Married to a devoted horse racing fan for the last 44 years, my mother has probably watched more Group One Classics than the queen.
And yet, the sport still holds no appeal to her. Within seconds, the same woman can get drawn into a game of football, hurling, soccer or rugby. But the horses just don’t do it for her.
However, not everything about horse racing leaves my mother cold. Naturally, she follows Tony McCoy (don’t we all?) She also loves listening to Ted Walsh (don’t we all?)
A gifted amateur jockey, the father of a great jockey (Ruby), and a successful trainer, Walsh can walk the walk. But by God, he can also talk the talk.
Listening to Walsh in full flow is every bit as enjoyable as watching a thoroughbred taking off in the final straight. The speed of his delivery is also comparable.
A linguistic tour-de-force, Ted’s knowledge of the racing game is encyclopaedic. Your average commentator will know a bit about the owner, horse and trainer. Ted will provide details on the family tree of all three.
Last Saturday, he gave RTÉ viewers a quick critique of the Curragh racecourse. He knew every contour, every undulation. His love for the track was tangible.
But Ted didn’t resort to an avalanche of superlatives. That’s not his style. He just said: “A horse that can’t run around the Curragh isn’t really a racehorse.”
With one sentence, he said it all. That’s a talent.
It’s always enjoyable listening to someone who has a total command of their subject. Every ounce of Ted Walsh is steeped in horse racing. That’s why he can speak with such natural authority.
In the same way that RTÉ deserve praise for bringing Ted Walsh to a larger audience, they should also be complimented for their recruitment of Tomás Ó Sé.
The five-time All Star is already proving to be a great addition to their panel of pundits.
Tomás Ó Sé the footballer was easy to admire. A class act, it must be conceded he wasn’t averse to administering the odd box. Yet, there was a certain old school dignity about how he conducted himself.
The losing captain in the 2008 All-Ireland final, he still attended the post-match press conference. That’s not an easy thing to do. And Ó Sé didn’t take defeats very well. In 2011, I distinctly remember seeing him walking out of the bowels of Croke Park. Kerry had lost a final they should have won. He looked completely haunted.
Yet, when the final whistle blew, it was Ó Sé who carried the match ball down the field and presented it to Stephen Cluxton, the Dublin captain.
When I met Ó Sé last year, he didn’t disappoint.
Unlike many footballers who insist they never read a newspaper, the school teacher revealed he spends his lunchtimes devouring the sports pages of the Irish Examiner.
As a person, Ó Sé is unpretentious and straightforward. His match analysis also shares those qualities. There is simple, homespun wisdom to his observations. Mike Tyson looked unbeatable until he got into the ring with fighters who actually hit him back. While some pundits have already decided Dublin are invincible, Ó Sé has refused to conclude as much.
On The Sunday Game, he said to Des Cahill: “We can’t really analyse Dublin properly until they meet somebody who really puts it to them.”
A nephew of Páidí Ó Sé, it’s easy to imagine how Tomás, Darragh and Marc were schooled on the basic fundamentals of the game. But like a true Kerry man, he can disguise his emotions extremely well. Some of his ingrained prejudices still manage to escape, mind. Take this comment on Kildare: “There is always great expectation about Kildare. Every year we hear they are going well or that they are going to go for big things. I often wonder where it comes from. They’ve had high- profile managers past like Mick O’Dwyer and Kieran McGeeney. But, for me, they’re not up there yet.”
If he continues in his punditry career, Ó Sé could also serve an important function for Kerry people. Unfortunately, many northerners are under the idea Pat Spillane represents some type of collective Kerry mindset. This is untrue.
The way Pat Spillane analyses a game, he makes ‘defence’ sound like a dirty word. Football is about defending and attacking. In Pat’s world, it’s about attacking and attacking. Spillane’s distaste for blanket defences, particularly those of a northern hue, is well documented.
So, it’s been refreshing to see that Ó Sé doesn’t carry any of that baggage. When he reviewed Tyrone’s performance against Louth, he actually highlighted the team’s defensive lapses. Using a still frame from the match, he showed how Tyrone’s cavalier half-back line was leaving huge gaps in the defence.
“I’d have to say Armagh, Monaghan and Donegal are ahead of them in terms of defence… Watching the game again, they seem a little bit open at the back. That’s not something you would connect with Tyrone, especially the teams of the past,” said the Kerryman as he urged the attack-minded northerners to show more caution. His appraisal of Jamie Clarke was also revealing. “We’ve been hearing a lot about him down in Kerry and they often compare him to ‘The Gooch’.”
Some Kerry folk would consider such a comparison to be blasphemous. But Ó Sé was generous.
As viewers watched some footage of Clarke in action, Ó Sé provided a running commentary.
“He is out here around the 45. He is jinking left and right. He is looking up, which is always the sign of a great player. He kicked the ball in there and it was perfect. ‘The Gooch’ would do that. He would kick a ball into a group of two or three players and still find the man comfortably.”
When Des Cahill suggested Armagh really needed Clarke to be receiving the passes, Ó Sé offered the dream solution.
“If you had Jamie Clarke kicking into Jamie Clarke, you would have a great set-up.” That was good. His tribute to Dessie Dolan, who announced his retirement, was even better.
“Páidí always spoke really highly of him,” said Ó Sé.
With seven words, he said it all.
That’s Ted Walsh territory.
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