Our leaders’ questions of sport

I WOULD HAVE guessed that green fees at Druid Glen were expensive. But €35 billion? Those fairways must be like snooker-table felt.

But... Brian Cowen says he didn’t actually talk about Anglo Irish Bank, the economy or anything else other than whether to pitch or putt when he and Sean FitzPatrick struck off into the picturesque Wicklow countryside on a dewy July morning in 2008.

Can you imagine that two-ball though? The revelation of the cosy relationship between our Taoiseach and the former chief of the most toxic of banks came to light this week in the newly published book The Fitzpatrick Tapes, by Sunday Times journalists Brian Carey and Tom Lyons.

It fails to tell us, however, whether or not Mr Cowen treated his playing party to the now infamous Philip Walton impression, that which caused such mirth in a raucous Galway hotel bar, mere hours before a doomed Morning Ireland interview.

The Taoiseach would not be a bad golfer if he could impersonate Walton’s short game though, it’s true.

I invited the Taoiseach out for a round of golf at around the same time that he and Seanie were comparing elliptical swings with the salty bay air in their nostrils and the shadow of the Dublin mountains at their feet.

Scratching around for column ideas I asked the government press people if I could carry the Taoiseach’s clubs around a course of his choosing, interviewing him about sport as we went.

Unsurprisingly, the press people came back with a terse, sniffy reply, which explained slowly — as if to a child — that the prime minster of the country could hardly afford the time from his crammed schedule to play pitch and putt with the likes of me. Fair enough. (One impressively-active TD offered to take me sea kayaking however, while Mary McAleese wasn’t interested in me spending All-Ireland final day in her presence, for some reason.)

Like most, this golf-with-the-boss idea wasn’t an original. In the 1990s, the then Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly shot 18 holes with his Taoiseach: Bill Clinton. “Golf is like bicycle shorts,” wrote Reilly, “It reveals a lot about people. And presidents. What would it reveal about Clinton?”

Well, he cheated. Anyone who ever came up against the Little Rock vote-getting machine will shrug their shoulders at that one. No big deal. And Reilly liked him anyway.

“He has a serviceable swing, though maybe he’s a little too upright and a little too much on his toes, which causes him to hit the ball high and right. But his iron game, even with his long irons, is terrific. Like most guys, he is driven by the hope that deep inside him lives a single digit who is just waiting for the shankless wedge to be invented. He is the kind of guy who looks in everybody else’s bag and says, “Mind if I swing this?”

Many of our Taoisigh have tugged on the revealing bicycle shorts of sport, of course, though none have shown their golf scorecards.

Éamon de Valera — the Rob Kearney of his day — played full-back for Rockwell College in a Munster Senior Schools Cup final. And despite sitting, blindly, through dozens of All-Ireland finals as Taoiseach and then President in later life, it was an oval ball that beat in his breast.

Sean Lemass played soccer amongst other games and kept an ear out for the results of Cardiff City FC every Saturday afternoon; a school friend, Tom Farquharson, went on to keep goal for the Bluebirds.

In February 1971, while watching Ireland lose 6-9 to England at Lansdowne Road, Lemass became unwell. He was rushed to hospital and later told by his doctor that one of his lungs was about to collapse. He died the following May.

Jack Lynch was a sporting great of course, winning many an All-Ireland.

Then there’s Charlie. The Boss beat Stephen Roche up Mont Ventoux in 1987. He did, actually, join the Dubliner — who was on his way to an historic triple crown — on the Champs Elysees podium to celebrate a Tour de France win for Ireland.

And, of course, after the hosts had dumped the Boys in Green out of Italia ‘90, CJ materialised inside the dressingroom door, deep in Rome’s Olympic Stadium.

Tony Cascarino walked to the showers thinking he’d met someone who owned a tea shop after mishearing Andy Townsend’s explanation of who exactly the interloper was. Haughey didn’t notice.

Garrett and Bruton were rugby men, if at all. And then there was Bertie. Our last Taoiseach made more money on the horses than Channel 4, left Manchester with more sterling than the Manchester City squad on a Europa League trip and saw more Dublin football games than Hill 16. What a guy. He never swung a golf club though in fairness.

If he did, we may have learned a little about his character — and given him a mulligan on the whole economy thing. As Reilly concluded after his afternoon swinging a club in the presence of the Secret Service: “Mr President played very well. He had a 41 on the front and had every chance to break 80 for the first time when he sank a 25-footer on the par-5 10th for a birdie. But he three-putted the next two holes and never quite pardoned himself. ‘Those two three-putts broke my spirit,’ he said forlornly. In the end he shot 82, hitting eight fairways and nine greens, with 32 putts and two sandies. It was good enough to beat me by two strokes, which I feel very patriotic about. I feel it’s every citizen’s duty to lose to his president by two shots.”

adrianjrussell@gmail.co m; Twitter: @adrianrussell

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