Maybe four years ago, I sat next to AP McCoy at a rugby club function in Armagh. If I'm honest, my heart sank a little when I saw the seating arrangements. I've a broad enough interest in most sports, but horse racing wouldn't be one of them. For sure, I've always been fascinated by the courage of jump jockeys especially, but wouldn't have a clue about what it is that distinguishes a hurdler from a chaser.
And to me, McCoy always gave the impression of being an absolute obsessive, a man whose greatness came from a cold singularity of purpose that probably precluded any wider interests.
Having found myself laughing out loud for much of the drive north in the company of rugby legend John 'Bull' Hayes, I now presumed the night was about to drag.
You see, I've a habit of going into my shell a bit when I'm outside my comfort zone. I simply don't engage. But it honestly took me just seconds to realise that Sir Tony McCoy, surely one of the greatest sports people ever, also happens to be one of the most open.
He was phenomenal company that night: warm, funny, inquisitive, someone seemingly far more curious about my life in sport than drawn to re-telling stories of his own.
I was genuinely staggered by his ease with people, his natural friendliness, the sense of interest he took in everyone, even those just asking for a photograph. Driving home that evening, that would be the general topic of conversation between 'Bull' and me.
How different AP McCoy was from the stony image of jump racing's most prolific winner.
So getting this opportunity to interview one of the most interesting people I've ever met was a genuine thrill. Reading it, I'm sure you'll see why.
Tomás: You strike me as someone who wants to be active all of the time, how have you managed in lockdown?
AP: "I like to think I took some positives out of it. There was a lot of work for me to do because we've some land and a yard here with horses. So there was plenty of stuff that had been bugging me for a while that needed doing. I was driving a JCB for a month I'd say, putting drains in, putting a road in down to a gallop that I have.
"It only struck me in the first week of June that I'd actually been out just once, I think, since Cheltenham. That was to see a doctor because I'd dislocated my shoulder.
"And it was only then it hit me that I hadn't put fuel in my car since Cheltenham. There was a time I used fill my car up every day. I'd say I could spend a thousand pounds a week on fuel when I was riding."
Tomás: How did you dislocate the shoulder?
AP: "I got a fall off a young horse, but it's grand now, not a bother. I'm back riding again. I haven't played golf, which is a bit of a bummer. But it won't be long. So I genuinely haven't been out of the house but, at the moment, I've no real desire to go anywhere.
"But, look, I'm very spoiled. We live in the country in a nice area. No disrespect to anyone else, but I wasn't stuck in a sixteenth-floor apartment in the middle of a city somewhere."
Tomás: I've read your book a couple of times and you were so incredibly driven in your career, did you at any stage experience moments of regret at the decision to retire?
AP: "No, I honestly didn't regret it. But if somebody said to me that I could change my name and go back riding over fences tomorrow, novice chases and the lot, I would do it in a flash. If I could go and do it as somebody else.
"But there was a lot of reasons I retired. I was very lucky that I came to England and was champion conditional or champion apprentice, or whatever it's called over jumps, and I was champion jockey for the next 20 years consecutively. I was nearly 36 when I'd won 15 jockeys' championships.
"And I made up my mind, if I get to 20, you have to stop. I don't care how well you're riding, that's it. I don't believe when people say you don't have targets or goals. I always had goals. I always had targets. I was never comfortable. And even if I did reach that target, my attitude would almost be, 'Well that's not great. I was able to do that!'
"It was the same when I was retiring. I knew for five years that I was retiring. You'll hear a lot of people talking about jump jockeys and saying, 'Well if you're thinking about retiring, you should retire! Because it means your nerve's gone, your bottle's gone' or whatever.
"But I wasn't any braver the day I retired to the day I started. I think my strongest asset was that I'm very stubborn. I had very good power of the mind. I was very good at being able to convince myself. I broke my leg at 17 in Jim Bolger's and thought I was going to die. Thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen.
"By the time I retired, I found it way easier to cope with pain than when I started. And I just thought, you know there's two ambulances following me around here. The fact that I've more winners than other people means I'm going in an ambulance more than other people because I'm competing more than everyone else.
"But to answer your question, if I could have changed my name the day after retiring and competed as somebody else, I'd still be riding."
Tomás: I remember being at a function with you one night in Armagh and you said on the stage that you actually missed the danger, that sense of knowing that it could go wrong. I remember being shocked by that, because I imagined that would surely be the one thing you'd be happy to leave behind. You never seemed to lose your nerve.
