'I waddle' | 

Anna Geary put on weight during lockdown and reveals guilt about overindulging

The camogie legend turned broadcaster opens up about enjoying the festive season, dealing with criticism, coping with the stress of lockdown, and why she has an ‘incessant need’ to be liked
Anna Geary. Picture by David Conachy

Anna Geary. Picture by David Conachy

Dónal Lynch

Like a lot of people, Anna Geary has had quite enough of the uncertainty about our ‘meaningful Christmas’. Fatigue has set in. She’s weathered the loneliness and isolation of the last 18 months – the first lockdown came right after she had gotten married, and just after moving into their new home where they knew no one.

She’s not even allowing herself to countenance the prospect of another lockdown and is focusing on nurturing a sparkly mood to suit her sparkly dress.

She’s still going to get to a panto, even if it means being spaced out from other audience members and “kidnapping” a child, she jokingly adds, to give cover to herself and her husband, Kevin Sexton, who are diehard panto fans.

And as she switches between two sets of pyjamas – “one pure comfort, the other slightly more dressy” – at her parents’ house in Cork on Christmas Day, the one thing she won’t be feeling is guilt about overindulging.

“What annoys me is this word ‘balance’, like what does that even mean?” the camogie star turned TV and radio host asks People & Culture . “One person’s balance is another person’s overindulgence. I’ve felt guilty about overindulging but I know that guilt is rarely a strong enough feeling to actually make you eat and drink differently. All it does is stop you enjoying the food and drink. Rather than cutting things out, I try to add in things that are good for me, but feeling bad about treating yourself at the end of a tough year is fairly pointless.”

Anna Geary. Picture by David Conachy

Anna Geary. Picture by David Conachy

But isn’t that easy for a former athlete with enviably washboard abs to say, when the rest of us feel like our body has taken on the shape of a bin bag full of yoghurt over the last year?

“Listen, I absolutely can relate to [feeling bad about lockdown eating] because last year I definitely put on more body fat and more pounds.

“I have body insecurities just like everybody else. I’m five foot five. I have a very muscular body and I have big thighs and I have to work hard to make my body look fit.

“I waddle, I jiggle, but I’m not going to feel guilty about enjoying my food over Christmas. There’s parts of me that I would change if I could, but I’m certainly not going to change them in the next period of time. And no matter how much I wish for it or train for it, I’m never going to be six foot. I’m never going to have legs up to my ears.”

Last year, partly in response to the extra pounds and her understanding of the uselessness of constant self-scrutiny, she threw out her weighing scales.

Anna Geary and dance partner Kai Widdrington during the final of 'Dancing with the Stars'. Picture by Kyran O'Brien

Anna Geary and dance partner Kai Widdrington during the final of 'Dancing with the Stars'. Picture by Kyran O'Brien

“That was freeing, to not be able to weigh myself at home any more. I have an idea if I’ve put on weight from how tight my clothes are, but I think there is more to the subject than just the aesthetic. It’s about feeling healthy and feeling good and realising that your body is there to do things, not just to look a certain way.”

As one of the coaches on Ireland’s Fittest Family , Anna sees first hand the power of positive reinforcement and competition within families. When she was growing up near Milford in North Cork, she helped out on the family farm – “you mucked in, fed the calves, walked the fields” – and she got her sense of competitiveness from her dad, Michael.

But despite the glittering camogie career that awaited, as a child, she says, “it would have been paying me a compliment to say I was average”. Her parents “never had visions of me playing for Cork in Croke Park”.

She was, she recalls, “the awkward teenager with a ton of blue eye shadow and the foundation line around the jaw”, but sport gave her a purpose and a sense that her body was for something more than satisfying the male or female gaze.

“I remember I looked at myself not just in terms of how I fitted into a pair of skinny jeans but in terms of what my body could actually do. My focus, more than the aesthetic, was getting fitter, faster and stronger.”

Her camogie coaches gave her a lot of confidence in this regard. “I was told that it is not what happens on the pitch but how you react to it that counts. That gave me a sense that everything was always in my own hands.”

