‘The importance of the simple things in life has really hit home’

Walking, digging holes, painting, getting stuck into a stock of 48,000 ebooks! Our writers explore how our 70-plus senior sporting stars are coping with the need to cocoon during the Covid-19 crisis.
‘The importance of the simple things in life has really hit home’

Walking, digging holes, painting, getting stuck into a stock of 48,000 ebooks! Our writers explore how our 70-plus senior sporting stars are coping with the need to cocoon during the Covid-19 crisis.

Alfie Hale, 80, is best remembered for his spell with the great Waterford side of the late ‘60s-early ‘70s but he played and managed for a string of clubs in Ireland as well as Wales and England. He also won 14 caps for the Republic of Ireland.

“I was just out in the back garden enjoying the sun when you called. I’m here with the good wife. My daughter and her husband are only a half-a-mile from us and my two sons are equal distance as well so we are well surrounded and well supported.

“They give you so much time you’d be asking them to leave you alone at times. We’re very lucky. The way I look at it is I am very philosophical about it. For a start, before the virus even came around, I counted my blessings that I reached 80 years of age so there is no question of panic or unreasonable worry about it.

“If you happen to be one of the unlucky ones then that’s the way it is with life and I have had a great life.

“Having said that, I have done everything I have been asked to do by the Government. I have been a good boy, in that sense. I was just talking to a few golfing pals that I play with and I miss that a lot, as most guys of our age would, as you have little else to be doing.

“We’re all in the same boat and there is no point in complaining about it. It does make you sit back. It forces you to sit back and think and the simple things in life have always been very important: Walking on Tramore Strand there or jogging on my own.

“The importance of the simple things in life, I think, has really hit home for a lot of people in the middle of all this. Hopefully, that’s one good thing that can come of it.

I’m one of the lucky ones and I always have been. If I step on a bomb tomorrow, well, I’ve had my share. I’m at the age where one of my sons runs the sports shop and the other runs the last of the pubs.

“It’s a struggle for them in retail the last 10 years, a real struggle, but when I try to do something they tell me I can help by getting out of the way. That’s my contribution to working now at this stage! I watch myself, I eat a bit.

“I had a few very good friends, including Johnny Matthews who I played with, who died in the last few months. It starts to hit home after a month or two that they are gone. You really do have to count your blessings.”

Words: Brendan O’Brien

Tipperary icon Michael “Babs” Keating, 76 next Friday, claimed two All-Ireland SHC medals as a player before guiding the county as a manager to two All-Ireland titles in the space of three seasons, the first of them ending Tipp’s 18-year wait for the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

“My wife Nancy and I moved to Kildare from Castleknock last year. My daughter Orla, her husband Johnny (Murtagh) and family live close by. The lawn in the new house hadn’t been laid out so there was work to do on that.

“All it had was weeds. I sprayed it for every kind of a weed. I sprayed it for dogweed and thistles and every kind of shite when the weather improved about a month ago. The place was burned to a cinder, nothing left.

“So I went to dig a hole then. Michael, my son, had organised a fella who had a rotablade machine to dig it up for me. But when I looked at the place I realised I couldn’t dare ask him to do that because I came upon more stones than you can imagine.

“It had to be dug by hand so I started off last Friday week (March 27) and split the place into squares. Each day between 11 until 3 I took on a square and got the stones out.

“I was wrecked every day after it and it looks like I’ve buried somebody but, look, it was an achievement, it’s about 95% done and it kept me doing something. I was to have an operation on my shoulder last Thursday but because of what’s happening with the hospitals it was cancelled.

“There are still things I can do with the shoulder like pick stones and swing a golf club if I was forced to but ask me to hit a sand wedge from a difficult lie and I’m not sure I would be able to do it. When I lay down at night it kills me — the pain is unreal.

“Ruth Delaney, a niece of Noel Tierney that played full-back for Galway, is in Santry clinic and she recommended this second shoulder operation.

