As a young lad growing up in the village of Creggs back in the 1950s, it was almost inevitable that I would be drawn towards The Green, where sports of all kinds were played, although at that time obviously gaelic football was the number one game, and from those early days I have always had a serious interest in practically all sporting activities. Born on the Galway side of the parish boundary with Roscommon,
it was a great era to be a follower of the maroon and white, (apologies to all you Rossies) and while the All-Ireland victory of 1956 came when I was only five years of age, and probably too young to remember any of it, I was still very aware of the greats of Galway football like Sean Purcell, Frankie Stockwell and the legendary Tom ‘Pook’ Dillon.
However, by the time of our golden era with the three-in-a-row of the mid-60s, I was a fully-fledged member of the Tribesmen’s supporters and almost 50 years on from the last of the three in a row, I can recall all the players as if they were playing yesterday.
The Donnellan brothers, Noel Tierney, Bosco, the list of Galway immortals goes on and on, and of course, as I’ve told you before, one of the big thrills of my life was to get to know and be friendly with the great Mattie McDonagh.
On a personal note I always feel that Mattie doesn’t get the credit he deserves on the national stage, when it comes to recalling great stars of the past, but I believe his record of being the only Connacht winner of four All-Ireland Football medals will stand maybe, for all time. On 31st December 1961, Teilifis Eireann came into our lives and all of a sudden we could now actually watch our sporting heroes in action, and by then soccer and rugby had also made an impact on my life.
All these years later I am fully comfortable with my interest – which is as great today as it was then – in those sports, but I still cannot figure out how the world of showjumping, and more specifically the Aga Khan Cup, took such a hold on the Irish nation all through the 1960s and ‘70s.
I think it started down in County Tipperary in the village of Dundrum, when a small horse, funnily enough called after his native village, captured the hearts and minds of all Irish people, with his exploits as an international showjumper, partnered by the imcomparable Tommy Wade.
They were an unusual partnership, in that Dundrum was really only a glorified Connemara pony, a 15 hands high gelding, and Wade, a true-blue Tipperary man, never felt accepted by the showjumping fraternity, as he always felt it was run by Dublin Four people, who, in his own words, had little interest in what happened outside The Pale.
However, be that as it may, Wade and Dundrum electrified the country for a number of years, and they won at almost every international show they competed in! Among the highlights were winning the coveted King George V Cup at the White City, top prize at the Horse of the Year Show in Wembley, and in 1961 the former carthorse from Dundrum won the Puissance, also in Wembley, when he cleared the amazing height of 7ft 2. In 1967 the two of them jumped the final round in the Aga Khan Cup, having had 22 faults in their first round, during which Wade had fallen off at the 11th fence, knowing it would take a clear round to win the cup for the Irish – history shows that the pair rose to the challenge, yet again, and with the necessary clear round ensured success for the Irish team.
Sadly, Tommy finally fell out with the showjumping authority the following year over a dispute about the events that occurred at a show in Dungarvan and he and Dundrum drifted away from the world of showjumping.
Although he obviously had top class team-mates in his two victories in the Aga Khan, I think there can be no doubt that it was the Dundrum/Wade combination that propelled the sport into the public domain.
For a good few years afterwards the Dublin Horse Show was one of the biggest sporting events on the calendar, and I can still recall the excitement when the Irish, with riders like Eddie Macken, the late Paul Darragh, James Kernan and Captain Con Power won the Aga Khan on three successive occasions in 1977, ‘78 and ‘79.
At that time the whole country seemed to come to a stop on the Friday afternoon, but I have to admit that in the intervening years showjumping has lost a bit of its glamour, and it’s only now, thanks to the emergence of young top class riders like 20-year-old Bertram Allen, Offaly’s Darragh Kenny, and Greg Broderick, that the interest is coming back to the sport. Along with Cian O’Connor, that youthful trio won the Aga Khan Trophy for Ireland last Friday and I have to confess that I got a great thrill when I heard of the victory.
It may not have had the impact of the successes of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s but nonetheless it was heartwarming to find us back on the winner’s rostrum and hopefully it will go from strength to strength.
Talking of the winner’s rostrum, it was wonderful to see Clara man Shane Lowry win the Bridgestone International Golf Tournament last night (Sunday) in some part of the United States – and I can honestly tell you that when he produced an amazing second shot on the last hole, I was roaring like a demented banshee.
I’ve told you before that a lot of our customers here come from the Clara area, and I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about the champion golfer – he apparently, is a lovely lad, totally grounded, no big head, and a credit to Offaly and now to Ireland – and after last night he is most certainly on his way to superstardom. It’s obvious it couldn’t happen to a nicer lad, so well done Shane – it was an amazing achievement.
Finally for this week, this is the first year in about ten or so when I haven’t had any big fundraising dance to tell you about – I feel a little bit lost so I’m putting on the thinking cap to try and figure out a way to gather a few bob for my two favourite charities, the Lourdes Invalid Fund and Cancer Care West! Watch this space to see if I come up with something.
‘Till next week,
Bye for now