Wednesday 17 July 2019

Dermot Gilleece: 'Mischievous pair will continue to entertain in the hereafter'

'...four years ago, when Pádraig Harrington made his last appearance in the US Masters, Duffy bet €5 on him at 300/1.' Photo: Getty Images
'...four years ago, when Pádraig Harrington made his last appearance in the US Masters, Duffy bet €5 on him at 300/1.' Photo: Getty Images

Dermot Gilleece

When I was attempting to make my way in the world, popular perusing involved a regular feature in the magazine Reader's Digest titled 'The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met.' Mullingar-man, Mickey Duffy, who passed away recently, was such a person.

He possessed the necessary characteristics of wit, wisdom, mischief and sense of adventure, to enrich people's lives. Then, as a bonus, there was a suitably indulgent wife in Dilly. In the event, his enthusiasm for golf prompted many exchanges between us over almost five decades.

I can still hear the hearty chuckles from 20 years ago when I recounted a betting story as Arnold Palmer neared his 70th birthday. It concerned Palmer and how regular wagers with his long-time manager, Mark McCormack, were never honoured.

Recalling one memorable episode, McCormack said: "When we were flying from Australia to Honolulu I stopped on the way to the airport and ended up with the scores of all the NFL games. We were leaving Australia on Monday which was a Sunday in the US and were going to arrive in Honolulu on Monday morning.

"We spent two hours on the plane making bets and when we got to Honolulu I told Arnold to get the newspapers and check the scores. Needless to say, I won all the games and the expression on his face had to be seen to be believed. Ultimately I confessed - and never collected."

Duffy loved that story. Perhaps it reminded him of an outrageous bet he himself struck with his friend, Peter Molloy, the one-time League of Ireland defender who became a publican in Athlone. It involved Liverpool and, as they say, there was some drink taken.

By way of emphasis, Duffy eventually bet Molloy £1m that he was right. Which, as things transpired, he wasn't. When Molloy demanded his money, he was duly presented with a cheque for £1m. Two days later, Duffy received a phone call from his bank manager suggesting that a lodgement might be appropriate, something in the region of "nine hundred and ninety nine thousand . . ."

Inevitably, the cheque bounced, which came as no surprise to Molloy who still insisted on framing it for display in his Athlone hostelry, while remarking: "At least I was a millionaire for a couple of days."

Meanwhile, the dream of a big kill endured, and as recently as four years ago, when Pádraig Harrington made his last appearance in the US Masters, Duffy bet €5 on him at 300/1. It was around the same time that he talked enthusiastically about Che Guevara and his links to both golf and the Lynch clan in this country.

Not for the first time with Duffy, Argentina loomed large. Indeed when Greg Norman relinquished a six-stroke lead to lose the 1996 Masters to Nick Faldo, I got a call enquiring: "What about Jose Jurado?" Which led me to the four-stroke lead by Argentina's finest entering the last round of the 1931 Open Championship at Carnoustie. As it happened, Jurado crumbled to a closing 77 and lost by a stroke to a 71 from Tommy Armour.

On another occasion, Duffy called to tell of how he had congratulated Miguel Angel Martin in Portugal on a 59 he had carded some years previously. That was in winning the Southern Argentina Open, naturally.

A fascination with the South American country led to the role of chairman of the Longford-Westmeath Argentina Society, and several trips there included one in 1979 to the River Plate Stadium where Argentina had won the World Cup the previous year.

On learning during that visit that his idol, Juan Manuel Fangio, owned a Mercedes Benz dealership in Buenos Aires, Duffy decided to call on him. After the receptionist had listened patiently to a detailed explanation about a long trip from Ireland to see the grand prix maestro, she pointed casually to a figure at a neighbouring desk and said: "There he is." Whereupon legend and fan met and talked. And talked, as only Duffy could do.

There were other trips to China, Nepal and North Africa. And a memorable one in 1969 to Siberia where Duffy appeared to have no problem in socialising with Red Army elite, Cold War not withstanding. He even teased them about Ireland's nuclear secrets and they, being rather vague on geography, immediately showed interest.

At a time when Jobber McGrath was being lionised as a local kingpin of hurling, Duffy claimed the distinction in 1953 of becoming the only Westmeath man to score four goals at Croke Park. All four went in at the Canal End for St Mary's CBS, Mullingar, in the Leinster colleges hurling semi-final yet, remarkably, they still managed to lose.

Golf was his main love. Playing off single figures, he was a member of Mullingar's Barton Cup winning team in 1960 and helped spearhead the launch of the annual Scratch Trophy before becoming club captain in 1971. And as I remember it, when the Irish Junior Cup gave Mullingar their first all-Ireland pennant in 1982 at Rosses Point, celebrations started as early as two in the afternoon, led by the club captain and Duffy's great friend, the inimitable Joe Healy.

Only God knows the mischief Duffy and Healy have been getting up to since their recent reunion. We can take it that the area reserved in the hereafter for those associated with the royal and ancient pursuit will never be quite the same again.

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