AP: "Do you know what it is? It's all a calculated risk. This thing about losing your nerve . . . God rest my Mum, she's dead two years now . . . but my Mum never watched me riding for the last three or four years. Certainly, two or three anyway. Had no interest in watching. She wouldn't even watch the TV.
"And I used slag her. I'd say, 'Ma, did you not give a s**t about me for the other 17 years? Have you only started to worry about me now?'
"You see, that's what I couldn't get. I'm not trying to be a hero, not trying to make myself out as brave. But what was the difference between having those two ambulances behind me when I was 20 to when I was 40? The only difference was - and I've always said this - once you get over 40 as a jump jockey, your body doesn't recover as quickly. It's hard.
"But it's a calculated risk. I remember watching this programme one night about heroin addicts, about this high they were chasing. About this kick they'd get the first time they tried heroin. About how they'd try chasing that again and it never comes back.
"And I remember saying this to people, 'Heroin addicts have no idea what it's like to get high. None. They don't know. I'll tell you what it's like. I lay on the ground in Warwick one day. The 12th of January, 2008. I'd a fracture between my T9 and T12 vertebrae. I was lying on the ground for three or four minutes and I didn't know whether the sweat was running down my forehead out of peeing or fear, because I could feel nothing.
"'In those three or four minutes that I was waiting on an ambulance driver and the doctor coming, if somebody said to me, 'Look I've no painkillers, but I've a gun, do you want me to shoot you?' I'd have said, 'Give it another minute. If they don't come, shoot me!' That's how bad things are, right?
"Then the doctor comes along and they're putting you on a spinal board and you can feel them lifting your feet and you're thinking, 'Oh Jesus, this is great!' But he sticks a needle in you and he fills you with morphine, right? Now, that's what it's like to get high. To go from the extreme of wanting someone to shoot you because you're in that much excruciating pain, the worst it could ever be . . . to the morphine.
"A heroin addict doesn't get that. Because they only start off level and then get high. Imagine being so low and then getting high? Anyway, I'm saying that to someone and they're, 'Ah, you're f**king nuts!'
"But there's something in that little moment when you're thinking, 'Oh my God, this is amazing, this is like going to Heaven!' And this is a hard thing to say because I've seen colleagues fatally injured. There are images I never want to bring up. But I'll never forget the day John Thomas McNamara had that fall at Cheltenham and speaking to Adrian McGoldrick, the Chief Medical Officer for Horse Racing Ireland.
"And him saying that he'd been resuscitated and was going to be air-lifted to Bristol. And I'll never forget one image . . . looking over at JT's grey, pinstripe suit hanging up. He'd been riding a horse, Galaxy Rock, that I'd won on. I rode him in all his races. And I won on him afterwards again.
"But he fell at that first fence in Cheltenham and I remember looking over at that grey suit and thinking, 'He's not coming back!' I'll never forget that."
Tomás: Would that not spook you, make you nervous riding after that?
AP: "No. No, because I was convinced that I was always going to be alright. I don't know if you've ever watched the film 'Rush' about James Hunt and Niki Lauda. At one stage, Lauda accuses Hunt of being reckless and having no respect for life. And Hunt's reply is, 'The closer you are to death, the more alive you feel!'
"And sometimes . . . look there'll be jump jockeys reading this now and saying, 'Don't be a hero, that's absolute s**t!' But there were times when I fell in races while in front of 20 other horses and, on the way to the ground, I'm thinking, 'I'm dead! At least one of these is going to get me' And you'd get kicked all over the place and you break something.
"Next thing you realise they're all gone past and it's, 'I'm not dead!' And it's like that thing where you try and convince yourself, 'I'm invincible!' Listen, the psychology of sport - as you know - is f**ked up."
Tomás: You were always thinking of the next race, the next target. Like, I've been watching 'The Last Dance' about Michael Jordan and it feels like something similar in him, but I'm struggling to really understand that . . . I don't know . . . that almost insanity endlessly driving you forward?
AP: "I can see why. And you know I often say after those 20 years that I was never content, I was never happy. But saying I was never happy isn't explaining it properly. Why would you do it, if it didn't make you happy? It obviously did. The sick-mindedness of torturing myself made me happy.
