also am very good at that. And I remember I played basketball in school. I’m only five foot one and a half but I was good at basketball..

Anna Geary 9:05
You had the tenacity. I’d say

Sabina Brennan 9:07
I had the tenacity. That’s what it was I was that fighter. You know, No, you are not taking this ball off me and I don’t care if you’re taller, I’m going to duck and get round and get the ball.

Anna Geary 9:16
I would have picked you on my team for sure.

Sabina Brennan 9:19
When it comes to pro sports on sometimes I’m looking at soccer we would be I’ve been a soccer family rather than a ga family. But I sometimes look and watch players playing at the highest level and they’re lazy and I’m going “You’re getting feckin’ half a million a week run for the feckin’ ball will ya. Run back and defend – will ya!

Anna Geary 9:41
I know

Sabina Brennan 9:41
You know. I just I just don’t get that you have all this amazing skill, but then you got to work hard as well. And that just really annoys me when they don’t do that. I just…

Anna Geary 9:51
Well one of the greatest things I think what a coach of mine when I was in second level school said to me “hard work can beat talent, if talent won’t work”, and it’s something that has stuck with me, like it started from sport, but it worked in my education and in my career afterwards that I was okay. I might not be the most talented person on the team or for if I’m going for a job, but I will be the person that works hard. Because I think, you know, if you think what you said there, but your 5ft 1in when you’re doing something you would you want someone in the trenches with you, you want someone, when you’re doing something, whether it’s on a team or on a group project, in college, or in you know, on a team and in work, you want someone that’s going to do the hard work, do the stuff you don’t want to do, but you know, you have to do. And that is one of the greatest things that I have learned from sport is that sometimes you just, in order to be successful, you have to put in the groundwork, you know, and it’s something that has never left me and long after sport and my performance careers ended. It’s kind of something now that as I move into the media world, and I’m, you know, going up against people that are far more experienced than I am, it’s bringing that work ethic, you know, and that energy, that high level energy, I think it’s so vital. Like when I graduated from college, and we’ll get to that in a while I worked in recruitment for a while. And one of the things that I learned from recruitment is that your energy will introduce you before you open your mouth, before you tell everybody how brilliant you are, or all of the degrees, you have, or all the experience. It’s your energy, and we control our energy 100%. Yeah, you get out of bed in the morning. No matter what’s going on your life you make the decision of what kind of energy you’re going to bring to yourself, to people to your work. And if that is backed by your work ethic, it’s amazing the impact that you can have on people.

Sabina Brennan 11:43
Yeah, no, absolutely. So I do this myself, and I say it to people, you do it a lot naturally. First thing you do when you open your eyes, this is non negotiable. First thing you do when you open your eyes in the morning is smile. Yeah. And it just set your before you’ve had a chance to think this is going to be a crappy day, before you’ve had the chance to think that you did something shitty yesterday or you failed in something else. Just smile because it actually releases feel good hormones. And it just kind of sets you off on that. I also think it gives you that real sense of control. Now I’m actually in control of this day.

Anna Geary 12:16
And it’s very hard to be in a bad mood and smile at the same time.

Sabina Brennan 12:19
Yeah, but you can smile when you’re in a bad mood. Like often people think smiling is reactive, but it’s not. Just fake it till you make it really works with smiling. Eh yeah, I’m so with you on so many of those things. You know, if you have talent and you work hard, you increase the likelihood that you will succeed, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will succeed. But your hard work, you can’t underestimate. I always say that they’ll put that on my gravestone, you know, either ‘At least she tried’ or ‘she gave it her best shot’. You know, that kind of way.

Anna Geary 12:51
Again, I suppose it’s even back to some of the things that I’ve learned from sports. And like the idea that even though working as a performance coach, and working in mindset, because I learned from sport that like you can be marking a player that’s just as skillful as you are maybe more skillful than you. But if you can out work her, and you can say – like that idea that, you know, it’s hard to beat somebody that never gives up. And you have that. And I suppose it’s even relinquishing the fear of failure. When you think about young kids, whatever, no matter what they’re doing, we tell them that no matter what, you know, just try your best. And even if they fail it doesn’t matter, go again, but somehow that that changes as we become adults. And we become so afraid of failure, and so afraid to try new things for fear. It’s seen as a weakness. Because if you go for a job and don’t get a promotion, or you go to get your place in a team or try a new workout, and if you don’t do it well, the first time Ah well you must be weak at it And I just think it’s so …

Sabina Brennan 13:46
yeah, no failure, I don’t know where or when it got this negative connotation. But it is essential to learning

Anna Geary 13:53

Sabina Brennan 13:54
cannot learn, we learn through trial and error. And it would be far better that we do that. And I mean, error in the sense that says, if we take the sports analogy, and you’re, you know, standing in front of a goal to try and teach someone or to try and learn how to score a goal, right, you learn how to do that through trial and error. And that’s the mark of a good coach. You know, they understand that. It’s shaping our behavior, and that’s how your brain learns. The way I see it is, there’s nothing wrong with failure. The only thing wrong with failure is if you see it as the end result, rather than part of the journey.

Anna Geary 14:26
We’re nearly a weakness driven society now. So if you look at like, you know, even the exam results, right? What do people naturally gravitate towards? What are the ones that you failed in? What are the ones that you only barely scraped, and we won’t look at the ones that we got the top rgrade in and it’s the same with sport, we’re constantly… If I said to you, ‘I want you to go away now and improve’. You would presume I mean, your weaknesses, but we forget that you can also improve your strength, you can take your strengths from good to great. So …. kind of reminded me of that, that with a team and like it’s the same in a work environment. Everybody brings different strengths to the table. So there’s no point comparing yourself to your corner forwards or your midfielder, because you don’t have the same skills as them. And if you all have the same skills, it would be no good. So it’s like reminding yourself at times that, you know what I might’nt be great at XYZ, but I bring something else. And we’re nearly afraid to acknowledge that,

Sabina Brennan 15:20
but it’s that thing of, you know, and I say to people in terms of say, if people are recovering from Long COVID, and they have brain fog, as consequences and physical fatigue and mental fatigue, and I’m saying to them, you know, it has to be baby steps, it has to be baby steps, your body’s been through this terrible virus, etc. You cannot compare your physical levels of activity, to before you were ill, you’ve got to compare to where you are today. And then tomorrow, you’ve made a tiny improvement. You can’t keep saying, oh, but I used to be able to run 10k. And now I can only walk to the hall. Okay, but let’s see, can you walk two feet further than the hall tomorrow? That’s progress. And if you keep focusing just on that 10k, and the ‘how far you have to go’, you’re never going to get there. It’s a recipe for failure. It’s focusing on yourself as the benchmark. You set that initial goal. You know where you’re going, and then you forget about it. And you focus on the little steps of that journey.

Anna Geary 16:21
Yeah, like we do that, like if I was with a sports team, and we’d set our end goal and maybe to win the title at the end of the year. What if you’re in the middle of January, and it’s wet, and it’s rainy, and you’ve muck up to your knees. That seems like a very far away possibility. So by setting those little milestones like that idea, what did they say? What’s the best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time?

Sabina Brennan 16:40
Yeah, yeah exactly.

Anna Geary 16:42
Steps because they keep you on track. And then if you are wavering, or you’re struggling, knowing that you’re just that little bit away from the small milestone, it’s amazing the satisfaction

Sabina Brennan 16:52
the satisfaction. Yeah, yeah, ’cause having to wait for reward from that long term goal is too far. You have to have rewards along the way

So tell me, we’re always a sporty child. I’ve seen this lovely photo on your Instagram, you have posted a little while ago of you as a kid, but you can really see your face. And it’s that big smile. And I mean that in the nice, big smiley face. Or you can just see, happy child. Is that true? Were you really happy child,

Anna Geary 17:18
You know what, I was very energetic child, Sabina, and that, that hasn’t really changed. Like my mom said. I never wants to go to bed when I was younger, and I’m still the same. I still don’t want to go to bed, the fear of missing out. And I think that energy’s been great. I grew up on a farm. My dad was a farmer, my mother was a teacher. My dad is like sports mad, like, absolutely sports, mad, loves it. So I was always destined to be put into sport. But then again, they never knew my ability, they never knew what kind of a player I was going to become. And I wasn’t put into to win medals or Captain teams or win All Irelands, I was really put into it for the social inclusion, you know, to be confident, self-esteem. To kind of express myself properly, to work off that excess energy is more of it as well. And I think that was brilliant. Because from a young age, there was never that pressure there. Now as I got older, and as I got better, I suppose that pressure came from coaches

Sabina Brennan 18:10
so potential was there. How did you… and I would imagine, and I highly recommend, you know, if people have kids, we always said that with ours into sport, into sport. It’s essential for girls, and we have a huge problem that girls aren’t involved enough in sport, or they give it up too early. And that’s a big problem.

Anna Geary 18:29
I’m actually, I’m doing a TV documentary at the moment around that exact thing. Why did girls drop out of sport, and for me, it’s changed my perception of it as well. I’m a very competitive person. Like one of the most competitive people you could probably meet, like, if we are playing tiddlywinks, or you know, I want to win. But it made me reframe sport and success and what it is. It’s not about winning titles. It’s about it’s about getting the same number of girls back in the gates The following year, and keeping that enjoyment going. And, you know, it’s definitely something that I realized I’ve a real passion for because of what I’ve learned from sports and like, I have learned what I’ve learned from sport, regardless of the All Ireland medals and the titles I’ve won, I’ve learned the life skills because I’ve been in it. I’ve experienced the setbacks, I’ve learned how to cope with failure, I’ve learned how to cope with not being the best, you know, with losing, with winning, learning to work with people that might not necessarily be people I like, but have to respect them because we have a collective goal, even empathy. All of these things, you learn them from sports, but I think the reality is that again, go back to the negative connotations attached to sport that parents may have because of a negative experience that they had. It’s like the opportunities that are there in sports, regardless of ability, but what you learn at any level, to me, it’s a no brainer. Excuse the pun to get involved.

Sabina Brennan 19:51
It’s just positive life skills, transferable life skills, everything you’ve talked about there is about life, so I’d be really interested now to see that documentary to see kind of what comes out

Anna Geary 20:02
It was eye opening for me for sure,

Sabina Brennan 20:03
I would imagine a lot of it is around body image. And I think that’s why I sort of half jokingly introduced you as Wonder Woman. But I think you’re a very important role model. And that’s why I also put in actually in the intro, that you’re very glamorous, because I think they’re not mutually exclusive. You can be feminine, and glamorous and pretty and a real hard sports woman, if you want, Do you know they’re not and I think there can be some of that, because part of it is labeling. ‘Oh, she’s a sporty type. She’s a sporty girl, you know, oh, she’s a real pretty girl. She’s a girly girl. She’s a bit of a tomboy.’ And so they have much wider connotations. And I’m fascinated, anyone listening to the podcast knows, I’m fascinated with the concept of self and how the brain creates self and how we create self. And really, it’s just a made up story. And you can change that story however you want. But a lot of that story that you tell about yourself and who you are comes from what other people have said to you. And frequently, it can be something like that, that somebody said to you as a child, oh, you’re a real girly girl. And so you just do the ‘girly, girl’ stuff. And it can work positively. You know, somebody probably said to you somewhere along the line, or she’s a brilliant trier. She never gives up. I suspect somebody said that to me too. And I kind of went, yeah, I like that one. I’m taking that one on. And that’s who I am. I don’t mean that I consciously did. But it was a positive reinforcer. But unfortunately, for every positive reinforcer, there’s negative ones. And, yeah, that’s something that I’m sure you are as well, in terms of your performance coaching. And that side of things is to try and get people to question where they get their notions about themselves. And for the most part, those things are untrue. And you know, you could be 30 years of age, and you’re holding on to something that was said 25 years ago, and you’re letting it limit your life.

Anna Geary 22:01
Yeah, and it is, to me, I think language has a massive part to play in. You know, how we see ourselves, like you said, the stories we tell ourselves, and even that word sporty? Like, what is it like even the word sport, I think sometimes can have negative connotations attached to it now, because people think it’s elite. You know, it has to be a pressure environment, it has to be intense. You know, it has to mean commitment and discipline, things that not everybody wants to be a part of. So like that word, because people have attached ideals to the word sport, that that’s why people think, Oh, I’m not sporty, or that’s not for me, because that’s what they associate with it. It’s the same I suppose. I… when I was younger, I would never have considered myself to be either a ‘girly-girl’ or a tomboy. But I think as I grew up, I realized, I love high heels. I mean, I love fake tan, I love dressing up, I was always the girl in my friendship group where we could meet for something and they’d go “oh where are you off to?” And I say, ‘nowhere’, like, I have all these clothes, why wouldn’t I wear them even now, I’m like I’ll be damned I am going on, I want to wear some of my clothes that I haven’t worn them and so long. So I always would have dressed up because again, I love you know, fashion and shopping and something that my mom used do with me. So on a Friday evening, we’d go like to the shopping center, we’d go browsing, and it was like almost like a mindfulness experience with a switch-off for my mom. So again, like you know, that confirmation bias what you see others do you start to mimic so

Sabina Brennan 23:32
Yeah yeah

Anna Geary 23:32
So I started doing that switch off. And I realized, Oh, I love how fashion makes me feel. And if you want to be glam, and I started wearing clothes, and then I suppose it was again, going back to the whole idea that I could be both I could be a fierce athlete on the pitch and be really determined and make sure that nobody got that ball off me without a fight. But equally then afterwards in the changing room, I could change into a dress and pair high heels going out the door. And I think that is really important that girls need to know that you can be both you can be one or the other if you so wish. But you also can be both simultaneously. And it is really important that we see that but also even how we describe sports people. Tearing down the stereotypes, and valuing people not just as the player they are but the person they are as well. Sometimes people forget there’s a person behind the player. So it is kind of to make sure that what you’re saying about the player is fair, and it’s the truth because although you often see like Twitter and these these such talk, things being said, Your uh, you know that that player didn’t intentionally grow to have a bad game. They didn’t decide they’re gonna like mess up for an own goal. So why then we go to the extremes of slashing them and crucifying them because that’s someone’s child, someone’s sister, someone’s wife, or husband. I think we need to make sure that we remember that language is really powerful and also the language that we tell ourselves if we talk to ourselves more than we talk to anybody else.

