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Playing to a new crowd


BEST FOOT FORWARD GAA All-Star former Mayo footballer Dermot Flanagan (left) at the launch of Battle of the Stars for Breast Cancer Ireland. Pictured with Dermot are, from left: Mr Ireland, Wayne Walsh; Miss Ireland, Aoife O’Sullivan; former Welsh rugby player, Richard Keatley; Teresa Costello, breast cancer survivor; social influencer and Dancing with the Stars backstage reporter James Patrice; editor and presenter Sybil Mulcahy; Fair City actor Ryan Andrews; broadcaster Jenny Buckley; and Limerick TD Tom Neville. Pic: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

Having battled cancer and won, former Mayo defender is set to battle with the stars in a glittering charity dance-off

Anton McNulty

In July 2018, former Mayo defender and captain Dermot Flanagan received news that gave him a whole new perspective on life. Eight months previously, he had been diagnosed with the blood cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and within two weeks he was undergoing immunotherapy treatment in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, under the care of Professor John McCaffrey. The 57-year-old Dublin-based barrister, who played for Mayo in the 1989, 1996 and 1997 All-Ireland finals, described the first few weeks of his treatment as a period marked by ‘anxiety, hope [and] fear’, not knowing if his body would respond to treatment. Thankfully for Dermot, his wife, Ros, and his twins, Amelia and Jack, the level of fitness he had achieved during his 15 years as a senior inter-county footballer stood to him, and he responded well. After four treatments he was told he was cured, and in July 2018 he was given the all-clear.

Second chance
“A serious illness like that gives you a fresh perspective on life, particularly as I have been given a second chance when many others haven’t been as fortunate,” Dermot tells The Mayo News.
“It is a journey. I don’t think anyone who has gone through any type of life-threatening illness will say they are the same afterwards. You are different and think differently about things. That is my experience.  
“I think more clearly about the important things in life, and I think more about carefully spending my time – making sure there is much more positivity in life and avoiding negativity, and getting the life/work balance right. It gives me a deeper appreciation on different things in life; coaching teenagers in football, doing good on the dance floor on April 13 and raising awareness.
“When he [Professor McCaffrey] gave me the all-clear I said it took me 20 years to win my All-Ireland. I won it when I was told I was clear, that was my philosophy on it.”
When he says ‘doing good on the dance floor’, Dermot is referring to taking part in ‘Battle of the Stars’, which will see him join a host of celebrities in Dublin’s Clayton Hotel, where they will dance and lip sync in front of over 450 people. The event is being held to raise funds for Breast Cancer Ireland.
Other stars taking part in the annual cancer-research gala fundraiser include Miss Ireland 2018 Aoife O’Sullivan; Mr Ireland 2018 Wayne Walsh; editor and presenter Sybil Mulcahy; Fair City actor Ryan Andrews and broadcaster Jenny Buckley. A number of breast-cancer survivors will also tread the boards, including 98fm news reporter Georgie Crawford.

The two-time All-Star defender and Ballaghaderreen clubman says he was ‘roped into’ the show by choreographer, Róisín Curran, whose son plays on the underage team he coaches in Clontarf GAA. While he admits he cannot dance he said he was delighted to help out because of his own experience of benefiting from cancer research.
“It is inspirational to hear the consultants talk about breast cancer and the advancements in treatment in the last 20 years. It’s inspirational to hear them talk and remove a lot of the fear around the word ‘cancer’.
“People have spent money and time and effort researching and turning something into a manageable disease rather than a life-threatening illness. I am very grateful to be the beneficiary of this research myself. I got really good treatment with modern immunotherapy drugs which are only out 15 years. Something that was not around in my parents generation…. It is great to know what can be done.”
Dermot was first diagnosed after he went to his GP after noticing a lump and says the early detection was crucial in his recovery.
“One of the key issues particularly for men, who sometimes have a fear of these things, is to get checked out early if you have concerns. It gives them a far better chance.”

Transferable skills
The dancers first got together four weeks ago, and they were brought through some basic steps – a process that Dermot says made him feel like a ‘complete and utter fool’. He has been paired with professional dance partner Natasha Maher of Encore School of Performing Arts, and the duo will be performing an Argentinean tango on the night.
They have been practising for the last four weeks, and for Dermot, learning the steps was similar to football training.
“It is a bit like training young players to kick the ball over the bar. Andy Moran would say take the three steps – one step, two step, three – to kick the ball over the bar. Keep practising, and then it is more or less a memory thing. Dancing is more or less about muscle memory. I have had three sessions of dance training … and from where I was four weeks ago, I am in a different place.
“Natasha is bringing me through the steps of the Argentinean tango, and it’s great fun. It is a love/hate dance, so I have to grab her arm and let it go, and so on. I said to her on one occasion, ‘It’s a bit like holding back a corner forward’!”

Common goal
RTÉ/2FM star Eoghan McDermott will MC on the night, and the head judge on the night will be Dancing With The Stars judge Julian Benson. He will be joined by First Dates Ireland maître d’, Mateo Saina, as well as some other surprise judges.
With less than a month to go before he takes to the stage, Dermot says he is enjoying the whole experience and delighted he is involved.
“It is all good fun and there is a real team spirit about what is going on. We have all met several times, and they are a lovely group of people, between the celebs and professional dancers and the Breast Cancer Ireland people. It is almost like playing in a football team, where everyone has a common goal and they want to do well and do some good.”

Support the dancers
Breast Cancer Ireland’s Battle of the Stars takes place in Dublin’s Clayton Hotel, Burlington Road, on Saturday, April 13. On arrival, guests will be welcomed on the ‘pink carpet’ for a champagne reception, followed by a four-course gala dinner and entertainment. Once the winners and prizes have been announced, guests and participants will be invited to dance into the late hours to the retro sounds of Irish band The Sugar Cubes.
Tickets, which include the meal, complimentary wine and entertainment, are on sale for €150 per person at www.breastcancerireland.com. All funds raised will support Breast Cancer Ireland’s pioneering research and awareness programmes around Ireland.