Jonathan Drennan

Author's details

Name: Jonathan Drennan
Date registered: January 20, 2016
URL: http://www.theguardian.com/sport/tennis

Latest posts

  1. Graham Stack: the Arsenal Invincible who has more fans in India than Islington — March 27, 2017
  2. Why would anyone drop the All Blacks to play for Ulster? Charles Piutau explains — March 3, 2017
  3. A life in boxing: Freddie Roach on Ali, Tyson, Cotto, Pacquiao and his mum — January 27, 2017
  4. Has Australia fallen out of love with rugby union? — December 8, 2016
  5. Ruan Pienaar: ‘I wanted to come to Ulster as a foreigner and make a difference’ — November 3, 2016

Author's posts listings

Mar 27

Graham Stack: the Arsenal Invincible who has more fans in India than Islington

Graham Stack was on the bench for Arsenal on the day they won the league at Tottenham in 2004, but that fixture offered little preparation for life in Kerala

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Graham Stack knew that playing football in India was going to be different. The goalkeeper enjoyed a successful season with Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League last year, but a single game, a 5-0 defeat against Mumbai City FC told him the fans there were unique. “I had let in a hat-trick from Diego Forlán,” he remembers. “It was an away game, so when we returned to Kerala I was a bit nervous about facing our fans. First time I see them after this bad defeat, they’re all profusely thanking me for trying my best and assuring me that the team would come back stronger. I thought I’m seriously a long way from home now.”

Stack started his career as a goalkeeper in the Arsenal academy and graduated to become part of the famed Invicibles squad in the 2003-04 season. The former Republic of Ireland U21 goalkeeper lifted the Premier League trophy at Highbury surrounded by Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira. As a member of that great squad, Stack is welcome at the club any time and he recently visited Arsenal’s training ground for lunch with his old boss, Arsène Wenger. Stack’s privileged football education in north London shaped him and he continues to apply the lessons he learned at Arsenal for Eastleigh in the fifth tier of English football.

Related: Why would anyone drop the All Blacks to play for Ulster? Charles Piutau explains

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/behind-the-lines/2017/mar/27/graham-stack-arsenal-invincibles-goalkeeper-india-kerala-eastleigh

Mar 03

Why would anyone drop the All Blacks to play for Ulster? Charles Piutau explains

Charles Piutau missed out on winning the Rugby World Cup when he signed for Ulster but his move wasn’t about his success – it was about his family’s welfare

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Charles Piutau grew up as the youngest of 10 siblings in Māngere, south Auckland, heavily influenced by his Tongan heritage. The suburb is home to many families from the Pacific Islands and was once the home to another son of industrious Tongan parents, the late great Jonah Lomu. In Maori culture there is a concept called “mana” that pervades Māngere, whether in church, school or at home. It denotes personal and collective pride, strength and identity. No man or woman is bigger than their community in a Tongan family. When you rise, you support your relatives along the way, as they have helped you in your development.

Two years ago, Piutau was an All Black who made a decision that some of his compatriots struggled to understand. At the age of 23 he was recognised regularly on the streets on Auckland as a rising star for his provincial and international teams. To the surprise of rugby fans in New Zealand, Piutau decided to postpone his international career and sign for Ulster. An All Black must play their club rugby in New Zealand and Piutau was swapping the fabled black jersey for the white of Ulster.

Related: Ruan Pienaar: ‘I wanted to come to Ulster as a foreigner and make a difference’

Related: A life in boxing: Freddie Roach on Ali, Tyson, Cotto, Pacquiao and his mum

Continue reading…

Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/behind-the-lines/2017/mar/03/charles-piutau-ulster-all-blacks-rugby

Jan 27

A life in boxing: Freddie Roach on Ali, Tyson, Cotto, Pacquiao and his mum

Freddie Roach arrives at his Wild Card boxing gym in Hollywood every morning before 5am grateful that he can dedicate another day to the sport he loves

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

In a city that operates as a revolving and ruthless casting couch for aspiring stars, the Wild Card boxing gym in Hollywood, Los Angeles, offers a puncher’s chance for fighters to shine. Freddie Roach, the gym’s owner and trainer, surveys the first fighters through the door from the front desk. The sun has just risen, bringing some warmth to an uncharacteristically cold Californian morning. Roach’s clientele has always been eclectic. He began the morning training Puerto Rican legend Miguel Cotto at 5am sharp, will soon be making plans with Manny Pacquiao and will spend the afternoon helping a 12-year-old girl who wants to learn the sport.

