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Compiled by PHILIP REID

Nothing jumped up about these jump boys

If anyone ever wondered why jump racing is a part of our very fibre, then the brilliant Jump Boys documentary on TG4 on Wednesday night answered just about every question. The personalities involved – Davy Russell, Ruby Walsh and Barry Geraghty – may all hail from rural backgrounds, and have been thrown on to the back of a horse whilst still in nappies, but their appeal transcends urban-rural divides. They, and their ilk, are a special breed; they should be treasured.

I had the pleasure a few weeks back of sitting beside Richard Dunwoody at dinner and, his own career apart, it was fascinating to hear of his post-racing life which has involved expeditions to the North and South Poles and of his new interest in photography.

As you’d probably suspect, his photographic interest is not of the picture postcard variety and, rather, has taken him to the outbacks of Pakistan and Afghanistan in pursuit of extreme photography and his desire is one day to be imbedded in a war zone.

Standard rate

In watching Jump Boys, it is apparent that jockeys – who we were informed are given a standard rate of €169 a ride (plus eight per cent of the prize money) – are, virtually day-in and day-out, going into a battle zone of their own once they’ve left the relative comfort of the weigh room and the safety of the sauna where late pounds are shed in a different kind of race to make the required weight.

When Michael O’Leary, whose Gigginstown Stud colours were sported by Davy Russell for much of the documentary as the Cork man rode his way to the champion jockey title, was asked about what made a good national hunt jockey, he was typically succinct:

“To be as thick as a plank is a very good starting point,” he observed, which had more to do with the perils of the job than any slight on their academic abilities.

Russell, who conceded he was always in “wicked trouble” in his school days for the simple reason he wanted to be out riding horses rather that stuck behind a desk, came across as a thoroughly likeable and honest individual.

“It’s not really a job, it’s an obsession,” he said of being a jump jockey.

The dangers of the job are taken as a given. Ruby’s own mother talked of the moment she arrived into the hospital ward after her son had his spleen removed following a fall.

For his own part, Walsh talked of the “darkest hour” being upon hearing of the death of Kieran Kelly, who died as the result of a fall at Kilbeggan racecourse in 2003.

Brutally honest

Yet, Walsh was brutally honest of how he digested the news of Kelly’s death. “By [the] law of averages, one jockey gets killed, guess probably then it won’t be me . . . a bit selfish, isn’t it?”

Make no mistake about it, these are hard men. “We might be hard mentally, but not physically,” Russell observed at one juncture. “When you hit the hard ground, you break.”

Indeed, the litany of injuries sustained and outlined by Messrs Geraghty, Walsh and Russell would make you cringe just listening.

This was a warts and all documentary that allowed those of us on the outside to peek into the world of the jump jockey and it wasn’t without its humour, most notably the scene where Russell was conducting a phone interview while in the shower and had a cup of cold water hurled over him by Walsh. The expletive reaction to being doused with cold water was the making of any live interview.

We’re told of the constant struggle to make the weight. Of how Walsh checked his shoe size as he grew through his teenage years for fear he would be too big to be a jockey. Of Russell going four or five days without eating. Of Geraghty having a festive indulgence of a pizza and a glass of wine over the Christmas period that necessitated more time in the sweat box.

It is to TG4’s credit that an outlet for such a story is made available.

The good news for those who missed it first time around, or those who want to see it again, is that Jump Boys is being repeated on TG4 tonight at 10pm.

Progressive Ulster Branch not resting on their laurels

It’s an indication of the drive and ambition among the golfing fraternity in the North that the recent successes of its golfers has only served to whet the appetite for more.

With two-time Major champion Rory McIlroy firmly ensconced at number one in the official world rankings and apparently set to occupy that top slot for some time, and with Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke also with Major titles on their respective CVs, you could imagine a glow of contentment settling in among the of officials of the GUI’s Ulster Branch who played no small part in creating the conveyor belt effect.

Far from it.

At the Ulster Branch delegate meeting this past week, Peter Sinclair – the Ulster Branch chairman – told delegates discussions were well advanced with Sports NI to provide funding for a new “talent identification officer” to scout for young talent who can continue the high level of success of Northern Ireland golfers.

There’s nothing like success to breed success, but the Ulster Branch’s initiative shows also nothing is being taken for granted.

GAA to take a hard line on absence of mouthguards

The initiative of the GAA to follow sports like rugby and hockey and make the wearing of mouthguards compulsory (starting on January 1st, 2013 for minors down to nursery level, with the regulation not being enforced for adults until 12 months later) is one that has been well received.

Why shouldn’t it be? A recent study found the average cost of dental treatment for sport related dental injuries in children to be €213, while other studies have shown the overall injury risk is close to twice as high when a mouthguard is not worn compared to when they are used.

The implementation of the new ruling, however, is likely to increase the workload of referees.

In a QA issued to clubs during the week, it was pointed out that referees don’t actually have to do a pre-match check to ensure players are wearing the mouthguards.

If they notice someone isn’t wearing one, the “offender” is to be cautioned and, if he or she persists, is to be sent off.

A pretty clear and unambiguous penalty!

Big ask for Big Phil ahead of Brazil World Cup 2014

The most pressurised job in soccer doesn’t belong to Rafa Benitez after all, now that Luiz Felipe Scolari – or “Big Phil”, as his admirers and detractors call him with different levels of love/hate – has returned to the hot seat in Brazil.

The sacking of Mano Menezes just 18 months before Brazil play host to the 2014 World Cup was a move straight out of Roman Abramovich’s box of tricks and, indeed, Big Phil has been on the butt end of one of those calls in the past.

Now, though, Scolari – who led Brazil to the World Cup win in 2002, their fifth and last time to take the title – has been given the task of transforming a team who increasingly live in the shadows of neighbours Argentina and of appeasing the soccer-mad population. If he thought Abramovich was a tough taskmaster, having 190 million Brazilians to answer to may prove to be a challenge beyond even Big Phil.

Blades out after Movember growth

Today’s the day those disciples of Movember can use a razor again.

You’ve got to say, the standard was pretty high this year from Ireland’s sporting personalities who decided to let the hair on the chin grow in order to promote men’s health issues, specifically prostate cancer.

So, hats off to Pádraig Harrington – and the Mexican-style moustache straight out of a spaghetti western – Cian Healy, Glenn Whelan and the rest of the boys who did their bit for the Irish Cancer Society’s Action Prostate Cancer programme.

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