ROLLING DOWN MEMORY LANE – EP. 14

MANIC MONDAYS

For as long as wheels have been carrying this being, music has been a hugely important part of the menu for negotiating one’s way through life’s journey. To a level which would surprise some, it would be ventured. At this juncture, it must be admitted that, for whatever reason, most fondness in this seat has always been for sad songs.

So many of them have very deep meaning. In some instances, carrying meaningful very personal connotations. Waltzing Matilda by Liam Clancy in the highest echelons of same. “For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs both legs, no more Waltzing Matilda for me”.

Atop any such collection, though, is undoubtedly “Scorn Not His Simplicity” as iconically and incomparably performed by Luke Kelly. Not that long ago, mention was made of the fact that nothing or nobody will ever usurp Kelly in terms of being the artist who supersedes all others for the occupant of this seat.

The former gifted footballer had so many memorable and moving songs with which he was synonymous, it may seem almost unfair to single one out. Or two in this case! However, consider that the great poet Patrick Kavanagh from rocky ground in the Farney County personally requested Kelly to be the performer of the masterpiece that is Raglan Road.

The man from the stony grey soil…Patrick Kavanagh

Yet, for me at least, it’s Kelly’s association with another very poignant number – and one which strikes a serious chord very close to home – is Scorn Not His Simplicity penned by Phil Coulter in tribute to his disabled son which will always be definitively associated with the bearded genius and his will forever be the definitive version of the beautiful but heart breaking ensemble.

“See the child, with the golden hair and eyes that show the emptiness inside. Do we know, can we understand just how he feels or have we really tried. See him now, as he stands alone and watches children play a children’s game. A simple child, he looks almost like the others yet they know he’s not the same”.

The voice of Ireland

For now though, the musical verse of our journey goes in a completely different direction. To the sound of The Bangles to be exact. The tendency to drift towards sad songs alluded to earlier has its origins in what were years of travails when it came to affairs of the heart. Every rendition of Eternal Flame prompted a deluge of ocular fluid as romantic inclinations went unrequited faster than Donald Trump makes gaffes!

Today, mind you, it’s The Bangles other massive hit, Manic Monday which prompted the laptop to be fired up for a night shift. Specifically, the amount of major sporting events which have ended up running over schedule and concluding on a Monday. Beginning close to home, there are vague recollections of when RTE used to have a programme entitled The Game On Monday. A second or in some cases third chance to peruse the weekend’s GAA action. Of course, in more recent times, it hasn’t been unusual for high profile fixtures to proceed in Croke Park on an August Bank Holiday Monday.

HOME TEAM

Across various sporting codes, it hasn’t been unusual for competitors to attain glory on the first day of the week. The most obvious one being whoever claims the Irish Grand National on an Easter Monday. Or at least that’s the way it used to be. Where to begin with the highlight of the Meath sporting year? Arkle – say no more. Maid of Money and the late Anthony Powell, Desert Orchid, Omerta and Adrian Maguire.

However, it’ll scarcely surprise anybody to learn that fondest recollections involving the Ratoath track revolve around the ‘home’ team. The Dreaper family, the Woods clan, Arthur Mooew, Tommy Carberry, Tony Martin, Noel Meade, The Geraghty family and Robbie Power – and that’s probably only a fraction of them.

Bobbyjo, Paul Carberry and his late, great father Tommy

Again, it’ll scarcely shock anybody who has been digesting output from this space for long enough to learn that among the most treasured memories are a few manic Mondays involving the Carberry family when the top gong stayed very much close to home. Firstly with the unforgettable Bobbyjo, the first horse I ever had a proper bet on. The following year when he had them – or at least his jockey – swinging from the rafters in Aintree. That is to say, the bet was put on in my presence with the assistance of the late Bert Gill.

For the Philip Carberry chapter of the story, jump forward to 2006. The Celtic Tiger – whoever he was – happened to be in full roar at the time. Thus, sports clubs could be a bit elaborate with their fundraising ventures. To that end, Dunboyne GAA were no different to many others. An event entitled A Unique Gathering Of Irish Sporting Legends held in Croke Park on my birthday in 2004 was probably the highlight of them.

It was basically a question and answer session – the queries put forward by those in attendance – to some of the leading personalities in Irish sport at the time. Some of whom will forever hold such status. In attendance on the night were Sean Boylan, Colm O’Rourke, Noel Meade, Niall Quinn, Philip Matthews, Michael Duignan, Mick Galwey and the other gentle giant from the Kingdom, Moss Keane God rest him.