“Other than that, I’ve been watching the old Masters, from Danny Willett to Sergio Garcia to Tiger winning again last year, and then my wife takes over with the soaps. That’s my day now.

“There’s plenty of walking around here but we can’t do any of that because of the restrictions. We went up to Donadea Park before them and that’s a beautiful place to go.

“There’s a lovely walk in Moore Abbey, which is the former home of John McCormack, in Monasterevin. You can walk anyplace up in the Curragh, which is only a couple of 100 yards away from me.

“I love swimming and it kills me not being able to do it. We have a place in Rosslare and in weather like this, I’d be in the sea.

“I wouldn’t mind swimming in the cold water of April or October. That’s a loss. If that could be lifted, it’d be great but when I see the chief medical officer in Scotland losing her job for breaking the rules and going to her holiday home they’d probably put me in jail for going to Rosslare!”

Words: John Fogarty

Charlie McCarthy, 74, is regarded as one of the finest Cork forwards. Winner of five All-Ireland SHC medals over a 15-year inter-county career, he claimed the last of them as captain and was final top scorer in 1978 as the Rebels completed the three in a row.

“I’ve been a painter and decorator all my life so I turned my hand to my own house during this situation. I’m slowly but surely running out of paint and I’ll have to find something else to do fairly shortly but it’s killed my time.

“I do like to tend to the upkeep of the house and always had the intention of going at it again so this provided the opportunity.

“But when the restrictions started to come they came fast and I wasn’t able to get enough paint in time because all the hardware shops are closed.

“Besides, we can’t go out anyway so it’s been our daughter who has been getting the messages and stuff.

“Even if we could go out the two kilometres, it wouldn’t be too bad but we’re stuck inside and we have to stick at it now. With the ways things are going, you’d be half-afraid you might pick up something.

“There’s not much else you can do, really, except stay within the rules and hope for the best. At least the painting has been keeping me busy and moving because you are using nearly every muscle in your body with ceilings and walls. I am doing all the outdoor paintwork too. Over half of the inside is done and most of the outside is done.

“I’d be keeping in contact with JB (Jimmy Barry-Murphy) and a few lads in the clubs who would be on different committees.

“When I put the brush down, I’d be turning on the TV and I’ve watched Tipperary and Wexford from last year on TG4 and last Sunday the 1990 All-Ireland final between Cork and Galway.

“The week before, there was Galway and Limerick. Any bit that’s on, just to break it up a bit, I’d be watching it. I can’t see any games being played before June. You’d miss the games terribly both at club and inter-county.

We (St Finbarr’s) would have been down to play in the club championship Sunday week against the Glen and then there was the Limerick game to start the Munster Championship next month.

“Hopefully, we get back to it soon so long as everyone is safe.”

Words: John Fogarty

Dublin football legend Jimmy Keaveney, 75, had retired from inter-county football when Kevin Heffernan took over as manager and convinced him to change his mind. A freetaker extraordinaire, he went on to claim three Celtic Crosses.

“What I have been doing now for a fair long time is I go out for a walk every day since I retired. I go out in Portmarnock and it’s great. It helps me rather than just sitting around the place. It keeps me in some sort of shape and I look forward to it every day.

“I find it does me the world of good. I used to do a lot of running and jogging but this is what does me now and the fresh air helps too. I will be sticking to what I’m doing, no matter what is being said.

“I’ve no reason to be giving it up because I enjoy it and it’s good for me. I’d do two to two and a half miles. It’s my form of exercise and I would recommend it to anybody. The sooner this thing goes, the better.

“The family is good, the missus is good and we’re trying to make the best of it. The missus won’t let me near the garden — that’s her job. She loves it.

“You’d be missing the socialising but fingers crossed we will see the back of this in a few weeks’ time and we can go out and enjoy ourselves again. Like everyone else, I’m watching a good bit of TV.

“I love sport and a good documentary. I’ve seen a share of the matches on TG4, looking back at what the current generation achieved. All the Dublin players from our generation are keeping in touch with each other.

