Laois family set out on gruelling journey in Ireland's Fittest Family

Conor Ganly


Conor Ganly

Ireland's fittest families

Cara, Fionn, Nick, Maebh Maher from Laois. PIcture:RTÉ

A Laois family entered this year's Ireland's Fittest Family on RTÉ to avenge the agonising loss suffered by another Laois family who came agonisingly close last year.

The Maher family were devastated when the McDonald clan from Ballyroan made the final of Ireland’s Fittest Family final in 2018. 

The Maher clan hail from Ballickmoyler and are closely involved with local sports groups St Abban's AC and Killeshin GAA. Dad nick is joined by his son Fionn and daughters Maedbh and Cara.

Father, Nick, aged 52, is described as farming-fit and takes part in local 5k and 10k races in the colours of St Abban's. He was a selector with the Killeshin GAA team which reached the club's first-ever Laois senior football championship final in 2019.

A herbalist and part-time farmer, Nick says the family were inspired by the McDonald clan in Ballyroan in Laois who came agonisingly close to victory last year's series.

"How we happened to enter was that the two girls were crying on the couch last year when the McDonalds didn't win. Cara said I am going to enter us in that and try to win it for the McDonalds," he said.

Nick said he got 'a hell of a fright' when he found out the family was entered.

"I got a terrible fright when I started training because I realised that I wasn't near where I needed to be," he said.

His son Fionn, aged 21 is a student in DIT and plays GAA with Killeshin and was part of the Killeshin Gaelic Football squad in the Laois senior county final. He has previously been involved with St Abban's AC.

His participation was almost a miracle due to had a bad accident while on holiday in Croatia last year. He was in the hospital for some time after falling 28 feet onto concrete. The accident left him in a wheelchair with broken wrists, jaw, kneecap and ligament damage.

Dad Nick says it was remarkable to see him competing after making a full recovery. 

Eldest daughter Maebh, aged 19, is studying to be a teacher at St Patrick's Teacher Training College in Dublin. She has won medals for athletics and competes at middle distance.

Younger daughter Cara, aged 17, is in 6th year at Gaelcholaiste Cheatharlach. She says football and running is her passion.

Nick says both his daughters really benefit from the coaching of Eamon Kelly at St Abban's. He also praised Noel and Niamh Richardson of Kilkenny City Harriers who also train his daughters.

He says the family got great help from fitness instructor Paul Ward in Carlow who works with rugby player Sean O'Brien.

Paul's training was so tough the Nick said his wife Dymphna only went for training with him once. Nick says the family was often close to tears due to the training but said it is important for the psychological side of the competition when the going gets really tough.

Nick says the family have enjoyed the experience but were almost overwhelmed by the commitment needed and challenges faced.

St Abban's Club member and local councillor Cllr Ben Brennan wished them well in the show. "I hope they win it," he said.

Hosted by Mairead Ronan, Ireland's Fittest Family once again sees the toughest families in the country take on the most gruelling and physical challenges imaginable.

Returning this year to coach the families to victory are Davy Fitzgerald, Anna Geary, Derval O’Rourke and Donncha O’Callaghan. All of the coaches have on title each apart from Anna who has two titles and is gunning for her third.

The competition begins with 15 families in the first episode. They will be put through extreme endurance challenges in new locations around the country, from steep sand dunes to airports to Irish bogs and the sheer gradient of Kilternan’s 180 metre Ski slope.

Once again all roads lead to Croker where the final will take place and where the four surviving families will battle it out to be crowned Ireland’s Fittest Family 2019. Episode one features three heats in Poolbeg, Dublin alongside three eliminators on Kilternan Ski Slope, Ireland’s largest artificial ski slope.

The Rampage eliminator is unlike any challenge ever undertaken on Ireland’s Fittest Family. Families go head to head on the exhaustingly steep course which is broken by a cargo net crawl, rat tunnels and steel barriers ascending in height followed by an ultimate ramp covered in oil that proves to be an incredible struggle for the families to overcome.

Having watched the families take on the challenges, the episode ends with the coaches selecting their top three families from the 12 who have made it through round 1. They all must choose wisely as they know one of these families will go on to be the winner of Ireland’s Fittest Family 2019.

The first episode will be broadcast on Sunday, October 27 6.30pm

The other families

The McArdle’s – Down
Catherine, 59, mother – The whole reason why the family is so big into fitness. Been cycling and climbing mountains since the 80’s. Cyclist by nature, a nurse to fund the habit. 
Gary, 33, son – Eats drinks and sleeps the football. Played in the Down senior team for several years. But is a club man at heart and is still going strong at 33.
Anna, 31, twin daughter – Social worker by day, runner by evening. Loves a challenge and always on the look out for the next one. Always tries to be positive and always up for the craic.
Carla, 31, twin daughter – Podiatry lecturer by day, cyclist by evening. keeps the family in check and always on time. Has a ‘healthy competitiveness with Anna when it comes to the next challenge but would never miss a good night out.

