'When you're a kid and you watch the Aga Khan you just dream of doing this'


The great and the good came to watch the Aga Khan contest yesterday and were well rewarded

JUST AS we thought we couldn’t take any more sporting excitement, up pops the contest for the Aga Khan trophy. It was like the Katie Taylor final all over again but without the raucous crowd singing The Fields of Athenry.

Instead there were polite “aahs” when poles came clattering down and generous applause for the clear rounds. The applause for the Irish competitors grew louder as the prize came within grasp and it seemed the roof might rise off the grandstand when the home team won.

The lure of the Aga Khan contest brought the great and the good to the RDS yesterday. Entrepreneuring couple Bill Cullen and Jackie Lavin were there to cheer on a neighbour’s child, Cian O’Connor. Solicitor Gerald Kean was channelling Bugsy Malone with his flamboyant pinstripes. His partner Lisa Murphy evidently didn’t read the memo and failed to dress up as Blousey Brown. Publican Charlie Chawke was holding court in the crowded champagne tent where free tables were as rare as hen’s teeth.

But the arrival of Cardinal Seán Brady was the best portent of all. With God on our side how could we possibly lose? President Michael D Higgins had also given the team his vote of confidence. “They must have a very good chance,” he said, although we weren’t given a chance to explore his equine credentials.

His arrival was greeted with boisterous cheers. The crowd was clearly not overawed by the head of State. “Is your missus not here today?” asked John Fahy from Tuam. The first lady was nursing a sore shoulder, he was told.

Mr Fahy told him that he and his wife and daughter had taken the 7.50am train from Athenry to see the first couple. “He said he would pass the message on to his missus,” he told us afterwards. “He was very, very nice.”

Also very nice was the menu being enjoyed by the VIP guests in the grandstand. They could quaff Laurent-Perrier NV Rose at €95 a bottle while enjoying delicacies such as Clogherhead crab, prawn and avocado cocktail. Top hats and tails abounded, although their owners must have been getting a little hot under the collar as the tension grew in the main arena.

But it was all worth it when Ireland won the Aga Khan cup for the 26th time. An exuberant Clem McMahon said he was nine when he first competed at the RDS.

“When you’re a kid and you come and watch the Aga Khan on the Friday you just dream of doing this.” The young McMahon had competed against his team mate, the equally exuberant Darragh Kerins.

The Florida-based Sligo-man estimated that half of Sligo was in the RDS. “This is what you work your whole life for, to come back here and do this,” he said.

“If I retired today I’d be happy with everything I’ve done in my life.” It doesn’t get much better than that.