That positive attitude bore fruit on the field. She won 10 All-Ireland medals with St Mary’s Secondary School in Charleville and three minor All-Ireland titles with Cork, including in 2003 when she captained the county team.

She soon parlayed that into a legendary senior career, winning four senior All-Ireland medals with Cork, and two senior club All-Ireland titles with Milford.

Cork captain Anna Geary lifts the O'Duffy Cup following her side's victory in the Liberty Insurance All Ireland Senior Camogie Championship final match between Kilkenny and Cork at Croke Park in Dublin, September 2014. Picture by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

Cork captain Anna Geary lifts the O'Duffy Cup following her side's victory in the Liberty Insurance All Ireland Senior Camogie Championship final match between Kilkenny and Cork at Croke Park in Dublin, September 2014. Picture by Paul Mohan/Sportsfile

She had the privilege of captaining Cork in 2013 and 2014, during which time they brought back two Munster titles. That she kept competing at an elite level all through her teens and most of her 20s was, she acknowledges, unusual. Most girls who take up sport – almost a third, according to some studies – have quit by the time they reach the age of 16.

There are a number of reasons for this, she says. There is “some truth” in the notion that girls think boys don’t find girls who are more athletic than them attractive. But, she adds, this is changing.

The training atmosphere is also a big thing, she says. “When girls feel they’re in an environment that’s safe, that’s non-judgmental, that they’re not going to be humiliated, that it’s a case that they can just enjoy themselves and be themselves, they’re far more likely to come back week after week.”

Clothes, she says, are another important factor; underage girls generally don’t want to wear shorts – they prefer leggings – and certainly not white shorts. “You’re thinking about menstruation and thinking about the fear of that being seen, even as an adult, not to mind a 15-year-old.”

All top GAA stars traverse the worlds of elite sport and civilian life and Anna always had one eye on what lay ahead after she hung up her boots.

Cork Rose Anna Geary with her father Michael and mother Ellen Ann, at the Silver Springs Moran Hotel, Cork. Picture by Niall Brownen

Cork Rose Anna Geary with her father Michael and mother Ellen Ann, at the Silver Springs Moran Hotel, Cork. Picture by Niall Brownen

She was the Cork Rose in the Rose of Tralee in 2014 and had a successful career in recruitment – but when she retired from inter-county play in 2015, she was still just 27. It left “a huge gap” in her life, she says.

This transition period was made easier by two things: she continued with club play and her team won an All-Ireland title a number of months later. And she also began making her mark in media and did broadcasting work on Radio 1 with Marty Morrissey.

“Nothing is ever going to fully replace the feeling of running on Croke Park and hearing the sounds and the roars and the screams. But in some ways, media gave me a good substitute because when someone said, ‘You’re going live,’ I got a similar adrenaline rush. I got the sweaty palms, I got the nerves, I got the excitement.”

In the same year – 2015 – she joined the coaching panel of Ireland’s Fittest Family and in her first year made it to the final, with her family, the Daverns, ending up in third place.

The Ireland's Fittest Family team: coach Derval O'Rourke, coach Donncha O'Callaghan, presenter Mairead Ronan, coach Anna Geary and coach Davy Fitzgerald. Picture by Kyran O'Brien

The Ireland's Fittest Family team: coach Derval O'Rourke, coach Donncha O'Callaghan, presenter Mairead Ronan, coach Anna Geary and coach Davy Fitzgerald. Picture by Kyran O'Brien

The following year, and in 2018, she was the winning coach and she is going for a hat trick this year.

“I genuinely think it’s because they’re just ordinary families doing extraordinary things,” she says, referring to the show’s appeal. “They’re just people like you and me, and they’re stepping out of their comfort zone and they’re surprising themselves, they’re surprising the audience and there are twists and turns.”

The show has been a ratings behemoth – nearly 600,000 people watched the last finale – and it has helped to make a star of Anna. With that has come an increased level of scrutiny, something she has tried to keep a perspective on.