Ui Bhraonain’s – Carlow
Richard, father, 54 – Richard played basketball in University and played inter county football. He now runs marathons – about 15 so far – and is training for Dublin City Marathon in October again this year.
Michelle, daughter, 23 – Michelle has played basketball and football for UCD, basketball for her local club, in the Dublin and National League and football for Old Leighlin and the county minor and senior teams. She now focuses her attention on triathlon.
Seán, son, 22 – Seán played basketball, hurling and football. He now plays football in University and for his local club Leighlinbridge and was on the county U21 football team. He competes in triathlons in his spare time.
Liam, son, 19 – Liam also played soccer, basketball, football and hurling. He plays football in University and also for Leighlinbridge. He was also a member of the county U21 team. He also competes in triathlons

The Cooke’s – Antrim
James, father, 65 –Jim works as a builder. He competes in triathlons and would be always highly placed even against younger athletes. He has also won many sprint triathlons including his most recent were he beat a former British Champion!
Sean-Paul, son, 38 – Electrician and father of two who didn’t have a great start to life as the doctors told his parents he would never walk. He proved them wrong and went on to play football for O’Donnells GAA in Belfast.
Caoimhe, daughter, 29 – Part-qualified accountant and a mother of a 7 year old. Swimming from age 5, competitive swimming age 12 and won a few titles. Has competed nationally with waterpolo on the same team as Dearbhaile. They are well known in waterpolo community and team members call them the Crazy Cookes!
Dearbhaile, daughter, 28 – Dearbhaile is a midwife and a mother of one. She was introduced to competitive swimming at the age of 11 and won numerous titles in NI in front crawl and butterfly. She then went on to play waterpolo and has competed at a national level representing Ireland.

The Hogan’s – Wexford
Dena, 37, mother – International mountain runner, Irish triathlete. Four-time Ironman
Tom, 37, father – International Mountain Runner, Wicklow Way 50-mile record holder. Two-time Ironman.
Josh, 17, son – Josh is currently gym obsessed by continues to play soccer and boxed to a high level up to age 15.
Jay, 14, son – Jay is all about the soccer and a member of the FAI centre of excellence, unless of course its during school hours then he plays everything apparently. He also dabbles a bit with the running posting a time of 18.20 for 5km when he was 13.

McComiskey’s – Down
Bernard, 47, father – Bernard is a retired pro boxer. He runs daily and has also been involved in Tullylish and soccer team Gilford crusaders before retiring. Bernard has ran 3 marathons so far.
Clodagh, 21, daughter – Clodagh boxes and has won seven Ulster titles and six Irish titles. She has also represented Ireland.
Sorcha, 18, daughter – Sorcha plays GAA for local club Tullylish ladies. She is currently taking her GCSEs.
Brogan, 14, son – Brogan is a boxer who enjoys all sports, he runs for his school and got to the All Ireland cross country championships last year. He also plays for his local GAA club.

The Dinan’s – Cork
Paul, father, 61 – Played rugby with Cork Con. late 70s, early 80s. Athletics and triathlons post-rugby. All-Ireland club national marathon winner with St. Finbarrs A.C. Completed Austrian Ironman as well as London, Boston, Belfast, Cork and Dublin marathons.
Alan, son, 30 – Played rugby with Cork Con., Highfield and U.C.C. and currently playing AIL with Wanderers RFC in Dublin. Worked post qualification and played rugby overseas in New Zealand. Currently in training for this event and for triathlon events.
Steven, son, 25 – Keen golfer now having given up rugby. Played with Pres P.B.C. and U.C.C./Dolphin. Current member of St Finbarrs A.C. and Riverstown F.C. Enjoys keeping fit and facing the challenge. Munster schools caps.
Sandra, daughter, 19 – Keen member of Glanmire ladies football club. Captain of U21 team who won County “A” Championship this year and member of County, Munster and All-Ireland junior club-winning side last year. Various underage East-Cork and County medals. Currently member of cork U21 ladies football team.

The Mandiangu’s – Dublin
Nathalie, 53, mother – Keeps active by walking and running.
Lariche, 32, daughter – Mother of three who’s very active and loves cooking and keeping fit. Would have competed in Athletics competitions over the years and once trained alongside Derval.
Gilmar, 27, son – Plays football for bluebell United and enjoys going the gym and going on walks
Blair, 24, son – Plays for Crumlin United and gym goer, healthy eater and non-drinker.

The Murphy’s – Wexford
Willie, father, 51 – Likes to keep active by running and walking. Would have played football back in the day.
Dolly, mother, 43 – Still plays GAA. Described as seriously competitive and driven, her own kids won’t even be able to stand in her way
Andrew, son, 20 – Is currently completing a Sports course in Bray IT but wants to be a pro-gamer.
Robert, son, 17 – Just finished 5th Year. Plays GAA.

The McSharry’s – Sligo
Aidan, father, 51 – Runs his own plumbing business in Sligo. Adventurous loves to hike and spend his time outdoors.
Viola, mother, 49 – Has always swam and has encouraged her children to take it up. Very outdoorsy –loves hiking.
Mona, daughter, 18 – Swimming is her passion. Has represented Ireland at an international level and won numerous medals and championships. Hopes to represent Ireland at the Olympics.
Mouric, son, 16 – Like his sister, swims for Ballyshannon Marlins Swim Club has also won gold at a national and international level.

The O’Driscoll’s – Dublin
Patricia, 53, mother – Separated mum of four boys. Patricia has been a member of a gym for over thirty years and believes that exercise is the best thing for mental health.
Seán, 23, son – Loves to go to the gym and has always kept active. He is currently a teacher in his brother’s school. They have nicknamed him ‘Sir’. 
Cal, 16, son – Cal has over 40k subsribers on YouTube and 10k followers on Instagram. He is an actor and is currently starring in a BBC drama series. He likes to skateboard and takes part in school sports.
Richie, 14, son – Considered the family’s secret weapon, he is the fastest on the team and plays soccer, GAA and athletics.

The Prendergast’s – Limerick
Josephine, mother, 53 – Josephine grew up on a farm so her family describe her as naturally strong. She runs 10k races with her boys.
David, son, 23 – A Sports Management graduate and 10K runner. Would have a lot of long distance and cross country running.
Mark, son, 20 – Studying in LIT in the same course that David did. He is the coach for the local girls’ soccer team.
Dara, son, 16 – TY student who is soccer mad. Plays for Mungret FC.