Sabina Brennan 24:55
Yeah, we do yeah

Anna Geary 24:55
And you never talk to your friends the same way you talk to yourself because you wouldn’t have any friends because we can be cruel to ourselves – whether its how we look, how we perform at work. I’m a bad mom I’m a bad dad Dad, how was the house clean? I never remember to defrost the chicken. Like whatever it is we always just cutting ourselves down with the language that we use. And I think we can only switch that and do nothing else. I think we’d have a lot more positivity in the way that we see ourselves.

Sabina Brennan 25:21
Yeah, no,, that’s very true.

Anna Geary 25:22
Don’t get me wrong. I used to get in trouble with referees all the time, because I still have earrings in and they’d be like, I had a little bit of a scar on, part of my pre-game ritual was always to put tan on because I felt great. I mean, I’m from a small rural village in North Cork, I can assure you, you know, we don’t get more sun than anyone else. But like, the color of my skin would have said otherwise. It is all about, like, doing what makes you feel good. But then not being berated for it one way or another. Whether you wear fake tan, or glamorous or you’re not, you know, and I think it’s just we like to put people in boxes. You know, we all do, we like to like, that’s her, she’s the sporty one. She’s the intelligent one. She’s the reliable one. You know, he’s the dependable person, whatever it is. And I really welcome seeing people changing things up and doing things differently.

Sabina Brennan 26:13
Yeah, Feck the stereotypes, question the stereotypes, and just do what you enjoy. That’s what’s really important, I think when it comes to sport, but it’s hard, it’s going to be a challenge for girls. Because ultimately, it’s having a really negative effect on girls physical and mental health.

Anna Geary 26:28
Yeah, well it is because I suppose there’s long term benefits to staying in sports and even the team environment, your friends, if the social aspect of sports like when I think about the opportunities that are you have been privy to because of sports, and I’ve got to travel, I went to Luxembourg in 2008, during my degree on work placement, and I went to the GAA club to join in not too loud, we could play but I knew was going to be a support structure. For me, it was going to help me find a house. You know, I was in a foreign country where English was the third language, you know, and I only had even certificate proficiency in French. So I needed allies. And it was amazing. Having that network of people through sport, they didn’t know me from Adam, but because I played for it was the cheese one of our own lessons of after. And I think that, for me is a really important thing that sport brings is that you might not know anybody. But if you go into university, say, and you go down to a local sports club, immediately you’ve got connections, you’ve got people that are like minded that are going to help you and I think we overlook the importance of those things. Absolutely. The physical benefits are there, you know, the mental benefits, put the social benefits, I think of sport, to me are some of the most important things that you learn.

Sabina Brennan 27:39
Yeah, and I think that’s what a lot of people are missing. With the pandemic and lockdown. You know, we were talking about teenage girls, but I think, you know, sport for teenage boys is hugely critical, you know, they suddenly have this upsurge of testosterone in their system, and that can come with the tendency towards aggression. And what better, more positive way to channel that then through physical Sport and Exercise and, you know, in an appropriate way, like it’s really brilliant, I want to kind of move on to your time on Dancing with the Stars. And I’ve just been looking back at some clips, and I’m just looking, oh, my God, your back your arms, your muscles. You were really just, oh my god. Amazing.

Anna Geary 28:25
My life. Yeah,

Sabina Brennan 28:27
I mean, the shape of your life,

Anna Geary 28:28
I played top level sport for 12 years, and I was in better shape.

Sabina Brennan 28:33
That’s what I was gonna say to you. So that came from the dancing, where were you actually working in the gym, as well as the dancing so that you could dance better? One of the things I love about when I’m actually doing weights, you know, when I’m being in my good self, in terms of exercise, is I feel stronger, I feel sturdier in my body. You know, obviously, my clothes fit better. But I love that. It’s very hard to describe, you just suddenly flip into the hole. Yeah, I feel sturdy and strong. So you would have already been in pretty good shape. But what point of your career was that? Were you still playing,

Anna Geary 29:07
though I had retired from top level sport with the intercounty team, say in 2015. But I was still playing morgy at club level. And so this was January 2018, when I did it, so it was still a few years on from it. And obviously your muscle is there, you know, and I still had the good core strength and I still had built up a lot of muscle. Both one of the reasons why actually I said yes to dance with the stars. There was two reasons I said yes. One was because I missed the challenge. And that was one of the brilliant things were playing with cork was that every time you went out and played a game, you know what, there was always a risk that you weren’t going to come out the right side, but your opponent was going to beat you and I missed that challenge of every week having to stand there and produce the goods. And the second reason why I did it was to do with body image because I felt I would have loved role models that looked like me when I was growing up. And it was I’m five foot five It was a sprint. When I was younger, I played kimochi for years. So I’m very muscular and very athletic in my frame, I’m very curvy as well. So a very small waist and I caused my quads and my glutes from playing sport for years, I’d be much stronger. And it wasn’t like I wanted to show younger girls, but women in general that like, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to a body. And I’m not better or worse than anyone else. But I’ll be damned if I don’t be proud of the body I have, because I worked hard to get it. It isn’t your typical that you’ll see that motor muscle. And as you said, like my back muscle, and I remember my dance partner call. He’s actually one of the cast now instructing. And he turned around and he was just like, we had to do this pose where I was leaning forward, and he was catching my hands behind me. So my back was really on show. And he was like, Oh, my God, you have so much muscle. And my fear genuinely was that he wouldn’t be able to lift me because I was I was strong, you know. And I did, I weighed a lot because of the most. And it was a genuine concern to me. He was like, don’t worry about it. Like, that’s my job. You just worry about getting out there. And I’m, I’m worried about holding you up there. But it was brilliant. Because the messages that I got from people, the sense of worth, they had to go, I had a woman messaged me saying that her daughter had been rowing. And I’d given it off because she felt that her shoulders were getting too big. And she didn’t want to look, you know, this idea, again, the stereotype of masculine. So she gave up when she was very good. And she watched one of my dances and turned her mom’s like, Oh my god, she’s got back muscles like me, and the funnel in which he wanted to go back training. And I said, Oh, you know, nothing else in this. Like, if I’m fueling people’s ambition to look whatever way they can because their sport, it’s like the idea that you’re looking at what your body can do, rather than focusing on how it looks. You know what that is? Yeah, it’s an instrument, not an ornament. I think that’s the kind of message that I wish, you know, that I had more of when I was in my late teens, early 20s. I was like, you know, if I can help people, well, then maybe that’s gonna help me too, because I’m not gonna lie. Like, there was some weeks I was in wardrobe department freaking out at the costumes that they wanted me to wear. Because it was taking me out of my comfort zone. I was like, Oh, God, that I’m sure or that’s too low, or that’s your revealing. And it was just kind of, like letting go of the body insecurities. And because I was was was, I’ll be honest, I was comparing myself to my fellow contestants, the professional dancers, but oh, my God, I don’t look like them. But now you’re back. Right? And no joke. When I say, Christ Anna, you were in the shape of your life. And there was times you felt so insecure about your body. That made me realize this, it doesn’t matter what shape we’re all in, we’re still going to find something to be insecure about. And while I was busy looking at one of the girls, that was five foot 11, her legs have dry balls. She was looking at me going, Oh, I wish I had our core. I wish I had her arms. So we’re all looking what everyone else has. So it’s kind of they’re like, geez, you know, what we may as well just accept we have the body we have, I’m never gonna have long legs. I’ve worked for five, what I can work on other aspects of myself. And again, this goes back to that sense of improvement. You know, you can improve that there’s no embarrassment to feel you want to improve yourself. It’s just about you need to be realistic in what you can do. Because I think if we set our expectations too high, that’s where we’re then in danger of failing them and feeling crap, because we’ve expected ourselves to get to a body size or body shape that’s just realistically unattainable and exhausting. Like, yeah, dancing for 10 hours a day, Sabina, there was no way I’m going to look like that again, because I was dancing. I mean, let me tell you, if you hold your hands out by your sides, and do nothing, don’t lift weights, just hold them up by your sides for 60 minutes alone every single day, you’ll feel the tone. And so I suppose I had to be realistic with myself afterwards when it all ended. I mean, even when I found my body shape changing again, I was like, Oh, no, I want

Sabina Brennan 33:53
to hang on to that spelt

Anna Geary 33:54
and toned body. But I realized if it’s not attainable, no, it was still hard to do, because everything ended with a bang. But now I look back and be like this person calling you didn’t really appreciate the condition that you’ve got your body into at the time. And I think we’re all guilty of that at various stages in our lives. So now I start telling myself if I’m having days now, maybe I’m doing an Instagram Live. And I’m like, all, you know, I’m feeling a little bit bloated, or I’m feeling a little bit, you know, not at my leanest. Why would your 70 year old self say to you right now, she’d probably kick you up the app and say I would kill to have your body like get out there and be proud of it. So that’s kind of something that I do to get myself anxious of feeling the way I do. And sometimes there’s days when my seven year old self would say put on your gym gear, go for a walk, you know, again, go back to it’s not I’ve got to do something it’s I get to we get to exercise we get to move like when we’re 70 8090 we’re relying on our younger selves to have ourselves in the best condition possible when we’re that age. So it’s that’s how I start thinking about things to pull myself out of roles when I’m feeling a little bit net myself.

Sabina Brennan 35:00
Yeah, as you just said, They’re dancing with the stars ended suddenly. And so you had how many months with this fabulous community and on TV and and prior to that, four months? Yeah. Four months of challenging yourself achieving, being in the spotlight looking beautiful having people to

Anna Geary 35:22
know, but you know what I mean, running around in sequence.

Sabina Brennan 35:28
And then it’s suddenly gone.

Anna Geary 35:31
And ripped out from underneath me, like a lot of people will say, oh, did you find it hurts when you you got all the way to the final. And as a driven person that you lost, losing didn’t actually matter, and I can’t

Sabina Brennan 35:46
get you lost. You’re a finalist, like you, you won so many things, only one person can win the title. But everybody who takes part can win, where it’s very much for me, it

Anna Geary 35:57
was a big challenge,

Sabina Brennan 35:59
you’re gonna win it,

Anna Geary 36:00
what you don’t want. It’s funny. I never thought about the final. Because I was like, there’s so much that’s out of my control, because obviously, you can dance your heart out. But if you don’t get voted through, well, then it doesn’t matter. But I genuinely just kept going back to those milestones was week after week. Every Sunday was my milestone, if I got to that Sunday, it was like I rewarded myself. And you know, congratulations on my seven, I got you through another week. Because for me, the reward was getting to stay in that environment for another week and getting to dance as my job. You know, I was just 10 hours a day. And it was fun, like exhausting, but absolutely gray crap, I made some brilliant friends that I’m really close with now and that I feel like no one on my life. So we had a really good gang as well, that year, we socialize together afterwards. And we’d be in no to each other’s dress rehearsal giving each other sneak peeks. And it was really good supportive environment. Even though we were all really competitive, we want to stay in, it wasn’t at anyone else’s expense, you wanted to win, but in a weird way, you didn’t want to see anyone else go home. So you know, it was a really good environment to be in. But when it ended, I wasn’t prepared for that. And I’ll take people back a little bit just to give a quick backstory. So back in 2015, I would have made a lot of decisions. So I would have decided to retire from playing top level sport. I was 27 at the time and Captain so we just want the already to 2014 it was quite unusual.

