Business

MS diagnosis did little to derail Dundalk man's sport business dreams

Interview

David Lynch

Reporter:

David Lynch

MS diagnosis did little to derail Dundalk man's sport business dreams

Peter Halpin with former footballer Tony Cottee

Peter Halpin remembers the exact words uttered by the specialist in a Dublin hospital ten years ago as if it were yesterday - “I am so very sorry, but it is Multiple Sclerosis.”

Only 33 at the time, Peter says the diagnosis felt like a “kick in the teeth”, but, as he says with a smile today: “I’m still here alive and kicking.”

“It was a blow at the time, for sure,” he admits, “and tweaks were needed to my everyday life, but my experience has taught me to enjoy life, especially the little things we take for granted when we were a little younger.

“And no matter what hardship one experiences in life, always remember that things could always be worse.”

The mid-Louth man, who now lives in Blackrock with his wife Clodagh and their two children, was working as commercial manager at Glentoran FC up in Belfast at the time of his MS diagnosis.

Previously he had also worked as a commercial and general manager at Dundalk FC and Bohemians. His doctor told him he’d need to adjust and re-think his working arrangements.

“Sometimes overpowering fatigue is part of MS, so the specialist was quite keen I cut down on the travelling, which was 15 hours a week at the time.”

His diagnosis coincided with him deciding to go out on his own and set up a sports sponsorship company - Halpin Sports Sponsorship. Hardly ideal timing, one would think, but Peter would not be deterred.

“I was always driven and determined to make it work despite the early days being challenging. I had been successful in acquiring a number of top brands such as Kelloggs, DHL, Nivea, Fyffes as partners with the clubs I worked with, as well as being responsible for bringing Everton, Liverpool, Leeds Utd, Celtic, Hibernian, Wolves and Sunderland to Ireland for pre-season friendly matches so I had built up a level of credibility that was a good base to start with.”

After years of hard work, it took one of the greatest sports stories ever for Peter to truly feel like the company was on a sustainable and successful path.

“After Leicester City won the English Premier League (in 2016), I was fortunate to secure FairFX as the club’s Official foreign exchange partner on a multi-year deal. That was significant as it raised the profile of the business.

“Other clubs, as well as brands, took note that we had delivered for the then English Premier League champions and were interested in what we could do for them.

“Since then, more recent deals have been secured with a variety of brands for West Ham Utd, Aston Villa, Fulham, Huddersfield Town, Cardiff City, QPR, Sheffield United, Alaves –our first front of shirt sponsor in La Liga in Spain.”

It’s a long way from his time at Dundalk FC in the mid-2000s. The current League of Ireland champions were in a different place back then.

“It was a challenging time and apathy towards the club was aplenty,” Peter admits. “As General Manager, I was responsible for leading every aspect of the club’s development from an unprofitable organization and unpopular football club to financial security and national corporate interest by designing and implementing a number of new community-oriented initiatives - the success of which was highlighted in a globally distributed FIFA case-study.”

It was a steep learning curve for Peter no doubt, but, looking back now, it’s one he wouldn’t have changed.

“It taught me to never give up, no matter how tough it seems. To persevere despite any knocks and to avoid negative mindsets at all costs.”

Ten years on from his MS diagnosis, it would appear that Peter has the balance right - what’s his secret?

“Take one day at a time,” he says, without batting an eyelid, “and enjoy every day with my wife Clodagh and children Cian, nearly 11 and Aoife who is 9.

“Enjoy going up to matches in Oriel Park with Cian and dare I say it, watch Liverpool win the Premier League!”

You wouldn't put much past Peter, but Liverpool winning the league? That remains to be seen.