"I was never, ever satisfied. I was never comfortable. I'd go to bed every night . . . even a night I had five winners one day at Ascot out of six races, I remember going to bed thinking, 'That was a great day, but what if it's the last time I ever have five winners?'
"And I woke up the next morning worried about being s**t. The only place I never, ever worried, was when I was on a horse. I genuinely thought, 'I'm alright on a horse, I'm good up here!' I'm s**t off it, I'm a wreck off it, I'm the most insecure person in the world off it, but on a horse I AM GOOD!'
"But the other thing, as well, is that I worked for some very good people who made me better. Right from when I was a kid, working for Billy Rock in the North of Ireland. Like, I was going there when I was 12 or 13 on my summer holidays and he was treating me like a man.
"I remember the day I left Billy Rock's and he told Jim Bolger that I was going to be the next John Francome and, 'Whatever you do, don't let me down!' I've never told anyone that. Then you go to Jim Bolger's and you work with people like Aidan O'Brien and brilliant jockeys. If you had any ambition to learn, you were going to learn in Jim's.
"The whole obsession with winning thing, I suppose . . . Martin Pipe made me into a bit of a robot. He made me believe that I could achieve numbers."
Tomás: You were only 15 when you went to Jim Bolger's and you describe very well in the book how tough that was. I'm wondering was that period, from 15 to 18, the toughest part of your career?
AP: "I've seen lads coming into Jim's yard at seven o'clock on a Monday morning and leaving at 10.0 (laughing). And there were times when I was there that I hated Jim and I hated it. But I know it was the making of me. Because Jim Bolger had standards. He was a high achiever and he was going to make you better, no matter what.
"If you wanted to stay there, he was going to make you better. Even now I find myself going into a yard, seeing something and the words that come into my head are, 'Oh my God, that would never happen in Jim Bolger's!' And I've ridden for every successful trainer in England, nearly every one in Ireland too. And that's what I hear myself saying sometimes . . . 'If Jim saw that . . . '
"Twenty-five years later and I'm still traumatised by it! (laughing).
"Look I had a kind of a talent, but I was obsessed too. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to watch all my opposition. When I was growing up, I wanted to watch Richard Dunwoody, who was the best jockey riding. Or Mick Kinane, when I wanted to be a Flat jockey.
"Like I'm sure Dunwoody must have caught me staring at him sometimes in my early years and thought to himself, 'That lad's a weirdo!' But I was just trying to figure out why he was better than anybody else.
"And one of the things I learnt from him early was to get myself a driver, because I never wanted to feel that I didn't want to drive five hours to Newcastle, or wherever. I didn't want there to be a reason that I might not go racing. And, as time went on, I got myself a PA. Because I'd write a report on any horse I rode. Started doing it when I was with Martin Pipe and I kept writing them. So I had a PA and a driver, all I had to do was ride horses.
"I'm not exaggerating, I slept 15 hours a day. I used say to people, 'You know all I have to do is be awake between one and half-four in the winter time.' As long as I was completely alert for those hours, as long as I didn't make any tired decisions, that's all I needed. I could sleep for the rest of the day. All I cared about was those three-and-a-half hours."
Tomás: You seemed to have an uncanny knack of working for good people throughout your career and I know that Dave Roberts was a huge factor too in a lot of your decision making, but you seemed to have great personal judgement.
AP: "I made crazy decisions, absolutely psychotic decisions when I think about it now. When I was handing my notice in at Jim's, I was meant to have a job and I didn't have one. I ended up with Toby Balding and when I was offered a job at Martin Pipe's, I decided to stay with Toby.
"Then I was offered a job with Martin Pipe again, like the most successful National Hunt trainer ever.
"I was champion conditional the first time and I basically turned it down, because it didn't suit me! It wasn't that I didn't think I was up to it. It was more, 'I want this on my terms, not on yours!'
"And I never told anyone that. How could I? I mean you come to England in 1994 and you have nine winners and less than a year later you're being offered a job to ride for the most successful trainer ever, and you're basically telling him that you're not f**king bothered. I mean, I couldn't get a job a year earlier.
"Then I did start riding for him, fell out with him after three months and told him to shove his horses. I think back now and it's so disrespectful. I can't even believe that I did it. I don't even know why I did it."
Tomás: You've said yourself that, working for Pipe, you were almost guaranteed to win champion jockey every year. Going to work for JP McManus must have been a big decision for you?