Sabina Brennan 37:22
Can I just ask you that? Why did you decide to retire at 27? though? It’s

Anna Geary 37:27
a great question. And I think for me, I am much like you I’m an all or nothing mentality. And if I like if I’m in something, I give absolutely everything of myself. And around that time I’d gone back to qualify as a performance and mindset coach, and I suppose we had to delve into kind of our values and what we stood for and what we wanted out of life really big questions. And I started to realize that that idea of surviving or thriving, like was I surviving or thriving, and I felt while I was thriving in sport, I was only surviving in my job and not like not that what I was doing wasn’t great. It just wasn’t a great career for me. So I started to realize if I don’t change this, I’m going to drift. And I don’t want to drift to a point where I look back 10 years into going I really should have made changes a few years ago. So I knew I wanted to change career, I went back study again. And what I realized is I can’t do both. I can’t give everything off myself a top level sport, and then give everything off myself to forge a new career. Because we all know we’re starting a new career, you’re at the bottom rung of the ladder you’re doing doing sociable hours, you’re doing the things that no one else wants to do. And I didn’t want to be the player that was missing training in the lead up to big games because I had to fulfill commitments to work on it. Okay, if I can’t do both, well, then the guilt wouldn’t have allowed me to have half our stuff. So that okay, no, I had stepped back. So I made that decision when I stepped back that it was someone else’s turn to give everything off themselves to the jersey, and then I threw myself into work. So even though I retired from cork at that time, I had the promise and the prospect of a new career to kind of keep me interested, keep me excited, keep me distracted. Because when you make a big transition in your life and you leave something, it’s really important to fill that gap with something else because that’s where then you go down the wrong road and maybe you use other crutches like alcohol or gambling as your as to fill the gap. So I had this idea of working hard towards a new career to distract me. But then we don’t think with the stairs, I didn’t have anything else to fill the gap. So like that we adjust our lives adjuster put us in, in a pandemic, we build new habits, we you know, kind of our brain gets used to certain routines. And I was used to the routine six, seven days a week of getting up every morning and from morning to night dancing and suddenly finished the road was pulled out from underneath me and it was over and everyone else went back to normal life. You know, with their jobs, the protesters flew back and flew back to all their various different homes all over the world. And people had told me that you’ll be exhausted now accidentally You should take some time off. And I listened to them. And you know what, if ever, there was a time that I should have listened to my gosh, because I know me more better than anyone else does, I should have filled that gap with something else. But I didn’t. And I took time off. Or I remember my boyfriend at the time, my no husband and I went on a holiday after downstairs, worst holiday ever the poor devil, I was just in the depths of despondency, like I was like, Oh, you shouldn’t be done right now. And instead, I should have filled it with something else and new work project or something to just distracted me in that transition period out of it. So if anybody’s listening and you’re, you have something coming up a big change, like it’s then you need to throw yourself into something else. Because otherwise you’re alone with your thoughts. And we all know being alone, our thoughts when we’re not feeling our best, isn’t isn’t a good thing, or it’s not advisable. And like I had a brilliant time. And ultimately, that’s what it was about, I come off this wonderful experience. And I was looking and searching for something else to fill us. And it’s only now I realize I should have done something to distract myself in the in the immediate aftermath of us. So I will never be back again. And I think just to say, it made me realize as well that like, when you’re listening, we often will if we would be decision to make, or if we’re looking, we looked at everybody else for their advice and their opinion. And we forget to ask ourselves, because ultimately, it’s your life. If you’re involved. Nobody knows you better than you. And I learned that the hard way that time when I never made that mistake again. So it’s Yeah, it’s just sometimes the breaks need to be better timed, rather than in the immediate aftermath of something.

Sabina Brennan 41:36
Yeah, no, I totally agree. When you’re an actor, you learn that, you know, you get a gig you get, you know, and you join this whole new family. And it’s all about that, and it’s all consuming, and you’re the character and all that. And then it’s like that it’s happened, it’s just gone. And then you don’t know whether you’re ever going to get work again, that could be your last gig ever.

Anna Geary 41:54
How do you How did you cope with that?

Sabina Brennan 41:57
That’s very well. Not very well, to be perfectly honest. And it is a form of grief, I think when you finish, I know it sounds awful. But I’m quite happy to say that, like, you know, when you’re doing something that is all consuming for you that you love, when that stops, that’s a grief, it’s a loss, and your body has to have and your brain has to have time to adjust. And just stopping and thinking and thinking about loss doesn’t help you move forward and keeps you kind of stuck behind. And I do think you know, it really is critical. And I know you’ll hear people talk about, you know, in the mindfulness space about, oh, there’s an awful lot of buisiness do you know, and there is sometimes we do that. But in some moments, the being busy is really, really useful to, to carry you through to a space where you can start to deal with. And I also think it helps, I think one of the reasons it works is it helps put what you’ve just done or finished in perspective, that it is something and now you can have something else. And so I do that I actually tend on your bit the same, like we’re not friends, we don’t know each other. But I can just see by all the pies you have fingers in, you have things on rolling, there’s always sort of something going and I’m the same, you know, I have several kind of projects on the go. And sometimes it can feel like you’re spinning too many plates. Yeah. But I would much rather than have nothing to do. I can’t cope with the nothing to do. I just can’t and it sends me navel gazing. And is this what it’s all about. So that works for me. And I think for different people, different strokes for different folks. And you know, if it doesn’t work for you, well, then that’s absolutely fine. Some people who probably gave you the advice about being exhausted, they may just have needed to sleep for two weeks. And that works fine for them. It is about getting to know your body and your needs and your emotions and kind of how you cope with things.

Anna Geary 43:47
And even having a support structure as well though, is really important that those one or two people that you can call upon to be truly yourself. You know what I mean? Like that isn’t that you don’t have to put up the front. And you don’t have to pretend you’re fine. Because like you just said, I suppose in the grander scheme of things, like dancing with the stars, in many people’s eyes was just a to, like, Get over yourself. But like you just said it became my life for four months, everything revolved right. And I think my friends and family were sick of me talking about it, because, you know, I was dreaming in steps. I was dreaming Charleston and jive. And I had one or two friends that I could really confide in to say, I don’t know why I’m feeling like this, but I’m feeling in this lull. And I miss it. You know, being able to even acknowledge that to somebody and not feel judged and not feel that you have to pretend to be a certain way. That is really important. And if you only have one person that you can go to. And what I would say to people is be that person for someone else to you know, yeah. Have you ever actually said to your friends, you know what, I know you’ve got the job and the kids and the care and the house and your life looks perfect. But you know what if your life isn’t perfect, you can always pick up the phone to me and tell me that You’re looking at the four walls of your bedroom and you’re really hated and you want to kill you know your dog because it keeps backing during zoom meetings, but I will be that person for you. I think that’s a really valuable part of friendship. We don’t tell our friends that enough. And sometimes then people don’t know where to turn to when they are having a crap day because they allow you to have a crap day. Well, we all have crap days, and

Sabina Brennan 45:20
it’s all relative, you know, yes, people will always be dying. But like if your cat dies, that’s your cat dying? Do you know, it’s important to do you know, and I think what you’ve said, is really valuable. And it’s part of what you know, because people could look at you and go, Oh, my god, she’s good at everything she does, and blah, blah, blah, but you’re a human being underneath it all that has all those same sort of feelings as everybody else. And I did read in an interview where you said, Kevin, he was your boyfriend

Anna Geary 45:46
at the time.

Sabina Brennan 45:47
Yeah. But he saw the loneliness in you. And he knew how much it meant to you. And it is a loss. It’s definitely a grief. And one thing that kind of jumped out of me, I kind of remember when I was an actor like that, you know, anytime I acted or had, you know, had a storyline, it was like that Dancing with the Stars every time. Wow. And I remember having a conversation with a friend one time as well. And I remember saying, Well, what I do is so bloody frivolous, you know, it’s not meaningful, like, like to be doing something that sort of helps people or has meaning. But what that person said to me, again, a bit like you, it really struck a chord with me, and she said, what you do something very important, and I send it out, I’m an actor, I’m in the soap or whatever. And you said, Yeah, and that matters to people’s lives at home, you give them something that they can watch, and enjoy and switch off from their stress. So you are doing something that’s meaningful, and that matters. And so it is sort of the same, I think, you know, we’re dancing with the stars with all of those things. I think people who have never worked in television, and I think what social media feeds into it, you know, are dreadfully critical. They forget that it’s a human being there and say awful things about the size of people or you know, that I mean, it’s incredibly hurtful. But there is this sense that somehow I don’t know, when a person there are not a real person there

Anna Geary 47:11
on Well, I found I did find that even during Dancing with the Stars, I made a very conscious decision in that I was okay, this is my experience, it’s a once in a lifetime chance. I don’t want that to be like Mars by negativity, you know, and I have no problem with nobody being constructive, critical. Like I’ve grown up in the world of sports, it’s parent, yes, it’s great. But if somebody wants to be nasty, just because you know, they’re in a bad headspace, and they want to comment on how you’re looking in an old fish or, you know, whatever it is, I don’t need that. I don’t want that in my face, you know, you can back off. So one of my friends used to take charge of my phone and the live show day. So he would be just if there was any negative comments, delete them block people that were unnecessary. And again, I have no problem with somebody. And I said that it was like, if somebody has a critique, leave it there, I want to see that. Because maybe I can tweak it or improve myself. But I think what if somebody is just being nasty, for the sake fish, absolutely, go ahead and delete it. And it was the best thing ever that I did, because I wasn’t exposed to it, then

Sabina Brennan 48:14
that is a super super decision. Because as you touched on earlier, as human beings, we’re primed to the negative. And there’s good reason for that. But we have to remind ourselves that we will always notice the negative before the positive. So we have to make a very conscious effort to work on looking for the positive. And I always try and say, Look, if you say something negative about yourself to yourself in your head, don’t allow yourself say something negative till you said five positives to yourself, because you really need even that amount to counteract the negativity that you will

Anna Geary 48:45
have. But 100 positive messages come in, and you’ll see the one negative

Sabina Brennan 48:51
still see the negative that

Anna Geary 48:52
will be the one you’re looking at and go oh God, do I sound like that? Do I Do I look like that?

Sabina Brennan 48:58
So you know, I think you were so right, just not to view it. Because exactly that, and also it would have just stuck in your head. And instead of performing being in the moment of your dancing, you would have been thinking of that nasty thing. And so that would actually impact on your performance. And I think you did a super wise thing to just get rid of us. And actually, there’s another thing you’ve just reminded I listened to a little bit of a live you did the other night and you were talking briefly about meditation. You were saying you like the little one minute one zero.


I’m the same I can’t really do that kind of meditation meditation. But the thing is, and that’s what I frequently try to explain to people probably they’re sick of me saying it but I think you’re a prime example of it is dancing on that show was meditation or anything where you are fully in the moment doing what you’re doing is meditation.

Anna Geary 49:51
That’s why I love exercise because it is mindful for me because if you’re lifting a weight, or doing a burpee, or do you have to be focusing on what you’re doing You will fall over you will hate yourself of something or you hurt you. So you have to switch off from your toe. I can’t be thinking about putting the benzos if I’m they’re trying to do away,

Sabina Brennan 50:08
you have to be spent. Am I pushing them out? And that that’s super I can’t do burpees though. Oh, awful, awful, awful thing.

Anna Geary 50:17
That’s full body overall body.

Sabina Brennan 50:19
Day. Oh, God. Yeah, no, I have to get back at my all or nothing thing now is, yeah, like I knew my book was coming out and I knew I’d be doing TV and having photographs taken and all the rest. And so I like everybody else, my weight has just gone up and down over this pandemic, you know, and I got in shape I was walking every day. But then here’s what happens me then. So I’m all in I’m in good shape. And I’m feeling really good. And you know, the clothes are fitting, and it’s really nice. And the thing then that I’ve been preparing for, which was to say this book launch means that I am pulled in all directions, like every minute of every day for about four or five weeks, and I can’t fit in the workout. And then suddenly, I’m going on No, I have to start all over.

Anna Geary 51:03
But you know what that is about revising expectations. And I when I work with clients as well around mindset, it’s kind of around building a habit that’s sustainable. So doing five minutes every day is better than doing 20 minutes one day and then not doing it for another week. So I have a strive for five. So I’m like if you could pick five minutes with a lapse in between work meetings, first thing in the morning on your lunch, break, five minutes of exercise, pick five exercises, 60 seconds for each exercise, it’s done. And if you were to do that three times a day, four times a day, that’s 20 minutes of exercise, right? It doesn’t always have to be sweaty, I think, again, sometimes people say, well, in order for me to be working hard, I need to be sweating. You could be doing like I break things down for people in such a way. So if you have three cups of coffee during the day, and you’re buying kettle three times, and every time you do that,

Sabina Brennan 51:52
I’ve seen that one, she has a lovely little video.

Anna Geary 51:54
Yeah. And if you do that, that save you do 30 squats, right 30 squats a day. So every time you boil the kettle, that’s 10 squats, 30 squats a day in a week, that’s over 200 squats in a month, that’s over 800 squats, if I told you to do 800 squats in a month off the battery, but I never do that. But if I told you with just 10 squats, every 10 Press ups or 10 runs up and down the stairs, every single time you’re boiling the kettle, it’s far more achievable. So that’s a big thing with us when it comes to exercise is reevaluating our expectations. So if you were to say, right, on the days, I’m really busy, I’m going to do five minutes. And if I can get in, you know that various stage in the day, great. But if I only do five, well, you’re still gonna be feeling better about yourself, you’re still going to get physical effects, the mental effects, and you’re keeping the habit going, because that’s the problem, it’s when we break that habit. It’s the habit acting on over again, thinking about it is always worse than doing it. So doing as I say people doing five minutes is better than doing no matter.