Everybody who walks into the gym is greeted warmly by Roach and his elderly mother Barbara at the door. You pay your five bucks and get ready to train hard. Whether you are a portly accountant aimlessly windmilling at the heavy bag or a hard-nosed prospect, you will be treated with the same cordial respect.

Related: Carl Frampton: ‘Fighting aged seven was terrifying … but then instinct took over’

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/behind-the-lines/2017/jan/27/boxing-freddie-roach-ali-tyson-cotto-pacquiao-parkinsons

Dec 08

Has Australia fallen out of love with rugby union?

Australia were well beaten by England on Saturday but the sport is facing bigger troubles at home, where participation, investment and interest are falling

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

The Wallabies have returned home after a heavy defeat to England in front of a capacity crowd at Twickenham. Taking a beaten from England is never easy for any Australian sports fan, but the result was softened by the fact that the match reports hovered slightly above the weekend’s lawn bowl results. Rugby union is largely out of sight and out of mind here.

If you don’t live in Australia, it is hard to believe that rugby union features so low on the sporting agenda. The Wallaby jersey has been worn by some of the game’s greatest players and the country’s contribution to the sport has been enormous historically, but the game is losing relevance for Australians. The country’s stadiums are barely filled and the crowds are muted.

Related: Wallabies end 2016 on a low note but positives emerge from European tour | John Davidson

Related: From Fiji to Sweden: how a Scottish cricket coach taught the world to play

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/behind-the-lines/2016/dec/08/australia-rugby-union-england

Nov 03

Ruan Pienaar: ‘I wanted to come to Ulster as a foreigner and make a difference’

Ruan Pienaar is being forced to leave Ulster as the IRFU want to ‘develop indigenous talent in this position’, but he is not bitter – just proud of the way he helped to develop the club and the young players who are replacing him

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Ulster’s Springbok scrum-half Ruan Pienaar remembers arriving in Belfast six years ago vividly. He got out of the club car, looked up at a slate-grey sky and a crumbling stadium and gazed at his young wife incredulously. He had just enjoyed a beautiful South African summer by the Indian Ocean in Durban and his mother’s words were still ringing in his ears. She had heard that Belfast was one of the most dangerous places in the world and asked whether he should reconsider. “She was a bit concerned, but I told her there’s no need to worry – we’re South Africans. It’s funny looking back. My wife and I went in with the attitude that we had to make this work, and six years later we’re so glad we did.”

Pienaar settled into Northern Ireland quickly with his wife and young family. Ulster boasted a conveyor belt of talented South African players who helped him gradually find his feet in a new culture and climate, even if he never fully adjusted to the Belfast winters. Instead he found warmth in the local people, “I came here initially with two years in my mind maybe, but one big thing that kept me and my family was the people. People in this part of the world are similar to South Africans. They’re family-orientated and warm. The will do anything for you. That goes a long way when you are so far from home.”

Related: A stray boot blinded Ian McKinley in one eye but he’s back playing top-level rugby

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/behind-the-lines/2016/nov/03/ruan-pienaar-ulster-ireland-rugby-leave-contract-foreigner

Oct 07

Tyson Fury is facing his toughest opponent and needs our compassion

Wladimir Klitschko has accused Tyson Fury of ‘dragging boxing through the mud’ but Fury’s mental health means more than a heavyweight title fight

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Fighters fight, or so the old adage goes. World heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury is fighting for his life against the most daunting opponent he can face, the snarling black dog of depression. The tools of his trade, his fists, will be obsolete in this fight. The battle he is facing will be ongoing with no final bell being sounded.

