Thanks Colm, the pleasure was ours
I HAD my first conversation with Colm Murray at the Leopardstown Races. He was making his way through the crowd at the bottom of the stand and recognising his face from the television, I said hello.
He returned my greeting and kept walking for about five metres. Then he turned on his heel, made his way back to me, and asked if I had had any winners. I hadn't as it turned out, but I fancied something in the feature race, so we had a brief discussion about its chances. Then he went on his way.
Years later I was asked to do a piece with Colm for this paper's Cheltenham supplement, and also the Ireland's Own magazine. It was shortly after his appearance on the Late Late Show when he revealed to the nation that he was battling Motor Neuron Disease.
At first he was a little hesitant to do the piece with me, as he felt he had talked enough about the illness and didn't want to over-do it in the eyes of the public. I assured him that he could refer to it in as much or little detail as he pleased, but I was more interested in his horse knowledge and learning about his broadcasting career.
Hearing that, he was only too pleased to do the interview. I also told him I wanted him to be the paper's expert tipster for that year's Cheltenham Festival - he loved the sounds of that.
A few days later I received an email from him apologising for not being in touch. He had dropped his mobile phone in a glass of water, asked if I had any advice for drying it out and told me to give him a bell on his landline. I suggested putting his phone on the emersion to dry out, as the good woman had brought a drowned phone back to life by doing so a few months back. He was entertained by this and said he would try it.
We eventually got onto the interview and it was one of the most enjoyable conversations I have ever had. He spoke of his upbringing in Moate, in Westmeath, and the tragic loss of his six-year-old sister, Patricia, while he was preparing for his Leaving Certificate. He described her as 'a little angel up in Heaven'.
He reflected on summers spent between Westmeath and Longford, from where his mother hailed. He told me about being a classmate of country singer Ray Lynam and how they had worked together on the school newspaper. And of course he talked about going to the races with his dad.
Racing would become the area with which the Irish people would most associate Colm, though he said covering Jack's Army's Italia 90 adventure was his career highlight. He also told me that of all the people he had interviewed the one who impressed him most was Sir Alex Ferguson. He discussed the former Manchester United boss's love for Irish history, especially his huge interest in the life of Michael Collins.
After our interview Colm stayed in touch from time to time, and it brightened my day when an email would drop into my inbox with his name above it. The last time I heard from him was shortly after RTE aired the documentary in which he gave an insight into his heroic efforts to fight Motor Neurone Disease. His final mail included a tip for a horse, Sweet My Lord, which ran in his colours and which was trained by one of his idols, Willie Mullins.
Much has been made, in good humour, of Colm's dodgy tips in the past week. However, I remember him successfully tipping Carlito Brigante (16/1) at Cheltenham a few years back from the comfort of the RTE studio. The big smile on his face when the camera returned to him was priceless.
Journalism is a precarious profession, with plenty of highs and lows. One of the perks of the job, for me, was getting to know Colm Murray in a small way. A kind-hearted gentleman, he was and always will be the voice of Irish racing for me. May he rest in peace.