“I suppose I have this incessant need to be liked, but as I’ve got older I’ve started to realise whose opinion matters. And it’s not strangers who happen to have a random opinion on me.”

She’s dealt with trolls online and has toned down her Cork accent for TV.

“You have people saying, ‘Who does she think she is?’ Or, ‘The sound of her voice really annoys me.’ Years ago, if you didn’t like somebody on the television, you might say it to the people that are in the sitting room or in the kitchen, and you’d voice your opinion, but that’s as far as it went. But now people have that outlet of social media.”

She says trolls often don’t think through how their nasty words can come back to bite them. “You’re having a bad day and you’re having a glass of wine and, ‘I’m going to put this up about this person.’ That is attached to your name forever. And sometimes these people haven’t thought about that.”

She refers back to her time working in recruitment when she saw first hand the lasting impact that someone’s online presence has on how they are perceived. “There were times that we’d get a CV in, [put it to one side] and start looking up [their] social media pages.”

Besides dealing with the occasional online snipe, there have been other more seriously tough moments too.

“I’ve had people in my life get sick and we’ve lost close family members, those moments were very difficult. So just because you don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing it. There have also been jobs that I’ve missed out on. And, after the fact, I said it was a good thing, but at the time I can assure you it wasn’t.

"I am quite a high-energy person. I’m very focused on trying to be as positive as I can. And by positive, I don’t mean smiling and happy all the time, because my husband will tell you there are days I’m not like that.”

Anna and Kevin Sexton on their wedding day. Picture by @jennymccarthy8 on Anna's Instagram account

Anna and Kevin Sexton on their wedding day. Picture by @jennymccarthy8 on Anna's Instagram account

She married Dublin man Kevin Sexton in 2019. The ceremony was at the Castlemartyr resort in Cork and Anna wore a handmade Tamem Michael dress.

The couple moved into their new house in Sallins, Co Kildare, the week before the wedding which, she says, she “wouldn’t recommend from a stress point of view”. A few months into the marriage they were catapulted into lockdown.

“His family and my family live far away from us,” she says, “so we were quite isolated. We didn’t know anybody. The 2km rule was extended to 5km, but it didn’t make a blind bit of a difference to me because I was like, ‘I still don’t know anybody.’ So there was that element of loneliness.”

Through it all she tried to retain perspective. “I have really close friends that are really struggling to secure mortgages. And I suppose it is that kind of stuff that makes me realise I am lucky.”

Kevin was an accomplished hurler and is a triathlon enthusiast and Anna says that there is no insecurity about her superior athletic ability.

Kevin Sexton and Anna Geary. Picture by Andres Poveda

Kevin Sexton and Anna Geary. Picture by Andres Poveda

“Look, if I said, ‘OK, let’s all throw our medals out on the table,’ mine would stretch out a lot longer than his. But I think that [acceptance that women can be equal or better athletes] really has changed. There’s a mindset shift and we are seeing it a lot more. There are many young boys now who have female role models in sport.”

Her career continues to climb. She has a new radio show starting on RTÉ 1 in January. It will cover health topics, but not in a way we’re used to hearing.

“I think sometimes when we think of health and wellbeing, we think of exercise, we think of green smoothies, we think of keeping a journal – and that’s important, but health and wellbeing is so much more. It’s about the deeper topics. It’s about perimenopause. It’s about steroid use in young people and the long-term effects of that. The show will be a little bit of everything and I think it’s important that people get credible information in a world where we’re bombarded with advice.”

Even after Christmas is over she won’t be falling prey to what she calls “the new year, new you BS”. “I don’t believe in that. It’s about doing small things that add up to a big difference, and easing yourself into the New Year.

“Stop overwhelming yourself. And rather than trying to do a complete overhaul of everything, start with one aspect of your life.

“With the pandemic, not everyone, unfortunately, is in a position right now to feel good, but you can improve how you feel by 1 per cent.”

The finale of ‘Ireland’s Fittest Family’ airs tonight on RTÉ One at 6.30pm. ‘Supercharged with Anna Geary’ begins Sunday, January 9 at 6pm on R TÉ Radio 1

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