Fury is a man who specialises in infuriating people. He plays to the peanut gallery with soundbites that vary from the bizarre to the highly offensive. The defining victory of his career, against Wladimir Klitschko, should have been feted for years, instead his boxing triumph was obscured by the force of a feckless tongue.

Related: Wladimir Klitschko accuses Tyson Fury of ‘dragging boxing through the mud’

Related: Why I run: to live | Jonathan Drennan

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/behind-the-lines/2016/oct/07/tyson-fury-boxing-depression-compassion

Oct 05

Gaelic footballers have shone in the AFL. Will college athletes from the US be next?

The route from Gaelic football to Aussie Rules was established a generation ago and now the intrepid sports agent, Miro Gladovic, hopes to open up the AFL to young American athletes who didn’t make it as professionals in the NBA or NFL

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

On Saturday, after a 62 year wait, the Western Bulldogs won their second AFL premiership against the Sydney Swans in a pulsating grand final. The ultimate Australian underdog story was played out in front of a capacity crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Grand final day is a sacred day in most Australian calendars home and abroad, as millions gather in bars and backyards to watch the game. Yet, outside of the land down under the game remains largely unknown.

To the uninitiated, Australian Football is a mysterious game that appears like 36 hungry seagulls chasing after a single chip. Originally invented in the 19th century to keep cricketers fit during the off-season, it has evolved into a multi-million dollar business that can keep a whole country enthralled during the season.

Related: Bulldogs’ AFL premiership a win for people power and community | Craig Little

Related: A stray boot blinded Ian McKinley in one eye but he’s back playing top-level rugby

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/behind-the-lines/2016/oct/05/afl-gaelic-footballers-america-nfl-nba-australia

Sep 01

How it feels to be given an Olympic gold medal … nine years later at a Burger King

Adam Nelson went to Athens in 2004 as favourite to win gold for USA in the shot put. He lost by the slimmest of margins, took silver and continued with his life – until he was asked to meet an Olympics official at an airport food court

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Adam Nelson had imagined what winning Olympic gold would feel like as a young boy growing up in Atlanta. The shot putter would stand tall on the top podium and close his eyes when he heard the Star-Spangled Banner played. He won Olympic gold as an adult, but the medal ceremony came nine years after he competed and it was considerably more humble than his childhood dreams. Among the hustle and bustle of travellers in Atlanta airport, Nelson sat down outside Burger King and was awarded his medal by an United States Olympic Committee official. His medal had been upgraded due to a competitor doping nine years earlier. Nelson’s road to recognition was far harder than any gruelling training session at the track.

In 2004 shot putter Adam Nelson entered the ancient stadium at Olympia for his second Olympic Games. A harsh sun baked the dusty ground, dazzling the athletes and the spectators. The last time an Olympic event had taken place here, the ancient Greeks were using their sporting talents to impress Zeus, whereas Nelson just wanted a gold medal. He flexed his neck muscles, exhaled and stepped up to take his first throw. White chalk dust was spread all over his chin and thick neck. After spinning, he released the shot and yelled in ecstasy. He knew the throw was good and he took an early lead over his opponents. He was on course to achieve gold.

Related: Life as an Olympic boxer: torture, money worries, darkness … and a dream of glory

Related: The fighting father: how a priest became a professional boxer to save his local gym

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/behind-the-lines/2016/sep/01/olympic-games-usa-gold-medal-shot-put-burger-king

Aug 25

The fighting father: how a priest became a professional boxer to save his local gym

When Father Dave Smith’s local youth centre was threatened with closure he knew he had to do something – so he took on a professional fight and earned enough money from boxing to keep the place open

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Father Dave Smith’s Sunday schedule rarely wavers. He rises early to prepare the morning service at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, in the inner west of Sydney, and then he delivers his weekly sermon. In the afternoon, he continues to serve his parishioners, this time acting as their boxing trainer in the gym across the road. The young men and women under his tutelage will listen to him calling out drills and work hard. He has earned their respect for acting not only as a spiritual guide but also for his exploits as a fighter. Father Dave is Australia’s oldest professional boxer, always training for his next opponent, whoever that may be.

