Wednesday 18 July 2018

A roller-coaster ride into a gambler's world of torment

Biography: Tony 10, Declan Lynch and Tony O'Reilly, Gill, paperback, 304 pages, €16.99

Runners and riders: Tony O'Reilly was caught by a bookies' camera while on the run from guards
Runners and riders: Tony O'Reilly was caught by a bookies' camera while on the run from guards
Tony 10 by Declan Lynch and Tony O'Reilly

Damian Corless

There are many, many moments of terrifying high anxiety in Tony 10 but here's a good one to start with. It's the summer of 2007 and Tony O'Reilly from Carlow has just married the love of his life, Fiona, in Cyprus. All the guests from Ireland say it's been a blast. This should be the happiest day of his life, but for one thing - he's trapped "in a place beyond torment".

The thing is, between Dublin Airport and the walk up the aisle, Tony has gambled away all the money to pay for the wedding. But there is hope. If Authorized wins the Epsom Derby to complete a four-way accumulator, the bill can be settled. Authorized wins and the newlywed lives to bet another day.

Declan Lynch has written expertly on the gambling bug before. What makes this book so gripping is that we get the psychology packaged up as a true-life suspense thriller. This is a modern day Irish Heart of Darkness, taking us on a river ride into madness boarding at Carlow, stopping off at Gorey and Belfast, and winding up at Shelton Abbey prison.

Bright as a button, O'Reilly displays signs of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) from early on. It manifests itself first through music collecting, then footballing, then drinking and ultimately through gambling. He loses his betting virginity to Dennis Bergkamp's pirouetting World Cup wondergoal against Argentina in 1998. Inside a decade he's lost touch with reality as O'Reilly is increasingly bodysnatched by 'Tony 10', his avaricious online avatar.

Online is key here. O'Reilly's habit is strapped on to the new enabling technology, as both accelerate at frightening speed. In the early stages, as fiver bets become €500 ones, O'Reilly is able to cover his dips by juggling his personal accounts between his wages, borrowing from family and friends, the bank and credit union. Eventually, inevitably, all those wells run dry, so he pays himself an increment at work to which he isn't yet entitled. He gets a severe reprimand from his superiors at An Post, so the next time he needs a dig-out, he keeps it under the counter.

As Tony 10 is becoming an increasingly bloated figure in the online world, O'Reilly is making his way up the An Post ladder to land the coveted post of branch manager in Gorey. In that role, he has the keys to the safe, and he begins to skim off little personal loans, starting with the coin bags but quickly moving on to the notes.

By 2010, he has dug himself into a debt hole of €300,000 so Tony 10's logic dictates that the only thing is for O'Reilly to dig more furiously.

Lynch writes: "He takes €1,750, with his usual surgical exactitude, out of the incoming bundles of An Post notes, to place it on this 14-part accumulator. The very notion of 14 results all going the right way on the one day is so outlandish there should probably be a rule forbidding bookmakers accepting such bets, even if the punter is only having €1.75 on it, let alone €1,750.

"But Tony 10 is so badly in need of a large amount of money, he goes for it anyway. The bet mainly involves football matches, with a couple of games of tennis thrown in. They are not the better class of football matches, being mostly midweek games in England, Scotland, Italy, Holland and Belgium."

Incredibly, his preposterous 14-part punt comes down to a Belgian Cup game between Standaard Wetteren and Lokeren. The right result will net him €300,000 - about 10 times the gate receipts. One goal turns the other 13 good results to nowt.

Lynch writes: "Some journeyman pro called Jan De Langhe, who will end up playing for most of the lesser teams in Belgium, just cost him €300,000."

Two years earlier the standing leg of Chelsea's John Terry slips from under him as he struck the ball in the Champion's League Final penalty shoot-out. That piece of dumb bad luck crowns Manchester United and costs O'Reilly €12,000. Three years on, in 2011, it's O'Reilly who's trying to give the guards the slip, breaking for the Border. Even on the run he can't stop gambling, and getting caught on bookies' cameras lead to his downfall.

This is a spine-tingling tale, beautifully told, and at the end of the rollercoaster ride there's even a happy ending.

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