Sabina Brennan 52:54
And I do have that I keep one set of small weights in my bedroom over by my dresser because I have a little six minute arm workout. And I often do that just passing by and kind of go there they are right do that. Yeah. And I always feel much better for it. I just wanted to say, obviously you absolutely adored Dancing with the Stars, what would be your ideal job now? Like it’s very clear that you love what you are doing and all the things you’re doing. But if it was all just to come together and work for it, what would it be? Would it be in television presenting? Would it be in? Oh, that’s

Anna Geary 53:28
it’s a really good question. Because there’s loads of different aspects to it. Like I suppose what I love about my job is that it’s central around people. And I really feed off people’s energy. And I know that and I love the even though I’m someone that loves being organized and loves routine, and love certainty to a point which you know, the world of media does not give you at all, as well as the benefits of working with people at way that certainty. You know, and I love the dynamic relationships that you have loads of different people on set. And I love TV broadcasting but I think radio broadcasting is something so intimate about it. And and as you’re removing that extra pressure of what you’re wearing, how you’re looking, and I love that medium, I’ve grown up with the radio always being on in our house and things can really connect with people on radio. So I love that and I love my role as a speaker as well. I love being able to feel that I can come into a group of people or into a workplace and talk to them about something and have a lasting impact and and not like them the feeling reenergized for like four hours. That’s it, then the next day they forget about it. But being able to kind of equip them with tips like to better their health and their mindset and practical ways they can improve their lives. So I would love to be someone that can combine both that I could speak nationally and internationally about ways to feel better. And then like that Radio TV broadcasting because like when I think back, it was back in 2015. Not that long ago, I was working in an office environment, you know, nine to half five and I’m not telling people to just, you know objects and leave their jobs. But what I’m saying is beyond the bone Three of what people would think if I leave a pensionable job and a stable career was this life now where I don’t have any Sunday dread, I don’t drag on back to my job after holidays, because I’m doing something that I see. And not just that I love, but that I feel, I can actually contribute to, you know, that I’m using my strengths. Now, in the role that I was in, I just didn’t feel that I was getting the best out of myself. And we all want to feel that we’re getting the best out of ourselves. So like, I love talking clearly. The fact that I get paid for it many different levels. I’m like teaching and I’m just like, you know, the teachers when I was growing up that you reprimand me for talking in class, and I’m like, now who’s laughing? You know, and it’s wonderful to feel that I can do that every single person that’s listening here has something that they’re good at, that you Yes. And it’s just about finding a way to bring that into your career in some way, shape, or form. And if you do, you’ll feel all the better for us, you know, and you would feel all the better from being around you as well. Because Yeah, I would always say people are two types of people, you’re either an energy drain, or you’re an energy train. And depending on your life circumstances, we can kind of you know, flip between both. But if you can, more often than not be that train, be that person that encourages people that drives people on that lifts people up and that you do for yourself as well, you’ll live a little bit better, like your your house won’t change your job career might change, you know, the actual physical things might change. But if you can make yourself feel a little bit better, it means your life is going to be that little bit better, because you’re going to go through it, looking at things in a more positive way. Rather than feeling Oh, is it only Tuesday roll on the weekend? That’s not a Well, yeah,

Sabina Brennan 56:42
I mean, that’s just That’s no way to live. And I did that I did that for 15 years, I worked in a job. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And, and a lot of people are doing that. And we can’t all kind of give up. But a lot of people love the jobs that you and I didn’t like me, and for a lot of people, what we do would be their idea of how, like, people say that to me. Oh my god, what are you terrified going on the telly? No, we can’t wait for that. I’m like,

Anna Geary 57:11
don’t tell them but I do it for free.

Sabina Brennan 57:14
Don’t tell you to do it for free? What are we just thinking back to what you said? Like he only get one bite of that cherry? So you know, we spend so much of our time working? really do look at it and see, is there any way you can make it better? Or is there other aspects of your life where you can get that balls that we happen to get out of our jobs, because not everybody is going to get it at their job, but you might make your enjoyable by getting it out of a hobby or sport or you know, something else?

Anna Geary 57:43
And everyone listening should do that, like you should, okay, because it’s very hard. And I often do this exercise with groups of adults and you just see them squirm and cower in a corner of like, Okay, if, you know, if I went to read through and said, you know, name a weakness for me, you know, the bathroom? They go, I give you five, you know, yeah. Then you ask them, what’s your strength? Yeah. And everyone’s like, I don’t want to be the person. And that’s one of two reasons. Number one, some people might never really acknowledged what they’re good at before. And that’s the mindset of language. But also, it’s the fact that you’re terrified of judgment, like who is he or she to say that about themselves, they know like that, like, even that one loves herself is seen as a negative, it’s seen as an insult, you know, this notions concept.

Sabina Brennan 58:26
And then it’s self help. You’re saying, you got to learn to love yourself. And the same person saying that it’s gonna look at your own look at ourselves, looking in the mirror, think she’s great.

Anna Geary 58:37
She loves herself. So it is and I would say if you if you wrote down everything that you were good at the top of my list, when I did that exercise, it was talking, talking to people, they were the two things that are really similar to what can I do to find myself moving towards a job or a coffee or whatever, where I was talking and with people and I find myself where I am no, no, things change, people change. But ultimately, I think it is about doing that and forgetting the judgment of people. That’s why your support structure is so important. And know we can cut people out of our lives that are negative sometimes because they might be your boss or a family member.

Sabina Brennan 59:11
But it’s about number one, and you can ultimately if it gets too bad. Yeah. What’s the point of self preservation? Yeah. Surround yourself with positive people. And that doesn’t mean surround yourself with as often you know, people will talk about celebrities. Oh, they’ve Yes, man all around them, you know, tell them how brilliant they are touch. That’s not what that is. You know, people that you can trust are people who will keep an eye on you and who will say, you know, that’s not good for you, or that’s not really you, Anna, or you’re a little bit rude to them. You know, that’s people who loves you. They’ve got your back. They’re saying it because they know Yeah,

Anna Geary 59:47
I’ve a great story, actually very quick one about my dad. So about your support structure, like your support structure isn’t always people that encourage you and tell you, you’re great until you’re marvelous. Sometimes you do need your support structure to give you the perspective or pull you back and say hang on there and I was second, you need to come back down to earth. So back in 2010, we were out of the big finals, so I had a chance to do some radio commentary on radio one. And for any of your UK listeners, Niala. Murthy is one of the greatest sports broadcasters of all time. And I had an opportunity to do a call commentary with him and Radio One, he’s actually that probably was the impetus for me wanting to get into TV and radio broadcasts. I loved the balls that came from live energy. To me, it was the same as working out with the pitch and all that and finally day, and I remember being up there and I was just like, he was one of my heroes. I was just so nervous, but so excited. And he was so engaging and welcoming. And I remember I met my dad the next day after the match. And because I’d come down late the night before and the train and I said what you think, you know, desperate for that? validation? Joy, Dad, what did you think? And my dad was reading the newspaper. And he was like, yeah, you know, it did well, but I, you know, I wanted more. And I was like, probing and I said, Well, yeah, what was your favorite parts? But what did you did you think I made a really good comment. And he paused and I remember him looking at me dead certain dog. He said, Did you hear about me all my heart like, no, no wash. He was like, Johann Murthy just announced his retirement. And I was like, wow. And my immediate reaction was to feed it with smoke. And while I was one of the last people to do a live broadcast with the new halmer, high tech, and instead my Dad, I’m security, knowing this was going on in my head said, Imagine that man has given decades to broadcasting and an hour with you when he decides to call it a day.

Absolutely disgusted

that my dad would say that. I don’t remember being quite annoying. Just nothing to do me. No, I was quite young at the time. But now I look back and realize he was just bringing him back down to earth. You know, he’s like, no, wait on the job well done. But it was only one gig like, Don’t get too carried away with yourself. And I laugh now. And he still tells me to the day that he didn’t do that. But I remember he did. It was a great lesson. You know, you can’t be the Irish as well to be pulling you back down.

Sabina Brennan 1:02:03
Yeah, sometimes they trample all over you and they don’t like people get you know, that’s

Anna Geary 1:02:07
not always a good thing. But not always a good one.

Sabina Brennan 1:02:10
But I think it’s something that I kind of learned a while ago. And I kind of pass it on as well that if you were going to believe all the good things that are said about you, you have to believe all the bad things that are said about it in the press, if that’s it as well. So actually, really, what you do is you work to reach the standards where you feel you’ve attained what and actually really, then what others think, doesn’t matter. That’s very hard. But you do you know, you have to find that balance. And it’s a dangerous route, if you do go too far down that of taking the praise, because then it’s a very hard argument with yourself then about the negativity. I’m all for it. Like I mean, you know, I’m all for criticisms. That’s how we learn. It’s important. But I just think social media has done this thing that allows people to just be plain nasty, which is really nice. And that’s something that you’ve achieved, you know, is that you’ve always come across as this really, really good natured. You’re competitive?

Anna Geary 1:03:09
Well, the way I see competitiveness as well is and I remember I was actually asked this during dance with the stairs. They said, Oh, she’s, she’s the competitive one. And I was like, I started going through the list of the people that were all doing nothing for stairs. And I was like, she’s, you know, a very good businesswoman, you know, top class, comedian, and Olympian, I was like, hang on, say, What am I the competitive one, just cuz I’m a woman playing sport. So I think it’s like, we again go back to language. And I challenged the radio presenter at the time, and I just said to him do have kids. And he was like, Yeah, I have two young girls. And I said, Oh, interesting. I was like that, would you not want them to grow up to be driven and ambitious, and to go after their goals. And to give it the best that they have is, of course, they wouldn’t say, well, that, to me is being competitive. I think I’m not ruthless. I think some of my best friends are opponents on varying teams that I’ve played against over the years that were great pals. But once we crossed that white line, I’m going to do everything I can to be as driven as I can to move towards my goals. And I think you’re right, like, being competitive, shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. It’s just once you’re not ruthless, and like the difference between being assertive as a man and maybe being a bitch, as a woman, again, we just need to, we need to be very careful with the language that we use, because it does have an impact. It does have a lasting effect. And I would be quite conscious of that you even if you meet somebody, and they’ve lost a lot of weight, how you speak to them, is really important. Do you say to them, you look great, you look really healthy? Or do you say, Oh my god, you look so skinny, you know, and then I’m sitting there going, Oh, looking good means looking skinny, and that’s what they hear. Or that could be a trigger for them. You don’t know what anybody else is going through. So we do need to be a little bit more mindful of how we speak to people and it’s easy to go out. That’s just so PC it’s not because the way it was long gone isn’t always the best way either. Like I’m not about being overly PC at all, but we just we need to be mindful of the language that Use because it can have an effect and it can have a lasting effect on people.

Sabina Brennan 1:05:05
And I think it’s a fine balance. You know, I said at the start there, you know, you’re very much about body positive body image, but it’s about body fish. So I do think that’s a fine balance, you know, I

Anna Geary 1:05:16
mean, it is not good for any organ in your body for you to be overweight and unfit. So I think there’s often a confusion, that being positive about body image is sort of permissive to accepting a body that actually really is very, very unhealthy. There are two different things, and I think it can get confused. And one final point, actually, and that Sabina as well as when it comes to body positivity, and we see this movement on social media now. And I’m kind of unsure about it if I’m honest, because I’m all about people saying, I love my body, and you have to love your body, and love every part of your body because it’s yours. I slightly disagree with that. I think it’s about body acceptance, rather than body positivity, because you’re not going to love every part of your body. And that’s okay, expecting everybody to love all of their body, it’s a very tall order, whereas expecting them or ask them to accept it. And then knowing what parts they can improve. And then knowing what parts that you know, that is just what it is. That’s really important, too. Because sometimes we’re seeing no everyone’s sitting in a way that makes them look like they have roles. And you know what, I don’t care and I’m a real woman, and I’ve stretched maximize cellulite. Let’s be honest, if you didn’t think they were a big deal, why you highlighting them in a social media post? Like that, almost what you’re saying isn’t exactly what you’re showing?

Sabina Brennan 1:06:32
Yeah, yeah, I agree with you. And actually, what you’ve just sort of touched on as a form of therapy for change. So acceptance and Commitment Therapy. And so it’s about accepting where you are now and then committing to change. Nice, you know, my weight goes up and down. But uh, but I am really aware that it’s something that really impacts on your health and even your risk for developing dementia, midlife obesity in you makes you more likely to develop dementia in later life. So

Anna Geary 1:06:57
and I suppose is trying to undo some of the damage as well that social media and online and magazines that have been happening for decades, it’s not like that just social media came along. And suddenly, people became conscious of their bodies like this has been happening. When we opened magazines, and down to the years, there’s always been this pressure to look a certain way and obviously down through the centuries, that look. Yeah, but and culturally, it changed. Yeah, exactly. So it does depend. But I think I do welcome the type of movement where people are taking the glass off the filters of social media. You know, this is me, and I have a little bit of eggs, man, I have a little bit of dry skin or say loader strict wreck and normalizing the things that are normal. But I just think we need to not take it to the other extreme then and that nearly there I say instead of fat shaming, your fit, shaming, you know, and we don’t want to do that either. And like he said, ultimately, for me, somebody that has a real respect for my body in terms of functionally how it helps me. And also I want to live till I’m 70 at, you know, 90,

Sabina Brennan 1:08:02
yeah, I don’t want to just live till then I want to live well to them, and you need your body to support you to them. And thank you so much, Anna, it’s been absolutely fabulous talking with you. Before you go, I just want to ask you, you’ve given loads of tips and advice on it throughout. And I really do say urge anybody who’s on Instagram go follow energy cork, I’m going to start doing those little five a day ones as well, it’s a great

Anna Geary 1:08:29
way to do I put them off Actually, I have reels for people. So I do a 345 reel, the five exercises. And again, you just do 60 seconds for each one. And again, it’s all about mixing things up, try new exercises, because then your body and your mind and Doctor complacent. And again, it’s about being present. Because if you’re doing any new movement, you have to really focus on what you’re doing. And that means then you’re stepping away from whatever stress you had in work or in family. So you’re getting a triple whammy with exercise and I’m such an advocate for it. But when you do the kind of exercise you’re talking about, you’re getting the benefit of the exercise itself. The fitness from if you’re your body, your cardiovascular health and your brain. But your brain is also being challenged because it’s having to learn a new and that’s so learning is key to keeping your brain healthy because it promotes neuroplasticity exercise on its own actually

Sabina Brennan 1:09:13
releases chemicals that actually make it easier for neuroplasticity to occur. So there’s a chemical called brain derived neurotrophic factor BDNF. It’s like Miracle Gro for the brain. So it actually makes your brain more fertile for growing new connections. So stimulating your brain and learning new things stimulate neuroplasticity, the physical exercise is making the garden fertile the brain garden and you can grow and you want more connections and denser connections in your brain to stay healthy. But also when you exercise, you get a release of serotonin and you get that release of feel good hormones. And then on top of that, it’s a great stress buster. It also helps you to sleep better, which is really, really critical for your brain. It’s just an absolute all rounder certainly for me from a brain perspective. So

Anna Geary 1:09:59
It is not just about your body is an instrument, not an ornament, instruments, not an ornament. Yeah, and it’s about what you do with this. And just remember for everybody that there’s an exercise that you’re that you enjoy, you don’t have to do something that you don’t enjoy. There’s so much out there now. And there’s so much online as well, that you just find the even if right, I challenge anybody, if you don’t like exercise, put your favorite song on. Yeah, and dance for five minutes non stop without taking a break, you will be sweating by the end of that five minutes, because you will have moved your body. And movement is movement. And if you do something you enjoy, you’re far more likely to go back to it again and again.

