Sometimes life’s a beach before you strike out
Vinnie’s efforts on Dollymount Strand are overshadowed by some grim news
Dollymount Strand made a fine venue for the 33rd staging of the Banana Cup. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill / THE IRISH TIMES
The Banana Cup battle had been lost but for Vinny Fitzpatrick, the non-playing captain of the host garage, the “War on the Shore” experiment had been an unqualified success.
The sun shone relentlessly, the craic was mighty, and the beach games were keenly contested, even if Vinny’s Clontarf yeomen struggled to raise a gallop.
In other years, Vinny would have been rightly miffed at his under-achieving troops but on this glorious 12th of July, he was as happy as a sand boy.
As the MC for the 2013 staging of the inter-garage sportsday, it was Vinny’s innovative call to decamp to the beach for the first time in the 33-year history of the annual gathering – not one of which Vinny had missed.
With a little help from his friends in the Dublin City Council, a section of “Dollyer” had been cordoned off for the day, at the Sutton end of the shore, which was generally the quietest.
There, for four fun-filled hours, the drivers of Dublin’s steeds of the roads buried their cross-city prejudices as they contested a competition named in honour of those buses who arrived at stops in bunches. The 16 route, which ran from Ballinteer to Dublin Airport, remained peerless in this regard and Vinny, a stickler for doing things right, winced as he heard drivers giggle about being stacked four-strong at the lights at Whitehall.
As he surveyed the lively scene, Vinny felt the day had ticked most of the boxes.
The bone-hard beach had been ideal for the three disciplines, beach soccer, baseball and, for the first time, badminton, which had been great gas, even if nearly everyone insisted on pronouncing it “badmington”.
Vinny had kept a watching brief as he patrolled the beach, ensuring the games were running on time and keeping tabs on the scores.
It was clear from early on that the demons of Donnybrook were going to walk away with the Banana Cup, which they usually did.
The south city Leviathans were a sporty lot, at times bordering on the über aggressive. As Donnybrook smashed their way to maximum points, Clontarf had sand kicked in their faces.
Ahead of their final baseball game, against the champions-elect, Vinny’s crew were locked in a grim basement battle with Ringsend for the lantern rouge award, which was presented to the garage who trailed in last.
Vinny, who was desperate to avoid such ignominy, felt his boys had two chances – none, and none at all.
As Donnybrook’s Babe Ruth sluggers warmed up, Vinny was approached by Miles Long, a freckle-faced Clontarf lifer, who informed him that two of the team had “done a runner” back to Foley’s and the team was now a man short.
Despite his better judgement, Vinny agreed to step into the breach. It was a selfless action, which he was regarded for, especially when a driver called in sick at short notice. But this was different. He was in his mid-50s, out of condition and facing a team hell bent on pressing his nose into the shingle.
Improbably, victory dangled before Vinny when he waddled to the plate to face the final pitch of the day.
The bases were loaded and Vinny needed a home run to overhaul Donnybrook by a point. Such an outcome would have nudged Clontarf above the lads from Raytown to claim a moral victory.
The dunes were ringed with drivers and ex-clippies, many of them slurping ice cream cones, as the final act of the Banana Cup unfolded, but Vinny was oblivious to them.
Vinny met the delivery on the full and he dispatched the ball in the direction of the Bailey Lighthouse.
Dropping the bat, he set off at a pace which belied his years. He scurried past first base, then second, before glancing seawards to see what was happening in the out-field – it was a fatal error as he lost momentum. At third base, a breathless Vinny knew he was a beaten docket. The spirit was willing but the flabby flesh was weak and he was run out by three or four paces.
Lashings of porter
After a presentation of prizes on the beach, the roadie rivals boarded their respective team buses. The Clontarf lads were bound for Foley’s for a barbeque and lashings of porter – none of your chilled beers and cider mullarkey for them.
They were about to pull out when a car screeched to a halt alongside. The driver emerged and clambered on to the bus. It was Socket Twomey, the Clontarf garage controller. This could only be bad tidings, thought Vinny.
“Two things lads, if you don’t mind,” said Socket, a spindly chap with a crew-cut, who blinked furiously behind old style glasses.
“Firstly, apologies for not making it to the Banana Cup. I understand it was a roaring success and may I offer my congratulations to Vinny Fitzpatrick for putting on such a splendid show.”
Socket continued. “The second point is, to be frank, far more serious. I’ve just left an emergency meeting of the Dublin Bus executive. The news is grim, I’m afraid.”
By now, a deathly hush hung over the bus. “We’ve just been told that one hundred drivers’ jobs in Dublin have to go. There is no alternative. The company is losing money and believes the only way forward is to reduce numbers.
“Look, I know the timing is terrible but it was going to break later and I wanted youse to hear it from me rather than between pints in Foley’s. For what it’s worth, there will be redundancy deals for those drivers who want to go voluntarily but only if they clear their desk right away and forego notice.
“The terms are being ironed out as we speak and those with long service can expect a fair few bob.
“I’d appreciate it if youse thought about it over the weekend before talking to me on Monday. If anyone would consider taking the lump, can you raise your hand?”
A ripple of displeasure filled the bus. There was a bark of “shame on you, Socket” from the rear. Another angry voice called out: “Judas.”
And then, against the odds, a hand was raised from half-way down, on the left-side. It was a flabby paw and it belonged to Vincent Finbarr Fitzpatrick.