Retiring Ruby Walsh shaken and stirred by tributes
TV View: The jockey was compared to Bond, Messi, George Best and John Boy Walton
Ruby Walsh with his wife, Gillian, and daughters Isabelle, Elsa and Gemma after he announced his retirement at the 2019 Punchestown Festival in Co Kildare last Wednesday. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
He had so many Walshes surrounding him at Punchestown, Robert Hall was feeling severely outnumbered. “You’re like the Jackson Five,” he said to Ted, Katie and Ruby, although Ted thought they were more like the Waltons: “Goodnight John Boy!” But it had actually been a case of “Goodnight Ruby” (on Wednesday, not Tuesday) after the jockey announced his retirement following his Gold Cup triumph, hence the ranks of Walshes on the RTÉ racing team being swollen from two to three.
Ruby’s cheeks were left sizzling from the number of tributes paid to him, although the bucket of water Davy Russell threw over him helped cool them down. AP McCoy described him as “Lionel Messi on a horse”, while Patrick Mullins opted for a comparison with the Belfast Boy and 007. “At his prime it was like watching George Best play, it’ll be very hard to replace him. There’ll be other champion jockeys, there’ll be other people winning Gold Cups, but there’ve been plenty of Bonds and there hasn’t been another Sean Connery.”
Was he feeling emotional? “No, not emotional, it’s brilliant,” he said, at which point the voice began to quiver, so he might have been answering the question with his fingers crossed behind his back.
There was no hiding his Da’s emotions, nor Katie’s when she turned up on the Thursday, and you couldn’t but conclude that they’re the warmest and most loving of clans, proud as punch of each other’s achievements and not afraid to show it.
Horsey to the core, too. Ted probably looks upon Ruby and Katie as his foals. It was kind of confirmed that he might actually think this way when new champion jockey Paul Townend turned up for a chat, Ted telling us that “I knew his grandparents, from his dam side any way”, and that Paul had been “bred for the game”.
Any way, there was plenty of reminiscing about the countless great days, no better than back in 2000 when Ruby rode the Ted-trained Papillon to victory in the Grand National. “I don’t know what heaven is like, but if it’s anything like that, I don’t mind going,” Ted said of the day.
“I’ll miss it,” he said of the end of Ruby’s career, “but I didn’t think I’d get 24 years of it.”
“Funny, I don’t think I’m going to miss it,” said Ruby. And when Barry Geraghty turned up later with his broken leg encased in a contraption that looked like it had been built by NASA, you could understand the relief of being out of it. He couldn’t, said Ruby, go through another bout of rehab like that.
The toughest of games.
Shane Lowry’s sporting life is a little more serene, although Tommy Tiernan wondered if he was bored to tears by it. “All that attention to detail . . . he’s moved his hip an inch this way . . . he’s lifted his head. . . it just seems like . . . there’s no craic in it,” he said of the sport of golf when Lowry turned up on his Saturday night show.
In the end, the golfing man nearly did himself an injury from the laughing, not least when Tiernan pointed out that his homeplace of Clara “has an aqueduct, and there’s no reason for it – it’s like having a roundabout in the middle of a field”. A weeping Lowry conceding that this was indeed true.
What did he buy his wife? ‘A pair of shoes,’ said Lowry. ‘I’d say she was delighted,’ said Tiernan
As for the enormous loot in golf – “it seems like a Winning Streak life” – the Offaly man agreed that at the top end of the sport the rewards were half decent, all right, especially that million-euro cheque he picked up for winning the Abu Dhabi Championship back in January.
What did he buy his wife? “A pair of shoes,” he said. “I’d say she was delighted,” said Tiernan.
And when Lowry introduced him to his brother in the audience, the fella often travelling to see him in action, Tiernan hollered: “Sponger!”
By then, Lowry’s sides needed re-stitching. We’ll trust that he’ll have recovered in time for the next major, the US PGA Championship in 10 days’ time, where the winner will collect a cheque for $1,980,000. More than plenty to build a second aqueduct in Clara and buy his wife another pair of shoes.