Roddy L'Estrange: Luck intervenes for Vinny at his moment of dark despair

Vinny Fitzpatrick did something he had never done before; he ditched his bus and high-tailing it to Croker

The act of generosity was as unexpected as it was late. So late, in fact, that Vinny Fitzpatrick did something he had never done before; he ditched his bus and turfed out his passengers before high-tailing it to Croker.

Vinny was guaranteed censure from his boss Socket Twomey, and was probably at risk of losing his job, but there were some hazards which couldn't be avoided, and the Dubs on All-Ireland Sunday was one of them.

For the past fortnight Vinny had tried everything to wangle a ticket for the match. His customary source, Dollymount Gaels, was a closed shop as the most junior of Dublin GAA clubs received a scaldy 10 tickets, eight of which were reserved for the club officers, mentors and sponsors.

"What about the son of a founding member? Have I no entitlements?" wailed Vinny, in an email rant to chairman Trousers Thornton. There had been a draw for the last two tickets, for Hill 16, but Vinny missed out, having placed a non-refundable €20 in an envelope with his name on it. He'd hung around Charlie Vernon in Foley's all week, aware of Charlie's connection with Clontarf GAA club, a giant in Dublin 3 which had, it was rumoured, 120 tickets, to disperse. Only Charlie's influence fell on deaf ears.


Fran also drew a blank, despite offering free laundry to any club who could source a ticket; tickets for the Dubs versus Kerry were akin to gold dust.


So desperate was Vinny that earlier that morning he’d even dug out his aul white coat and attempted to blag his way in as an umpire for the minor match, only to be rumbled at the officials’ gate in Jones’ Road. “You try that again and you’ll be barred by the GAA for life,” snarled the belligerent door-keeper.

At a little past two bells, as he nosed the 130 away from Castle Avenue for a final run to town, Vinny was feeling miserable; his Croker race was run. He hadn’t even the stomach to meet the lads in Foley’s for an early nibble at the “Sunday Sam Special” – for €50 a head Old Man Foley was offering a mound of chicken curry and chips and “as many pints as you want”.

Brennie had calculated that a steady two-an-hour pace from 1.30pm until 11.30pm would yield a €40 booty of Uncle Arthur’s finest, but Vinny wasn’t nibbling.

He felt let down by his club, by the Dubs, and by the GAA for their chronic distribution of tickets which saw all 32 counties get a slice of the Croker action instead of a 50-50 split for the finalists. “How has it comes to this?’ he thought. “How can a true-blue supporter, who has been at every All-Ireland final involving the Dubs since ’63, and whose Da played against Heffo, be turned away?” Vinny knew if he was a member of a more prestigious club, a regular at League games, or a plain ol’ lick arse, he’d have got sorted with a ticket.

At the bottom of Vernon Avenue Vinny pulled in to allow an elderly gent, clad in a natty blazer and tie, alight the bus. He was pushing 80, but ramrod straight, and Vinny recognised him from the Clontarf Warblers, a local choral crew of mature vintage. "Ah, young Mister Fizpatrick, it is yourself? Gordon Topping, husband of Ermintrude," he said, offering a veined hand, still firm of shake. "I thought you'd be at Croke Park. If not, then across the road in Foley's," said the venerable Warbler as he flashed his free travel card.

“Not yet, Gordon. It’s work ahead of play for a wee while. Don’t worry, I’ll be there for the throw-in,” said Vinny.

As the elderly gent made for a seat on the lower deck, Vinny noticed the green and gold tie emblazoned with the word “Ciarrai” and raised an eyebrow as he hadn’t taken Topping for a Gael.

The bus had barely gone a couple of stops when the bell to stop was pinged urgently, much to Vinny’s annoyance. He was about to leave his cabin and give the perpetrator a shark-eye stare when Topping appeared, clearly in a flap.


“Are you alright, Gordon?” asked Vinny caringly – he’d never had a fatality in 36 years of driving and was damned if was going to have one now.

“I’m fine, thank you. It’s Ermintrude. She’s getting a little forgetful and has let the bath run. There’s water dripping from the ceiling into the kitchen. I’m afraid I have to get home, blasted.”

As Topping stepped off the bus, he paused and half-turned. “I don’t suppose you know anyone who’d like to go to the match? I got a ticket for the Cusack Stand from my grand-nephew from Asdee. I wouldn’t want to see it wasted.”

Before you could say Gordon Bennett never mind Gordon Topping, Vinny bounced out of his cabin. "I think I can give your ticket a very good home," he beamed.

A few minutes later the bus was tucked hard against the kerb, the warning triangles in place and a cluster of disgruntled passengers stared after their driver walking in the direction of Fairview. His step was jaunty and a fine baritone voice could be heard across the heavy September air for rain was imminent. “Oh, the Jacks are back, the Jacks are back, let the Railway End go barmy, for Hill 16 has never seen the likes of Heffo’s Army.”

Roddy L'Estrange

Roddy L'Estrange

Roddy L'Estrange previously wrote a betting column for The Irish Times