|Irish actor James Nesbitt, star of "The Hobbit"|
Some Cheltenham tales from the brilliant Cork jockey Davy Russell and the Belfast actor James Nesbittin a moment or two, but first a very worrying story from a quick visit south to Waterford late last week.
Invited down as a guest of the Ladbrokes betting chain for a game of golf at the wonderful Mount Juliet, a Jack Nicklaus design, we then made our way onwards to a Cheltenham preview night in the Woodlands Hotel on Suirside.
There, everyone from the great John Francome and the legendary Mick Fitzgerald to Messrs Russell and Nesbitt -- and messers might be closer to the truth -- gave us their big tips for the racing festival that will bring Ireland to a halt next week.
The Cheltenham insight was the main function of the long drive south down the motorway built for the people of Waterford, or so legend has it, by their former TD (member of Parliament) Martin Cullen.
But a tale told to me over dinner that evening about one local GAA club - in that fine county that is home to the great John Mullane -- is a tale worth repeating and one that will strike a chord, I am sure, in the Bronx and Queens.
Just a couple of years ago, a parish not a million miles from Waterford City won the county intermediate football title with a team made up of the best and brightest young men in the well known parish.
Last week, the same GAA club resumed training for this year’s championship, coached by a man who is now of my acquaintance after we met courtesy of the Ladbrokes preview night.
This man, John is his name, explained to me exactly how emigration is hitting GAA teams up and down the country, and his story is worth an audience.
When his team got back on the training field last week, only four members of that intermediate winning squad were still in the country and able to play for their club.
The rest of the starting team from 2011, 11 medal winners, had either emigrated or moved away from their hometown within the island of Ireland in search of employment.
Their team, like so many others across the land, has been decimated by the collapse of the Celtic Tiger. They are now forced to consider 17-year-olds for senior championship football this summer simply because they don’t have enough grown and fit men left in their parish to fill their team.
John assured me his story is not unique. He knows of many other clubs in Waterford and across the land with similar tales to tell.
And no doubt, many of you reading this column in New York, if you have managed to stay with me this far, have left your football and hurling teams behind in Ireland.
It’s a problem I’ve read about and heard discussed on the radio, but it was only when I sat down and heard John’s tale in person last week, that I realized just how real emigration is for so many GAA clubs and so many young people all across our country.
Cheltenham will attract some of the new diaspora from cities all over the U.K. next week, and a great time they will have if the preview night in Waterford was anything to go by.
Nesbitt, co-owner of 2012 winner Riverside Theatre, was a laugh a minute as he tried to persuade Russell to keep Michael O’Leary’s First Lieutenant out of the Ryanair Chase in order to leave the field to his defending champion.
And Russell was the star of the show, a man with a quip to match his whip and a line for every occasion.
He did say that Sir Des Champs, also owned by O’Leary, is the best chance he will ever have to win the Gold Cup and I believe him because he proved, on the night, that he is a man of honesty, integrity and no little wit.
In one race, he told us to back the ambulance as it had the best chance of finishing third.
And looking at the field for another race, he admitted that he would “rather ride” the Kathy Barry of Irish folklore than “any of the yokes” entered.
Russell and Nesbitt did indeed help to make the visit south a memorable one – but that GAA story will live with me long after Cheltenham 2013 is put to bed.
And by the way, the best tip I heard on the night was for Jezki in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the opening race on the opening day next Tuesday. Enjoy.
(Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin)
GAA: Irish sports journalism lost not one but two great men over the weekend when Paddy Downey, late of The Irish Times, and Sean Diffley, late of the Irish Independent, passed away. Paddy was a GAA man and Sean was a rugby man, and both were gentlemen and characters. Sean was known as Diffo to his many friends until his hearing failed late in life and one of those friends christened him Deafo. My favorite Downey story concerns the night one of his work mates parked his car for him and rang the pub Paddy was in to tell him where he had left it. “That’s great,” replied Paddy. “Now can you tell me where I am?” At least that’s how the story goes.
SOCCER: James McClean is in trouble again after revealing on Twitter that he is a big fan of ballad outfit the Wolfe Tones and particularly likes their old favorite “The Broad Black Brimmer.” Not alone did a Unionist politician in the North take umbrage, as they do, but a section of the Sunderland support decided to boo James when he appeared as a sub on Saturday. Thankfully he has closed his Twitter account once again, but not before it landed him in even more trouble.
RACING: Nice story from down the road in Ratoath where Nina Carberry is about to follow in a very proud family tradition and make her debut as a horse trainer. The noted jockey’s first runner as a trainer will be the aptly named Peak Raider who runs at Gowran Park on Saturday. Considering Tommy Carberry is her dad and Arthur Moore is her uncle, Nina can only be a winner as a trainer as well. Good luck to her.
GAA: Speaking of social media, Twitter has surely become a more interesting place to hang out in with the news that the great Joe Brolly has opened an account. Never short of a word or two – or a strong opinion – the All-Ireland winner is bound to entertain and maybe even infuriate in 160 characters. Joe’s Twitter world can be reached at @joebrolly1993.
SOCCER: Hopefully the unionist politician who was offended by James McClean’s love of the Wolfe Tones wasn’t at Tallaght Stadium on Monday night when Shamrock Rovers hammered Linfield 4-1 and their fans sang “one flag in Ireland” at their Ulster visitors. I doubt Gregory Campbell would have been impressed.
SOCCER: Bit of a furor at home after Rangers were linked with Dundee United’s Irish captain Jon Daly. I know Mo Johnson played for the Gers years ago, but an Irishman from south of the border playing in a blue shirt won’t sit well with some. The MLS might be a better bet Jon – and an easier option.
SOCCER: Broadcaster Ken Early has been one of the great additions to the Irish football world over the last decade or so, and the news that he has departed Newstalk, along with the rest of the Off the Ball team, is to be lamented. The one thing we can expect is a swift return to the airwaves for Ken and the sooner the better.
RUGBY: How funny will it be if Paddy Jackson fails a fitness test on Thursday and Declan Kidney has to ask Ronan O’Gara to come back as cover for the game against Scotland on Sunday, less than a week after effectively ending the Cork legend’s international career? Hilarious is the answer to that question.
SOCCER: Anthony Stokes wants a new deal at Glasgow Celtic. If he keeps scoring goals, as he did against St. Mirren on Saturday, and stays away from Republican activists back in Dublin, then he might have a chance.
HERO OF THE WEEK
BERNARD Brogan was the stand-out performer at Croke Park last Saturday night when he scored a goal and 10 points to practically beat Mayo on his own in the NFL and set up a mouth watering clash between unbeaten Dublin and unbeaten Kildare this coming Sunday. Not alone that, Brogan proved that an artist at work ensures Gaelic football is still a sport worth watching.
IDIOT OF THE WEEK
MUCH as I love Rory McIlroy, I can’t but comment on his decision to walk off the course in Florida last Friday when things weren’t going his way. What sort of example did he think that was going to set to the kids who idolize him all over the world? And who the hell is advising him? Rory may be the greatest golfer this country has ever produced but nothing can excuse that sort of behavior, not even youth!