KIERAN McCARTHY chats to European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington about his Beara background
HE’S not going to bring his European team deep into Beara for a bonding session ahead of the Ryder Cup in September, but Padraig Harrington’s bond with his father’s homeland remains strong.
His father, Paddy, was born and reared in Ardgroom. He was a Beara man. And a West Cork man. They’re incredibly strong genes to have – and they have been passed on to the next generation, including three-time Major winner Padraig who is very aware of his father’s background.
‘I spent nearly all my summer holidays there as a kid. They were great times,’ Harrington told this week’s Star Sport Podcast.
‘We actually used to stay in Lauragh in Kerry and come across the border back into Ardgroom, Eyeries, Castletownbere, all of those places.
‘I don’t get back now as much as I should or would like to. I brought my kids down there around two years ago and it was interesting to see the different perspective as I had a bit of time to take it all in. As a kid it was a big wild adventure, and when you go back down there as an adult you see different things. It’s certainly a fascinating place, especially where my dad was from.
‘You do realise you are out on the wilds of the Atlantic when you are there.’
Harrington still has family in Beara. The farm in Ardgroom where his dad grew up on is still there. Perhaps it’s the ideal spot to whisk the European Ryder Cup team to for a get-together, away from prying eyes, ahead of September’s showdown with the Americans at Whistling Straits in September?
‘We don’t need to be doing any of that Spartan training up mountains and things like that,’ Harrington laughs.
‘It’s a little bit more luxury for the golfers.
‘But you couldn’t beat Castletownbere on a nice summer’s day, and you can’t beat any of the towns or villages down there when the weather is good. The food is awesome. There is a certain calmness to it.’
Even though his father Paddy left Beara for Dublin to work as a Garda, his links to home were always strong. Paddy was a footballer of note, but given he was raised in football country, that’s not a great surprise. He lined out in the half-back line for Cork in the 1956 and ’57 All-Ireland football final defeats and also played in the Railway Cup with Munster. As a kid travelling deep into Beara to visit relatives, Padraig Harrington enjoyed listening to stories of his father’s exploits.
‘My dad was a good footballer but he was very good at all sports,’ Harrington said.
‘I knew about the football, and I played Gaelic as a kid, but I enjoyed hearing the other stories – about athletics and different sports he would have competed in.
‘I think the whole family was very competitive. I don’t think everyone else was happy to see the Harringtons when they turned up! From what I hear, his sisters were pretty good at winning races too.
‘I didn’t know him as a footballer. My older brothers say they saw him play a little. By the time I was seven, eight years of age, it was all about golf, and he was very involved in the golf club.’
There’s a story about Paddy Harrington that might explain why his son grew into one of Ireland’s greatest ever golfers. Padraig is a perfectionist. Always has been and still is. He said before that his father told him: ‘You can’t have perfection but you can seek excellence.’ His father practiced what he preached.
Here’s a story about Paddy Harrington the footballer. He was right-footed, and a very good right-footed footballer. But he suffered an injury to the instep of his right foot and was told to stop playing and let it rest. Instead, he practiced with his weaker left foot. Practice, practice, practice. Soon, he was as comfortable off his left foot as he was off his right. That stood to him as he rose to the top of the football world.
‘I certainly am the perfectionist so maybe that’s where I got it. I always assumed I got it from my mom,’ Harrington said after hearing that story.
‘My dad, as the man I knew, wasn’t that competitive. He never regretted losing those two All-Ireland finals. It wasn’t a burden to him. He could be competitive when he was playing golf but he didn’t carry a burden away from things like that.
‘I know I am a bit of a perfectionist but I don’t know when it comes to my dad and my mom, which one did I get the trait from. My dad seemed quite relaxed about things and had things in good perspective.
‘One of my favourite stories – and I’m going to believe this is true – is that he got to the final of the boxing championships in the Gardaí and he won, but he never boxed again after. He said he hit the other guy so many times but he was a more determined boxer and didn’t go down. He didn’t enjoy the fact that he was winning but the other guy was clearly never going to give up – and he never boxed again after.
‘That’s what I mean about not being competitive. If I won, I’d keep going.’
A shared passion was golf. Paddy – who passed away in 2005, aged just 72, after a battle with cancer – loved the game, too. He was a founding member of the golf club at Stackstown in Dublin. That was the playground for the future Major winner, and it was the start of his golfing journey, but given his Beara genes there’s a footballer in Padraig, too. He played with Ballyboden St Enda’s and as a 17-year-old he captained his school, Coláiste Eanna, to a Dublin senior colleges final at Croke Park.
‘I was a full back, not a half back like my dad, I never had the engine that he had,’ Padraig explained.
‘I marked Dessie Farrell that day (in Croke Park), he ran rings around me – and that’s the day I played in the half-back line.
‘They moved me from full back out to centre back to mark Dessie and it was the stupidest mistake ever! I was a full back and instead of weakening my play, we should have left the centre back on him and brought a corner forward back to mark him as well – that’s what they might do in the modern game..
‘My old coach in golf, Bob Torrance, says that you never weaken your strengths to strengthen your weakness. You have always got to keep your strengths strong. Even if you are trying to improve something that is weak, don’t weaken what has got your there in the first place.’
They are words of wisdom that Harrington adheres to and will pass on to his team ahead of September’s golfing spectacular. All going well, Harrington will land home with the Ryder Cup and surely a trip back to Ardgroom and Beara will be on the cards then, back to where it all started.