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Declan Lynch: Debunking the myth of Bertie the sports lover

In the great festival of hackery which marked the publication of the Mahon report, perhaps the most illuminating moment came during the Prime Time special, from a man who is not widely known.

Indeed, he may not be known at all, outside of the Fianna Fail party on whose National Executive he has apparently served.

But Joe Tierney was entirely believable when he said that "as long as I have known Bertie, I never saw him in a betting shop in my life".

And this Joe Tierney seemed like a man who had seen many things.

He was talking about Bertie's claims that some of the money in his treasure chest had been won on the horses, a line which never fails to get a big old chortle when it is mentioned on a radio panel. Oh how they laugh, time after time.

But, of course, they miss the point, time after time. Indeed, until Joe Tierney came along, I think I was alone in disputing this whole notion put out there by Bertie and happily endorsed by almost every commentator in the country for the last 25 years, that Bertie is a great sports enthusiast all round.

No, I never really believed that, and this is the point: if Bertie can create a misleading impression around something as important as sport, anything is possible.

"I don't think he knows anything about horses," said Joe Tierney, again with the authority of a man whose views on the racing game carry a certain weight.

And while I believe that Bertie probably knows a thing or two about football and the GAA, I don't believe that he ever really cared all that much. He just never struck me as that kind of guy.

Charlie McCreevy, for example, always struck me as that kind of guy, as did Brian Cowen, and like most genuine sports lovers, these men could be seen in the betting shop betimes, seeking vindication of their judgement.

Bertie, as we now know for sure, never went there.

In fact, from the moment he got up in the morning and all through the day and all through the night, every day and every night, I don't think Bertie Ahern ever did anything that was not in some way connected to his career, his political life, the only life he had.

So when he went to Manchester, the idea that he would be going there like any other United fan just to watch the lads collecting the three points, always seemed to be perfectly ridiculous. By contrast, it seemed perfectly right that he would go to Manchester to deliver a speech to assorted worthies about the 'Irish economy' at a big dinner which raised a few quid for the Bertie Ahern Relief Fund... with maybe a trip to a corporate box at Old Trafford thrown in.

That would place his various interests in the correct order of importance, with politics first, politics second, and then perhaps a bit of politics. With a football match in there too.

At home, he would wear the anorak to Croke Park and that was enough -- again the mere mention of the anorak has drawn affectionate laughter from every panel of commentators assembled in every radio studio in Ireland in the modern era. So they made it easy for him.

But still he worked so hard at it, because it had a vital purpose. It made him look like a fairly normal sort of a fellow. And that was quite a stretch for Bertie Ahern, who increasingly seems like one of the strangest men we have ever seen in public life in this country, and in private life for that matter, and life in general.

Maybe he is the strangest of them all.

Sunday Independent