The walk along the Clontarf promenade from the wooden bridge to the garda station and back measured six kilometres, for which Vinny Fitzpatrick’s personal best was 58 minutes, 27 seconds.
It wasn't quite the arm-swinging pace of Rob Heffernan. Vinny was more of a steady plodder. He enjoyed every yard of the causeway, which flanked a number of local landmarks, among them the yacht club, Foley's, the old sea baths where he swam as a nipper, and The Schooner.
The visionaries in the city council had also laid out a cycleway, which freed up the prom for folk and their dogs. Lots of dogs.
On this chill Sunday morning, the seafront was crawling with canines. There were oodles of poodles, selections of Spaniels, and collections of Chihuahuas.
As a kid, Vinny had always pined for a puppy. All the neighbours had one but his aul fellah, Finbarr, was adamant that no ‘useless mongrel’, would darken the doorstep of the family home in Causeway Avenue. Angie was of a similar leaning. “The best thing about dogs is that five of them lose every race at Harold’s Cross,” she said.
After stretching his hamstrings and calves, and indulging in some fierce arm whirling to get the blood flowing, Vinny focused on his challenge ahead.
Following the festive indulgences, Vinny needed to straighten out his lifestyle, and that meant targets. Today, he intended to dip under 58 minutes for the first time on his 6km walk. The number was significant as Vinny had just entered his 58th year.
His birthday fell, as it always did, on December 31, which he shared with
. He suspected the distinguished trio had taken things a little easier than him on New Year’s Eve when he’d engaged in a marathon gin-slinging poker session with the lads in Charlie Vernon’s palatial pile.
The night cost him over a hundred nicker, and a thumping hangover, but Vinny felt entitled to give it a lash.
Now the larking was over. For his morning catwalk, Vinny was wearing a beanie hat, a pair of leggings which seemed a snug fit, and a body warmer under the shiny Everton FC shirt Angie had bought him as a birthday present.
As he set his stopwatch and began the march on Fairview, Vinny thought of Everton’s predicament, which had seen his beloved Blues tumble into a relegation battle.Only QPR had conceded more goals this season. If Vinny was in charge, he’d remind Baines and Coleman of their primary duties – defending – and he’d also sign a decent stopper in the transfer window.The thought of going down sent a shiver down his curvy spine.
By now, Vinny was crossing the slip-way leading from the yacht club. When the tide was high, like it was this morning, this was a popular spot for folk to toss tennis balls into the briny for their dogs to fetch.
By the sand bags lining the car park near the Alfie Byrne turn, Vinny checked his watch. He was 10 seconds ahead of schedule at half-way.
With a slight breeze at his withers on the return leg, he was cock-sure he’d set a new mark. At the disused baths, he had 15 seconds to hand; at the Scoil Ui Chonaill GAA grounds, he’d picked up another five. As he saluted Foley’s, he was firmly on course to break the magical 58-minute barrier.
Arms swinging like a metronome, legs churning, Vinny imagined he was Heffernan on the last lap of the Olympics, closing in on a medal. Sweat dripped freely, from brow, armpits and lower back.
To his left, he spied the mainsails of the boats tied up for the winter, and beyond that, the tops of buses in his garage. He was almost there.
Gritting his teeth, he stepped up the pace for one last heave. Just then, he heard a woman’s wail: ‘Help. It’s my dog. Someone, please help my dog.’
A woman on the jetty was pointing off-shore, where her dog, some 30 yards out, was thrashing up and down in the water. Beside the mutt, a lime tennis ball bobbed forlornly.
Seemingly exhausted by the effort required to reach the ball, the dog had run out of puff, and was drowning.
Instantly, Vinny forgot about a new personal best for his walk, and dashed down the slipway. He brushed past the stricken woman without a glance. Pausing briefly, he yanked off his runners, shoved his mobile phone inside one of them, and dived into the briny.
The water was cold but Vinny’s perspiration helped ward off some of the nippiness.
As he surfaced, he spied the canine struggler, and quickly struck out in its direction, with the crisp, powerful, strokes of his youth.
In less than a minute, Vinny arrived on the scene, just as the dog’s matted head and frightened eyes went under.
Undeterred, Vinny thrust a big mitt into the cold waters, found a collar, and wrenched the unconscious pooch on to the surface.
Turning on to his back, he placed the stricken dog – a Border Collie, he reckoned – on his capacious belly, held him on board with both hands, and began to kick backwards towards dry land.
As he did, his passenger spewed up a gush of vomit, mostly sea water, which caught Vinny in the chops.
Undeterred, Vinny crab-kicked his way back to the jetty while the dog whimpered – at least it was alive.
Eventually an exhausted Vinny was hauled by onlookers on to the slimy slipway where he thrust the dog into the hands of its grateful owner. “Bruno, Bruno, are you alright?” she said, planting kisses on her bedraggled hound.
As a dripping Vinny got gingerly to his feet, something struck him about the woman’s voice. It couldn’t be, could it?
The woman swept her hair back from one side of her face, revealing high cheek bones and model looks.
“Let me thank the man, who saved Bruno’s life,” she said in a lilting Welsh accent.
She offered a hand but it wasn’t taken by the panting busman.
Against the odds, towering over Vinny was the scourge of his life: Tabatha Tregoning.