Hard road proves too taxing for Hardy fan Vinny

Thoughts of his new fitness regime disappear as he raises a toast to National Hunt hero Dessie

The late Dessie Hughes: “Dessie was Dessie to everyone, from the well-heeled to the down at heel and all those in between.” Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The late Dessie Hughes: “Dessie was Dessie to everyone, from the well-heeled to the down at heel and all those in between.” Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

It was late on Sunday, and not a sound was stirring in Mount Prospect Avenue, when Vinny Fitzpatrick cracked.

The sneaky break-out kind of crept up on him, at the end of the second quarter as his team, the Green Bay Packers, were putting the Eagles to flight in the NFL.

As he shuffled into the kitchen, whistling contentedly, for he was of a vintage that liked to whistle, Vinny’s supper spotlight was a frugal one.

He’d make himself a mug of sugary tea with a couple of carrots, washed, salted and peppered, for company.

The burly bus driver was feeling chipper, for he’d just completed the first week of a new fitness regime, inspired by seeing Darren Clarke at The K Club.

Against the odds, the effects were encouraging, if not yet startling. After weighing-in the previous Sunday morning with a hefty load of 18st 5lbs, Vinny had shed three pounds.

“Every long journey starts with a small step,” he noted, tapping himself lightly on the belly, the way Oliver Hardy used to.

With Angie driving the new fitness regime, Vinny’s protein programme was top-loaded with the humble bean – baked beans for breakfast, bean soup for lunch and runner beans with his dinner.

It hadn’t ended there as Angie worked the like of chick peas, lentils, broad beans and kidney beans into Vinny’s diet, which included lots of steak, chicken, fish and endless eggs.

All his carbo favourites, the spuds, pasta, and rice, were non-runners, as were the late night regulars, chocolate and crisps.

Food intake

So far, he’d managed just two visits to Clontarf Fitness as Vinny felt there was no urgent need to overdo things.

Wobbling away and sweating freely, he’d managed a few half-hearted tugs on the cross-trainer and rowing machine, where he imagined he was Sean Drea.

For all the eating and physical challenges, the most demanding part of the schedule for the 56-year-old bus driver was avoiding the gargle.

As someone who tippled twice a week, once for four days, and once for three, the new rules of engagement were penal.

Vinny was permitted just one day out of seven, where he could indulge in whatever he wanted.

For the remaining six, it was cold turkey and Vinny was finding the going tougher than three miles around Naas racecourse in mid-winter.

Still, even allowing for trimming a few corners, the effects were already visible. He was three pounds lighter and had a smidgen more energy than before.

Curiously, he was finding it harder to fall asleep, which explained why he was padding around on Sunday evening as the Packers ran riot.

He liked to follow the American football (he was a big supporter of the Cheeseheads from Wisconsin), since the time he’d first read of Vince Lombardi, the Packers legendary coach. “‘It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up,” was his favourite Lombardi line.

Safe hands

He was fussily applying the salt and pepper when he heard the Sky Sports commentator wish all the best to Bart Starr, the former Green Bay quarterback, who is fighting ‘health issues’.

Starr was a star by name and deed as he won five NFL titles and two Super Bowls with the Packers, all under Lombardi.

For 17 years, he carried the flame of excellence that was duly passed on to Brett Favre, and was now in the safe hands of Aaron Rodgers.

But his health update was a reminder that time and tide waited for no man.

Only that morning, Vinny had woken to the news that Dessie Hughes, one of the giants of the National Hunt game, had jumped his final fence.

Hughes, a genial northside Dub, was as fierce in the saddle as he was polite off it, and he’d always doffed his trademark brown trilby whenever the lads had called out to him on their racetracks visits.

Dessie was Dessie to everyone, from the well-heeled to the down at heel and all those in between.

He was one of those familiar figures in racing known exclusively by their first name, like Willie, Barry, Ted and Ruby.

As an unbroken 19-year-old, Vinny recalled placing his milk round money, £20, on Dessie and Davy Lad to win the 1977 Grand National at 10/1.

When the commentator called Davy Lad’s fall at the first open ditch, Vinny’s heart sank, only to be subsequently lifted by Red Rum’s emotive third Aintree triumph.

Much later, Vinny had the sense to back the Dessie-trained Hardy Eustace to win, not one, but two Champion Hurdles, both at decent prices.

He felt Dessie had another superstar in Our Conor only for the five-year-old with the great white blaze to break his back at Cheltenham in a horror fall.

Asked for a reaction, a stoic Dessie said “he was too brave”.There were few, if any, braver than DT Hughes thought Vinny, as he moseyed around the kitchen on automatic pilot.

As he plonked down on the settee for the start of the third quarter from Green Bay, Vinny held a bag of cheese puffs in one hand and a can of stout in the other.

“Now where did they come from?” he asked himself.

Faced with a moral dilemma, Vinny took about two seconds to make up his mind.

“To Dessie Hughes, Hardy’s man,” he said aloud, ripping the ring off the can and downing the contents with a quickness borne of experience.

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