Sabina Brennan 1:10:37
So if you were to pick one, one tip for people, what would it be? Okay,

Anna Geary 1:10:41
I suppose it would follow on from what we were talking about no breaking down goals. Everybody has got goals. And sometimes I would say to people, like are you a goal setter, or you will go getter. So if you want to be a goal getter, it is about looking at your day and breaking it down and saying how can I build working towards that goal into my day. So your day, 1440 minutes, if you were to make 1% improvements towards your goal 1% of your day is just in the rain, 15 minutes. So if you were only to dedicate 15 minutes every day, 1% of your day, you can have the 99% to do whatever you want. 1% of your day goes towards whatever goal you have, in a year, that’s over 90 hours, 90 hours to work towards the goal is worth learning a new language learning to bake getting Fisher, I think sometimes we overwhelm ourselves, we feel we need the hour, we need, you know, 15 minutes, just 1% your day. And I find when I’m struggling to work towards the goal that I have telling myself it’s only 1% of my day me it makes it more realistic. And if you can be consistent and dedicating that 1% putting 90 hours towards anything is going to make it a hell of a lot easier to achieve that goal. So that’s what I would say is break it up into realistic milestones. Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t do. And just take it day by day. And it’s like climbing a mountain you might not have got to the top straightaway. But if you look back down, you’ll realize just how far you’ve come and that can give you a boost to like that progress can be motivating. It’s not just about hitting the end goal. It’s about focusing on the progress well to give you the boost.

Super Brain Blog – Season 3 Episode 9

Difficult Decisions with Mark Cagney

Listen and Subscribe:

Apple Podcasts,    ACAST,    Spotify   StitcherGoogle Podcasts

In this episode I take a deep dive into the life and brain of one of Ireland’s most respected broadcasters, Mark Cagney. In this the first of a two-parter, we talk about , running away from home, family rifts, the tragic loss of his young wife and making difficult decisions. 

During this episode we discuss

  • His life growing up in Cork
  • Running away from home as a teen
  • Family rifts
  • The tragic loss of his young wife Anne when he was 34


Bereavement Support

Guest Bio

Mark Cagney is one if Ireland’s most respected broadcaster best known for presenting Ireland AM for twenty years

Over to You

If Mark’s story resonated with you in any way please let me know in the comments below.

If you enjoy the Super Brain podcast please take a moment to rate and share it.


S3:E9 Mark Cagney Transcript

Sabina Brennan 00:51

We couldn’t call each other friends we don’t know each other, actually, really the

occasions we’ve met is I’m normally in the chair that you’re in. So you’ve interviewed me a

few times on a few occasions for Ireland AM. TV show that you led for 20 years. And then

more recently, you’ve interviewed me on the radio on Newstalk. But remotely, because

we’re in lockdown. Your voice is unique. You have a wonderful voice for radio, I remember

back, I’m of that age. I remember pirate radio stations. For listeners who are quite young

here, you might not be aware, but sort of when I was growing up, you had the boring sort

of RTE, the national radio station. And then you could tune into radio Luxembourg, for the

charts to hear some pop music. And then there was suddenly this explosion of pirate radio

stations, which was, it just was so anarchic. At the time, it was just really, really exciting to

be hearing this, it just felt so new. And this is back at a time where we didn’t have internet,

we, Ireland was very much a small island, nobody came to do pop concerts here. You

know everything we ate up everything that Well, I certainly did, in terms of music from

magazines, or you know, other channels. And this was really new, and you were one of the


Mark Cagney 02:19

Yeah, it’s an interesting, culturally, the country is so different, it may as well be another

planet, Sabina, it’s very hard to explain. I mean It’s hard to explain to our kids now what

life was like before smartphones, to explain to them what it was like before satellites and

multi channel TV. It’s like trying to explain to somebody who has never seen a black and

white photograph what it actually is, but without being able to show them. If you were a

child of the 50s, as I was born in ’56. Obviously, I didn’t live through the birth of rock and

roll. But I would have been aware of it. And more importantly, I would have been aware of

the effects of what it did, culturally to kids, it was a total rebellion, against their norms, in

terms of the music, in terms of the fashion that went with it in terms of the literature and

the writing that went with it as well. So we thought about the world and our place in the

world in a totally different way to the way that our parents would have and our parents

would have had their lives pretty well mapped out for them by their parents and our

parents, parents were Victorian, would have been born in the late 1900 (sic), early part of

the century. And again, even with the benefit of history it’s very hard for us to understand

what that would have been like but Ireland, and I suppose the world, but also later than

most other parts of it because we are basically a rock, a remote rock off the west coast of

Europe,. Technicolor came to us quite late. And we were getting it in dribs and drabs. We

were getting it in magazines. We were getting it in radio stations, like Luxembourg or radio

North Sea and it would waft in and out and depending what the weather was, you might

get it or not. So you read about this Technicolor world of youth and music and fashion and

all that went with it. You had very few physical examples of it. So I came from, I came up

through that generation, then obviously, people on the east coast of Ireland had BBC and

a bear in mind that

Sabina Brennan 04:14

We had. So I was born in ’62. So a few years, you know, but it’s around the same sort

because as you say, it was kind of slow, slow happening, a slow boil in Ireland. And

growing up, we could get HTV,

Mark Cagney 04:27

which was Harlock. Yeah, and it was Welsh. Welsh TV

Sabina Brennan 04:31

It was ITV but we could just pick up the Welsh TV and I was the youngest of five. So I had

to stand with the rabbit’s ears to try and get them. You know, because people got it

through aerials or whatever. And

Mark Cagney 04:43

Try explaining that to kids now

Sabina Brennan 04:44

it’s pretty incredible to see the insular way we grew up and you were very much, So like. I

totally identify with what you’re saying. So my parents generations My dad was 42 when I

was born, so he was born in 1921. They were of their generation, which was was that they

were just lucky to be alive. And they were lucky to have a job. And they just followed that.

They didn’t question. They didn’t think outside the box as to how their life was to be lived. I

don’t think they realized there was choice or

Mark Cagney 05:17

as I get older, I do realize that I did have this conver.., these conversations. My father,

eventually, they had exactly the same questioning and rebellious feelings that we did. But

they had no context in which to express them. You know, my father was a jazz musician,

and he grew up

Sabina Brennan 05:33

Wow, I didn’t know that. That was he was a professional musician. I know. He did other the

things as well. He was, also he was in UCC, electric electronics, etc, etc. He was a brilliant

Mercurial man, smartest man I’ve ever met bar, his father, my grandfather, a mind that

was like Quicksilver and almost impossible to pin down, he could put his, turn his hand to

anything, had his papers as a mechanic because he wanted to be able to fix cars properly.

Also got his papers as a welder. So he had two trades, right, as well as having gone to

college to do electronics. But he was actually a musician first and foremost. And rock and

roll used to be called the devil’s music, but in actual fact the first devil his music was jazz.

He was every bit as rebellious and his generation had they had all the same rebellious

feelings and thoughts. They didn’t want what has gone before, but they didn’t have either

the outlet or the conditioning. I think we’re conditioned in another way. Well, they were

conditioned not to question

Mark Cagney 06:27

when we were as well. But I have to say, Well, my father was quite, you know, he was a

very, we had very bohemian house give you an example of how he.. things were, right. I

lived at the top Patrick Hill in Cork? Yeah. And all my friends lived, you know, kind of

halfway down the hill. And we were lucky because we had these two huge playing pitches,

open green spaces. So during long summer evenings, the pitches would be full of before

with all the local lads, would be playing football, some would be playing Gaelic, some

playing soccer, some playing hurling, whatever. And at eight o’clock on a summer’s

evening, I’d have to go in. Yeah, no, it wouldn’t get dark until nine half nine, but I would

have to go in and he would come out, and he would call me and which is mortifying. I

would go home, grumbling and, and mortified, embarrassed, because like they all be

going ha ha in to bed early. But as soon as I got home, that was grand I was in. And then I

could stay up until 12 o’clock. I could go and play records I could read. We had in those

days were television was still very primitive, and black and white. But you know, you could

do all of that. But it was just that. ‘My castle and my rules’.

Sabina Brennan 07:30

I wanted to go back to the music thing, because again, as I do with all my guests, I’ve

been doing as much stalking of you as I can. And I did know that your father was a

musician. I didn’t know that it was the jazz but

Mark Cagney 07:39

when he started out as a jazz musician, he was a purist. Right. And, you know, jazz was the

rock and roll of its day. And he did very well with it. He moved up to Dublin, played with

some big bands up there. Real jazz, like Duke Ellington type jazz, almost symphonic jazz.

And then, you know, Basie and the swing bands came in. And he really loved that because

he was a rhythm player. He was primarily guitar and bass. And he was not interested,

although he knew everything, pretty much that there was to know about what he needed

to play the way he did. But he was interested in rhythm and swing and driving and the

pulse and the heartbeat and he would go listen, I don’t care about solos because I used to

say to him how come you never solo? Guitar players didn’t at that stage, primarily a

rhythm instrument and he said I’m no no interested in it, he said, rhythm is king But the big

bands became economically not viable. Then they became, I suppose jump bands and

then effectively show bands and if you were to remember remember when he would have

started off he would have been in bands like Billy bronze band, there would have been 25

people more 15 to 20 people it

Sabina Brennan 08:37

Not a chance in a million year of making any money

Mark Cagney 08:39

when I say slimmed down, they then became

Sabina Brennan 08:42

became the Show bands

Mark Cagney 08:43

The show bands became the show bands. And he would have been in one of the first

generation of show bands in Ireland in the 50s band called the Reagan, like his

contemporaries would have been the early Royal show band and the Tipper Carlton’s and

those people who were all ex-jazzers, and that when on Monday nights, which is the

musicians night off, they would get together and jam in some club or some venue. And

then they would play their music, which would be always be, you know, jazz, and

everything from some Dixieland, swing, and then the cooler stuff, you know, Parker, and

early Duke Ellington, and people like that. So

Sabina Brennan 09:17

I know that you had said somewhere that you always loved music you would have liked to

have been,

Mark Cagney 09:22

well, my first choice. I wanted to be a musician. You see my father was professional

musician, but also, so were two of my aunts, my Mary, Mary, and Eileen, but Mary had the

more successful career of them because she would have sung with a lot of those bands.

And then she went to America, and before the Ed Sullivan Show, which people of a certain

generation will remember because it did launched people like, you know, the Beatles, and

the Stones in the States, but I mean he was the he was the Gay Byrne of America. But

before that, there was a guy called Arthur Godfrey, who ran for years in the 50s in the

States, and his was a variety show rather than, you know, chat show or And there was a

talent type Opportunity Knocks-type aspect to that show. So he would bring on new

performers and depending on how the audience voted or reacted to them they will be


Sabina Brennan 10:08

a version of what is The Voice

Mark Cagney 10:10

yeah yeah

Sabina Brennan 10:10

those now, there’s always been versions, they’re not new things

Mark Cagney 10:13

nothing new

Sabina Brennan 10:13

Hughie Green show was one that we

Mark Cagney 10:15

Opportunity Knock

Sabina Brennan 10:16

Yeah, yeah.

Mark Cagney 10:16

Well, she ran on that show for 26 weeks

Sabina Brennan 10:18


Mark Cagney 10:19

Which would have been on primetime television in the States. Now, she got picked up by

some producers in Broadway. And she did her own show over there. She did a show on

Broadway called The Belle of New York.

Sabina Brennan 10:29


Mark Cagney 10:29

And the signature role in that is Mimi, and that was Mary’s role. And so she had a very

successful career. And then as a result of that, herself and Eileen, Mary would have been a

much better all round performer but her sister, my aunt Eileen had a much purer voice,

technically a beautiful voice and could sing anything but hated performing. She was, used

to be, physically ill. Mary loved it she was a natural-born performer. But they were invited

to tour with Arthur Feeler and the Boston Pops. So she had a stellar career. I mean, she

made records for Glenside. Remember, back in the in the days of sponsored programs,

there used to be a program called the Glenside Show. Glenside were an Irish record label.

I think that the tag was “If you’re going to sing a song, sing an Irish song”, So that Mary

had quite a few records done for them but she got tired of the road and she got fed up

with it. You know this it’s great when you’re in your 20s in your 30s you get to mid 30s. And

on and you know, it takes a toll you get haggard you get fed up of sharing a couch with,

you know, 25 men and all that goes with that. And you just want to be at home, you know,

you want to wake up in your own bed. So she came back but when she was in America,

she she got very friendly with a woman called Helena Rubinstein, or Helena Rubinstein.

She was one of the doyens of makeup and beauty. So she got very friendly with her. I think

she might have been a fan of her music or whatever. And Mary’s a very striking looking

woman and would have had to do her own makeup, you know, obviously would, you

know, they didn’t have makeup artists back in those days all the girls took care of

themselves and looked very glamorous, because you’re on the road and you’ve got 25

men who are not going to help you with it. So she said, Would you be interested in doing

that I’m going to open up in Europe. And then so Mary went to work for her and there was

the Helena Rubenstein counter in Lester’s pharmacy,

Sabina Brennan 12:14

which is like a boots.

