Roddy L’Estrange: Gaels in clover as wily Vinny makes his point

Burly busman has the vital final say as Dollymount lads scale new heights at Féile

The decision to enter a football team in the Dublin Féile had not been reached easily by the hierarchy of Dollymount Gaels. A number of factors counted against participation in the annual U14 inter-club event. For starters, the Gaels only had 16 eligible players, which wasn’t exactly ideal for 15-a-side games where seven subs were allowed.

Of those 16, one was the reserve ’keeper, Tommo, who wore glasses, and only turned up for the free bag of Tayto and Capri-Sun afterwards.

Then, there was the standard of play. The gormless Gaels had lost every game they’d played this season, many by a cricket score.

Yet, what caused the committee most angst when they met in Vinny Fitzpatrick’s gaffe at Mount Prospect Avenue was the tradition for Féile teams to be kitted out in a new jersey, shorts and socks, plus gear bag.


“We haven’t got a pot to pee in,” wailed Shorty Long, the club treasurer.

But for Vinny guaranteeing sponsorship to cover costs, the 3-2 vote to take part may have gone the other way – he was sure Shorty voted against.

After some arm-twisting over a skinful in Foley’s, Fran agreed to stump up the shekels for the gear and the Gaels were allotted the last slot in Division 10 of the Dublin Féile ( there was no Division 11).

It was tradition across the capital for Féile squads to meet at their clubhouse for team photographs and some ra-ra-ra.

Behind bars

As the Gaels were homeless, their 16 gladiators shivered by a row of conifers in St Anne’s Park on Saturday morning, near the condemned changing rooms, where Vinny used to tog out. “Progress, me backside,” thought Vinny.

He was looking forward to a day on the GAA fields among his common, ordinary Gaels after the nightmare of the previous weekend, which ended with a stint behind bars in the police barracks at Bristol Airport.

The delay put paid to seeing the Dubs roll over Kerry at Croker, and he almost missed the last flight home too, before the authorities accepted his role in the fracas at 15,000 feet was more peacemaker than haymaker.

The Féile venue for the filter feeders of Division 10 was Naomh Mearnóg’s grounds in north Dublin. The five-star facilities included grass and artificial pitches, floodlights, a spacious car park, vast clubhouse, and a hurling wall. “It’s like letting the likes of Leyton Orient play at Wembley,” gasped Vinny.

Maybe the high-spec amenities inspired the young Gaels, maybe it was the feel of their new gear, or the promise of extra crisps. Whatever, they found form.

They scored a goal and a point in their first game, drew their second and then, against the odds, won their third where Tommo, stuck up front, fisted over the winning point – for which he was given a third bag of Tayto.

In the semi-final against the third string of Naomh Mearnóg, the Gaels’ star man, Leo O’Leary, known as Lugs Beag, had a blinder. He scored 2-2, much to the loud approval of his fearsome father, as the Gaels marched on.

For Sunday’s final in Parnell Park at 6.30, Vinny commandeered a bus from the garage to ferry the kids from Dollyer. “We may never be in another final, so let’s go there in style,” he grinned as the kids scampered aboard.

No one gave the Gaels a chance in the final against St Gobnait’s seconds. The Fingal crew, who played in yellow and black hoops, were known as ‘The Bees’ as St Gobnait was the patron saint of bees and beekeepers.

They had a huge crowd with them from The Naul, including a banner which read, ‘Go go Gobnait’s and conquer all you see; You float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’.

Slick machine

As he took his place as umpire, Vinny marvelled at the GAA’s slick machine for juveniles. When he was a roly-poly 14-year-old, the only organised footie was the annual summer street league.

“Cynics give the GAA a lot of stick but the Féile is a winner,” he thought as the ball was thrown in for the showdown between the worst division’s two best teams.

What happened next astonished Vinny. Inspired by Lugs Beag, who had his father’s rough edges, the Gaels made the most of the wind at their backs to lead 1-8 to 0-2 at the interval.

'Eee-aye-adio, we're gonna win the Cup,' sang Vinny as he assumed his umpire's station for the final 20 minutes – the Gaels were attacking his end now and he had to shield his eyes against the evening sun.

On the far upright, a very excitable Gobnait’s Gael was caught up in it all. For every score, he shouted at the top of his reedy voice, ‘Go, Go, Gobnait’s.’

Vinny reckoned there was a minute to go when, with the scores level at 1-8 apiece, the Gaels raised the siege.

It was Lugs Beag, who surged into the Gobnait’s half, urged on by his bellowing thug of a father, Lugs O’Leary. Vinny could make out the silhouette of Lugs Beag’s sticky-out ears as he made to shoot. His effort was blocked and broke to tubby Tommy, the bespectacled full-forward.

In one move, he casually scooped the ball into a meaty paw before kicking high with his left peg towards goal.

Vinny took a step back to check his bearings while, on the far post, the ‘Go, Go Gobnait’s’ Gael did the same. They both hunkered down as the towering shot flew high above them.

The ball crossed the apex of Vinny’s upright and while the slanting sun made it difficult to be certain if it was inside the post, or out, Vinny quickly signalled a point. But the ‘Go Go Gobnait’s’ Gael waved his arms furiously across his body to indicate a wide.

The referee approached both umpires. “This is important, lads, and I know you’ve a vested interest. Can you agree?” Neither Vinny nor ‘Go Go Gobnait’s’ Gael would shift; each was adamant they were right. Then the ref shrugged his shoulders, raised a hand and awarded the point. Seconds later, he blew the final whistle to cue pandemonium among the Gaels.

“Hard lines son,” winked Vinny at the gobsmacked ‘Go Go Gobnait’s’ Gael. “You’ve just been stung.”