“They’re all in good form and in good shape. We all want to see the football come back.

“I wouldn’t mind it at all if it goes knockout. I think it would be a very good idea and the players would enjoy it as well.”

Words: John Fogarty

Denis O’Sullivan became the first player to reach 300 appearances on the European Senior Tour. Remarkably, the Cork man joined the professional ranks at the age of 50. O’Sullivan made his Senior Tour debut at the El Bosque Seniors Open in 1998 and five months later was named the Tour’s first Rookie of the Year.

“I was 72 on March 11. I walk every day for an hour a couple of kilometres but the key thing is I do it as fast as I can. I have a set route that I follow and I try to break my previous best which is great fun.

“Nowadays I do a bit of stretching along with exercises involving a kettlebell and some small weights. I work on my golf every day in the back garden. I had put a sheet up which I was hitting balls into but on Tuesday I picked up one of those little nets from a friend and the sheet can go back in the press.

“There are a few drills that I want to try. The European Seniors Tour actually sent us out some stuff to help to keep us busy so that is a great tool. One of the things in that is meditation.

“I used to do meditation exercises quite a lot back in my amateur days and it really helped me to win a few championships. For some reason, I fell away from it for years but now it is very much part of my daily routine.

“I do about 20 minutes and feel incredible afterward. I’m delighted to be back in the habit and plan to continue it when all of this is over. It just helps me in everything that I do.

“Before all of this happened I would have been at a golf course every day. I don’t miss not going as much as I thought that I would. I was in Spain up until March 19 — and was in lockdown for a week there so I’m now over three weeks without being on a course.

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“As a golfer my fear would be losing my speed and my touch. Speed is really important and I’m working hard not to lose that. I spend a few months a year in Spain, I play off plus 2 over there and am trying to beat my age every day that I go out.

“I read a lot. I have a kindle and a few years ago a buddy in publishing put 48,000 books on it so I have no excuses.

“I would not watch a lot of television normally but I found myself glued to the reruns of the Ryder Cups in the past few days. When I was playing I hardly got to see the events. Would you believe I saw Rory McIlroy winning the 2014 PGA Championship for the first time last week!”

Words: Colm O’Connor

John Joe Walsh, 80, is an active trainer for longer than anyone else in this country. In recent years he has enjoyed notable success with Davids Charm. He lives in Doneraile.

“We’re lucky where we are as we’re out in the country and have plenty of space to exercise without having to go outside the gate. (Sons) Martin and Brendan and their families are both living inside the gates, so we are also lucky in that sense — if we need anything, they’re never far away.

“I’d say it’s not affecting me at all, because we have that bit of freedom here, but of course there is no racing at the moment and that, obviously, is an issue.

“We have roughed off most of the National Hunt horses because, in my opinion, I can’t see there being any jump racing before August.

“We’re fortunate that we have some very sound owners, some who have been with us for a very long time, and they are very understanding.

“But it’s not easy for small trainers, whose worry is that when these horses leave, they might not come back. They can’t afford for racing to be off for a month, let alone as long as it might be.

“We are breaking a couple of Flat horses, which is enough to keep me ticking over at the moment, enough to be getting out and about and continuing to do a bit.

“I know people will have negative thoughts about cocooning, and I feel for people who are living in big cities, especially in high-rises, but I think the measures the Government brought in were right.

“When this all started, there were plenty of selfish people who didn’t take it seriously.

“I don’t want to just put blame on the young people, but some of them seemed not to think they should be concerned about it and continued to socialise freely. I’m afraid it will affect them in a year’s time when they’re looking for work, and the jobs aren’t there.

If people would listen to what they’re being told to do, we could be a long way to being out of this in a month’s time.

“As I said, we feel very fortunate here, it’s very easy for us to stay behind closed doors, and hopefully, it won’t be long before we have a clearer idea where things are going.

“We’ve got plenty of horses to look forward to for next season, and that’s reason enough to keep us looking ahead with optimism.”

Words: Tommy Lyons

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