The Mighty Moss Keane

In the context of what you are reading, though, that came back to mind when thinking of another couple of rather large fundraisers we organised in those years. Namely, two ‘Race Days’ in Fairyhouse. In other words, Easter Sunday at the races, with plenty of grub, plenty of drink and Noel Meade previewing the day’s action beforehand.

On one of the days, I ended up at the same table as our man with the magic hands, Martin ‘Mocky’ Regan, masseur to the Meath team for many years and formerly Cavan, the Irish rugby team, the International Rules team and God knows how many other sporting stars.

Now, like myself, Mocky follows the horses. Whether or not the following information came from Philip Carberry has never been established, but, at some stage during the day, the man who’s as good a musician as he is a masseur said he’d got a tip for the a steed the Ratoath man was to partner the next day.

Philip Carberry and Point Barrow

Point Barrow. A name I will now never forget. For all the wrong reasons. Knowing my fondness for the Carberry family – which in all honesty was more an obsession – he assumed I’d wade in with a few Euro. Truth is, I looked at who trained it (Pat Hughes) and what price it was (33/1) and passed it by. Instead of going with my normal gut reaction of backing a Carberry blind – in other words without kniwing or caring anything about the horse – I looked up its form. Often the worst thing you can do, especially in a handicap.

Needless to say, when, a few years later, it was noticed Nina was aboard Organisedconfusion for her uncle, Arthur Moore. The gelding may have only been a third of the price Philip’s mount had been, but, as was often admitted – only partly in jest – if Nina rode a bullock or a heifer I’d back it!

THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Whatever about the Irish Grand National which has, for 150 years been the centre piece of Easter Monday in this country. Sadly that wasn’t the case this year and, somewhat inexplicably, it appears the old race won’t be rescheduled. However, when sporting events run over their allotted time it adds a layer of mystique and entertainment and excitement.

Golf is one of the disciplines in which it’s more likely to occur. Bad weather being the most common cause. In most tournaments, even if it is on the following day, one or two holes is usually enough to separate the combatants, no matter how many there are. Essentially, it’s akin to a penalty shootout in soccer or a sudden death leg in darts. First to blink capitulates.

The exception to the above criteria being the US Open. In which all 18 holes have to be replayed the following day. That said, the two occasions which prompted golf’s inclusion in this collection saw play extended into Monday for very different reasons. In both instances, mind you, Irish players were central to the drama and ended up playing a leading role therein.

Graeme McDowell

Look no further than Graeme McDowell’s pivotal role in Europe’s annexation of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales in 2010. There are those who decry the biennial event and/or don’t see the point in it. Similar sentiments applied to both the Railway Cup in GAA and the International Rules Series. To the extent that both appear to have now, shamefully, been disregarded into extinction.

As I’ve always said in these situations, one need only study the players to see how much it means to them. Granted, not everybody gets as manic about taking on the Americans every couple of years as Ian Poulter tends to, but, Ireland can be rightly proud that Christy O’Connor* and Philip Walton and Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell have all hit winning shots in the battle of blue and gold against the stars and stripes.

Another Irishman with a storied history in the Ryder Cup is Padraig Harrington. From his acclaimed partnership – spanning several incarnations of the competition – with Sergio Garcia to his selection as a wildcard by Colin Montgomerie to his appointment as a Vice Captain by his Ballyboden St Enda’s clubmate McGinley.

The enigma that is Padraig Harrington

Harrington’s autobiography was titled All In My Head, never has a document been more aptly titled. There are health professionals earning gargantuan sums of money and with most of the letters of the alphabet after their names who couldn’t decode what goes on between the ears of the man with the Rebel blood.

However, what are absolutely beyond reproach are the player’s acumen at his profession and, perhaps even more so, his fortitude. You don’t win three Majors without firstly being gifted at the craft and secondly displaying nous and efficiency when it is needed most. Temptation might be to opine that there have been times when the Dubliner has appeared to lack the latter component listed, but again, if that were the case he surely wouldn’t have had the honour-laden career which ensued.

