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A child’s delight in sport never gets old

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Darren Clarke, winner of last year’s British Open

Life was simpler in the old days when there was no access to the likes of wind surfing, kite surfing or even Internet surfing.

Not so long ago, depending on your perspective of course, there was a time when we were what we saw as opposed to that current suggestion that I am what I eat.

Every May, we were soccer players on the Saturday when the FA Cup final was beamed into our living rooms.

The fact it was one of the few big matches we ever got to see live on television in Ireland of the 1970s tells you why we would throw down jumpers for goalposts and do our best Charlie George impersonations in the front garden.

Every February and March we were rugby players, throwing passes like Tony Ward and Ollie Campbell and whoever else was flavor of the month in the old Five Nations, as it was until Italy became a rugby playing nation much later in my life.

On the first Sunday in September, kids our age would all attempt to play hurling like Eddie Keher. On the third Sunday we’d want to be footballers like Jimmy Keaveney or Pat Spillane or Jack O’Shea.

And once a year, I kid you not, we would all impersonate horses in the same front garden, the horses who jump over fences one at a time as opposed to those who gallop around a race course at breakneck speeds.

The Dublin Horse Show was huge in the 1970s. It attracted massive crowds and bigger TV audiences, and once a year kids of a certain age were thrilled by fences and the ability to jump them.

Impersonating Eddie Macken or the late Paul Darragh and even horses like Boomerang and Pele was easy. All you needed was a sweeping brush, preferably with the head still attached.

Throw a few planks across a few plant pots, maybe add a basin for a water jump and you had your own show jumping arena in the back or front garden of your choice.

It was simple and it was stupid, I know that much now. But for a certain generation, jumping around a garden on a broomstick a la Harry Potter was the most natural thing in the world.

It was also fun. And it was of its time.

Suggest today that your child borrow the sweeping brush from the kitchen and jump around the back garden on it and I suspect child welfare officers or men in white coats – or both – will arrive at your door.

Today, the kids have different means of entertainment, most of them a lot more advanced even if they are only the same fun.

Last week, thanks to a break from the desk job, we traveled en famile to the wonderful Mayo outpost that is Achill Island, and my two youngest kids went kite surfing and stand-up paddling thanks to the good folk at the Pure Magic hotel cum hostel cum activity center that offered us such a great welcome.

Standing on the majestic beach at Keel last Friday morning and watching the kids stand atop a surfboard with a paddle in hand, I did think back ever so briefly to those days jumping around a garden in Baldoyle and trying, in vain some of the time, to avoid four faults for a fall or three faults for a refusal like Messrs Macken and Darragh.

Having turned down the opportunity to paddle my own surfboard, so to speak, I did have to explain my current sporting indulgences to a newly acquired friend on the beach who wanted to know what replaces show jumpering (get it?) in my life these days.

There’s only one answer. Soccer is still my passion as a spectator, and I’m lucky enough to still get paid to watch it from time to time, but golf is now my number one hobby.

And this coming week many thousands of kids, I hope, will get the urge to impersonate Rory McIlroy or Padraig Harrington or Darren Clarke, just like we impersonated Eddie Macken and Paul Darragh all those years ago.

The British Open – they like to refer to it purely as the Open – is back on our television screens from Thursday and, as always, it promises to be something very special indeed.

The venue this year is the wonderful Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s course near the seaside town of Blackpool, those most English of courses and that most English of holiday resorts.

Lytham has seen some great champions – Seve Ballesteros springs to mind straight away – and some real drama, and this year promises to be no different.

Irish golf fans always have a huge interest in what we refer to as the British Open, and this week is all the more special thanks to Clarke’s status as defending champion, Harrington’s form as former champion in contention and McIlroy’s erratic ability to either win the thing or miss the cut.

It won’t be easy. Tiger Woods took his first look at the rough – and he knows a thing or two about being in the rough of late – on Sunday and declared parts of it unplayable.

Clarke played there on Sunday and Monday away from the maddening crowds and said the rough was “brutal.”

Harrington says he can win it again and McIlroy says he is going to play to win on some of the most famous holes in Lancashire, sort of an image a la the Beatles if you are old enough to know what I am talking about!

As you can probably tell by now, I am a little excited about the prospect of a week’s worth of British Open golf, even if I am going to have to watch it on television.

And yes, it will bring out the child in me. On Sunday morning, I will probably be out in the front garden with a golf club in hand and a golf ball on the grass in front of me, just like Darren and Rory and Padraig and even Tiger.

I won’t need jumpers for goalposts. I won’t need broom handles for horses.

I have my own golf clubs now but the same dreams I had as a seven-year-old all those years ago. And this time there will be no refusals -- and no falls.

Sideline Views
GAA: There’s only one ticket in town this weekend – now that Bruce Springsteen has come home after tracing his Mullingar roots – and that’s for Croke Park on Sunday when the latest generation of Meath and Dublin players will ensure the old rivalry is born to run, so to speak. It promises to be a great occasion, and while the head thinks Dublin will win, I’m going with the heart and predicting a shock Meath victory. After all, if any team can frighten Dublin it’s Meath.

SOCCER: Nottingham Forest wanted Mick McCarthy as manager, but he didn’t like what he heard from their new owners and the deal appears dead in the water. Mick, as always, put his principles first even at a time when he really wants to get back into management. Maybe now Roy Keane will get a shot at managing his old club.

GAA: Kerry got the fright of their lives away to Westmeath on Sunday, but don’t be surprised if they can lift themselves to beat Tyrone in Killarney this coming Saturday. The Kingdom have a habit of playing better against the bigger names, and few come bigger than Tyrone of the teams left in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

SOCCER: Rangers are down to the Third Division in Scotland and four seasons away from competing with Celtic on level terms again. That’s the price they are paying for their recent financial woes, one of the few prices they can actually pay right now!

GAA: Thank God, Seanie Johnston has finally played a game for Kildare and we can all get on with our lives.  He only appeared for 10 minutes against his native Cavan on Sunday, but at least that’s one story almost put to bed for the summer.


HERO OF THE WEEK
PETE Taylor proved that a father always has his daughter’s best wishes at heart this week when he advised Katie to quit boxing after the Olympics in order to enjoy a normal life.  Pete has been a huge part of Katie’s success as her trainer, so his words deserve to be heeded by our only realistic gold medal hope for the London games. In fact, he deserves the gold medal as much as she does.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK
THOSE who threw tacks down on the road to disrupt the Tour de France cyclists deserve nothing but scorn. The race may have had its problems of late, but it is still one of sport’s greatest events and the riders should, at the very least, be treated with respect, and not have their lives put at risk by punctures.

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