Sport Tee to Green

Wednesday 18 September 2019

I thought this game would get easier...

A quick 18: Alfie Hale

Love at first flight: Alfie took up golf at the age of 61 and was instantly hooked
Love at first flight: Alfie took up golf at the age of 61 and was instantly hooked

One of Ireland's legendary footballers, Alfie Hale scored goals galore for his beloved Waterford Utd as well as Aston Villa, Doncaster Rover, the Republic of Ireland and many more. Even at 80, he retains his indomitable competitive streak, battling for his weekly fourball at Waterford Golf Club.

1. How's your golf? Well, I am still trying to keep up with the lads. I was 80 the other day, and I have only been playing since I was 61. But it's very enjoyable (and competitive) and I am only sorry I didn't take it up earlier. Playing for fivers with the lads is like playing for a million pounds.

2. How did you get started in the game? My involvement in football ended on my 60th birthday and the guys I pal around with were into golf and they persuaded me to have a go. The first time I hit a ball, I really enjoyed it. Once I took to golf, it was the only sport for me.

3. Choose your weapon. Driver or putter? Lads tell me I am a good putter but if you asked me what club I trust most in my hand, I'd have to say the driver.

4. Links or parkland? I don't get on to many links courses. I enjoy them but I can play Waterford Golf Club twice or three times a week and it seems to get more difficult as I get older! I thought this game would get easier. But it has to be one of the toughest courses you can play. Trying to beat my own course keeps me going.

5. When were you happiest on the golf course? I won the President's Prize in my first year, playing off 18 and the following year I was runner-up in the Captain's Prize. I have not come close to that level of performance since then but I have loved being asked to represent the club in the national fourball events. They have been very terrific times. You could play in front of 40,000 people and it wouldn't take a fig out of you but playing for your partner, that's the greatest pressure in the world. It's the most humbling of games.

6. Who was your sporting hero? From an Irish perspective, John Giles stood out, not just as a footballer but as a man. I met him for the first time in 1959 when he played his second international against Chile. I was picked as a substitute, when you couldn't come on from the line at that time. I was there as a standby, just in case John couldn't make it over from Manchester United for a midweek game. I was in a terrible dilemma. I really wanted to see him because he was a fabulous player. But on the other, I also wanted to see him miss the boat to allow me to play for Ireland.

We subsequently became great friends. When he was with Leeds and I was with Doncaster, we travelled together often. As a man, he was the most honest guy you could meet. He doesn't believe in false praise or false modesty. He says is as it is

7. As a footballer, how special was he? Paddy Coad was a genius, but he never played in England because he didn't have to, so we don't know how good he could have been. But in terms of quality and skill on the ball, Giles was special. He had tremendous vision - that ability to control a ball without looking and find a pass or create space. You are talking about a player who was like Xavi or Iniesta in today's terms. Coad was in the same league, but because he played in England, Giles shades it. I can't think of anyone in Irish football who comes close to the either of them.

8. How do you differentiate between a good player and a great player? I once asked Giles that and he said a good player finds space to get the ball. A great player finds space to get the ball and has already planned his next move away from the defender. We see it with Messi now. Iniesta and Xavi were the same. I don't think Giles or Billy Bremner were too far behind them at their best.

9. Name your dream fourball. I had the good fortune to meet Arthur Ashe, the Wimbledon champion. He was a gentleman but he was a ruthless assassin as a tennis player. I met Bjorn Borg and he was the same. Very measured and polite but with a steeliness about him. Christy Ring was another. I'd have Gilesy, Arthur Ashe and Christy Ring.

11. If I gave you a mulligan in your football career, what would it be? I missed the FAI Cup Final in 1959 against St Pat's. I picked up a knee injury ten days before the final that put me out for six months. Con Martin had stepped down as penalty taker and I had taken over and done quite well. So there I was at the final with my leg in plaster and Waterford got a penalty to equalise in the replay. Nobody wanted to take it so who stepped up but my brother Dixie. He blasted it 10 yards over the bar and St Pat's went on to win.

I felt bad for him because that's all people remembered of that final, even though he was Man of the Match in both matches. I'd love to have played and been able to take that penalty.

12. If you had just one more round to play, where would it be? Fota Island in Cork. It's a wonderful course. Fantastic.

13. What's your favourite par three? The 7th in Waterford is a headache for everyone, even if you hit the green. It's that tricky. It's a very deceptive hole and one of the toughest to make par.

14. If you could change one thing about your golf what would it be? If I could change anything, I'd change my age. (Laughs).

15. What's your most treasured memory of your footballing days? There are so many. But we had a great relationship with the press. Guys like your father Tom [Keogh], Derek Jones from The Irish Times, Noel Dunne, Dermot Gilleece too. Win, lose or draw on a European trip, it was a party afterwards. They could give you a bit of stick, but you could still talk to them in confidence.

16. Who was your toughest opponent? There were a few tough guys in England. Scotland's Dave Mackay from Danny Blanchflower's double- winning Spurs team was fantastic and tough. In one of my first games with Aston Villa, he kicked me up in the air. And as he was getting the card, I was rolling on the ground and he had his knee in my chest, under my chin. I asked him if there was a war going on or what and he said, "It's a two for one. I'm getting booked for the first one and the second one is a freebie for me!"

17. Who is your favourite golfer? Jordan Spieth is one and for an Irish player, Pádraig Harrington. I love his attitude to life and what he's done in the game is just fantastic.

18. What's your idea of perfect happiness? I already have it. Looking back on 80 years, I am the luckiest guy alive. I've been blessed.

Footballers’ society to pay tribute to lost members

The Irish Professional Footballers' Golf Society will remember its recently deceased members during its next outing at Beaverstown on 26 September.

Former St Patrick's Athletic and Shamrock Rovers centre half Willie Roche, ex-Rovers and Shelbourne midfielder Pat Costello, former Drumcondra and Glentoran midfielder Eamonn Byrne, Drumcondra and Shamrock Rovers striker Dennis Stephens and Brian Kennedy, a long-serving stalwart with Johnville and Transport, have all passed away over the past year.

The outing (12:30-2:30 pm) will be followed by a meal and all former professional footballers are welcome to attend.

Add please contact John Whelan on 01 832 46 87 for more details.

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