Cheltenham week showed me what it means to experience live a major sporting event

by Gazette Reporter
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I’m missing the whole St Patrick’s Day/weekend vibe in Dublin this year because duty calls. I’m practising night and day for a big tournament in Gibraltar where believe it or not my first round opponent is Shaun Murphy, now domiciled in Dublin.

When bragging rights are at stake, it makes me try harder which is why I’ve foregone the chance to go home so that I can get my eye in for the tournament which is on next week.

However, I never feel too homesick this time of year because of all the Irish related sport that will be on the television. Cheltenham will dominate our screen as it is the big Irish occasion out of the county at Prestbury Park among the Cotswolds.

I am not a racing fanatic by any means but I love the people involved and was lucky enough to get four days at the festival in 2018 as the leader of the Irish team in the Betbright competition which measures Irish versus home successes at the festival.

Former England cricketer Phil Tufnell was appointed by Rich Richie as the England captain and the two of us spent four of the funniest days meeting the jockeys, owners, trainers and punters as part of the publicity surrounding the event.

My snooker colleague John Parrot, a real racing aficionado, loves Cheltenham and goes there ever year but likes to be home for the Gold Cup day on a Friday. I didn’t bump into him on the Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday the year I was there so he didn’t know I was there.

He said he almost choked on a sandwich he was eating when he saw me in the parade ring accepting the award as Ireland beat England by 24-4 in winners that year.

He rang my phone and left a message saying: “Doherty, you’d get to places that even water wouldn’t go.”

The occasion was one of the best weeks of my life and I certainly got to know the difference between watching an event on television and being there life. I always liked to go down to the Goat Grill for Cheltenham where there is a great buzz around the big races in particular. But when I heard the Cheltenham roar in the flesh, so to speak, before the first race four years ago, the hair stood on the back of my neck. Simply put, I’d never experienced anything like it.

You can be sure there will be noise to rival it on Saturday afternoon at the Aviva if Ireland beat Scotland and claim the Triple Crown. I like the way this Ireland team is playing its rugby and I think they should complete the job against the Scots, who are always a tricky customer in these sort of situations.

The big hope then is that England do us a favour and win in Paris later on Saturday evening. They have the heft to match the French up front but I can’t see them living with the slick back play from a home side seeking a Grand Slam. Still, if we win a Triple Crown it will represent great progress 18 months out from the World Cup.

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