Mark Cagney 12:16

Well, it would have been old school, it would be big. And you mean you had the Munster

arcade, you had Cashes, your grocery stores and you had the Lester’s

Sabina Brennan 12:24

this was in cork

Mark Cagney 12:25

Mark Cagney 12:25

so when she came back, she just basically went into the cosmetics business. She stood at

that counter for I don’t know, another 25 or 30 years

Sabina Brennan 12:32

So Mary played a huge role in your life. There’s a couple of things I want to ask is, and you

did end up in a career in music as a disc jockey,

Mark Cagney 12:39

because it was as close as I could get

Sabina Brennan 12:40

Yes. Why? Did you try?

Mark Cagney 12:43

My manual dexterity? just wasn’t there? I have a very good ear. Yeah. I have a pretty good

time. Kind of a built in clock metronome. Just the fingers wouldn’t work. Maybe I tried the

wrong instrument. And did you try your voice as an instrument I couldn’t sing to save my

life saved my life. Really? Oh, no, no, no, no.

Sabina Brennan 12:59

And that’s funny, because you know,

Mark Cagney 13:01

my father could sing as well. By the way. He was a good singer. Hands like a labourer. you

will go How can he play? And you won’t hear him play the piano really didn’t know he

actually really like to stomp? you know, but they’re incredibly delicate. And he could work

with tiny little screws and electronics and stuff like that

Sabina Brennan 13:01

Isn’t it interesting.And it’s incredible. But what amazes me and like, sort of, I suppose and

anyone out there as well, you know, if you’ve ever wanted to, you can try and you can

learn some things that

Mark Cagney 13:26

I tried. I tried. I tried. And what’s that, from? I don’t know, Shakespeare and possibly you

can say Shakespeare who’s going to disagree with you. But ‘be careful, be careful lest you

trample or crush my dreams’. my father was, as I said a little earlier, he was incredibly

bright. And worse than that. He had a facility to absorb knowledge in Mercurial, he could

pick something

Sabina Brennan 13:49

What do you mean by Mercurial?

Mark Cagney 13:51

Well, his his mind was Mercurial in the sense that he was always coming up with things, he

was always looking at new things, he was always going at, I could make that better. And

he would right, he did have a Mercury of temper too. Short and sharp and blow up, but

not frightening. But his mind was constantly moving in different directions. And as he did

that, he had the ability to absorb things. So for example, he could take up a new

instrument that wasn’t his primary or secondary instrument. And, you know, I remember

once he was asked, there was a gig, going with a really, really good Caberet band, and

they said, Look, we don’t need a guitar player, bass player, we do need a piano player.

Actually, what we really need is an organ player, because in those days, you could§ get

organs that had bass pedals,

Sabina Brennan 14:32

Right? right.

Mark Cagney 14:32

So he could take care of all the keyboard stuff, and then he could play the bass pedals as

well. He said, Well, I haven’t done that. He said, give me give me a while. So he got an

organ. And within two weeks, he was good enough to go on and get paid And play it and

get one partly not just play, but actually play to a level where it was acceptable for a

professional outfit

Sabina Brennan 14:50

So how was that for you?

Mark Cagney 14:51

It’s incredibly frustrating.

Sabina Brennan 14:52

Yeah, that’s what I was gonna say for you growing up. How was that seeing

Mark Cagney 14:55

It meant you were never good enough You could never do anything as well as he could..

He would ask you to do a job and he would say, listen, strip that wallpaper or paint that,

and you do it to the best of your ability as an 11, 12, 13 year old, And then he was your God

if you want something done, do it yourself. you know, and you just kind of now he, these

days in this current ‘woke’ world that we live in, you know, people would be on onto

Childline you know going…I’m being killed

Sabina Brennan 15:06

it was just never… Oh gosh look sure half

Mark Cagney 15:22

my esteem has been destroyed by my parents and all the rest of it. But he just had a

facility to get stuff really, really quick. He was super smart. He had an enquiring mind, and

he had a facility to absorb stuff. And he would be able to absorb it and then use it,

Sabina Brennan 15:35

he was always frustrated by other people who can’t operate at the same level as him.

Mark Cagney 15:40

Yeah, the downside of that was is that because he could do that his attention span was

minuscule. And he didn’t finish things.

Sabina Brennan 15:50

Oh, okay. So he didn’t follow through. He just was flitting around

Mark Cagney 15:53

because it came too easy to him,

Sabina Brennan 15:54


Mark Cagney 15:54

Because it came way too easy to him. And he didn’t understand people for whom things

didn’t come easily too, for example, me with music. You’d never live up to it, you’d never

match it, I’d never be able to play an instrument like he was never the smart as he was, I

could never do things the way he did. But I mean, again, the otherside of that he was

forever taking things apart and putting them back together again, and they would work

better, was extraordinary. But it just drove my mom crazy. We had this enormous dinner

table in our house. And it was like, I have four sisters and three brothers. So there was eight

of us. And You’re the eldest of eight. I’m the eldest. So the table had to be big enough to

take all eight of us. plus my parents. And then of course, my father going ah well look we

always need a bit of extra room on my mother was, was a tailor/ dressmaker. So she

needed a really big

Sabina Brennan 16:36

table for cutting out

Mark Cagney 16:38

Exactly, all of that kind of stuff. So there was, it was enormous. I mean, you could have

fitted another six or eight, maybe another six people. And I remember for months, there

was an engine at the end of that. And the reason we all remembered is that because for

about six or eight months, our food all tasted of oil, because there was this Mercedes

engine, he was fac.. He was obsessed with Mercedes cars, that engine at the end of the

thing that he was rebuilding, and he was doing it and I remember my mother losing her

mind on occasions, quite ‘Jesus Christ Johnny’ I’m sick to death of the food tasting of oil.

oh boy, when do you ever get that bloody thing off it? And that’s

Sabina Brennan 17:13

and I’m not diagnosing anyone. But it does sound slightly manic, you know?

Mark Cagney 17:19

He was mad, and it was loose, and it was bohemian. And all of my friends thought it was

great this place.

Sabina Brennan 17:24

So if this fabulous sort of, well, it sounds sort of fabulous, unusual, bohemian life. You have

this amazing dad that you’ve just described. And then at 16

Mark Cagney 17:36

oh well it had started before that

Sabina Brennan 17:37

15? you left because you’re only a child, whatever age, whether you were 15 or 16 you left


Mark Cagney 17:42

All his bohemian outlook on life and in questioning everything and questioning convention

and being you know, quite unconventional in his own way. He wanted very conventional

upbringing for us. So my educational and career path was mapped out and he used to say

listen, go to college, get your degree then you can have your life then you can do what

you want. But until then, my house my rules this what’s going to happen. His father had

been a, was a doctor, had been surgeon, his brother was one. Another brother was in the

Air Corps was a commandant in the Air Corps. But he was the rebel, himself and Mary

were the rebels

Sabina Brennan 18:12

both extremely successful in what they have to

Mark Cagney 18:15

academically yes they’d all done well, but still very conventional, Cork. You’re going to the

right schools.

Sabina Brennan 18:21

So you’re very posh sort of.

Mark Cagney 18:24

I had a very.I had a very good private education. My brothers, my sisters went to Saint

Angela’s, at the bottom of Patrick’s Hill, we lived at the top I went to Christians, which

would be the equivalent of Black Rock, I suppose.

Sabina Brennan 18:35


Mark Cagney 18:35

Christians and Pres. So yeah, I had the benefit of all of that. But my father had everything

mapped out for me. And I had other ideas. And I didn’t want what he, I didn’t want to go

to college, I didn’t want to be a doctor, I didn’t want to be told what to do. I wanted to be

able to grow my hair as long as I wanted. I wanted to be involved in music in some form or

fashion. And, you know, I was 14 / 15 / 16 and waiting till I was 23 / 24 and came out of

college. Just like 1 0 years is a lifetime not having any of that. And I was also again a bit

like him, a lot like him questioning and stubborn and like why. I painted a picture of him

being kind of very authoritarian. And he was in many ways, you know, we had very boho

of kind of existence and command structure and hierarchy within the house, and then

quite strict as far as it looked from the outside. But we were all encouraged. Like one of

my grandfather’s great saying was that education is no burden. You can do everything

Sabina Brennan 19:36

the great liberator

Mark Cagney 19:36

Absolutely you should do everything. You should do everything you possibly can, read as

much as you can. learn as much as you can, ask as many questions as you can, because

you can’t know too much. Use it. And what was nothing used to say is is the older I get, the

more I realise how little I actually really know. So that was encouraged in our house and

big house that people were sitting around talking and you were encouraged to think and

you’d be questioned on it So you have to have sharp elbows both physically and also

mentally. And, like I had the biggest mouth, and I had the most questioning mind and I

didn’t understand why the contradictions. You know ‘You didn’t do what your father did’.

Sabina Brennan 19:39


Mark Cagney 19:44

you know you’d have taken over his practice you’d have become a doctor like your

brother Michael did. No you didn’t want to do that? No, you want to do music you want to

follow your heart. Find something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. So

that’s what I want to do. ‘My house my rules, You don’t like it? There’s the door’. One day I

went, Okay, so I took the door. And I’ve never really talked to him about what he thought

whatever. But he his immediate reaction was, okay, so you made your bed now you lie on

it. I’m not gonna ask you to come back

Sabina Brennan 20:42

So when you’re when you physically because I remember walking 16 as well and been

yanked Back, Back home sort of thing. But when you walked out that door, did you know

you were going to your grandfather? did you go What the hell I

Mark Cagney 20:55

I had gone a couple of times first. Okay. There was a few few failed attempts. In actual

fact, I did my I did my junior cert, while sleeping in his car. In his car, my father’s car, I had


Sabina Brennan 21:12


Mark Cagney 21:14

it was a real cute hoor move on my part really cute horror movie on my so that’s 14, I knew

I wasn’t going to get the exams. I hadn’t done the work. And I was breaking myself over I

went This is good. This is bad. So how can I create a diversion?

Sabina Brennan 21:26

Did you honestly think that

Mark Cagney 21:28

this is I hate this, I’m not gonna do this, I’m not gonna go well, I’m going to get killed.

September is going to be awful. And there was a lot of trouble between us there’s a lot of

arguing, fighting. And, you know, I was the eldest daughter, you have to remember and

the experiment. And one of the things I realized subsequently as a parent, is, is that you

really do learn on the job with the first one, the others get the benefit, right. And they were

doing it and they had seven,

Sabina Brennan 21:49

and they were learning from you. Well, they were watching because as a fifth child, I was

the youngest. So I watched what the others did or didn;t do you know,

Mark Cagney 21:57

I’d had a few breakouts before that. And and also I there had been times, because of

whatever was going on with them financially, where I had gone to live with my mother’s

parents, my Nana and PA who were lovely. I was blessed with two great grandparents

that, who I loved dearly, really loved dearly. And then pop was my, my father was his

favourite. He has his pet. And at another stage, I went to live with them in a house called

Coolecarn Bishopstown. Coolcarren, which I adore it. I loved. I just thought this is lovely.

It’s brilliant. It’s just me and pop and mom, and Mary, and all of this space. And nobody

and no kids. I wanted to be an only child. But anyway, I knew that Junior. was going to be

a disaster. And I literally like I have to, what am I going to do, either… I can’t not do it,

because they’ll make me. But if something was to happen, that I couldn’t do it for some

reason or other, then I’d get away with it. Something happened. And the rose would

always start with who myself my mother. And then she’d go ‘Johnny, you need to talk to

him’. And then she’d kind of make the bullets and he’d fire them.

Sabina Brennan 23:02

Right. So he did what your mum said

Mark Cagney 23:03

There was a blazing row between myself and my mother overr something he came in. And

there was some row over it and I don’t actually remember the details of it. But I stalked off.

And then she’s going “but what… he’s got his junior, what’s he going to do? What’s he

going to do? You can’t do that. That’s just ridiculous”. “I’m not having a few knows what

the rules are. There’s the door get out” thinking, of course, it’d be back soon as I got

hungry. And I didn’t I went down to my best friend Kevin Moynihan’s house and I got fed

there. And then it was it I was gonna stay with him that night. And then the second night

was like, hang on a second, how come you’re not going home? So where was I going to

go? So this is back in the days when people didn’t lock their cars. So I kind of crept back

up the hill. And I tried the car, the car door opened and I went in, and I slept in the car.

And the junior was starting the that was over the course the weekend. It was starting on

the Monday it was and I think the first two or three days I slept in the car. Now, they knew I

was in the car, right? My mother would come out with a bit of breakfast, all the rest of it.

But of course, you know, it was completely disrupted. Eventually it kind of calmed down

and I think a really cold one of the nights or something and it was like For God’s sake get

back inside.

Sabina Brennan 23:17

Yeah, yeah,

Mark Cagney 23:25

it was he wouldn’t say you have to come home or I’m asking you, it’s just like get back

inside you. But the plan worked because I failed the junior. But of course it couldn’t be

blamed for it because how could I do proper Junior certificate I was

Sabina Brennan 24:23

…. living in a car.

Mark Cagney 24:24

That stage then I would have been 15that coming September. And then there was kind of

a guerrilla warfare between both of us on and off

Sabina Brennan 24:35

both of us? between yourself and your dad or yourself and your mum

Mark Cagney 24:38

Myself an my parents.

