When IT Carlow lecturer Mark Attride was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in February of this year, the news had a cataclysmic impact on his family, friends and work colleagues.
Since then the 53-year-old has displayed such tenacity and courage since then and last night a number of Ireland’s leading sports people joined Michael O’Leary of Ryanair to talk about sport and Mark.
Far from being a sad occasion, it was an uplifting experience as Brian Cody, Joe Schmidt, Willie Mullins and Michael O’Leary all had the same message at the event in the Woodford Dolmen Hotel - Follow your dream, never give up and enjoy what you do.
MC Paul Brennan, manager of Dunnes Stores in Kilkenny city, and secretary of Killeshin GAA club, Carlow acted as MC and kept his composure as he spoke of the great work that Mark did with Carlow Rugby Club, Carlow Tennis Club and Killeshin GAA Club as a coach, mentor and committee member.
He said Mark was a doer and that was emphasised by the success of the fundraiser for Irish motor Neuron Disease Association, adding that everyone had huge respect for Mark and his family and that they were role models for the rest of us.
Mark’s daughter, Ella spoke eloquently on behalf of Mark and the family and said that her father was truly grateful for the huge turn-out and explained that her Dad had lost the power to speak but was still mobile.
Mark said through her: “I am a fanatical sports fan and reared in the great games of rugby and Gaelic football. You get so much more out of these games than just performing on the pitch and the comradeship off the pitch makes for so much in my personal happiness and wellbeing. I am therefore so grateful to Miriam O’Callaghan and the guests for agreeing to participate tonight. I would also like to thank my family, friends and the committee involved in helping me organise this event.”
Michael O’Leary of Ryanair, not a man given to sentiment, choked up when he spoke about his former classmate in Clongowes Wood secondary school and said that Mark had been different from all the other under-achieving farmers’ sons in the place and that he had been a leading member of the school rugby team that had won the Leinster Senior Cup in 1978 for the first time in many years, sparking a revival of the school’s fortunes on the playing fields. He said Mark was a brilliant all-rounder and he praised his boyhood friend for his courage.
Sitting next to Irish rugby coach, Joe Schmidt; Kilkenny hurling manager, Brian Cody and race horse trainer, Willie Mullins, he was asked by host Miriam O’Callaghan if he would swap his commercial success for what the three had achieved. He answered honestly and said no.
He explained that when he took over Ryanair it had 200,000 passengers a year and that his first goal was to beat the 1 million mark that Aer Lingus had and then it was to beat British Airways number and said that you had to set new goals and said that he was only a little boll.. sitting next to three sporting legends. “And I mean that.” He received a huge response from the audience.
Earlier, injured Irish rugby international, Sean O’Brien found himself being asked by Miriam O’Callaghan about his love life and why he was hanging around Dundrum Shopping Centre. He explained that he was very happy romantically and has been seeing a girl for the last five months and said he was hanging around the shopping centre to try to get a pair of skinny jeans like the ones work on stage by fellow Legend and panellist, Michael Dara McAuley, the two time All Ireland senior football medal winner with the Dubs.
McCauley laughed heartily and explained that while he was not as talented as other footballers in Dublin, he worked harder and said that was that was reason for his success adding that he had been helped by playing basketball.
He said that at minor level there were better players than him but that he knuckled down and worked hard every day to succeed. He has a broken thumb at present after a recent club match in Dublin but expects to be back training before Christmas.
Champion jump jockey, Ruby Walsh said that he didn’t want any of his three daughters following him into the racing game because of the fear of injury. And he wasn’t offended when eight time all Ireland senior medal winner, Jackie Tyrell explained that he didn’t know anything about horse racing but did follow Gaelic football and rugby and that the loved American football. Jackie spoke about not letting other people put you down or put you off doing what you wanted to do in sport or in life and said that you would find a coach or someone in your family to give you the belief. At the start of the event, veteran broadcasters, Michael Ó’Muircheartaigh and Jimmy Magee had the 1,0000 strong crowd in stitches with a double act that was not rehearsed, explaining about a 94 year old former Kerry footballer who is currently collecting the old age pension is also drawing the childrens’ allowance.
The night raised around E50,000 for the Irish Motor Neuron Disease Association (IMNA). The main sponsor was David Walsh of the hugely successful Netwatch Security company. David is Mark’s next door neighbour..
Motor Neuron Disease is a neurological disorder that selectively affects motor neurons, the cells that control voluntary muscle activity including speaking, walking, swallowing, and general movement of the body. It is generally progressive in nature, and causes increasing disability and was brought to the fore by the RTE documentary on sports presenter, Colm Murray who like Mark, displayed tenacity and admirable endeavours during his battle with the debilitating illness for which there is no cure.
MND can affect how people walk, talk, eat, drink and breathe. However, not all symptoms necessarily happen to everyone and it is unlikely they will all develop at the same time, or in any specific order.
The cause of MND is not known. There may be environmental factors that trigger the damage in people who are susceptible to the disease. Ongoing research is necessary to find out the nature of these environmental factors, and what makes one person more susceptible than another.
MND strikes people of all ages and currently there is no cure, however symptoms can be managed to help the person achieve the best possible quality of life. The drug Riluzole (Rilutek) has shown to be helpful in slowing down the progress of the disease.