My gambling career, while undeniably short-lived, was pretty momentous.
It basically lasted for the duration of one day at Leopardstown many moons ago, on which occasion I placed my first and last bet.
Wholly indifferent to the charms of horse-racing, I had ended up there as a guest of some friends and spent the first few races having to pretend that I found the whole thing as fascinating and thrilling as everybody else present clearly found it to be.
That all changed when I decided to pick a horse in the next race and stick a fiver on his nose. He was called The Beruki and he set off like a bat out of hell, quickly opening up what looked to my untutored eyes to be an unassailable lead.
Now, suddenly, I was very interested and, before long, very, very interested as, even with his early advantage being inexorably whittled away, The Beruki managed to stay just ahead of the posse.
By the time he was approaching the final hurdle, with the rest of the field now hot on his heels, my levels of interest had escalated to a state of excitement bordering on the demented, as I discovered for the first time ever my inner punter’s voice and proceeded to crank it up to 11.
‘G’wan The Beruki! G’wan The Beruki!! G’WAN!!!’
But, unlike Samuel Beckett, the poor old Beruki couldn’t go on. Drained by his prodigious effort, he crashed through the final fence and fell to the turf, taking my fiver with him, much to my initial disgust.
But that was before I learned the worst of it. “Dat animal is brown bread,” said a far more knowledgeable voice over my shoulder. And so he was. The Beruki, it turned out, had broken his neck.
And so, amid a vague sense of personal responsibility, perhaps, there too ended my gambling career, though for those few fleeting moments when The Beruki seemed set to magically transform five into fifty, I had a taste of The Fever.
Tony O’Reilly’s Beruki moment had a much happier ending. Or, so it must have seemed at the time. In 1998, at the age of 24, the Carlow man accompanied a friend to the bookies and, for the very first time in his life, placed a bet — “just to have an interest”.
It was the princely sum of one euro on Holland to beat Argentina 2-1 in the World Cup quarter-final in Marseille, with Patrick Kluivert to score the first goal.
And, as if ordained by the gods, it all went beautifully to plan, thanks in the main to the genius of Dennis Bergkamp, whose symphony of movement in three exquisite parts won the game for the Dutch with a wonder goal which has gone down in World Cup
Tony O’Reilly went to bed a contented man that night, 45 quid richer and astonished at just how easy it had been.
His Beruki moment had ended happily indeed but, unfortunately for him and his loved ones, it was just that — one moment in time — and before very long it would give way to hours, days, weeks, months and years of horror and madness, of deceit and theft, of arrest and jail, of the loss of his marriage and even his own sense of self.
The newly published Tony 10 (Gill), with a co-author credit shared by O’Reilly and Declan Lynch, is the human story behind the ghastly headlines of the post office manager who stole €1.75 million from his own branch in Gorey to feed a ferocious gambling addiction which, over the course of eight years, would see him stake a mind-boggling total of €10 million.
Such an astronomical figure appears scarcely credible until — just by way of example — the narrative draws your attention to the traffic on his Paddy Power online account for one weekend in April 2011 when, in the throes of one of those miraculous winning streaks which can make a gambler feel invincible, Tony 10 turned five grand into €462,000. Just like that.
Then, over the course of the very next day, he managed, in the words of Declan Lynch, to “systematically torch” the lot, increasingly desperate and preposterous bets of 20 and 30 grand finding zero return in the underwhelming exploits of the Belarus U19s and an U20 side in Turkey, exotic football clubs in Malaysia, Singapore and Iceland, the odd backward running horse or two, and some tennis players from far-flung lands who would hardly qualify as household names in their own households.
Tony 10 was such a valued customer to the betting industry by this stage that he was being treated like a proper high roller, gifted tickets to the Irish Derby at the Curragh and the Europa League Final at the Aviva. Meanwhile, the reality for the other Tony — the permanently stressed and sick to the stomach Tony O’Reilly — was that he knew the auditors were closing in on that black hole in the post office in Gorey where the money should have been.
At which point of no return, he made an impulsive break for the border, hunkering down for a couple of surreal days in a small hotel in Carrickfergus where his family, and the law, finally caught up with him.
Thus ended the life of Tony 10.
But for Tony O’Reilly it was just the beginning of another life, one which would take in early recovery in a treatment centre, trial by court and tabloid, the hard landings of the Midlands Prison and the less taxing environs of Shelton Abbey — though for anyone inclined to imagine the latter as a cushy number, the heartbreaking scene in which his little daughter is inconsolable when having to part from her dad at the end of a visit, should make them think again.
“Short of dying,” writes Declan Lynch, “Tony O’Reilly could not have paid more heavily for his addiction.”
His payback to society, his redemption, is in the work he now does as a gambling addiction counsellor and — in an age when seductive technology has ensured that winning and losing in the betting markets has never been easier — in this shocking, hugely readable and deeply important book.
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