Out On His Own, the Big Fella Paul O’Connell
Old comrades: Munster's Ronan O’Gara and Paul O'Connell celebrate at the Stoop
After yesterday’s events at The Stoop, the only man you could really imagine horselessly winning the National, talented and all as Walsh is, would be Paul O’Connell.
While he might lack some pace, that would be largely compensated by his stride . Our very own Red Rum.
But the mystery was solved when Channel 4 showed us the runners and riders, at which point the uninitiated went “aaaah”. But On His Own, sadly, fell at fence 25.
What of Big Fella? “He’d need a pit stop halfway round to refuel so he can get home,” Fitzgerald had said, somewhat dismissively of his stamina, so you just had this hunch that would be one of the quotes of the year.
But no, Big Fella didn’t triumph with fuel to spare, he unseated his rider at the eighth, in a kind of a ‘shag this for a lark’ way.
(Which calls to mind the greatest question ever on ‘Yahoo Answers’: “Can I get a refund for an unseated rider in a horse race?” Bless).
Mercifully, there was no horse carnage this time around, so we were spared that curious logic from some horsie folk, a whole heap of it dished last week, that if you fret over animals dying you must shrug with indifference over serious injuries sustained by jockeys. You know, you can’t find both upsetting. As straw man arguments go, it’s top of the hit parade.
So, that Breaking News banner on Sky yesterday about the National-winning jockey, Ryan Mania, being airlifted to hospital after a fall at Hexham was a stunner. One weekend, both the greatest and most frightening moments of his life. Extraordinary. “This is not the encore Ryan Mania would have wished for,” said Sky’s Jon Desborough. No.
Back on Saturday, he was charmingly elated, as was trainer Sue Smith – and her other half, Harvey.
Jeez, get your head around this: it’s 42 years since he got in to a bunch of trouble for giving the two fingers to the judges at the British Show Jumping Derby.
Balding seemed a little nervous approaching the Yorkshire man after the race, gruff being his middle name, although she relaxed and “aaaaaaawed” when she spotted him kissing his wife. “This is wonderful for your marriage,” she said. “We’re a bit antiqueish for that, aren’t we,” he replied, but you sensed he was fibbing.
“The photographers here are saying to Harvey, ‘give us a smile’ - and he says ‘I am smiling’,” said Clare. So, same old Harvey.
Same old Munster, too.
“They’re just horrible men to play against,” said Will Greenwood up in the Sky studio, as the camera picked out the same old Paul O’Connell and Ronan O’Gara, hugging and laughing during their victory lap. The chief source of their mirth, possibly, those who had written them off.
“If he’s anywhere near his best, I’d take him,” said Clive Woodward pre-match. By full-time, he was purring, as O’Connell entered the winner’s enclosure with the man of the match trophy in his grip.
On His Own, this Big Fella.