No event was complete without the ‘Murray treatment’, says Jonathan Mullin
COLM MURRAY’S relationship with time was always a little fractious. Colleagues in RTÉ tell many hair-raising tales of him sprinting down the corridor just to make his slot on the Six One news, literally by seconds.
So you can bet that he would afford himself a right mischievous smile today, knowing that he picked two of the most hectic days in the Irish racing calendar to bid his adieu. For a man who brought such fun to so many, how fitting that he has had the last laugh.
Of course his commitment to Galway race week was unbending. Married to Ann — who he giddily eyed up while both were teaching in Tullamore Vocational School — they celebrated their wedding on a Saturday but, being the weekend before the Galway races, any prospect of a honeymoon had to wait a week as the happy couple headed west for the races.
And last Monday night, as Ann and their daughters Kate and Patricia lay with him in his bed, sharing the final hours of a extraordinary life, RTÉ’s broadcast from Ballybrit lit up the dark room.
I was lucky that as well as being former colleague of Colm, as friends we shared a small percentage of a horse together, and the trials that come with that burden. When I moved to RTÉ we instantly bonded over a mutual interest in horses, and most evenings work was placed to one side for a moment as Colm went on to Willie Mullins’s website to read what Willie had to say about his horses running the following day, and Colm would carefully decipher what “Willie really meant”. Needless to say he might have been looking too deep, and his devotion to the champion trainer was absolute, and boy was it entertaining.
Solving puzzles was his thing, and search of the next winner was his great passion. The study would be done but he loved the intrigue of racing, the “bit of word” and the talk, and by the time the white flag was raised, any form study had been well and truly jettisoned to be replaced by what he deemed the best piece of knowledge gleaned from some on-course chat. He was tremendous fun, a great friend.
I know from the reaction of Irish racing professionals to his illness, and the amount of people that would ask after him, that he will be sadly missed. He loved hearing of their best wishes, it broke out in a smile, no doubt remembering the good times he shared on some racecourse somewhere.
It will pain his friends that their lives will no longer be enlightened by his tremendous spirit, but the memories have been harvested away and although he is gone now, he will still trigger plenty of smiles and laughs. I will never forget the bravery and the fight and the dignity he brought with him, the unbelievable care that Ann has given him, and I know Ann and the girls are grateful that a harrowing illness was defiantly met with such a peaceful end.
He was a broadcaster in the classic mould and his voice was his sword. Trained initially as a continuity announcer, Colm hit every word perfectly, like a freetaker kicking sweetly through his laces. That voice soon became one of the most recognisable in the country as Colm, with the persuasive influence of Vere Wynn Jones, became one of the country’s first sports news journalists in 1989. From then on, no sporting event was complete without the “Murray treatment”.
I remember the week of his diagnosis as if it were yesterday. The horse we were involved with was to run at Cork that weekend and, out of character, there had been no call from Colm to talk tactics.
Something was up, and it wasn’t long before he broke the news to friends. “There are two ways to approach it,” he said back then. “You can go deep into the well of yourself, into a dark place of pessimism, or you can decide that this is the hand that I’ve been dealt, and how can I best play them.”
Colm would have been forgiven for crawling into a ball, but instead his decision was to make the most of life. Colm went for option two, and despite having no desire to have his illness played out in public, he sacrificed those misgivings to become a very public face of motor neurone disease and helped fundraise for research into its cure.
Slowly but surely his body betrayed him as the disease took hold, but first with a stick, then two, and then with a wheelchair, he continued to go to work in the RTÉ newsroom and steadfastly refuse to wave a white flag.
At Galway races yesterday evening, a minute’s silence was observed before the opening race, and throughout the evening jockeys wore black armbands.
Maybe it was an on-course television playing a tribute somewhere or maybe it was just my imagination, but it was difficult not to drift through the masses and not hear his voice on the wind. A special man, a one-off.
*Jonathan Mullin is Irish editor of the Racing Post.
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