AP: "It was and you know, the strange thing about all the big decisions I made in my career, I never spoke to anyone about them.
"Nobody. I never rang Dave Roberts. I never rang my Dad. I never rang a trainer that I'd ridden for before. Do you know why?
"Because if it didn't work, they weren't going to have the suffer the consequences. There'd be no point in me saying, 'Well you told me this would be a good idea!' It had to be me. But it all kind of fitted. Like that first year I was champion jockey, riding for Toby Balding and Philip Hobbs and Paul Nicholls, I didn't ride for Martin Pipe.
"Because I just thought, 'You know what? I can do this.' Then I realised after a year, you know what, it's a lot easier to ride Martin Pipe's horses than be chasing them around.
"I may as well ride for him. And I did for seven-and-a-half years. Peter Scudamore had been champion jockey there; Richard Dunwoody. I genuinely thought, 'Anyone's going to be champion jockey riding for Martin Pipe.'
"I know that people say I went to JP for the money. It was nothing to do with that. I didn't even get into a conversation with him about money. My conversation was about him not having enough horses and that if he got more, I was going to try to make them better. I liked that idea.
"I'd ridden a good few times for Jonjo (O'Neill) and I liked him. I'd known Christy Roche since I was a kid in Jim Bolger's. So it just felt that the time was right."
Tomás: You suffered some shocking injuries. In one fall you got two broken ribs, a punctured lung, and a dislocation of some sort. I'm taking it you never listened to advice from any doctor?
AP: "Nah, I was bad as well because the doctor never knew. No one ever knew. I wouldn't get in an ambulance to go to hospital. I'd tell them I was fine. Just wouldn't go, but I knew I was in trouble. For 20 years, Dr Pritchard kind of kept me alive. He rode as an amateur jockey himself and he'd never let me do anything crazy. If I had a bang on the head, he'd never let me ride. Anything close to the spine, never let me ride.
"He'd patch me up to ride with a broken collarbone, but he knew I wasn't going to die. Or if I could cope with the pain of a few broken ribs, he'd do everything to keep me going. So he wasn't reckless. But for about three years after my retirement, he kind of thought I'd fallen out with him.
"I suppose he didn't realise that I was retiring at the time, because no one knew. And I knew that it was over. Of all the injuries I'd got before, it'd be, 'I'll be grand next year!' But this time there was no next year. In my head, I actually thought I was getting better. I'd made my fastest 150th winner. But I knew I was retiring.
"So the day I got injured at Worcester (October 2014) is probably something that I'll never get over. Because it just ruined everything."
Tomás: How did you cope with defeat in the big races?
AP: "I was brilliant at losing because I lost more times than any other jockey. I was an expert on losing."
Tomás: Would it eat into you?
AP: "I got better as I got older. Do you know my first five or six years of being champion jockey, I used come home at night and watch replays, endlessly. Like I sat in a dark room one Saturday night because I'd had a bad day. I can remember sitting on my bedroom floor, looking out the window into the dark. I wouldn't pull the curtains.
"Just staring at the stars because I was s**t, as far as I was concerned. But definitely in the second part of my career, I got to enjoy it a bit more. I had a little bit more acceptance of myself. The first seven or eight years, I was really insecure, I was still a real worrier.
"The only time I felt really confident would be when I was on a horse. But as my career went on, I became a little bit happier within myself. It's torture. I remember speaking to Paul O'Connell not long after I retired, and we ended up going for dinner one night in London.
"And I remember saying to him that I didn't have any regrets, because I know I worked my a**e off. Like, I rode less than eight-and-a-half weeks after breaking my back. So I know that I went to the limit. And I'm good with that. But I remember saying to Paul that evening that, no matter what you do with the rest of your life - you could be the next Jeff Bezos and invent Amazon - there's an egotistical thing in every sports person that wants to be good.
"So when you go out to lead the Lions or, say, Ireland in the Aviva in front of all these thousands of people, the ones who are really good genuinely believe that all those people are there to watch you. That's what makes them different. They're there to perform. They could look into Hill 16 before an All-Ireland final and be thinking, 'Yeah, they're all here to see me!'
"And that can never be replaced."
Tomás: You don't drink. Was that a career-driven decision?
AP: "Do you know I had this thing early in my life . . . I was leaving home when I was 15 and I can remember that one of the reasons Billy Rock sent me to Jim Bolger's wasn't just that he was a brilliant trainer, but that where he's based is pretty remote.