More to the point here though, the grit and determination which has been a hallmark of his long and varied career was never more evident than when – after his form had been up and down like a toilet seat – he notched up titles at the Honda Classic (March 2015) and the Portugal Masters in October 2016. In the former of the two victories, if ever there was a prototype for a Paddy victory this was it.

Having got off to a flying start, the man for whom the term ‘The Yips’ may have been coined manufactured a malfunction as only he could. Meaning that, by the time the tournament tumbled over into Monday, the at the time unknown Daniel Berger managed to force a playoff with the triple ‘Major’ champion.

When the extra holes did come around, everything which has defined the Stackstown Golf Club man throughout his lengthy career seemed to manifest itself. Putting himself in a winning position – again – and seemingly blowing it, only to dig in and eventually eek out the most unlikely of successes. Which, as was alluded to above, was followed up fairly quickly – by golf’s standards – in Portugal.

“YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS?”

Had the preceding part of our story pertained to anybody other than Harrington, the four words above would’ve not only been applicable but absolutely understandable. But then, it was about Paddy. The phrase, was, however, most associated with the man who initially turned my head towards tennis – when I was about six!

The legendary John McEnroe

Temptation was to say the one and only John McEnroe, but that would do a terrible disservice to the great footballer and bull farmer from Oldcastle. It must have been the case that the Championships at Wimbledon, and possibly some of the other Grand Slam events, were shown by RTE because they were the only channels we had at the time.

Thus, the epic deeds of McEnroe and Edberg and Becker were taken in, however vaguely. Prompting the old wooden rackets that were once the preserve of my siblings to get their annual saunter out of the shed. Where, in the mind at least, we were the characters listed above. In terms of being properly attuned to the finer points of the multi-surface discipline, that probably took hold in the Agassi-Sampras era. For all the above duos dominance, of course there had to be those had ended up in the vanquished corner.

No man more so – or it seemed as such – than Goran Ivanisevic. The big Croatian at the time reminded me of both Greg Norman and Colin Montgomerie who were so often bridesmaids in the Majors they must have had bouquets than a small country florist! The difference being that where the two masters of tee-to-green never did fix the glaring omission on their otherwise glittering CVs, big Goran’s salvation manifested itself when – as wasn’t uncommon in those days – the 2001 Wimbledon decider spilled over into the Monday due to weather disruption.

Goran Ivanesivic after his Wimbledon redemption in 2001

Though it can’t be verified with certainty, I think the man who lost three finals in the 1990s began that particular decider as favourite against Pat Rafter. But, in Harrington-esque dramatic fashion, he somehow allowed the American push him all the way to a last set tiebreak where he eventually gave his arduous pursuit of redemption in SW19 the happy ending it and he deserved.

RIGHT ON CUE

While some of the events covered so far ended up herein after unintentionally ended up concluding on a Monday, some of my earliest and best sporting memories stem from events which were actually meant to conclude on a Monday night. Top of any such amalgam would undoubtedly be Dennis Taylor’s protracted battle with Steve Davis for the 1985 Snooker World Championship.

Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis

Yes I was only four at the time, but, there is genuine recollection of the elongated duel between the two decorated cue slinger attempting down the final and decisive black ball before the man from Coalisland eventually sunk it which in itself created some of the most recognisable sporting television clips of all time. There is also a very personal connection to the UK Open of that same season as my late grandfather passed away whilst watching said event.

At the same time, the Benson & Hedges Irish Masters used to take place every year in Goffs, Kill Co Kildare – also a renowned venue for horse sales. Back then it was a fairly big deal too, with Aonghus McAnally presenting RTE’s coverage of the event. I can’t remember when exactly the event concluded – or at least coverage thereof ended – but when we got ‘all the stations’ in 1993, I was able to catch the tail end of Stephen Hendry’s era of domination. Something that was, unforgettably ended by our own Ken Doherty in 1997.

1997 World Snooker Champion Ken Doherty

You know, in ways, to this viewer at least, there were similarities in the career paths of the golfer from Ballyboden and the snooker star from Ranelagh. Both superbly talented, both have reigned supreme at the highest level of their chosen sport.

Yet, the two of them also share a penchant for making life difficult for themselves. They do, however, have a common tenacity that sees them at least attempting to compete at the highest level of respective areas of expertise despite having that dastardly word ‘veteran’ affixed to their file.

