Wednesday 12 December 2018

Colm Smith - A rare talent and true master of his craft

The late Colm Smith
The late Colm Smith

Dermot Gilleece

Colm Smith is gone from us after a long illness. As a contemporary of his, right from our first out-of-town marking together, I've been thinking of the special talent he brought to our craft.

Few sports writers I've known had his gift for capturing the very essence of a competitive event. It was something I began to appreciate right from that colleges GAA match we covered down Longford way nearly 60 years ago.

Little more than a decade later, he had advanced to the formidable task of reporting on rugby internationals for this newspaper, entailing the reporter's nemesis of a tight, Saturday deadline. He was also the only Irish scribe to cover regular events on the European Tour for the Irish Independent, while the rest of us concentrated on the amateur scene here at home.

Perhaps it was his gift as a decent tennis player which seemed to give Colm an edge. Either way, his insight into sporting endeavour was especially evident in his Irish Independent report of the historic US Masters triumph by Tiger Woods in 1997. I remember reading it with a mixture of admiration and envy.

The only time we actually worked together was at the 1980 Open Championship at Muirfield, where Colm represented the Independent and I was his assistant, looking after the Evening Herald. Otherwise, we were rivals, and not always friendly ones.

Still, there were memorable moments. Among these was a shared solution to the challenge of completing our reports on the 1989 Men's Amateur Internationals at Ganton, in time to catch a flight home from Leeds-Bradford Airport. On explaining our difficulty to Mick McGinley, Paul's father, he promptly produced the answer: a mobile phone.

This was the original of the species, a big heavy lump which looked nothing like the implement it has since become. So it was that Colm and I, replete with phone, grabbed a taxi and wrote and transmitted our reports from the back seat. We'd broken new ground in working conditions.

I last saw him when he visited the Irish Open at Fota Island in 2014, when his strong, fit appearance totally belied the issues which lay beneath.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

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