Angling for a round or two with Christy
This week's brief was unambiguous -- go to Gran Canaria and write about sport. There are, I am told, several golf courses on the island and we did manage to get to play with Ryder Cup hero Christy O'Connor Jnr, but more about that later on.
Fishing is now a recognised sport. I was never a great fisherman. I was one of those awkward young lads who was always getting his flies caught up by riverbank sally-trees mid-backswing.
I often spent more time climbing than fishing, and if I did manage to avoid the trees, there was the riddle of how impassive stones could imprison your minnow. Boys who were adept could whip a trout out of the Feale with no more than a flick of the wrist or a sweeping cast of a long fly-rod while the rest of us looked on in awe.
There are no trees growing in the Atlantic and Gran Canaria is famous for fishing records. I thought that it would make for a great column if I could bag a big one, but the only award I was to receive was for cowardice in the line of duty.
We walked along the spectacular cliff walk from Puerto Rico to Amadores. The apartment blocks towered over us and I thought if the Canarian developers had their way, they'd buy out the gannets and build apartments on the ledges of Dun Aengus.
We had an appointment to meet a fisherman on the rocky foreshore at the bottom of a steep cliff. There was this stainless steel spiral staircase leading down to the foreshore and it is a work of genius in that it is almost impossible to fall off, but the drop is sheer.
The area around the Blue Pool and The Bridges of Ross near Kilkee in West Clare, though, is even more beautiful than the Canaries cliff walk.
The Blue Pool is a famous mackerel fishery. All you had to do was drop feathers in the water and in no time at all the silver-blue mackerel would hang off your line like Christmas decorations, but the Blue Pool has claimed many lives over the years due to deadly rogue waves and falls from the cliffs.
I thought of a day by the Blue Pool when I froze watching mountain goats of men haul sacks of mackerel down dangerous cliff faces as nonchalantly as if they were strolling home with a bottle of milk and a sliced pan.
Back in Gran Canaria, this huge Finnish woman barely got through the spiral staircase. She squeezed the steel railing and her fingerprints left grubby marks. For a while it seemed as if the Finn might get stuck, but a mix of sun oil and her own perspiration lubricated her through. Just watching her was even worse than the thought of my own descent. I wasn't going down that cliff.
My guide suggested we go to Amadores Beach and we swam in a turquoise lagoon where the sea was as lukewarm as the second sitting in the once traditional Saturday-night bath.
Everywhere we went, there were Irish people who were full of the previous weekend's rugby. It was Sunday and the beach was crowded with tourists and locals, many of whom wore no tops to their dresses at all.
The Irish rugby man was topless, as was his partner. It felt strange to be standing around on a hot day in January in front of a ye olde pub offering roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, talking about the narrow escapes of Munster and Leinster with a half-naked woman. We promised to meet again in Thomond for the quarter-final against Northampton. I hope I recognise her in clothes.
Further up the coast there lies the pretty marina of Mogan. I had been here once before. It was 1997 and I was in the company of Kerry goalie Declan O'Keefe. There was a ferry journey to Mogan and dolphins jumped for fun. There was a swim and a walk along the strand. We saw a huge rod-caught swordfish hanging upside down on a small fishing boat.
The Kerry team were on tour and were trying out a parachute tied to the back of a speed-boat by a steel cable. It wasn't for me. Kerry had been beaten by Mayo in 1996 and Declan got caught out with a short free. He threw it overboard that day. Top sportsmen have to learn to put the past behind them.
Declan went on to win the All-Ireland and an All Star that year. And his display in the All-Ireland semi against Armagh was close to the best we have seen from a Kerry 'keeper.
The plan this time out was to hire a boat and catch a big 'Old Man and the Sea' fish, but it was a tall tale of one that got away. He was as big and strong as Henry Shefflin and he wriggled and twisted with the temper of getting caught. The shark spat out the hook. Soon he was gargling salt-water to ease the blister on his tongue.
As you might have guessed, we didn't really go fishing, but we did get to play with Christy Jnr. We met up in MacGowan's, a real Irish bar in Puerto Rico. Christy is all that a famous sportsman should be: gracious, patient, modest and charming.
Christy did a turn on the mouth-organ with the excellent Dermot and Clarky and the punters in the percussion section knocked frantically on the countertop like men locked out on a bad night. And that's how we got to play in the band with Christy Jnr.