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John Duggan: 'Do it Today' - Three words from John Giles that said it all

John Duggan writes that the life experience of sporting legends and older people is knowledge we should always be curious about

After listening intently for an hour on OTB's Saturday Panel to three people that have achieved great things in sport, John Giles, Rosemary Smith and Eddie Keher, I asked them all what advice they would give to their younger selves.

I was expecting responses perhaps verging towards the verbose - and then Giles just delivered the line - 'Do it Today'.

How much time do we waste each day? Worrying about trivialities that are grains of sand in the desert of our existence, addicted to our phones, walking around with nature passing us by, not being as kind or as empathetic as we should be to others, not living in the now and enjoying it as much as we can, whatever challenges are placed in our way. We are all guilty of it, myself included. And there are many obvious challenges at the moment.

It's always enlightening to speak to older people for their wisdom alone. Irish revolutionary Michael Collins, not long before he died, gave a series of interviews to an American journalist, Hayden Talbot. He spoke about being much fonder of older people in darkness than young people in daytime. Listening to older people educated Collins about Irish identity and nationality.

We spoke to Giles, Smith and Keher in association with a campaign we are supporting for the charity ALONE. They are in a partnership with Guinness to highlight the work they do in the community, in what is a difficult time for everyone, but especially for older people.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. Giles spoke about being 'terrified' of the disease, one that sadly claimed his close friend and former Leeds United team-mate Norman Hunter. Keher has been going to mass online. Smith reconnected with her neighbours.

One third of older Irish people live alone. Many of them are lonely and have been deprived the enjoyment of having a quiet pint and a chat in their local pub. We all probably know a parent or a grandparent or a relative that lives alone. Whom we cannot hug.

ALONE do great work in providing a support system for older people to age at home throughout Ireland by helping and empowering them. Whether it’s a volunteer that befriends an older person, practical housing support or financial and legal advice, there is a charity out there with thousands of volunteers.

ALONE's work around befriending is especially touching. Some older people are fortunate to have a support network. Others do not. My uncle Phonsie has lived alone in Limerick city for 26 years. He is 86 now and experiencing frailty. We, as a family, do as much as we can to visit him, cook and clean, but most importantly, enjoy his company and conversation. He's an interesting, funny man. He always has been.

So hearing Eddie Keher talk about meeting Muhammad Ali, or Rosemary Smith detailing the sexism she experienced as a rally driver before she proved she was good as any male, or learning of how John Giles has been enjoying 'The Last Dance' on Netflix and how he felt he had a 'gift' as a footballer are insights into the unique aspects of each individual human. When I speak to older people, I just want to know - 'what was it like?' I want to know what happened on their journey, which hopefully has many more miles to go.

There is a great moment in the film 'Rumblefish', directed by Francis Ford Coppola, when the waiter, 'Benny', played by Tom Waits, riffs on the concept of time.

"Time is a funny thing. Time is a very peculiar item. You see when you're young, you're a kid, you got time, you got nothing but time. Throw away a couple of years here, a couple of years there... it doesn't matter. You know. The older you get you say, "Jesus, how much I got? I got thirty-five summers left." Think about it. Thirty-five summers."

The three words from John Giles resonated with me. 'Do it today'. Don't waste time. Enjoy life. And search for that cup of wisdom.

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