Commonwealth Games does not float Vinny’s boat

Charlie Vernon unwittingly hits a teatime raw nerve in Foley’s bar

Northern Ireland’s Paddy Barnes (left) on his way to gold against India’s Devendro Laishram during the light flyweight bout at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Northern Ireland’s Paddy Barnes (left) on his way to gold against India’s Devendro Laishram during the light flyweight bout at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Wed, Aug 6, 2014, 06:00

Just as every long journey starts with a small step, the unseemly row in Foley’s hostelry on Saturday teatime broke out as a consequence of several steps. Thousands of them, in fact.

It followed the news Rob Heffernan was to be awarded a back-dated bronze medal for the 20-kilometre walk at the 2010 European Championships after a Russian who finished ahead of him was exposed as a doper.

“We’ll take a medal, any medal, even one that’s four years old,” observed Vinny Fitzpatrick as he raised his pint to the plucky Cork stroller. As glasses were clinked, Charlie St John Vernon went a step further as he nodded at the telly. “If it’s medals you want chaps, then the Commonwealth Games is the place to be.”

There was an awkward silence, and a quizzical eyebrow or two, before Vinny caught Charlie’s attention.

Opening the palm of an outstretched mitt, in friendship, he said quietly. “Go on, Charlie, you have the floor.”

Charlie Vernon shot a glance around the circular table where four sets of eyes were fixed upon him, each a mixture of curiosity and a hint of defiance. He cleared his throat and made his pitch. “I was just thinking at how well the lads, and lassies, from the North were doing in the boxing in Glasgow. They bagged nine medals, two of them gold. That’s some return.

‘Fought for Ireland’

“We were all cheering on Paddy Barnes and Michael Conlon today, just as we did when they fought for Ireland in London two years ago.

“Well, it got me thinking that maybe every Irish boxer, and sportsperson, might be better off having a crack at a medal in the Commonwealth Games. If the North can win nine boxing medals, sure we’d have to win nine as well. Katie Taylor is guaranteed a gold for starters. I say we should start lobbying for support. What do you think chaps?”

There was a silence as the implications of Charlie’s theory landed. For Vinny it was like a rabbit punch in the kidneys, one he didn’t see coming but left a sting.

“Are you seriously saying Charlie that Ireland should have a team of athletes competing in the Commonwealth Games?” he said in a clipped tone.

Charlie wriggled on his stool, caught Dial-A-Smile’s eyes, ordered a round, and continued down the road he had taken. “I’ll be honest. I wouldn’t have a great problem with that idea,” he said.

“In these enlightened political times, I think we’ve all moved on. It’s 100 years since Irishman and Englishman marched beside each other in the Great War. Why can’t we march together in sporting combat in the Commonwealth Games, rather than wait for the Olympics every four years?

“I’d love to be here in 2017 cheering on Katie Taylor in New Zealand when she knocks the stuffing out of her opponent in the final.”

With that, the bar girl arrived with a tray of five perfectly formed pints which were placed in the centre of the circular table. The intervention was opportune as tempers were bubbling, none more so than Vinny’s.

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