BY KEN DOHERTY
As regular readers know by now, my days and weeks are dominated by sporting events and it doesn’t get much better than this week when Cheltenham graces the television screens until Saturday when the Six Nations finale takes over.
I am hopeful that despite injuries Andy Farrell’s Ireland can win the Grand Slam against an England side who will be hurting badly and looking for solace following last week’s rout by France in Twickenham.
What a performance in the face of adversity Ireland put in at Murrayfield where it was all set-up for Scotland to come of age and lower the green colours. And it certainly looked that way during the first half when half our pack got injured and were unable to continue in the second half.
It was perplexing to see Cian Healy, a prop come in and do the job as hooker, albeit with a little help from Josh van der Flier who did a great job at throw in time at the lineouts. This Irish group can take anything that is thrown at it and still work out a way to win.
With no hooker and no throw-in specialist, we managed to be the team on the front foot for virtually all the second moiety and we outscored Scotland 14-0 in that half to win pulling up by 22-7. Imagine holding the hosts to zero for the last 67 minutes of that game when they tore holes in France in Paris and did the same to England at Twickenham.
This is why I am not cocky but cautiously confident that Johnny Sexton and company will recover from the injuries and the pace of the game to still see England off at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon. A Grand Slam win would make for a great Paddy’s weekend for sure.
I am delighted to be home this week after snooker duty in Thailand and honoured that I will walk my son’s former nanny down the aisle as she teams up with the love of her life. That will be a great occasion and coming on Gold Cup day tomorrow (Friday) makes it a day to be excited about on two fronts.
Ah yes Cheltenham. From my one time there in 2018 I was struck by the drama, passion and colour that is uniquely Prestbury Park in mid-March. I’m so excited at the prospect, just as I was when I attended my first Cheltenham five years ago.
It was a special kind of debut as I went there as the Irish captain in the Betbright Cup with former England cricketer Phil Tufnell appointed by Rich Richie as the England captain. Basically the cup went to whichever country had the most winners over the 28 races.
The pair 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 every 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.
As I related last year, 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 live. 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.
And yes it was a pleasure to lifted the cup as Irish skipper against Phil in the Betbright Cup as we had 22 winner I think to England’s six.
Click on link to read more in this weeks Digital Edition – Dublin Gazette – Digital Edition – March 16, 2023 %
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