With Doherty slipping dow the WPBSA rankings – to No. 64 at the time of typing – John Higgins became my favourite star of the green cloth tables. His doing so was a case of every cloud having a silver lining. I happened to be out of school sick for an entire week in 1995 while the International Open was in progress in Bournemouth. Every chalking of a cue, every potted ball and every fascinating safety shot was lapped up as if it were sporting nector.

Admittedly, part of the attraction was undoubtedly being out of school, but, it did actually light a spark which had dwindled somewhat from the times of Taylor, Davis, John Parrott, Hendry and the tragically wonderful Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins.

Since launching this website, one thing that has earnestly been attempted is to have as wide a variety of content on these pages as is humanely possible. So Eurosport’s coverage of a huge amount of snooker has enabled a re-ignition of my interest in the sedately paced fare.

It certainly hasn’t been a bad time for the spark to flicker again either. Where once the stars listed above captivated sizable audiences, now, Neil Robertson and Judd Trump and Shaun Murphy and, in particular, Ronnie O’Sullivan are the big drawing attractions.

Aficionados of the chalk and cue ball will surely notice the lack of somebody who is totally worthy of commensurate commendation, Mark Selby of Leicester. The multiply decorated champion has been the standard bearer in the sport since ‘The Rocket’ appears to have scaled back his activity on the circuit outside of the big one in Sheffield every April.

Leicester’s Mark Selby

It must be acknowledged though that where Hendry and Higgins and O’Sullivan exerted strangleholds on the sport at different times, more recently, the top of the ranking table has had a revolving door arouvd it. As the likes of Selby and Judd Trump and Neil Robertson have jockeyed for top spot in recent years.

For the purposes of today’s stroll down the lane though, it is Selby’s triumph of 2015 which is to the forefront of thoughts. Simply as it came rapidly after Leicester City had, rather amazingly, won the Premiership title in 2016. And, as if by perfect symmetry by way of fitting in with the theme flowing throughout this piece, the amazing feat achieved by Claudio Ranieri and his players.

The talented ‘Tinkerman’

After all, their coronation as champions was confirmed on a Monday night when Tottenham’s failure to defeat Chelsea left the Foxes with an unassailable lead. Their victory reminded me of a scenario at a Meath Co Committee convention many moons ago when there was such disbelief at the outcome of one particular officer election that the Chairman of the day fumbled and blustered about recounts even though there was a clear winner of the contest.

There were probably similar reactions in much of the football world when it came to Leicester’s momentous and completely unexpected success. Throughout the season, the chatter amongst most hacks – including this one – was ‘Surely they have to slip up this week’. But the weeks stacked up and the capitulation never came.

In contrast, where, even though it was to much disbelief, from a long way out it was obvious those who had hovered over the relegation zone before the veteran Italian came in and transformed them, were going to win the title, in other seasons, it took Monday madness in the dying strides of the race to decide who took the prize.

Michael Thomas wins the league for Arsenal in 1989

Undoubtedly, in the early part of my sports viewing lifetime, the greatest example of same was Michael Thomas’s late, late goal for Arsenal against Liverpool in 1989. Which not only denied the Anfield club a league and Cup double but consecutive championships as well.

When Manchester United ended a barren quarter century plus without a League title, I would have always felt Steve Bruce’s brace of brilliant bullet headers were ultimately the deciding factor in the title race. However, factually speaking, it was the following Monday night when a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace ensured they would be kingpins. A week later, they were presented with the first ever Premier League (now Premiership) trophy.

It is surely beyond doubt as to what the most dramatic conclusion to a Premiership campaign was, the “Aguerrrrooo’ moment which stole the title for Manchester City from under the snouts of their once illustrious neighbours. However, being mindful of those dramatic moments three decades ago when Thomas – who would later go from villain to hero with the Anfield faithful – smashed the ball to the Liverpool net and grabbed the title from their grasp, wasn’t it almost redemptively fitting that it was City’s failure to beat Chelsea – on a Monday – which ensured that one of the longest running famines in sport anywhere was eventually sated.

Throughout all the physical and emotional turmoil and chaos which Corona has unleashed on the entire planet, knowing sport would eventually get going again – and then actually having soccer ongoing this ‘late’ in the year has been strangely reassuring and comforting at this time.

Whilst researching for and producing this piece, it became known to me that the NBA Championship will, in fact, be completed later in the year – the entire league setting up an outpost in Disney territory to make a conclusion possible. Plenty more Monday night magic awaits!

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