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Guinness, golf and gambling: The day Michael Jordan came to Killarney

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What did Michael Jordan do after The Last Dance? He did what any wealthy American retiree would do. He came to Killarney to play golf and drink Guinness. To find out what the GOAT was really like, Adam Moynihan spoke to the locals who showed him around back in May of 1999.

If, like me, you’ve been gripped by the ‘The Last Dance’, you’re probably wondering what comes next. Now that the fascinating documentary is all over, how do we fill the void?

Well, Michael Jordan was probably wondering the same thing himself after the real Last Dance back in 1998. With his sixth NBA championship secured and the break-up of the Bulls imminent, the game of basketball was about to lose its biggest star for the second (but not the final) time.

A salary dispute between players and owners pushed the beginning of the 1998-99 season out to the New Year so Jordan officially retired on January 13, 1999. Just a few short months later, perhaps to get away from the States during the NBA Playoffs (which, for the first time since 1984, did not feature the Chicago Bulls), Michael and a dozen of his friends landed in Ireland for 10 days of non-stop golf.

Why did he choose our little island? The same reason many American basketballers have arrived on our shores down through the years. The late, great Paudie O’Connor.

GOLF TRIP

Arguably the greatest Irish basketballer of all time and one of Killarney’s most famous sons, Paudie revolutionised the game in this country when he was responsible for bringing the first American professionals to our league in 1979. He subsequently moved to Las Vegas where he set up O’Connor Golf Tourism and when a mutual friend introduced him to Jordan, Paudie, ever the big thinker, jumped at the prospect of bringing one more baller back to his hometown. He suggested that Jordan, an avid golfer, should join him on a trip to Ireland and Scotland.

The biggest athlete on the planet accepted his invitation and on May 18, he and an entourage including his manager, George Koehler, and fellow athletes from the NBA, NFL and MLB arrived in Shannon Airport on a private jet adorned with a large Nike swoosh.

There to greet him on the runway was Killarney man Dennis Carroll, a Kerry Coaches bus driver who would ferry Jordan and co. around the country for the following week and a half.

Dennis remembers the trip well and speaking to the Killarney Advertiser this week he said that, contrary to his portrayal as a disagreeable character in the documentary, he found Jordan to be “perfectly fine”.

“You wouldn’t think that he was the superstar he was,” Dennis says. “He’d salute and he’d engage… He was respectful, courteous and he took care of me. As a group, Jordan and his friends were good fun. They were just like ordinary guys.”

Paudie’s brother Séamie, who caddied for Jordan when he was in Kerry, admits that the six-time NBA Finals MVP “got a bit cranky at certain things”, but overall they got along famously during their time together.

“To me, he was a very fine gentleman,” Séamie recalls. “I couldn’t say a bad word against him.”

FANS

Understandably, Jordan’s arrival in Killarney caused quite a furore.

“The day he played Killarney it was like the Irish Open,” Dennis says. “Young fellas were skipping school left, right and centre to see him. I think there were a few teachers there as well if I’m not mistaken! When they played Ballybunion one of the teachers from a nearby school was a golfer and he got wind of it. He brought his whole class down to see Michael Jordan.

“Everywhere they went there were lots of people. It was kind of being kept quiet but word got out fairly quickly. He didn’t shun the people but he wasn’t going around pressing the flesh and signing autographs. He was here on a private visit and he was given his space. The Irish being the Irish, they were respectful. They weren’t on top of him at all.”

Jordan never asked Séamie to keep fans at arms-length either.

“He didn’t refuse anyone anything and he didn’t tell me to stop anyone coming up to him, but I used to wait for the right moment and give the young lads a wink to say, ‘now is the time’.

“Certainly in Killarney there were a lot of young lads around the place looking for autographs and he did a bit of it in fairness, but he was on holiday. It wasn’t long after The Last Dance in 1998 so he had been under a lot of pressure.”

The group, which included baseball player Vince Coleman and NFL wide receiver Roy Green, stayed in the Aghadoe Heights for three nights and they also got to sample Killarney’s nightlife when they were in town.

“They went into The Crypt nightclub three nights on the trot and they had great fun," Séamie says. "This was a strange country to them but they were very struck by the courtesy of the people and the food and the drink, and life in general.

“Jordan loved the pint of Guinness and the Irish coffee and he used to consume them both at the one time."

"They’d be on the golf cart when was playing and the Irish coffee would be cold and the Guinness would be flat, and he’d drink them away.”

36 HOLES A DAY

The travelling party played an incredible amount of golf during their stay. In fact, their driver reckons they took on 12 courses (some of them twice) in just 10 days.

“Michael was a fanatical golfer – I don’t know how good he was – but 36 holes a day was no problem to him.

“They played Lahinch, Waterville, Tralee, Ballybunion, Killarney, Ring of Kerry, Old Head, Fota, The European Club, Portmarnock twice, Royal County Down twice and the two courses in Portrush. They didn’t do 36 holes every day but a lot of days they did.”

And, as was highlighted in the documentary, it wasn’t just the love of the game that was motivating Jordan on the course.

“They were playing for quite large sums of money,” Séamie says. “I helped him to get up and down on the 18th in Killarney for a four and he gave me a slap across the arse. ‘Great call, Séamie!’ I had saved him some money. He was quite entertaining.”

Dennis also recalls some significant wagers being made on the bus.

“He was fond of the gambling. Between golf courses, they were playing cards. They were pretty heavy gamblers, most of them. They weren’t afraid of it.”

One day, however, a game of cards was interrupted when Jordan and his friends became very much afraid. It seems as though His Airness, ironically enough, wasn't too keen on heights.

“We were going from the Ring of Kerry golf course to Waterville, so we were doing the Ring of Kerry arseways for the want of a better word,” Séamie says. “Going up towards Coomakista there’s quite a large, steep drop – it’s probably 200 feet – on the left-hand-side into the ocean. Michael and the boys were playing cards in the back of the bus when we went around a turn. Next thing we looked around and they were all hiding under the table!

“I asked Jordan about it after and he said he had never seen anything like it."

Dennis, nicknamed The Steerologist by Paudie and Séamie for his abilities behind the wheel, laughs as he retells the story.

“Yeah, they were scared. The small roads and all that. I wasn’t hanging about because I was trying to make the tee time. Michael was afraid of heights, strangely enough for a very tall man.”

When they were finished in Ireland, Jordan and his friends moved on to Scotland for some more golf before flying back to America. In the weeks and months thereafter, the people of Killarney could have been forgiven for thinking that it was all just a dream. Did the biggest sports star of all time really just potter about our quaint little town, play a round of golf in Killeen and drink pints of Guinness in The Crypt?

“It was an amazing experience,” Séamie says. “It was great for the town and great for the golf club.

“Jordan enjoyed this part of the world too. He never realised it would be so quiet, with parts of it uninhabited and the green grass and the cattle and the sheep. He couldn’t understand how these golf courses were built and how they were so good. He got a great reception in Killarney and he loved it.”

And, of course, the mastermind behind it all was Paudie O’Connor. Sure, who else could pull it off?

 

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Athletics legend Gillian impressed by Adeleke and co.

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Eamonn Fitzgerald catches up with Irish race walking legend Gillian O’Sullivan to discuss Ireland’s recent success at the European Athletics Championships

“The nation holds its breath,” said RTÉ commentator George Hamilton during Ireland’s quarter-final penalty shootout with Romania in 1990, and David O’Leary’s historic spot-kick. Those were the glory days of the Charlton era.

Well, the Irish sporting nation held its breath once more last week during the European Athletics Championships and the heroics of Ciara Mageean, Rhasidat Adeleke, Sharlene Mawdsley, Thomas Barr and Chris O’Donnell as they won two gold and two silver, a mighty haul for this small nation.

Who better to speak to on this topic than Killarney’s own Gillian O’Sullivan, herself a silver medallist in the 2003 World Championships in Paris?

The Minish race walker also set the unofficial world record in the 5000m walk in Santry, Dublin in 2002, which was thankfully later ratified by the IAAF. Her record stands. That was a magnificent achievement.

Her silver in Paris was the first time since 1995 that an Irish athlete had won a World Championship medal. She was one of the main contenders for Ireland to win a medal in the Olympics in Athens in 2004 in the 20km walk but suffered an injury to her lower back before the games that prevented her from taking part. She retired in April 2007 after enduring years of injuries.

EF: Gillian, the recent successes of the Irish athletes in Rome must have had you holding your breath.

GOS: It was unbelievable for the Irish athletes right from when Ireland won the gold in the mixed relay and then of course Ciara (Mageean) striking gold and Rhasidat winning silver. It is so difficult to even qualify for the final of the events when you look at the world-class competitors at the European Championships.

It was a huge boost for athletics in Ireland and particularly so for the ladies. What that will do for the current Irish athletes in all sports and for the young children sampling other sports is unbelievable.

Killarney Valley AC are making huge strides in New Road, not just with international stars such as Sarah Leahy, and now Oisín Lynch who is heading off on a scholarship to the USA, but also the many club members, young and not-so-young, who are always progressing to even better PBs. That is how it all started for you above in the Spa field many years ago.

Yes, indeed, I started out in the Spa/Muckross Community Games, and I can thank the support I got from my family and those Community Games volunteers in Spa/Muckross who put so much time and effort into encouraging us to participate and improve to win medals. Not just in Kerry but in the national finals at Butlins in Mosney. Those were great days that I cherish.

We rarely heard of race walking until you hit the headlines. Why this event?

I’m not so sure how I specialised in this event, but it just seemed to suit me better than the sprints or the long distance running. Somehow I got good at it, improved and took it on from there.

When I went on to college (UCC) I continued and was fortunate to get good coaching. Rob Heffernan (now an RTÉ athletics pundit) was also making his mark as a road walker. We were a great help to each other as we were competing in all those big races at that time.

You brought great honour to yourself, your family, Killarney and Ireland by winning the silver medal in Paris in the World Championships.

Yes, it was very special to win any medal competing against the best in the 20k walk. It was so competitive, as all of these races are, and it all came together for me that day. You need a lot of luck, of course; timing your run, following your race plan and delivering at the tape.

That memory lives on in a special way near your home at Minish. Visitors arriving from Cork see that Killarney has a world silver medallist as that roundabout in Lissivigeen is named in your honour. Your close neighbour Mick Gleeson, himself an All-Ireland winner, realised the value of your achievements and secured the naming of the roundabout during his time in political life.

Mick was always very supportive and helpful in every way. He appreciated the value of sport.

That was a high, but just like life itself, there are also lows. In the run-up to the 2004 Olympics in Athens, you were in the form of your life and were pinpointed as a real medal prospect for Ireland, until…

As you said there are highs and lows and in the long-term preparation for the Olympics things were going very well. I trained very strategically to peak for the Olympics, got plenty of rest, ate the right foods at the right times and it was all good until I was struck with an injury.

At first it was a setback but I felt all would be well by the time the Olympics came around. It wasn’t to be, and the injury didn’t clear up. I had to make the tough but inevitable decision to pull out. That was devastating as any sportsperson will tell you, having to withdraw from the day you looked forward to so much. That’s sport.

With the maturity of recollection, you appreciate the good days and the fact that you were healthy enough to participate, even if you didn’t win a medal. Most athletes in a race don’t win a medal.

Generally in the past, the misogynistic trait in too many males meant that praise for female athletes, whenever it was given, was done so with begrudgery. Thankfully, that is changing and continues to change thanks to the recent European Championships, successful world-class athletes like yourself, and Kerry LGFA, to mention but a few.

Attitudes are changing and it’s all for the good. I have great admiration for the Irish ladies soccer team and Kerry LGFA who really impress me with their standard of play. It’s not that many years ago when the Kerry ladies had to fight their corner to get basic facilities for training and travel allowances.

What about the vitriol Rhasidat has had to suffer on social media?

Those faceless begrudgers, those hurlers on the ditch who spill out their negativity and hide from their own realities knowing nothing about sport or its values. Their abuse is despicable.

Now for the hard question, Gillian: what does sport mean to you and why is it valuable in your life?

There are great physical advantages, where you learn to take care of your body and live a healthy lifestyle. There is great rivalry in a race but look at all the friendships you make for life. That was very obvious in the European Championships. Not only were the Irish athletes knitted together as an Irish team, but the TV cameras showed the camaraderie and sheer delight when they won. They were enjoying themselves and were united in sport.

That’s one of the great values of sport and it also prepares you well for life. Sport helps us to face the many challenges and stresses in life that we all encounter at some time or another.

And that feeds in directly into your own business as a personal trainer in Carrigaline. (Gillian is married to Anthony Kelly and they have one son, 12-year-old Tom whose sporting interests are horse riding and swimming). Although your business is not confined to sportspeople alone…

No not at all. In fact, many of my clients are not sportspeople per se. They are ordinary people who want to regulate their lives, take responsibility for preserving it and appreciating it. For some, it’s an exercise plan and to know how to follow that to get fitter and consequently feel better and enjoy life. They want to feel better about themselves. They may be under certain stresses of one kind or another and want to learn coping mechanisms to deal with these.

Women are usually better at getting their health checked regularly which is the correct thing to do. However, more men are taking up that good advice and that is a very good thing for everyone.

Your parents Alice and Pat as well as your siblings Thomas, Michael, Paul and Maria who supported you throughout your magnificent sporting career must be equally proud of your wonderful work promoting health awareness. The Irish phrase says it best: ‘Níl sa saol ach seal, lá thuas lá thíos’ (Life is only a period of time, one day up, one day down.)

And it just dawns on me now, that Gillian O’Sullivan and Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh, two of the best-known Kerry sports stars, have the traditional Irish natural red hair, but it takes more than that colour to reach the top in their respective sports. Mná Chiarraí chun tosaigh arís.

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Kingdom youngsters defeat Dublin outfit to capture Kennedy Shield

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Kerry won their first piece of Kennedy Cup silverware in seven years by defeating the North Dublin Schoolboys/Girls League (NDSL) by two goals to one at the University of Limerick.

After drawing with Tipperary South 3-3 and losing 1-0 to Waterford in heartbreaking fashion in the group stage, the Kingdom entered the shield. Goals by Thomas Keane and Donnacha Vaughan helped them to a 2-1 win over Carlow in the quarter-final, which set up a semi-final tie against Clare.

That clash with their fellow Munster men ended in a 1-1 draw at full-time (Jayden Hurley provided the Kerry goal) and so the match went all the way to penalties. Kerry held their nerve to prevail 6-5 and advance to the final.

Kerry started well against NDSL in the decider and goals via a Lachlann Scannell corner and Darragh Keane gave them a 2-0 lead inside 11 minutes.

The Dubliners pulled one back in the second period but the Kerry lads showed courage, heart and plenty of skill to hang on and capture the coveted shield.

Congratulations to players and management on a fantastic achievement.

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