A sporting ‘debut’ as I saddle up for a first visit to the Dublin Horse Show

Our man Frank on a memorable first visit to the Dublin Horse Show; In praise of the return of cash at the GAA turnstile…and his dismay at two tainted sporting reputations…

It’s a known fact that the Irish love their dogs and horses, but I have to admit that when I was a young lad I had no great interest in either species.

This was until the early 1960s, before I was yet in my teens, when the exploits of Tipperary showjumper Tommy Wade and his diminutive horse, Dundrum, electrified the nation, awakening in me an interest in showjumping that lives on to this day.

Standing just fifteen hands high, Dundrum was small by international standards, and yet he won every type of competition – from speed classes to the Puissance (in case you don’t know, that’s basically jumping over a huge wall). In 1963, the pair made history by winning all five international classes in the Dublin Horse Show.

On top of that, they were part of the winning Aga Khan team in 1963, feats no one has come close to in the nearly 60 years since. From that time on, the Aga Khan competition became an absolute must-see. No matter where I was, I would always make every effort to get to some television set somewhere to watch one of the most exciting sporting events in the world.

Some years later, the magical team of Eddie Macken, Paul Darragh, Captain Con Power and James Kernan did the three-in-a-row, winning the Aga Khan trophy for Ireland in 1977, 1978, and 1979. Granard native Eddie Macken in particular became a household name, and for a long time was probably our biggest international sports star.

However, as with everything, time passed, and while I managed to get to All-Ireland finals, rugby and soccer internationals and other big sporting events over the years, somehow I never got to the Dublin Horse Show until this year.

Back in the 1970s, my now-wife Carol Kelly had a very successful showjumping career. She managed to qualify for the ponies and junior sections and win them at the RDS. This year, our daughter Tara followed suit, qualifying for the finals of the amateur showjumping competition.

And so we headed off on Friday morning by rail to support her in the finals, where she jumped three wonderful rounds and finished in a highly creditable seventh place. She had earlier won a loose jumping competition with a three-year-old horse that she bred herself, so it was a very successful trip to Dublin as winning a place in the RDS is an incredible achievement.

While waiting for Tara’s jump-off, we found ourselves in the main arena watching the Aga Khan competition, and I have to say the atmosphere was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. When Ireland won the trophy in a jump-off, the roof nearly lifted off the stadium, such was the extraordinary explosion of sound!

The funny thing about the RDS is that the main arena where the big international competitions take place is only a tiny part of the whole complex, which is absolutely massive. The crowd you see on the TV is only a small percentage of the total number in attendance. Everywhere you went, there were throngs of people. I lost count of the number of bars, shops selling machinery and equestrian stuff, fast food, hot drinks and ice cream trucks – there was even a Tiernan Gill Driving School shop.


High prices

The one common denominator across the RDS’s food and drink sector were the extremely high prices. A takeaway fish and chips was an eye-watering €17.50! A friend of mine told me he was charged €19 for the same thing in Dingle last week, but at least he was in a pub and got a table and chair to sit at. Our fish and chips was strictly takeaway, and we had to look for somewhere to eat it.

I didn’t venture to any of the bars, but I believe the price of a pint in a plastic container was about €7. Accommodation was also ridiculously dear; people we met told us they were paying €1,700 for a four-night hotel stay in one room, without any breakfast.

Another lad told us he got an awful shock when he ordered two ham and cheese toasties to be delivered to his room. The cost came to €35 – €30 for the two sandwiches and €5 for bringing them up the stairs. The poor fellow was so shocked by the price he nearly choked on the food!

However, cost or no cost, it certainly didn’t seem to affect the crowds. The truth is we had a fantastic time, topped off by the fact that Tara had such a good show and that Ireland won the Aga Khan trophy. As they hadn’t won it since 2015, maybe I brought them a slice of luck – God knows I wouldn’t have afforded a slice of toast or apple pie.

Anyway, as with any sport, it’s all finished up for the year now. If you want to be back again next year, you have to go through the very arduous process of qualifying again. Only the very top few in the different categories make it there, so here’s hoping Tara makes it back again – and if she does, please God we will too.


Cash move is just the ticket…

It’s now Saturday afternoon, and after a very early trip to the RDS, we are hitting for home in the comfort of the Dublin-Westport train, arriving back in Roscommon at half past two. I am rushing because Creggs are playing Kilmore in the second round of the Intermediate Championship, and I want to be there to support our team.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the fact that it’s unfair that you have to book your tickets online to get into all local championship matches. Since then, a lot of slightly older people had contacted me to say they agreed with me on that point, and also about the fact that there is still no reduction on admission prices for OAPs.

However, I was glad to hear on Saturday evening that in Creggs you could get in by paying cash. I’m not sure if that was an official policy change or just a local initiative, but either way it was a very welcome one. I don’t know if there was also a pensioner reduction in operation, but at least the cash payment option made life a lot easier for some of us older folk.

The other good news is that Creggs won the tough, competitive game by four points! It’s the first time I ever remember us beating the Kilmore men in a championship match.


And finally…

It’s sad to see two very different sportsmen making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

First was multi-millionaire and ex-Manchester United superstar Ryan Giggs, who is on trial for alleged controlling and coercive behaviour against his former girlfriend Kate Greville. Whatever the verdict, his previously amazing legacy is in tatters.

Then, closer to home, there is the European Champion boxer Gabriel Dossen, who lives in Galway. At the age of 22, he finds himself charged with possession of drugs for sale or supply, and he is in danger of ruining a promising boxing career.

For Dossen, it may not be too late to get his life and career back on track – and hopefully he will – but for Giggs, the damage has been done. All of us who still support Manchester United will never see him again in the same light as before. Being a sports star and a role model carries a lot of responsibility – and Gabriel Dossen would do well to remember that.