Paul Healy’s Week – 15th April

Paul Healy on a great Grand National; what happened when Roscommon went to Croke Park; identifying with Jordan Spieth … and the little boy who has a big future…

It’s probably just as well that I didn’t get near a bookie shop on Saturday. Any time I get to a bookie’s on Grand National Day, I usually end up backing about five horses in the race (normally I never back horses, not unless I’m actually at a race meeting).

Backing four or five horses strategically – including a few long shots each-way – is a slightly expensive purchase of hope.

Occasionally I’ve had a winner (or two, counting placed horses) but I usually end up folding or crumbling the receipts and sending them on their subdued journey into the nearest bin.

Anyways, having a winning Grand National bet is fine – and certainly provides an opportunity to annoy other people – but really, ‘taking part’ on Grand National Day is mainly about the communal experience…being a part of this international movement, this emotional surge that bonds all types of people together on one Saturday in April.

Today’s version was more than Grand; it was great. The Channel 4 coverage was top class. Once you get used to the sheer weight of Mick Fitzgerald’s voice, you get to like his hypnotically dour but expert guidance.

The race itself? It’s savage, but compelling. It’s a lottery too. We watched, riveted. Fence after fence, heroicism on four hooves, heroicism on two feet. I know very little about horses (if I did, would I back five in the one race?).

I watched as three of the beauties galloped towards the finishing line – and a place in history – the audience open-mouthed, hearts paused. I had never heard of Rule The World (the horse). I had heard of Mouse Morris (the trainer).

I had never heard of David Mullins (the jockey). I had heard of Michael O’Leary (the loud-mouthed, charismatic entrepreneur/genius – and horse owner).

Together, they created another great Grand National moment. Rule The World, superbly ridden by Mullins, won the greatest of all races in some style, an emotional and epic sporting story.

I had backed nothing on this particular Grand National Day. Going by the traditional monetary measurement, I had neither won nor lost, but, like millions of people who are drawn to this great theatre every year, I had indeed won in a wider sense; we had all gained something special and memorable.


Croke Park looked sensational as we took our seats, rattled by the cold, excited – nervous too – about the mystery that was due to be exposed before us.

The subsequent heavy defeat can’t take from the pleasure of seeing Roscommon on the big stage on a big day, a team on the rise with a mighty following at its shoulder.

Before throw-in, the bars around Croke Park buzzed with Roscommon supporters; there was a great, positive atmosphere, good humour abounding. It was bonus territory, unmistakeably; it was like that comfort zone on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, the one where your 32 grand was safe and you could still have a free go at answering the next question.

Roscommon started brightly, but then a serious Kerry team totally overwhelmed us. The first goal was beautiful in its simplicity; the second goal was torture…footballing death in slow motion; the third goal was farce merging with fate…that goal seemed to scream up from the sod…‘It’s not gonna be your day, suckers!’ (At least that’s what I thought I heard).

What was there to do? We’ve been here many times before. Mystery exposed indeed. Our heads –metaphorically – dropped. In reality, they remained stoicly upright. We watched and winced; what else is there to do?

There is nowhere to hide…Croke Park, rampant Kerry, television audience…God, we felt the cold much more than the Kerry supporters around us did. We were paying for going man to man with Kerry.

Midfield was a disaster for Roscommon, so much so that Geoffrey Claffey had to resort to desperately trying to find deep-lying colleagues with short kick-outs, like a person trying to slip a parcel to an associate without being seen by their enemy.

Roscommon went fourteen points behind, but a much better second-half performance lifted our spirits. We were very decisively beaten – outclassed really – but we remained honest and admirably cut the deficit to a relatively respectable ten points. I imagine that the wily messrs.

McStay, McHale and O’Donnell are bursting with an enthusiasm to implement the lessons learned from wonderfully challenging recent encounters with Mayo, Dublin and Kerry.

Yes, we ‘waited’ for all of Dublin v Donegal. Dublin were pretty awesome. Pace, power, sensational scores…magnificent.

I was directly in line with Philly McMahon when he angled a sensational pass to Bernard Brogan for the Dublin goal. How did he have so much time to think? Could he do that again?

Yes, and I imagine he could read his text messages at the same time, or maybe even recite a poem while threading that ball to its target. Dublin seemed to have so much time, so much space.

By contrast, our forwards never created a goal opening against Kerry; they barely had space to breathe.

Still, it’s all good. It was great to reach the National League semi-final, to produce that impressive league campaign, to play the best teams in the country…to learn from the elite so that we can continue to develop.

