To become a professional athlete takes dedication, determination and a desire to reach the top.
Fortunately, for those who show promise in a particular discipline, professionalism is mapped out for them.
Take rugby as an example, by the age of 16, schools rugby sets the wheels in motion, providing talented players with the platform to pursue professionalism.
For footballers, while the sport is cut-throat and many return to the Emerald Isle before they turn 20, there is a professional avenue on our doorstep that ensures our brightest talents get another bite at the cherry.
From the individual side of things, sports like tennis and skiing, while they may not have the desired facilities here in Ireland, those at the top are given the opportunity to hone their skills abroad, often working alongside some of the world’s best athletes and coaches.
For Greg Callaghan, the roadmap to professionalism is a far cry from what the Rathfarnham native had to endure en route to the top of his field.
The enduro mountain biker is the first professional rider to hail from these shores and the Dubliner had to do it the hard way, living out of his customised Ford Transit van as he travelled the world from race to race trying to make ends meet, working as a courier driver in the winter.
While Callaghan admits these were in fact, some of the best years of his life, he’s now in a position where he no longer needs to self-fund his sporting habits.
As a Red Bull athlete, he’s finally been given the platform to maximise his potential and make a run at the world title having finished third in his maiden season on the World Enduro Series in 2017.
It’s far cry from the days of living out of the van but with it comes heightened expectations. The pressures of riding have changed but that only drives Callaghan to rise up further and achieve even more than he has done thus far.
“It’s definitely very different. In the early days, the pressure was purely from myself. It was me trying to achieve what I wanted to achieve and the only person I had to answer to was myself. Of course, there were people helping me, but the main person I was letting down was myself if a race didn’t go to plan.
“Whereas now, there are so many people behind me and supporting me and believing in me that you know, you want to deliver for them just as much as I want to deliver for myself.
“There’s that pressure plus there’s the expectations of what people maybe think you should be and the results you should be achieving.
“The pressure has increased but at the same time I try to think of it as, those people, they want the best for you, they’re helping you because they want that.
“I need to try to use that as something to lift me rather than dwelling on the pressure too much in a negative sense. I like to think of myself as someone who responds pretty well to pressure. When the expectations are high, it’s nice to rise to the challenge.”
Of course, the current season has been thrown into disarray due to the ongoing pandemic, and while Callaghan is back on the bike he won’t see competitive action until August 30, when he’ll arrive in Zermatt, Switzerland for the first race of the revised season.
While every athlete and sporting outfit has had to adapt to life’s “new normal”, the nature of Callaghan’s career means he’s used to isolated training schedules and only seeing his coach Chris Kilmurray, an Irish man exiled in France, a few times per year.
“Compared to a lot of sports, in particular team sports, they train as a team and with a team of coaches. Whereas our sport is predominantly individual. We all ride for teams, but you know, each of the riders and those teams and the staff of those teams all live in different countries.
“So we don’t really see each other unless it is at races or training camps. So 80 per cent of the year, 70 per cent of the year, I’m on my own. I do have a coach who oversees all the training. He’s Irish, but he lives in France.
“So for me, it’s kind of normal that we do a lot of our stuff digitally anyway through skype calls and zoom calls. They send me a programme, and then a few times a year he’ll fly home and train with me, but, you know, I’m quite used to training alone anyway so the current situation wasn’t a massive change for me personally.”
Callaghan admits the lockdown helped him gain a fresh perspective on his career and how his motivation has been reignited following a few months off the bike.
However, the current circumstances have also given him a chance to pause and reflect on how far he’s come in the sport.
“In the early days when I left school and decided not to go to college because I wanted to pursue the mountain biking everyone thought I was stupid. You know, everyone was telling me not to do it except a few key people that I really looked up to.
“They told me you might regret not taking the chance, but you’ll never regret actually taking the chance and giving it a proper go. And you know, thankfully, it did work out. I’ve put everything into it and it paid off in the end.”