Vinny snowed under after Berbatov bloomer

 

AGAINST THE ODDS: “BRING it on, old man,” taunted the boy. He was about 12, tousle-haired, snotty-nosed and ruddy-cheeked. He was also armed, if not exactly dangerous. The throw was firm but easily read and Vinny Fitzpatrick ducked his left shoulder, spun on to his right foot and replied with a firm pitch of his own – Brett Favre would have approved of the snap.

It was Sunday morning and the snowball battle of Clontarf was in full spate. Under azure skies, the young and not so young pelted one another with potato-sized cakes of snow. Vinny had joined forces with Jake and Jamie, aged nine and eight, from next door and was engaged in terrific duel with the infidel O’Leary gang from across the road.

There was a swarm of them, mostly boys, and they should have battered Vinny’s under-manned crew into submission but their scatter-gun tactics back-fired. Vinny’s strategy was to take up a position beside a car, which not only provided shelter but crucially, the finest type of snow for ready ammo, crunchy and firm.

Jake and Jamie were deployed, on their hunkers, either side of the wheels closest to the kerb, while Vinny scooped the snow off the roof and kept “nix” for snow bandits overhead. As soon as one car was cleared, they moved on to the next; it was a slash and burn approach that left the O’Learys chasing shadows.

For almost an hour, the contest raged before Ma O’Leary reined in her brood to get ready for Mass, leaving Vinny, Jake and Jamie standing defiant in the middle of Mount Prospect Avenue. “Brian Boru, eat your heart out,” roared Vinny.

Foggy breath snorted from his flared nostrils, sweat dripped off the runaway growth on his upper lip and his hands were crimson. He was exultant.

“Well done lads, if youse were in the Blackburn defence yesterday, Berbatov wouldn’t have got a sniff,” he said, patting his youthful comrades on the top of their bobble hats.

At the mention of Berbatov, Vinny felt the air hissing from his tyres. It was a reminder of a nightmare Saturday afternoon, involving his Premier League fantasy team, and the nags at Newbury. The Foley’s in-house league was a bit of craic but worth winning all the same. Forty punters had signed up at €20 a head and the winner would get €500, second was worth €200 with €100 for third.

Vinny had given his team – Good Sons Of Goodison – little thought and wouldn’t have done so this weekend but for Brennie’s call on Saturday morning. “Vinny, I’m third in Foley’s table; I see you’re up to fourth. What say we agree to divvy up any prize money we win?” said Brennie.

“If we come first and second, it means €350 each, if I win and you are out of the frame, it’s €250 each; the same if you come out on top and I fall away. Even if one of us comes third, it’s still a nifty apiece. You up for it?”

Of course Vinny was and he dutifully logged on to the Premier League website to see how his fantasy team was doing. This was his first mistake. Vinny’s next gaffe, although he didn’t know it at the time, was to transfer Berbatov out and replace him with Bolton striker Johan Elmander.

He felt Berbatov’s form was colder than the chilly front hovering over Ireland, while Elmander was on fire. In doing so, he ignored the logic that Berbatov was more effective with Wayne Rooney beside him and that a first choice United striker would always score more goals over a season than a Bolton one.

The United game was live on Setanta that afternoon and a disgruntled Vinny had already seen Berbatov score inside 90 seconds before switching to Channel 4 for the Hennessy Gold Cup. His form wasn’t the Mae West as he turned over for the big race at Newbury – it didn’t improve either.

The long established handicap chase hadn’t been kind to Irish-trained jumpers, not since the halcyon days of Arkle, but Vinny was sure Noel Meade’s Pandorama could buck the trend. He had studied the form closely and felt 8 to 1 represented fair value for a €20 each-way investment.

Alas, Vinny knew his fate in roughly the same time it had taken Berbatov to score United’s opening goal. Pandorama clobbered a fence early on, was then almost brought down, and was hopelessly tailed off when pulled up by Paul Carberry inside the first mile.

“What a disaster,” thought Vinny, whose mood deteriorated further when he flicked back after Diamond Harry’s Hennessy heroics just in time to see Berbatov sweeping the ball into the net for his second goal.

“Murgatroyd,” he muttered to himself. “Can things get any worse?” They did. By five to five, Berbatov had bagged five goals and a gansey load of Fantasy Football points.

Almost immediately, Brennie called and Vinny could sense his younger friend’s animation down the line.

“What a day partner, eh? You had Berby and I had Arshavin and Nasri for Arsenal. We are on top of the world, just like Jimmy Cagney. Just wait till we see old Dial-A-Smile tomorrow night. This could be the most famous one-two since Henry Cooper and Kevin Keegan were splashing Brut over one another. Seven hundred smackers, here we come. Magic.”

Vinny hadn’t the heart to tell Brennie that he had transferred Berbatov, and that instead of a 25-point booty, he’d only managed a lousy two on Elmander.

And he couldn’t bring himself to tell Brennie either about his other back-firing blooper – the one which saw him spring Tim Howard and Phil Jagielka from the subs’ bench to play for Everton, who got caned 4-1 by West Brom.

As he struggled with his Wellington boots in the porch, Vinny thought to himself that maybe he wasn’t such a shrewd observer of form after all; that maybe the little grey cells were beginning to run out of power.

He was leaning against the glass door, wrestling with a stubborn boot and slightly off balance. His fleece was up around his oxters and he could feel cold air pressing against the lower part of his exposed back. The attack, when it came, was ferocious and unexpected. The first snowball smacked Vinny on his noggin; the next caught him on his bare back.

As he turned to confront his assailants, one boot off, the other on – just like diddle-diddle dumpling John from the nursery rhyme — he was struck in the chops by an icy pellet.

He raised a hand in protection but it was of little use. The glacial shards rained in as the O’Learys wreaked a terrible revenge.

Vinny tried vainly to get his other boot on but his toes were numb and he only succeeded in toppling over into the porch. Almost unsighted by the fusillade of snowballs, Vinny somehow managed to close over the sliding glass door and shove the lock across.

He was lying inside the porch, panting like a beached whale, sweating hard, when Angie found him there some time later.

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