Dulwich Hill is now a gentrified Sydney suburb lined with quaint coffee shops and book shops. The parish that Father Dave inherited in the 1980s as a young man was filled with gang fights and drug addiction. Heroin plagued teenagers in the area, leaving the young priest needing more than his pulpit to calm the storm he was living within.

Related: Life as an Olympic boxer: torture, money worries, darkness … and a dream of glory

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/behind-the-lines/2016/aug/25/fighting-father-professional-boxer-gym-sydney

Aug 09

‘You’ll leave as handsome as you arrived’: life as a cutman in boxing, UFC and Creed

Jacob ‘Stitch’ Duran wraps hands and stems cuts for Wladamir Klitschko, Anderson Silva and Rocky Balboa. But don’t ask him for the tricks of the trade

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

In 60 seconds Jacob “Stitch” Duran has the potential to save a fighter’s career. Between rounds, in the corners of octagons and boxing rings around the world, the cutman always delivers a calming message to the fighter: “Don’t you worry about a thing. I’m going to have you leaving this fight as handsome as you arrived.” Duran works serenely and quickly on the cut as he tries to stem the flow of blood and give the fighter one one more round – and help them to a career-defining win and a secure future.

Duran’s introduction to combat sports came after visiting Thailand with the military as a young man. He watched Thai boxers and was mesmerised by the speed of their hands and feet. He returned home and began training kickboxers, learning how to stem their cuts on the job. He was soon in high demand as a cutman, taking him away from training duties. He never panicked at the scale of a fighter’s facial cuts but just focused on how to stop the flowing blood. He was skilled with a swelling iron but his ability to read a fighter’s psychological state was more valued. Did they need calming? Were they struck by nerves, fear or both? He will assess these quirks as much as a cut and try to fix them with light humour and soothing words.

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/behind-the-lines/2016/aug/09/cutman-boxing-ufc-jacob-stitch-duran-wladamir-klitschko-anderson-silva-rocky

Aug 01

Life as an Olympic boxer: torture, money worries, darkness … and a dream of glory

Irish boxer Paddy Barnes lost his first 15 fights but, after winning bronze medals at the Olympics in Beijing and London, he is going for gold in Rio – and aiming to become the first Irish athlete to win medals at three successive Games

By Jonathan Drennan for Behind the Lines, part of the Guardian Sport Network

Irish Olympic boxer Paddy Barnes will have billions of eyes on him on Friday. The 29-year-old has been given the honour of carrying the Irish flag into the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on his third and probably last Olympic Games. As Barnes prepared for the Games, making his lonely train journeys from his home in Belfast to his training camp in Dublin, he pictured the cheering crowds, flash photography and billion TV viewers, as those images helped to brighten painful sessions for the little man with the incessant fighting heart.

Barnes fights at light-flyweight, meaning he has to compete at a maximum of 48 kilograms. Outside of the competition, his normal weight is 58kg, while he is in training and eating healthily. Lacing up a pair of boxing gloves and fighting in a ring is often the easy part for a man who grimaces when he describes the horrors his body goes through to shed the excess 10kg. “It’s just not pleasant, I would go so far as saying at times it’s torture. You survive on the wits of sports scientists and dieticians and the plan they give you. When it comes nearer to the day of the weight, I genuinely can’t speak, I could walk past my best friend and not say a word. I’m not me then. As it gets closer to the fight, I just lie there in the dark. I’m not in a good way. The team know to leave me alone during those times.”

Related: Life as the 475th best golfer in the world (who was 570th in last week’s rankings)

@McIlroyRory you should have came mate, they had this bed set up for you and everything! #RioOlympics pic.twitter.com/vAMAmLgvQh

Related: The golfers don’t care, but the Olympics meant everything to us squash players

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Permanent link to this article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/behind-the-lines/2016/aug/01/paddy-barnes-boxer-gold-rio-ireland-olympics