Against the Odds: Banner tenant Ollie gets a little too familiar for Vinny
A great day out at Croker comes to an unexpected finish
Vinny Fitzpatrick was already ensconced in the premium level area of the Hogan Stand as the Cork and Clare players paraded before Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final at Croke Park. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
It was the Joey’s angle that finally swung the call for Vinny Fitzpatrick. Having hummed and hawed about choosing the next tenant in Causeway Avenue from a sizeable field, he finally opted for the newly-appointed geography and biology teacher in his alma mater.
Ollie Earley from Corofin, owlish with glasses, was similar in age, and girth, to the veteran bus driver, and he’d made a good impression over tea and scones in Bunter’s Café, to such an extent Vinny made a mental note to knock €50 a month off the rent.
In pitching for a year-long lease , bachelor Ollie came across as a decent skin, who was joined at the hip to two crusades: his work in the classroom and the fortunes of Clare hurlers.
He had never married – “no time for that nonsense” – and told Vinny he had always wanted to work in the “big smoke”, as he called Dublin, before retirement, after which he would follow “The Banner” religiously, through league and championship, until he was no longer able.
Vinny prayed to himself the recent difficulties at Causeway Avenue – the prostitution racket, and the fire – were behind him. Like a horse turning Tattenham Corner in the Epsom Derby, the little ol’ house needed a clear run.
Vinny, who had shaken hands on a deal over a third scone, was surprised to receive a call on Sunday morning from Ollie, explaining he had a spare ticket for the All-Ireland hurling final and would his new landlord care join him at Croke Park?
The call explained Vinny’s presence in the premium level area of the Hogan Stand half an hour before throw-in with a pint of porter in his mitt.
“This beats cramming them in in Gaffney’s”, he thought to himself.
Vinny wasn’t a keen student of the noble art of stick fighting, as the lads in Foley’s called it. Even so, he felt the need to have an interest. With the bookies unable to separate the sides, Vinny had stuck a score on a draw at 10 to 1.
Beside him, Ollie Earley was jabbering 90 to the dozen with a retired fiddler from the Kilfenora Céilí Band about the talents of Buggsie, Donny and Podge, who sounded like a firm of disreputable solicitors to Vinny’s uneducated ears.
Home from home
Taking his seat in section 535, Vinny was close to Hill 16, his home from home, which reminded him the big day against Mayo was only a fortnight away.
That thought shivered his timbers but today was a freebie, an occasion to enjoy, which he did, particularly when “Donny” punched over a point for Clare to level the sides deep into stoppage time.
Ollie, who had been jumping up and down like a jackrabbit all afternoon, was again off his feet in paroxysms of joy, as was Vinny who was suddenly €200 better off.
The two men embraced until Vinny, sheepishly, pulled back. He had to remind himself he wasn’t with the lads on the Hill where such celebrations were commonplace, and permitted. He was with a middle-aged bachelor he hardly knew.
On the 130 bus back to Clontarf, Ollie had gushed how Clare would not give up so many goal chances in the replay and predicted the Liam MacCarthy Cup would be taken on a tour of the West Clare Railway over the winter.
‘We’ll parade the cup’
“From Milltown Malbay to Moyasta, Killimer to Kilrush, we’ll parade the cup. Would ye come down, Vinny boy, for the craic? Would ye?” grinned Ollie, his cheeks all a flush.
At Causeway Avenue, Ollie invited Vinny in for a drop of whiskey, some brack, and a quick low-down on the workings of an increasingly creaky house built in the year of the Dublin Lockout.
It was akin to a snag list as Vinny took Ollie on a guided tour, pointing out the back door would stick in cold weather, how the oven had a mind of its own, and how the pump worked for the shower.
“The alarm is easy,” he said. “It’s 1957, the year I was born,” he explained.
“Get away, I’m a ’57 veteran too,” said Ollie. “On November 1st, I’ll be 56. Sure why don’t we have a joint party here?” he smiled.
Vinny couldn’t help warming to Ollie, his easy-going nature, sense of humour, his passion for Clare hurlers. He reckoned he was a sound fella, and a good teacher too.
The kids in Joey’s would benefit from being in his class, he was sure. Some of them might even listen to him.
Vinny glanced at his watch. It was almost seven and he had promised Angie he’d be home for the Sunday roast and to put the kids to bed.
At the door of his old family home, Vinny turned to Ollie. “There’s one thing you should know Ollie. Every now and then, when I’m on the batter, I tend to kip down here, so as not to cause ructions at home. Will that be okay with you?”
What happened next caught Vinny unawares. Ollie took his hand in both of his, leaned forward and winked. “Vinny, you are welcome to stay here any night you want. Any night at all.”