Sabina Brennan 24:39


Mark Cagney 24:39

There was, there was,… I was an absolute pup. I was just difficult. I was awkward.

Sabina Brennan 24:43

You were a teenager.

Mark Cagney 24:44

Well, yeah. And I was a mouthy gobby one.

Sabina Brennan 24:48

Yeah, but most teenagers are, you know.

Mark Cagney 24:50

Manipulative and you know, cunning.

Sabina Brennan 24:52

You’ve said at some point in an interview that I read, that you blamed yourself for a lot

The upset and turmoil that happened in your family. But surely the adults have to take

some responsibility for that, too.

Mark Cagney 25:07

You want to find out how I got to my grandfather? Here’s here’s, and it’s interesting that

you take that point of view. Right Fast forward a year, and things hadn’t gotten any better.

And then I was having trouble in school as well, in the year I went back after my, my junior.

And there was rules or regulations. And I eventually told one of the senior brothers to go


Sabina Brennan 25:27

Feck off,

Mark Cagney 25:28

and there was more drama. So like, I was suspended, and then I was thrown out. And this is

coming up to the Christmas and there was more going on in house. And it was just

desperate. And you know, you ruin Christmas, You spolied it and dah, dah, dah… And

eventually, I thought, right, you know what, I’ve had enough of this. And I found a lot of

money. Well, a lot of money at the time, in a drawer. And I went, right, okay. And at this

stage now I’m coming up to 15 /16. I wasn’t mad about drink, but there were like house

parties and all that stuff. And I had a friend whose parents had a couple of cottages, I

suppose you would call them but they were rented out and the people are rented out to

run away over Christmas. So he was gonna have a party and one of those. And he said

will you come to the party and I went Okay. We can stay that for a couple of days.


Sabina Brennan 26:16

the parents are away

Mark Cagney 26:17

Yeah, yeah, right. So. So we went to that went to the party had a great time. And it was

free for about a week, I left on Christmas Eve, by the way, for maximum effect, oh, my

goodness, oh maximum effect? Or am I going to ruin Christmas I’ll ruin it properly. And I

left with a bunch of money, which obviously wasn’t mine. So I couch surfed, I suppose, or

whatever you call me back then for as long as I could. And that went on for about a week.

And then got into January. And nobody had any idea who I was because very few people

had phones back in those.

Sabina Brennan 26:47

Yeah, yes.

Mark Cagney 26:48

So trying to find,

Sabina Brennan 26:50

and we’re talking house phones not mobile phones. Oh, yeah, yeah. So

Mark Cagney 26:53

Anyway, eventually Whelan said, Listen, they’re coming back, you’re going to have to go

they’re coming back. You have to find somewhere else. And I dossed with somebody else

for another night or two. And then I had nowhere to go. So I was literally on the streets. I

remember finding a doorway in North Main Street in Cork and getting run out of it

because it was somebody else’s doorway.

Sabina Brennan 27:11


Mark Cagney 27:12

So it was a bit like and again, you’re the kind of 16 you think you’re brave, but actually it’s

cold. It’s bitterly cold

Sabina Brennan 27:17

Freezing, yeah, yeah

Mark Cagney 27:17

Some hairy shaggy fellow looks like it’s, you know, like, like something from a Dickens

novel. Says, “get out of there”. and gives you a root in the arse to send you on your way. So

eventually, I worked my way out to the Western road. I remember getting right opposite

the entrance to UCC, there was a kind of a seated area, had a canopy on it where, you

know, people would would stop and rest and whatever. So I saw Oh, look, there’s a bench

there and it’s covered so but it was getting bitterly cold at the stage. I’ll kind of settled

down there freezing my you may have picked the time of the year for maximum effect.

but it really wasnt a good time of the year for rough living No it wasn’t I got run out of htat

again. And I to start well, Western road, I’m on my way to Bishopstown, that’s where pop,

and Mary are.So just keep walking, because at least if I’m walking, I’m gonna be warm.

And eventually I ended up on their door at about four, half four in the morning. And they

had known obviously, they were so she went come on, come in, fed me, warmed me up

and rang my father and said, “Look, he’s okay, he’s here. You might want to leave it a day

or two to calm down.”

Sabina Brennan 28:20


Mark Cagney 28:21

So my father came over. And my father and my grandfather were, as I said, they were like

best buds. And he adored him. And they had a big row over it. And he says, “I’m not

putting up with this, you don’t know what he’s like. And this is the straw that has broken

the camel’s back and all the rest, to hell with him.. And my grandfather turned to him and

said, “Listen, no grandchild of mine is going to be wandering the street. That’s just not

going to happen”. He said, “You have no idea what he’s like, well if you think he’s, so easy?

Well, you take him then.” So he said, “Well, he’s got to go somewhere. And he’s a child,

and you’re an adult,” “you’re taking his side against mine.” If you’re a grown up, you need

to behave like one. And if you’re not going to do that, then he’s got to go somewhere. So

he’ll stay here,” “You can’t do that. What are you going to even take my son. we’ll see what

people have to say about that”. And remember Pop saying it he said, “Well, good luck,

with going into court against Dr. Paddy Cagney. No, Because he had, would have been

highly highly respected. So my father was livid and furious and it caused a huge rift

between the two of them, which I am, to this day, deeply sorry for.

Sabina Brennan 29:16

And did they ever heal the Rift,

Mark Cagney 29:18

He would have gone to visit his father two or three, Well, at least once a week, maybe

twice a week, every week and we would go with him. From there on in, he would ring

ahead to say I’m coming make sure make sure I’m not there. Okay, so those visits dropped

to maybe once every fortnight. And it was kind of, had to be arranged and it was awful

and I deeply regret that that happened.. The only thing I will say in my defence was is that

my grandfather was at that stage going into senility or early Alzheimer’s or whatever. And

physically this great big strapping man, but he didn’t know where he was a lot of the time.

So you ended up looking after him. I did it and it was a pleasure and a privilege.

Something that helped me grow up a lot. The first time I’d ever really thought of anybody

other than myself. And it was somebody I loved deeply, and who was a huge influence on

me. And not just loved, but I admired. I won’t say at the time that I consciously was doing

it for my father or being a surrogate for my father. But I subsequently think that their must

have been some.. I’m sure your father saw that too? Do you think?

Sabina Brennan 30:23

You can frame it that way.

Mark Cagney 30:24

Well, I know that Mary said, she said, “you know, your father’s right you are a pup And, you

know, I didn’t know whether we made the right right or wrong decisions, she said but

when I saw you with pop and the way you were with him, she said, I thought, you know

what, he’ll be grand. we just need to work on it a bit and get it out of him”. And so that was

a very, formative experience Ehhh I’m not sure. You see, there’s two acts of forgiveness

that need to go on there. One was that I robbed him of that. But also that he robbed

himself of that there’s absolutely no reason why he couldn’t have visited his father. I mean,

I could have gone to the room to

Sabina Brennan 30:57

your father’s passed away, still alive?

Mark Cagney 31:00

My father’s gone,

Sabina Brennan 31:00


Mark Cagney 31:02

So, but that rift never really healed, and I was, you know, it tore the family apart. And

there were people took sides, you know, and, and people take sides in my own, my own

immediate family. I mean, it went on for donkey’s years.

Sabina Brennan 31:15

But there does come a point where you have to self preserve, or you have to make peace

with what happened and, and move on. Because it’s the only way you can kind of survive,

you kind of get stuck in a moment. And I’m going to jump forward. Because this podcast is

all about surviving and thriving in life. And when you go through your life story, You’ve,

you’ve endured an awful lot of,… you have

Mark Cagney 31:38

I’ve made people endure.

Sabina Brennan 31:40

Ah no, no, no. But you’ve also, you know, you’ve lived through, you’ve mentioned your first

wife, and she tragically died very, very young. And I really do want to talk to you about

that. So you met Anne when you were about 19?

Mark Cagney 31:51

Yeah, in Cork at the time

Sabina Brennan 31:51

she had health issues.

Mark Cagney 31:52

Of yeah she had nephritis when she was seven, and her kidneys were in the process of

failing. She was on dialysis.

Sabina Brennan 31:59

While, when you when you were dating?

Mark Cagney 32:01

Oh, yeah, it was You know how I found out? I found out about that, when we were dancing

one night, and I had a leather jacket on. And even though the music was quite loud, I

could hear a kind of zzzzzz, a kind of a buzzing and feel a little vibration on my shoulder.

And I went what the hell is that?

Sabina Brennan 32:20


Mark Cagney 32:21

you know, and it was in a nightclub where I worked as well. And I just thought, is there

something wrong with the speaker, whatever. She didn’t say anything. Yeah, she just kind

of gave a little smile And I went “do you not hear that am I going mad she went , yeah.

And then, little afterwards, we were sitting down. And I was holding her hand. And she had

what’s called a fistula, which is where they join a vein and an artery to make the blood

pump faster to go into the the dialysis machine, right? It’s a joining of the two, she used to

do it as a joke to freak out nurses who were taking her pulse for the first time. She’d give

them the left hand, and they’d put their hand on the fistula. And they got ‘Oh, my God’,

like they’d been, because it’s almost like getting an electric shock, you could feel the

buzzing. And it was, it was the buzzing of that on the leather jacket. And I just went, ‘What

the hell is that?’ So then she explained. Oh on the other thing as well, I could never

understand why she wouldn’t let me bring her home. Because she would go to the club,

she would only drink water and chips of ice. She didn’t drink any alcohol. And then at two

or three, she would disappear. Or she’d go No, sorry. I’m up early in the morning. No, I’m

going home with the girls or whatever. But she was actually going to Finbarrs to be

dialysed. She used to have her dialysis done in the middle of the night. And then she

would come home, get some sleep. And then she’d go to work. So she to all intents and

purposes, she was completely normal. You would never ever know unless she chose to tell

you. And so that’s how I found out that she was a dialysis patient.

Sabina Brennan 33:48

Wow. And so then you married relatively young.

Mark Cagney 33:53

Yeah, I met her when I was 19. And we were going out with each other for a couple of

years. And then, what age was I, married when I was 24

Sabina Brennan 33:58

Do you know what year you were married?

Mark Cagney 33:58

Em now I have to calculate I calculated our relationship in different ways, right? We were

married on the 28th of March. Yes. So our wedding anniversary was recently, the 28th of


Sabina Brennan 34:03

And the 28th of March is also the anniversary of her death.

Mark Cagney 34:18

hang on a second though, 30 years ago, last Sunday. And we had been married for 11

years. So that’s 41 years. And we’ve been together for six years before that.

Sabina Brennan 34:28

And she’s dead 20 years and

Mark Cagney 34:30

She’s dead. 30 years, 30 years since last 28th of March.

Sabina Brennan 34:34

So very tragic, very young project. She was 38 and you were younger than her> Yeah,

Mark Cagney 34:41

she was older.

Sabina Brennan 34:43

You were 34. And to phrase this question about how did you cope because you didn’t

really cope. I mean, obviously you have gone on to survive and thrive. But at the time

when she collapsed. She collapsed in Brown Thomas,

Mark Cagney 34:59

She’d had the first hemorrhage there

Sabina Brennan 35:01

A brain hemorrhage?

Mark Cagney 35:02

Subarachnoid Yeah.

Sabina Brennan 35:03


Mark Cagney 35:03

And they took her to the Meath hospital and I got a call, ended up going to the Meath

we’re told look, we’re not sure, something in her head, might be hemorrhage. We’re going

to do a CAT scan. Now back in those days a CAT scan was a big deal. It was a bit ooh

something with the brain. Yeah. And they have to move on from the Meath, then to


Sabina Brennan 35:25

Beaumont handles all sort of head injuries, neurology

Mark Cagney 35:27

So we sat around there, they did the CAT scan, and they came back and said she’s had

sub arachnoid brain hemorrhage. Thankfully, that bleed wasn’t too long. But we’ve also

found that there’s another vessel on the other side. I don’t know which one is the vertebral

is on the right hand side. I don’t know what vein is on the side, right. But there was one on

the other side at the back of her head, which is ready to go as well. Interestingly enough,

because of all of the messing around with veins and fistulas. And at that stage, she’d had

two kidney transplants. So like her cardiovascular system had been interfered with.

Sabina Brennan 36:02

I mean, she’d been ill since Yeah, for 21 years really

Mark Cagney 36:0

There were little bulges and potential embolisms And apparently, also, she had too, what

was known as a tangle of vessels, which I believe is quite common, right, that a lot of

people have them. And women in particular seemed at that time to be more prone to

brain hemorrhages in their mid to late 30s. I have no idea whether that’s true, or not I

must have a look into that. But Anyway, she had another vein or artery which was ready

to pop, or was bulging, or they we’re worried about it, they said, Look, this one was a very

short, I think this the first bleed was sort of two or three seconds. So this one could be

much longer, could be much longer, much more dangerous. We have to go in and we have

to fix it. Now. That’s a really, really big deal for an awful lot of couples and for an awful lot

of people But when you had gone to the edge as often as Anne and I had with various

things with with kidney transplant, which was groundbreaking surgery back in the time,

and she had gotten really, really sick at one stage and spent nearly 18 months in Mary’s in

the park, because she got shingles, which in her case, ended up with practically every inch

of skin from her neck down to her bellybutton being taken off I mean it was dreadful, it

was awful.

Sabina Brennan 37:10

And you’re only kids really in a way through

Mark Cagney 37:12

We are, we are and we were int Dublin and we’re..