I saw Enda on the giant screen at the end of the Roscommon/Kerry game, and whatever he was doing, he definitely wasn’t forming a government.

Another image of the day is of the diehard Dubs on The Hill, released from the streets of Roscommon and the terraces of Carrick, back in their own patch, banging their drums, chanting their songs, clapping in unison, a boisterous soundtrack to the combat below them. Eventually we left Croke Park – having enjoyed it all greatly.

Like Enda, we are planning to come back.

Tweet this: Some kids still kicking ball against the gable…

It was half-time in the Roscommon v Kerry game. There were over 31,000 people in Croke Park.

About 27,000 of them seemed to go on their mobile phones once the whistle sounded (the others’ phones may not have been charged).

Most of us are guilty of it. Apart from the few phone-less rebels and those who endured the queues for food, drinks, and the toilets, the thousands who remained in their seats stared into their iPhones. Not quite loyal to the Irish tradition, was it?

You’d have thought that when 31,000 of us gather in the one arena it would be ideal for a chat? But there would be no chat – well, I suppose it’s a new form of chat – nearly 30,000 heads lowered into their phones.

Some of us checked if Leicester had scored against Sunderland. Some of us probably checked to see what was being said online about Roscommon v Kerry. Some took selfies. Some tweeted enormously important contributions to the waiting world.

I lifted my head to watch the kids who were taking part in the half-time entertainment. There’s almost always no balance to these games. The play tends to be primarily at one end.

Why is that? There’s almost always a small goalkeeper with nothing to do. A dangerous place to find yourself. My eyes were drawn to one tiny lad. He gestured urgently at a tall colleague. I was intrigued. Then the tiny lad, jersey out of his shorts, socks rolled up – always a good sign, shades of George Best – began to gesture at another team-mate. Then he ran to the tall colleague and gave him new instructions.

I kept my gaze on the tiny playmaker. And he was a playmaker. He knew what position to be in at any given moment. When he got the ball, he created time and space. He used it well. And he kept tabs on all his colleagues, tall or otherwise.

Still, too many thousands of heads stayed stuck in their mobiles. Very little proper half-time analysis. Good result for referees. Traditional GAA man under threat.

True, quite a few supporters stood up and walked around and exchanged a word or two with neighbours. But many remained entranced by their phones.

We were marvelling at the news that a young man called Jamie Vardy had scored two goals in a city in England, and below us, a new Messi or Gooch or O’Driscoll – perhaps – was lording it amongst his peers on the wonderful Croke Park pitch.

Below us, a tiny young boy was orchestrating a match. This boy, at least, isn’t spending his life on an iPhone. I hope more people saw him and his peers than seemed to be the case.

All is not lost. It seems some kids are still kicking footballs against gable walls and garage doors.


A few hours on, millions of people all over the world are still trying to work out how what happened at Augusta could have happened.

Superstar Jordan Spieth imploded; a grateful Danny Willetttt averted his gaze and strolled on to meet his life-changing fate.

The humourless, pompous officials in their blazers gritted their teeth as the champion-elect rolled around celebrating on a sofa – and rang his wife Nicole to share in the mad magic of it all.

Then, when an opponent’s miss confirmed Willettt as the winner, he said to his wife ‘I’ll call you back’ –and rarely has a husband had greater justification for saying it. That’s golf for you, anyway.

Shane Lowry holed in one shot on the 16th, but it took Spieth seven shots to hole on the par three 12th. There’s hope for us all. I was reminded of my own golf journey. Not far off thirty years ago myself and a friend were plodding around Longford Golf Course.

A very kindly old man, with a face that you could put on a television advert about happiness, unwittingly approached us. ‘Do you mind if I join you?’ he asked. ‘No problem’ we said. He teed off expertly. My ball thudded along the grass, killing insects and the old man’s belief in mankind.

Somehow he persisted over the next three holes, smiling and nodding in encouragement. Invariably he hit the ball sweetly, always in the direction of the hole. We plodded along haplessly, wandering towards the rough every time, zigzagging from fairway to hedges so much we couldn’t even converse with the old man with the kindly face.

At times, when we met at the green, it seemed like we were meeting a stranger again – it had been so long since we walked together. Eventually, after three humiliating holes, even this kindest of men had worked out that life was too short; deep down, we all knew that the break-up was coming.

“Maybe I’ll leave it to ye’ he muttered, presumably with a smile (I don’t think any of us made eye contact). With that, the nice man went off on the fairway-laden trail of the rest of his life. So I know how Jordan Spieth feels.