Sunday 21 January 2018

Colm O'Rourke: I admire AP McCoy

AP McCoy
AP McCoy
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Often great sportsmen have to die before their great feats are recognised. It is particularly true in the GAA where there is an almighty rush to buy some type of cup and name it after a fallen hero. The same applies to calling streets and parks after someone as soon as they turn their toes up. Why wait for the Grim Reaper?

At least in horse racing there is AP McCoy. Since he announced his intention to retire at the end of this month he has been partaking in an extended lap of honour. He is a bit like a marathon winner who goes for a jog back over the whole course so the public can show their affection. In McCoy's case the genuine warmth does seem to have taken him by surprise and every racecourse has milked it, the last chance to see the great one has put bums on seats. In 1971 Stan Mellor was the first jump jockey to ride 1,000 winners. It seemed like a superhuman feat at the time and it was. Others readily passed that mark but along came McCoy and he changed things in this sport forever. When Mountain Tunes became his 4,000th winner in November 2013 the remarkable story of win, win, win continued for this uniquely driven rider.

After riding his 200th winner this season he announced his intention to retire from a sport where grave and mortal danger is the order of the day. And some call it sport.

To my mind, cyclists and jump jockeys are the bravest of men. The jockeys pay a particularly heavy price and McCoy has all the war wounds. Getting out in one piece, relatively speaking, is what everyone wanted to see.

It was also on a nice even number as this is his 20th season in a row to be crowned champion jockey. In a game which can literally destroy the body, his winners' total is unlikely to be broken - he nearly has 2,000 in hand on the next in line, such has been his domination.

Richard Johnson will probably be glad to see the back of him, he can be champion now after a continuous run of silver medals. A bit like when the great horse Eclipse won a race and the report was, 'Eclipse first, the rest nowhere'. So it was with McCoy for 20 years.

Over those years he drove himself relentlessly onwards, a chance of a winner in the most minor of British racecourses was worth hours of driving and pounds of sweating. The face showed it all. When journalist Jack Leach remarked that Lester Piggott had a face like a well kept grave, he could just as easily have been talking about AP McCoy. Lester had a cigar and coffee for the day, McCoy's daily diet for many years would not feed a child, but he still mastered some great brutes of horses and bent them to his will.

In the process he has ridden in over 20,000 races and fallen off more than 1,000 times. His only consideration after the most damaging of falls was when he could ride again.

Genius, madness, brilliance. We are unlikely to see anything even near comparable again. A sportsman for 500 years, never mind 50.

Sunday Independent

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