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School friends prove class act as they romp to National glory

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Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary shakes hands with Enda Kenny at Fairyhouse

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary shakes hands with Enda Kenny at Fairyhouse

Eliana Fuscoe

Eliana Fuscoe

Michelle O'Connor

Michelle O'Connor

One-year-old Byron Barker from Dunboyne, Co. Meath studies the form at the Grand National Ladie's Day at Fairyhouse, Co. Meath yesterday.

One-year-old Byron Barker from Dunboyne, Co. Meath studies the form at the Grand National Ladie's Day at Fairyhouse, Co. Meath yesterday.

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Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary shakes hands with Enda Kenny at Fairyhouse

IT was the fairytale ending they couldn't have even imagined as they sat side-by-side at national school all those years ago.

Yet the faith which old school friends, cousins and "the farmer across the road" had placed in small-time trainer Thomas Gibney (39) paid off as the first horse he ever trained, Lion Na Bearnai, or 'Fill in the Gaps', yesterday won the Ladbrokes Irish Grand National in style.

The amazing victory for the 10-year-old stayer landed its connections €141,000 in prize money.

"It is an advertisement for the small trainer," whooped Tom Gilsenan (39), from Kilskeer, just outside Kells in Co Meath, as he planted a kiss on the cheek of his old Kilskeer National School friend, the latest Grand National-winning trainer.

Navan jockey Andrew Thornton (31) wrapped his arms around the 33-1 horse's neck and fought back tears as he celebrated the biggest win of his career having taken on the big favourites for the small five-horse stable.

"We bought the horse in Tattersalls five years ago for €9,000," said Mr Gilsenan, the spokesman for the seven-man Lock Syndicate behind the Grand National winner.

"I was in national school with Thomas Gibney. He set up his own place outside Kells and approached me to see if I'd get a syndicate going. The horse didn't look like a lot at the time we bought him but Thomas liked him.

"Thomas had always had a plan that he thought he was capable of running a national but to be honest none of us were fully sure of that one."

Mr Gilsenan, co-owner of document company Informa, pointed out that the syndicate of five from Kilskeer and two from Dublin was made up of farmers and businessmen.

History

It all happened after Mr Gibney set up training and approached Mr Gilsenan in 2005 about setting up the syndicate.

It was as local as local could be. He recruited Mr Gilsenan, his school friend, Peter, Mick and Pat Farrelly, who are three cousins of the trainer, farmer Louis Leavy, who lives across the road from the trainer and two friends from Dublin, Russell Gleeson and Declan Carolan.

The horse had won at Navan in a Grade Two race just a few weeks ago to secure its place in the Grand National. "And the rest is history," Mr Gibney said.

"We'll be heading to Teach Fada in Kilskeer tonight, it's the local pub. I've no idea what is going to happen. The horse could be in the pub tonight for all we know," he laughed.

"There were small bets we were all having €20s and €50s all over the place. We've been telling people for the last few weeks he's savage value at 40-1 and 50-1.

"We were kind of confident but afraid to say anything coming here."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was the one to hand over the silverware to the delighted group, as he quipped he was looking to see if there was a horse called "Calm Down' on the race card after his weekend antics of keeping the troops in line.

"That is my advice to everybody but I haven't found him yet," Mr Kenny quipped.

Amid rumours circulating that former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had once again resurrected at the track, Mr Kenny said that he himself had seen no sight of him.

"But I saw Dedigout won there, maybe he had a bet on that one," he said with a smile.

More than €810,000 was bet at the bookies, and a further €355,000 at the Tote, slightly down on 2011. Around 13,200 turned out on the day, some 2,000 down on last year. Heavy downpours in the morning may have deterred some racegoers.

Irish Independent