Monday 19 March 2018

Billy Keane: Horse sense can be hard to find, but it could help you hurl up a storm

'If Waterford boss Derek McGrath does manage to get his players in the right frame of mind, his team will have to face Kilkenny in the semi-final.' Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
'If Waterford boss Derek McGrath does manage to get his players in the right frame of mind, his team will have to face Kilkenny in the semi-final.' Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Billy Keane

Billy Keane

You might say I'm odd - and you'd probably be right - but I often wonder what it is jockeys say to horses. It's hardly horse whispering when the horse is galloping at 40mph and the quatrains of hooves are a chorus of thumping bodhráns.

Just a few short minutes ago, I was the beneficiary of a free driving lesson and a series of interesting if unorthodox suggestions as to how to enter and exit roundabouts. So I said, as politely as a Turkish policeman, "How do you think that I manage to drive the car when you're not here?"

Jockeys are forever being scrutinised by people who only ever sat up on the painted horse stuck fast to the slowly revolving floor of the visiting merry-go-round. The horse cannot be changed up or down from top gear to bottom with a pull of a lever and the press of a clutch.

David Casey, now retired hardly a year, has long been our racing consultant. He told the horse jumping the last fence, "It's me or you John." Jockeys call everyone John, including their horses. It's a great way of getting around trying to remember names.

The traffic can be heavy as Friday evening on the M50 with the jockeys shouting "get out of my way" and "go on John" to the horses. Says Casey: "You'd want wing mirrors and a periscope." Jockeys must not only know how to steer and judge pace but the very best talk 'horse' like natives.

A young boy abdicated his role as the dauphin son of a small farmer and ran away from home to become a jockey.

Paddy Mullins told him that the only 13-stone jockeys he knew sat on police horses. Paddy, always a softly-spoken man, was honest: "You have to be able to talk to them and all you've done is roar since you came here." My man went back to hen clucking.

Not comparing like to like - although it is a massive compliment to be called a horse of a man in some parts - but what do you say to a team of players who were on the end of a bad beating last time out?

Tomorrow, the All-Ireland senior hurling quarter-finals take place in Thurles - or Tom Semple's field, as it is known to all hurling folk.

The Déise got a ferocious hammering from Tipp in the Munster final last Sunday week. And if Waterford boss Derek McGrath does manage to get his players in the right frame of mind, his team will have to face Kilkenny in the semi-final. It's like winning the Lotto and having to pay it all back in tax.

Derek said he doesn't honestly know how his players will react. Is their spirit broken or will the hurt of their Tipperary trouncing drive them on?

Next-door neighbours Wexford made an early exit from Leinster at the hands of Dublin, but Liam Dunne's troops are on the rise again. The battle for the championship of Irish Normandy with West French r's rolling around the spectators' tongues like sucky sweets will be ferocious.

And maybe the managers will say, "Go on John, it's me or you."

Davy Fitz has had a tough week. Get well soon Davy. His Clare team play their next- door neighbours Galway in the stone walls' derby.We'are not sure if Davy will be there to do the talking. His passion won an All-Ireland for the Banner. Some managers talk softly and more are full of fire. Mind yourself Davy.

The Galway squad will probably be seen in Ballybrit for the races on Monday night, whatever the result. But will they be there on Tuesday? The reason we ask is that if Galway win, then the players are sure to be sweating out Monday night on the training paddocks.

They, too, are in line for trouble if they lose. The players staged their own coup to get rid of Anthony Cunningham and we all know what happens to failed revolutionaries.

Dermot Weld talks the talk at Galway. His stable jockey Pat Smullen is, without doubt, not only the best Flat jockey anywhere but also one of the nicest fellows you could meet. Which is something for a Kerryman to say about an Offalyman - we still haven't forgotten the '82 final and the push on Tommy Doyle!

Smullen won the Epsom Derby and then the Irish Derby for Weld on Harzand. And here's a world exclusive, we know what he said after the Aga Khan's horse passed the post well in front of the chasing pack at Epsom. It was "thank God."

Pat explains it better than anyone. "It's different over the jumps, there's so much going on all around you. We go so fast on the Flat, there isn't time to talk. We do our talking before the race. The whole idea is to give the horse confidence and keep him calm."

The Epsom party goes on from early morning. It's 100,000 surround sound and horses can stress away their chances ever before they leave the parade ring. Smullen speaks fluent horse. "I kept telling Harzand how good he is. 'You're the best' I kept telling him."

And do they understand?

Pat again."Horses are far more intelligent than people give them credit for. The intelligent ones understand every word."

Pat is a calm man and the reassurance passes on to his horses. He is a horse psychologist who loves his clients. David Casey too got the horses to run for him. He is easy -going and likeable. Horses are good judges of character. Maybe hurling managers could give Casey and Smullen a call.

I'm hoping to make Thurles for the All-Ireland quarters and Galway for The Plate. The back isn't great. I'm at an age where the back gives me more trouble than the front, but I want to be everywhere and go everywhere.

There's some soft talking to be done first at passport control. We should always think of the future when smart remarks are passed at roundabouts. It's horse sense, isn't it?

Irish Independent

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