Forget the match! I was busy watching Rackard medal bids go up and up
Forget your online poker. Forget your DoneDeal and your YouTube. Forget your Facebook, your virtual supermarkets, your Trip Advisor and your endless pages of censuses past. Here at last is where the web really comes into its own.
Picture the scene. There's me and a neighbour, two sporting gentlemen with an idle hour to pass and the World Cup on the telly. Like wasps to jam, the pair of us are drawn to the sofa and the hi-def pictures being beamed in from Brazil.
The players from Argentina and Switzerland are clattering into each other. But what is this? Not even the wizardry of Lionel Messi or the inspired contortions of Swiss keeper Diego Benaglio are holding our attention. For we are hooked by proceedings from a Dublin hotel which are being tracked by a programme on a lap top. Transfixed.
The pictures on the computer screen are postage stamp sized. The sound on the commentary harks back to hissy archive recordings from RTE's deepest vaults. Yet the importance of the occasion transmitted to the sitting room via www.the-saleroom.com has banished all interest in the soccer from our minds as something extraordinary unfolds.
Via a site called the-saleroom.com, we old codgers are transported elsewhere as 90 goal-free minutes are played out in Sao Paulo. Our minds are transposed instead to the Clyde Court in Ballsbridge, where veteran Kilkenny auctioneer Fonsie Mealy is wielding the gavel.
We cannot see Fonsie. We do not know how many people are with him in that hotel room. We cannot be aware of how many others are joining us courtesy of the web, which has stripped the disposal of 'Lot 718' down to its bare essentials, its enthralling essentials.
For 'Lot 718' is a GAA medal described in the auction programme as 'an attractive 9 carat gold Celtic cross pierced medal'. This little piece of metal provides a link to Wexford's original sporting superstar, Nickey Rackard. For the medal is the Rathnure club man's reward for his part in the victory over Galway in the All-Ireland hurling final of 1955.
The guide price for this extraordinary item is no more than €7,000 and the bidding commences with an unremarkable offer of €4,500. From this relatively modest amount, the figures clock over on the little screen with alarming speed as the calm voice of Fonsie calls the shots.
Within a matter of seconds, in steps of €100, then €200, we are soon galloping past the €7,000 prediction. The pace scarcely slows as the price reaches, €8,000, then €9,000. But it turns out that the protagonists are only warming up. From €10,000 progress moves from baby steps up to €500 a go. There is no pause until the €13,500 mark when Fonsie threatens, but only briefly, to bring down his hammer.
At €14,500 he reminds us all, whether in Clyde Court or sitting on our sofa in County Wexford, that this is a probably never to be repeated opportunity to own a championship medal earned by a member of hurling's team of the Millennium.
The auctioneer raises his gavel once more at €16,000. We who are logged on via the-saleroom can only imagine this, though it must be real. Yet there is a final shake of the tail and it only comes down in earnest at €17,500. The applause breaking out from those privileged to be there in person comes bristling down the crackly connection. Wow!
There is no time to luxuriate in an extraordinary moment. The auction moves on to deal with other medals, a collection of old Feis Cheoil and similar gongs, sold for the more prosaic amount of €80. Then come cricket, showjumping and golf memorabilia but nothing close to matching 'Lot 718'.
The Rackard souvenir was the star turn in an extraordinary jumble of items brought to the market by Mealy's. It is comforting to report that a copy of Adolf Hitler's book 'Mein Kampf' failed to attract any interest earlier in the day, while Kevin Barry's science notebook from his schooldays at Belvedere College caused a stir as it was knocked down for €5,300.
The bewildering assemblage of everything from soccer shirts signed by Maradonna to 17th century maps during a nine-hour marathon included a scattering of other offerings with Wexford connections:
Lot 338 – an address to Royal Irish Constabulary inspector NA Kelly on his departure in 1909 from Wexford town. €350
Lot 341 – leases relating to land held by the Grogan family of Johnstown, dating back to 1691 and 1753. €60
Lot 354 – a rent book from the estate of the Cornock family of Cromwellsfort, 1797-1851. €500
Lot 459 – English and American first editions of 'The Book of Evidence' by novelist John Banville. €100 for the pair
Lot 660 – 1905 photograph of the Rapparees hurling team, complete with team listing. €180
Lot 662 – hurling action picture of Wexford Billy Rackard and Cork legend Christy Ring, signed by the Model player. €150
Lot 705 – 1905 silver medal minted for a Cork v Wexford football match. €400
But the real talking point was 'Lot 718'. And George Fonsie Mealy – son of the indefatigable Fonsie senior – was happy to continue talking when contacted by telephone the following day.
He confirmed speculation already filtering through from Rathnure that the Rackard family were the ones who had purchased the top price medal. He mentioned no names and offered no explanation as to how it came on the market in the first place. Yet he was happy to report that they were delighted to have it back.
George Fonsie also offered a little insight into the competition which drove up the sum required to secure Nickey's keepsake to such unexpected heights. Apparently, collectors among the Irish abroad were on the lines from New York, the UK and Australia all looking to own a piece of Cuchulainn's son...
The problem is that now the wonders of internet auctions have been revealed. This may be no problem, just as long as I heed the warning which appears on screen 'please remember, clicking the Bid button is a commitment to buy'.