RiverTribe Editor Linda Duberley meets Michael Lynagh, the Quiet Australian
In a world full of chatter where almost every day is filled with the white noise of social media, Michael Lynagh is an unusual person.
He is thoughtful, thinks rationally and likes to throw in some insights where possible. He is considerate, polite and above all likes to – as he puts it – deal in things that are real.
It is probably this last point which has secured his place in sporting history. He was the world’s top scoring rugby player with 911 points when he retired from international rugby. With a remarkable strike rate, he succeeded in scoring in almost every one of his test matches.
His former coach, Bob Dwyer, rated him as Australia’s number one player based on the range and diversity of his point scoring abilities.
Lynagh successfully made the transition from the amateur game and moved to London to play for Saracens where he was able to hone his formidable kicking skills in response to the new, professional status of the game.
Yet, he remains a reserved man. A very far cry from the typical loud Aussie bloke who normally grabs the headlines with a few choice phrases and a back story far less impressive than Lynagh’s own.
Originally, he did not want to publish his book, Blindsided, but he went ahead because he wanted a legacy to hand over to his family. I suspect he dislikes too much attention, ironic though this may seem.
The title of the book refers to a life-changing event when he was visiting family in Brisbane. Lynagh, after days of airline travel, corporate visits and public speaking, ended up at a restaurant in central Brisbane with friends, took a sip of beer that went down badly and suffered a major stroke which nearly killed him.
Up until then much had been written about him but this time he wanted something different; indeed, something that could make a difference. A book that covered not just his outstanding career but also his battle to survive a stroke triggered when an artery to his brain split open just when he should have been relaxing.
“I was so much luckier than some other people,” he says without a trace of self-pity.
“I was able to say I needed an ambulance. I was in the right place with family and friends nearby. The head pain was dreadful but at some point I made the vital decision that I wanted to live and be with my wife and children.”
His wife, Isabella, and their three boys, Niccolo, Tom and Louis were all at home in Richmond, where the family settled after Lynagh finished playing for Saracens. He need to be close to the Sky TV studios in Isleworth where he was commentating for the Sports Channel. Richmond was the number one choice made after a late afternoon drink with Isabella in the sunshine outside the Cricketers on Richmond Green.
He spent six weeks recovering in Brisbane before flying home. His recovery astonished everyone one. I have read in his book that medical experts discovered his cerebellum – the part of the brain governing movement and co-ordination – is larger than average and may be one of the reasons why, when a part of it was destroyed, the damage was more limited. The downside was that some people assumed the stroke had been less serious than it was.
In fact, Lynagh was left with hemianopia – the lost of vision on the left-hand side of both eyes. Nevertheless, within a month he was back dealing with the real and on air at Sky Sport. It took a while to return to work but these days Lynagh thrives as a Managing Director at Dow Jones across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).
I can understand how it is hard to believe Lynagh ever suffered a stroke. I first encountered him when I was a young news reporter at the Mail on Sunday. Physically he hasn’t changed much at all. If anything the years have been remarkably kind to him. But he has more gravitas and is genuinely interested in the world around him.
He is a keen walker, cycles around Richmond Park and – most importantly puts in the time with his three boys.
“They like routine. Isabella and I encourage them to try different things and then we support the choices they have made. We lead a quite family life. Dinner every evening. Our youngest still goes to Richmond Rugby Football Club on a Sunday morning.
“I always remind them – play it, enjoy it and then say thank you to the referee,”
Manners mean something in the Lynagh household. Michael Lynagh himself is the child of highly supportive parents, Ian and Marie. Ian Lynagh, a psychologist, was able to guide his son in a way which was almost unheard of during the amateur game. Goal kickers are the most pressurised players on the field and even someone as naturally talented as Lynagh needs huge mental strength to cope with the level of expectation.
“When I moved to the professional game I realised goal-kicking had even more attached to it. There were win bonuses and I had a pretty big say in whether some of my team mates ate that week or not,” he recalls in a half-joking way.
Still, the undeniable tactics of the game and the resilience needed by goal-kickers have proved to be transferable skills in business. Not all players can de-construct their abilities on the pitch and into the office. Lynagh is amongst those who can.