fittest family | 

Donncha O'Callaghan: 'I don't want the CrossFit lads - I want farmers who drink Lucozade and eat breakfast rolls'

We catch up with coaches Derval O'Rourke and Donncha O'Callaghan ahead of Ireland's Fittest Family's return to RTÉ One tonight.

Donncha O’Callaghan is the fitness show’s reigning champion

The Doyles

Katie Smyth

The Mahoney's

The O'Rourkes

Daragh Keany

You could be forgiven for thinking Ireland's Fittest Family was all about the contestants but the competitive nature of the coaches means that RTÉ's Covid-tweaked show sees Donncha O'Callaghan, Derval O'Rourke, Davy Fitzgerald and Anna Geary all vying for top spot and all-important bragging rights.

As coronavirus swept across the country during 2020, RTÉ bosses knew that Dancing with the Stars would not be possible and so were quick to promote the entertaining show - that sees families compete in a series of outdoor athletic challenges - to the coveted Sunday evening slot.

Reigning champion is former Ireland rugby star Donncha O'Callaghan who helped the McSharry family from Sligo to victory last year, so Magazine+ chatted to the 6ft 6in legend about how this season's show has changed, who he wants to beat more than anything and what he has learned after four years on the show?

"I was naïve in the early days to pick the families with the big lads," the 41-year-old Cork man reveals.

Ireland’s Fittest Family host Mairead Ronan with coaches (from left) Derval O’Rourke, Davy Fitzgerald, Donncha O’Callaghan and camogie champ Anna Geary

"I would look along the lines and pick out the lads who looked like CrossFit freaks and just assume that they are going to win. But a lot of the time they don't succeed. So now I look out for the farmer types who are deceptively strong and eat breakfast rolls every day and drink pints of Lucozade. They are the kind of people who will win this," he laughs.

"I want a bit of dog in them. I want the dirty GAA player and not the muscular rugby player.

"I love that about this show. You can have a well-built rugby lad in a team who could bench lift his own body weight, but if he can't climb over a 10-foot wall or hang on to a bar for more than 60 seconds, he will be eliminated.

"The dark horses are what are great about this show. It's the dogged mums and the daughters who always surprise us. You get some auld lads too who don't have a pick on them but can run forever and have this inner strength that we don't discover until we get going into the challenges.

"But the young sisters are the ones that can make or break a family. Do you remember Katie Smyth from a few years ago? No one rated her but she smashed the record time for Hang Tough.

"I kept shouting at her to hold on for dear life but soon I realised I could do nothing to help her. She was a machine, in her zone, kicking ass and breaking records. They ended up getting to the final that year thanks to her."

So what about this year's contestants?

"It's an unusual one because of Covid. Firstly, from a production perspective, it is weird not being able to get up close and personal to the teams. But also we had to change a few of the obstacles so that there weren't any close contacts. But the plan is, and I haven't seen the finished product, that viewers at home won't really notice any differences.

"Behind the scenes the events were much bigger and took much longer to film. But the end product will be the same."

"One thing that definitely will be noticeable is the standard of fitness among the families," he continues.

The Thompsons

"Jesus Christ, you'd want to see them. You could tell that most of them had spent a lot of time training out in their back gardens and had built loads of obstacles of their own to practice on.

"While the rest of the country was out in their back gardens during lockdown getting a tan and learning how to plant flowers, these guys were doing drills and transforming into robots."

In an unusual move fellow coach Derval agrees with him for once telling us: "There was definitely a different calibre of contestant this year.

"It was clear from the start that they had spent a lot of time together in the build-up. Usually you get older kids coming home from college to take part, but thanks to Covid all of them were much closer and working in unison.

Olympic star Derval O'Rourke

"Usually, as coaches, the biggest challenge is getting them working as a team. You can have the fittest members in the world but if they don't work as a team they won't go far in this competition. But this year there was less coaching on that side of things.

"In a weird way we had less to do because of that, but that meant that when we were there to help we had to make it count. Davy thinks he can turn water into wine so he'll probably tell you different, but we were all feeling the pressure a bit this year.

"Usually it is the families who feel the pressure. Especially when one member doesn't have a great day you can find them inconsolable at times. This gets really competitive. And if someone lets their family down you can find them in tears. It's all off camera but when filming stops you get a real sense of how much it means to them."

It means a lot to the coaches too and funny guy Donncha is a dark horse when it comes to coach rivalries, according to Olympic runner and mother-of-two O'Rourke.

"Donners could be singing Frozen songs in the catering area all morning but as soon as that gun fires he becomes this ruthless monster," she laughs. "I've learned through the years not to trust him. And Davy too with his suspicious looks. He's always playing mind games with you. He's actually the one I'd like to see lose the most.

"If Anna wins she has the most titles and obviously she is the other female so my competitive side comes out against her. But Davy is just Davy. What you see is what you get with him. It's not for show. And because of that I want him to lose."

Wexford hurling manager Davy Fitzgerald

Donncha agrees. "Technically I want none of them to win. I find them all unbearable but Davy at the moment is top of my hit list.

"The others aren't getting away lightly though. How much time have I got? Anna is definitely the most vocal about her wins. She is brilliant but she rubs it in your face. And Derv is a smug winner, which you'd kind of expect.

"I am a good winner and a good loser. I get a kick out of how emotionally involved Davy gets. You'd regularly see him sitting in his car in the carpark before going home and he's being that energetic with himself."

While she does agree with a lot that O'Callaghan has to say O'Rourke is quick to pipe in: "I was pregnant for one of the series and Davy was the nicest person ever to me. There's a soft side to him. But then the competition starts and the monster comes out.

"I know this is supposed to be about the families, but for the four of us it is about bragging rights. We are all from ultra competitive backgrounds and that never leaves you. In fact - because we are all retired from our respective playing days - this is now how we channel our competitive streaks."

  • Ireland's Fittest Family airs tonight on RTÉ One at 6.30pm

Today's Headlines

More Health & Fitness

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos