A friend invited me to a sports award dinner in the Burlington Hotel last night. A black tie affair attended by a large number of mostly male business folk and a good smattering of our leading sports figures - past and present. We had Deirdre Ryan the long jumper at our table - a graceful and charming woman who would do credit to a catwalk. Rugby was well in evidence with Paul O'Connell and Gordon D'Arcy representing the present and the likes of Michael Gibson, Jack Kyle, and Ray McLoughlin reminding us of the past. The newly minted pundit Alan Quinlan was looking fit and well - and attracting a lot of admirers - mostly male. Eamon Coughlan and Ronnie Delaney were also there and lots of old boxers and GAA stars. Giovanni Trappatoni was at the next table being closely supervised by the oleaginous John Delaney. And I had Bill Cullen and his Apprentice team at the table behind me - like a mafia don with his attendants.
I tried to avoid bothering anyone who didn't fall into my immediate orbit but I must confess I did make a special effort to say hello to the great Jack Kyle. It's hard to believe this small spry personable man is actually 85. He could not have been friendlier and we spoke for around 30 minutes about all manner of things. When I made some reference to my interest in art he launched into an anecdote about a Dan O'Neill painting that he once owned. He had it hanging in his house in Zambia for years and when the frame fell apart he brought it into a local framer to get fixed. While in there it was spotted by a British art dealer and he was offered £30,000 for it. He took the money but you felt he still regretted it. He then got talking about Oscar Wilde and lamenting the fact that two such great Irishmen as Wilde and Sir Edward Carson should end up on opposite sides in a court room. He launched into a word perfect rendition of a substantial chunk of the The Ballad of Reading Gaol: "for each man kills the thing he loves ...". He went on to heap praise on De Profoundis and bemoan the sad fate suffered by Wilde.
As we were saying goodbye he confided in me that he was delighted to get an opportunity to talk about something other than rugby and promised we'd discuss Yeats the next time we met. I had to go and spoil things then by asking him which of his two great scrum half partners he preferred to play with, John O'Meara or Andy Mulligan. His answer was masterfully diplomatic. He maintained that O'Meara had the quicker pass and so gave him more time do things. Mulligan on the other hand took pressure off him by making regular breaks and kicking more. He seemed fond of both of them telling me that he had visited O'Meara last year shortly before he died, and recounting an anecdote about when Mulligan applied for a job and was asked what religion he was. His response was "what religion do you want me to be?". As I headed home he was still there going strong in the middle of an admiring throng. A true gentleman.