Sabina Brennan 37:14

you can say that with hindsight like I’m in my late 50s. Now you look back and you realize

that your 20s you really are kids and even your early 30s

Mark Cagney 37:22

She was a pro

Sabina Brennan 37:25

She obviously had to grow up very young, you know,

Mark Cagney 37:28

She would put herself on and off the machine, she would she would do because she could

insert the needles better than any nurse or any doctor. She was so expert at it and she


Sabina Brennan 37:35

So they’re going to take her into, for surgery. So she was conscious, was she conscious

between the first

Mark Cagney 37:40

She was yeah. we’re having a conversation I never forget the last conversation was

because it was, look, this is what she did. She went into the ring, she fought the battle, she

always won. I held her coat and held the fort down. And it was you’ve had this, there’s

another one on the other side. It needs to be sorted out. Otherwise you could have a big

problem. And she went “Yeah, okay, come on.” This is what I do. “And I always win” she

said, “Oh, by the way, you know, it’s bin day tomorrow.” I said, Oh Yeah, yeah She said

“make sure you put the bins out and don’t forget to feed the dogs”. And I’ll see when I

wake up. And those were the last words she spoke So she went, she had it. She was in an

induced coma. She didn’t really regain….

Sabina Brennan 38:14

that’s to protect her Aww

Mark Cagney 38:23

And it stayed like that. And then she had another massive

Sabina Brennan 38:30


Mark Cagney 38:32

Oh, I have to remember the timeframe because it all blurs,

Sabina Brennan 38:36

I can imagine.

Mark Cagney 38:37

That initial hemorrhage, in Brown Thomas happened on the 18th. And then two days later,

they operated. So the 20th and then she was recovering for two or three, four or five days.

And then she had another massive bleed, which went on for they thought in the region of

18 seconds and it was over and done with it was gone. She was gone. That was actually,

oh out was the 24th Yeah. 24th 25th. And they went “look, we’ll ventilate her but we have

no idea how long this would go on. And I don’t know if you know about brainstem it could

be three hours could be three days could be three weeks could be three months. You know

it will happen when it will happen” At this stage my head is fried, melted because I

thought she’d win she always did she never lost

Sabina Brennan 39:28

never I think for you compared to other people. I think other people would say she had no

previous history and then had this you’d be going oh my god, she could die. Oh my god.

Oh my god. What? Because you’d had that repeated

Mark Cagney 39:42


Sabina Brennan 39:43

you’d been there before, more routine I suppose

Mark Cagney 39:44

Well she was the strongest person I knew? she just refused to allow this, to define her and

to beat her. But you have to face facts. And people were very sorry and all the rest of it. So

I remember being told that and I went off to try to get my head clear. And I remember

coming back about a half hour, 40 minutes later, and talking to the staff nurse, the senior

nurse on the ward and saying, Listen, I know when she would go. Anyway, she went, yeah, I

said she will go on the 28th. And she’ll probably go somewhere around Tea Time and she

went “Yes, Mr. Cagney, whatever you say” sh said, Listen, you don’t know her? I do. She

didn’t get to say goodbye. She will go on the 28th, around five or six o’clock? And she said,

“Really? Why?” I said because that was the day we got married. And that’s when we sat

down to our meal for our wedding. And she’d say goodbye, then. That’s when she’ll go.

And that’s exactly when she went. Now. I had to give the permission to switch the

machine off. I had to give permission for that. That’s a very challenging decision, for a 34

year old what do you do? Every now and again and I’ve never actually do you know

Getting me to say things here, I’m possibly leaving too much out on the pitch. You know,

you do these kinds of things over the years. And people ask you Oh, it was the hardest

thing you’ve ever had to do? Or who’s the most famous person you’ve ever interviewed?

Or, you know, you get those kind of 20 questions type things, right. And somebody recently

asked me about what was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. And the hardest thing

that I personally have ever had to do, is to give permission for that machine to be

switched off. You actually think about it, this is your life. This is your soulmate. And even

though she’s, you know, intellectually that she’s gone, and that it would be, you know, the

cruelest thing you possibly could do not to?

Sabina Brennan 41:39

Well, sounding by the kind of independent individual she was

Mark Cagney 41:42


Sabina Brennan 41:43

She would have just hated that.

Mark Cagney 41:45

Yeah, absolutely. She would have, then there’s this thing. She’s also the toughest person

that you’ve ever met. Anybody could defy the odds and come back, it would be her, but

you knew at this stage it was gone

Sabina Brennan 41:54

Okay, so I hadn’t, I hadn’t thought about that. That argument that you were having in your

head, oh, my God,

Mark Cagney 42:00

the extent of the hemorrhage was so severe that she could have existed was,


Sabina Brennan 42:05

did you make that decision alone? I mean, I know you were her next of kin. So you didn’t

discuss with her parents or anything? You just

Mark Cagney 42:13

Eh no, it was my decision,

Sabina Brennan 42:15


Mark Cagney 42:17

Ah now, I was there with her brother, who was brilliant Eric, like a brother. But the biggest

lesson that I took out of that. And it does apply to the parenting thing a little later on,

which is, ah you can.. Well, you can go mad, and I did go mad. Okay, eventually, I had

really good friends around me, they pulled me back and all the rest of it. Then you have to

think about what do you do? Well you can go on or you can go under? And how do you go

on when you’ve lost all of this. And it’s the, it’s very simple. It’s that glass half full, or glass

half empty. I had an amazing relationship. I had it for 16 years. And there’s millions of

people who don’t get that at all. So be grateful for what you had, not for what you’ve lost.

Or, more importantly, don’t be bitter about what you’ve lost. Because as Nelson Mandela

famously said, ‘being bitter is like drinking the poison, hoping the other fellow will die

doesn’t work. It only poisons you”. So what you had was wonderful. It’s awful, that it’s been

taken away. But we didn’t have and this is maybe the most valuable lesson and the one

that actually helps me with the second phase of my life, which is that there was nothing

left unsaid between us, we had the most normal, ordinary, mundane conversation that

you could possibly have before somebody going for major surgery, which you know,

wasn’t successful and ultimately led to her death. You know, if your last words with

somebody you love, if you had a choice of what they would be, you probably pick

something really flowery and profound, whatever, right? Mine was about putting out the

bin and making sure the dog was fed, and I’ll see when you wake up. But that was also the

very fabric of our lives, and our love and the way we work together. So in one way, it is the

most banal and ordinary on another level. It’s a perfect expression of the life I had, which I

loved and which she loved. But there was nothing left unsaid between

Sabina Brennan 44:09

See I think that’s a lovely, lovely, lovely way to look at bereavement of any kind,

particularly certain bereavement

Mark Cagney 44:17

as another day in paradise. Yeah,

Sabina Brennan 44:19

yeah, that’s a lovely way. That’s just so lovely. Just another day of

Mark Cagney 44:23

very ordinary paradise, but like our parents, yeah, yeah. Another lesson taught me Sabina,

was, make sure make sure that you tell the people you love and you care for and who love

and care for you how you feel, not in a big grand gesture, but just… I do it with the kids all

the time. And I check in with them every now and again. I go listen you know, I love you,

don’t you? You know, you can tell me anything. You know, no matter what you do, I have

no choice. I have to love you like that goes with the gig. It’s unconditional. I might not like

you sometimes. I might not like you a lot of the times but I’ll always love you. And I’ll

always have to love you. And no matter what you do or whatever trouble you get into,

come and talk to me about We’ll sort it out first and I’ll eat the years off you afterwards for

being stupid enough to put yourself in that situation.

Sabina Brennan 45:05

But I will never not love you?

Mark Cagney 45:07

Absolutely. So there’s nothing left unsaid. So there are no regrets. There’s no torture,

because that way lies despair. It’s the old, you keep looking into the abyss of ‘what if’

forgetting, of course, that the Abyss looks back into you. To paraphrase Goethe, I’m not

sure that he quite meant it like that but “That way lies madness and that way lies despair.

And either because I’m incredibly lucky, or maybe my survivor’s instinct was operating an

overdrive at the time, that I got incredibly smart, in some way, a combination of the two, it

saved me. Now, I did need help, I’d what I didn’t need medication I didn’t need, I didn’t

need to go to see doctors, I didn’t need therapy, I didn’t need any of that.

Sabina Brennan 45:52

You needed friends,

Mark Cagney 45:53

I needed friends,

Sabina Brennan 45:53

and you had great friends.

Mark Cagney 45:54

And I had great friends

Sabina Brennan 45:55

And that’s what really stuck out to me

Mark Cagney 45:56

An be grateful for for what I had.

Sabina Brennan 45:57

And I, you know, in terms of surviving trauma, because life throws, I say this time, and

again, we have no control over what life throws at us. But you have control over how you

respond. You went back to work way too soon after losing your wife. And you can kind of

see how that, you know, might have happened. And you said you had whatever you felt

was a breakdown, but you hadn’t gone through the grieving process at all. You know, it’s

very clear now that you’ve made peace with that. And that unconditional love piece is so

important. And I think when it comes to love, you know, I see people and you know, you

kind of look at them. And I’ve said this over and again on this, you know, the movies and

novels have an awful lot to answer for because they paint this picture of what love is, you

know, and oh, he does this for me. And it does that Look for me. It’s that mundane, you

know, I’m married to someone and we sort of say, Valentine’s Day, “I’m not getting your

card”, “I’m not getting you a card Couldn’t be arsed. But you know what, I’ve had terrible

migraine this week, and it goes down into my neck and my husband will look at me and

say “you’re in bits aren’t you?” Yeah he’ll like, stop everything and try and help relieve me.

That’s love. That’s, you know, you don’t have to say those things. And that’s life. It’s the

other stuff. You know, you can say I love you. You’re the best, you can say all those things.

Moon in June and the honeymoon lasts for how long? What do you do with the rest of

your life? Exactly. You’d become best…

Mark Cagney 47:14

who’s the first person you want? If something happens to you? Who’s the first person you

want to tell?

Sabina Brennan 47:17

Who’s the first person you call

Mark Cagney 47:18

Who’s the first person you need? That’s the person you love

Sabina Brennan 47:21

Yes it’s a friendship. It really is. It’s ultimately about friendship and trust, and all those

things. And it was wonderful to hear as well that you know, when you were really

struggling, there was another individual who actually took you out. I was interested in one

thing you said he basically took you out and took you away and you went traveling with


Mark Cagney 47:40

Joe and Marian, Joe and Marian O’Herlihy, Marion would have been em. Well, I’ve known

Joe since I was 15. We started in bands together in Cork, he roadied for one band, I

roadied for another. So I’d known him on and off. He obviously has famously become one

of the best known sound engineers in the world because he’s been with U2 for 40 years.

He’s known as the big fat fellow with the beard. He looks like Grandpa Walton. Like he’s

legendary and rock and roll circles. Right. But his wife Marian, and Anne would have been

best friends. So like it’s the real cCork Murphya kind of thing, you know, so we would have

been in and out of each other’s houses. And actually that friendship has continued on but

you know, when when I rang Marian actually to tell her that that Anne was sick something

had happened and she was in The Meath and they live in Rathdown Park in Terenure But

Joe was away and Marian didn’t have the car. And she physically ran and I mean, ran

from Terenure to the Meath to get there in time. And I was following out in a taxi. And I

think she got there before I did. Or literally we pulled in as she was soaked in sweat. Yeah,

that’s the kind of, of friends

Sabina Brennan 48:45

you can talk about.You can talk about family till the cows come home when people say

blood is thicker than water, but the support of very real friends, you can’t underestimate it

Mark Cagney 48:53

well, you know that that really, it’s probably quite sexist, and it’s definitely not PC. But the

joke about a true friend is you ring them up and you say, Listen, I’m in real trouble. What

have you done? I’ve killed the wife. Okay, stay there. We’ll be around around with a shovel

as fast as we

Sabina Brennan 49:09

definitely not PC definitely, definitely not PC

Mark Cagney 49:11

But you know that, you know, those are the people who would take a bullet for you yet

stand in front of, you know, will throw themselves in front of a train for you like that. I was

lucky enough to have people like that in my life, Like Joe and Marian would definitely,

certainly at that stage without them. And again, we look even Peggy O’ Brien. She was

the house mother in 98 FM. And she would do that, you know, she would go he’s in trouble.

He needs a cup of tea. More importantly, he needs a hug. He needs somebody to hold on

to right now. And she would find an excuse asked me that I want a cups of tea, bring it in,

and then hug me until I kind of could speak properly or until I could do my next link

Sabina Brennan 49:45

You can’t underestimate the power of a human hug. living through this lockdown is why

it’s quite challenging for people but actual physical contact and a hug can lower your

blood pressure and actually really get your stress level. Stone really works. I’m afraid.

That’s all we have time for in this episode, but please do Tune in next week when I

continue my conversation with Mark. In the interim, you can check out the super brain

blog for bonus content. My name is Sabina Brennan. Thank you for listening to Super

brain, the podcast for everyone with a brain


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‘In this fascinating book neuroscientist Dr Sabina Brennan enters into a world so many of us can relate to, yet few dare discuss. A must-read.’ Dr Harry Barry, bestselling author of Anxiety and Panic and Emotional Healing

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If you complain of brain fog to a medical professional, you’re likely to be told that it isn’t a recognised condition. But if you mention brain fog to your friends, they’ll know exactly what you mean: fuzzy thinking, trouble concentrating, a sense of grasping for the right word, feeling like your brain is somehow slowed down. In truth, brain fog is not a diagnosis in itself, but a sign that things aren’t right in your body.

In Beating Brain Fog, neuroscientist Dr Sabina Brennan guides us through the science to show how our brains work, and why we might experience confusion and anxiety. She offers tools to help you identify your own cognitive profile, determining the causes of your specific symptoms, and explains the simple strategies that can help you feel like yourself again.

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