"Like there was an option on me going to somewhere near the Curragh, but he didn't want me out partying. He didn't want me to be led astray or go off the rails. And that made me think that I didn't want to be going home in two or three years, not having made it as a jockey because I was out late at night, partying.
"Like, I kind of broke my mother's heart, leaving home at 15. She said before she died that letting me go was the greatest regret of her life. So I didn't want to have any excuses for not making it as a jockey. And then I have a very addictive personality, I think, and I just didn't want to take the chance.
"I didn't want anything to stop me, basically. And it's never bothered me. I don't need drink."
Tomás: Would you be able to go and socialise with other jockeys though, without it being an issue?
AP: "Do you know what Tomás, you get better at it. I have a few friends . . . Richard Hughes, for example, was champion Flat Jockey three times and is training now, a really good friend of mine. I'm not breaking any confidence because he put this in his book, but there was a lot of madness in Richard.
"But now he hasn't drank in 10 or 12 years and he's a neighbour, just living down the road. But he struggles at night to hang out. He wouldn't really be able to go to a bar and listen to music. Whereas I could stay out till five in the morning, it wouldn't bother me. There's enough madness in me.
"JP has said it to me a number of times, 'It's been tried for everything and works for nothing!' I don't think anyone has ever woken up in the morning, wishing they'd had another drink the night before."
Tomás: Do you miss the friendships of the weigh-room?
AP: "The lads riding today mightn't like me saying this, but there was a greater depth of riders when I started than when I finished. I'm not saying that the young jockeys now aren't any good, there's some exceptional ones.
"But times change. You go into the weigh-room in England and, to start with, you find a place in at the back. But as the years go by, you find yourself gradually coming around until there's only two or three between you and the door. And it ends up your valets are nearly more your mates than anyone else.
"A couple of those lads looked after me like I was their child. They'd bring me tea during racing. They just took pride in what they did. They wanted to look after you."
Tomás: You've always been close to Ruby Walsh, but were there ever any tough moments in the relationship, maybe races where one or other felt they'd been cut across?
AP: "Genuinely, I don't think I had cross words with anyone in the weigh-room over 20 years. But I've seen it a couple of times after a race, where one lad would hit another or someone would try bullying someone else, and I'd lose the plot.
"I stuck a lad to the wall one day at Uttoxeter, because he'd hit someone. Just said to him, 'This job is f**king hard enough without you trying to be a f**king hero!'
"He'd basically hit a lad who was smaller than him, a younger lad. I just heard the scuffle from the other end of the room. Ordinarily, I'd never get involved in something like that, but that day I saw red.
"Because the job is hard enough. I just like people to try and ride fairly. I'm all for making it as difficult as possible for your opponent to beat you, but do it fairly. It's dangerous enough. The only thing I'd be sometimes was jealous of lads riding good horses.
"Because there was a greed there. You wanted to win them all. But the likes of a Ruby or a Richard Johnson, a Richard Dunwoody or a Charlie Swan, they were all brilliant in different ways."
Tomás: What was your most satisfying win?
AP: "Definitely my greatest achievement will always be breaking Gordon Richards' record in 2002. I rode 289 winners that season and 307 in a calendar year. That will always be my greatest achievement, no question.
"Winning the Grand National on Don't Push It was an amazing day, gave me so much fulfilment. The same with winning the Gold Cup on Synchronised.
"But in a way that Gold Cup win was maybe the first time in the 10, or so, years I'd been riding for JP that I actually felt I'd done what I'd been employed to do.
"Even more so than winning the Grand National. That was the first time I thought, 'Yes, this is what JP and Noreen wanted me to do!'
"That was the day I delivered."
Tomás: Talk to me about the connection you have with JP?
AP: "I suppose I have a real friendship there. But even with Martin Pipe now, I've spoken to him a few times during lockdown. I feel lucky that I've had real friendships with the people I've worked with and for. I learned an awful lot about life from these people, about how you conduct yourself and treat others.
"I like JP's company and I'd be very quick to defend him vocally if somebody was having a go, which is something he wouldn't like. But I look at the third-level scholarships he's created . . . he doesn't like you talking about what he's done or what he's given. I saw people complaining on social media about the hundred grand he gave to each county in Ireland. There was no mention of the €64m he's given to a third-level education programme. That bugged the s**t out of me. Do you know what? He has a habit of doing the right thing."