Harrington reveals Open scare

By Brian Keogh

Dublin great Dessie Farrell played a major role in Padraig Harrington's Open triumph - by ending his GAA career.

The former All Ireland winning skipper revealed he left Harrington flat on his back in Croke Park and nursing a wrist injury that finished him as a gaelic footballer.

Harrington went on to concentrate on golf, lifting the Claret Jug at Carnoustie on Sunday.

And the Dubliner, who revealed that a neck injury threatened to wreck his Open hopes last week, is grateful to this day.

Harrington beamed: "Dessie finished my football career, that's a fact. It was a schools final in Croke Park when we were 16. I was captain of Colaiste Eanna and Dessie was with St. Vincents CBS.

"We lost and it was the last game of football I ever played. I was normally full back, I was a little bit stout and not the fittest footballer in the world.

"Dessie was their best player, so I was moved out to centre back to mark him. I scored two points, but he turned me and, in trying to get back to him, I went down on my left wrist - and, on and off, I've had problems with it ever since."

GPA Chief Executive Farrell still has the video of their mid-80s schools clash and remembers Harrington as a tough, uncompromising player who wasn't afraid to make his presence felt.

Farrell said: "He was one of their best players and I remember being told he was one of the guys to watch that day. He wasn't afraid to get stuck in."

But Harrington jumped in, insisting: "Don't be telling those stories now. I had a little corner back who handled all those things for me."

Still beaming after his first major victory, Harrington hardly let go of the Claret Jug as he helped launch Setanta College, which offers distance learning courses for coaches and is the brainchild of his fitness guru Dr Liam Hennessy.

Hennessy has helped Harrington take a scientific approach to his fitness regime and make him one of the best players in the world.

But Harrington also had words of praise for his Aussie physio Dale Richardson, who came to the rescue when a neck injury threatened to end his Open before it began.

Pointing to the Claret Jug, Harrington said: "Dale Richardson played a huge role in me winning this. If he wasn't there I would have had treatment anyway, but he knows the injury and he knew exactly what had to be done to get me right.

"If I had got this injury three years ago I wouldn't have played. It would have spasmed and there would have been a chain reaction.

"On the Sunday night before the Open started, I woke up and I said to myself, if it keeps up like this I will struggle to play tomorrow.

"I spent Sunday night propped up on pillows so I wouldn't stretch my neck in the wrong direction and I didn't play on Monday because of it.

"On Tuesday it was a big distraction and it was a problem from Wednesday on and into the tournament because it changes your whole perception of looking and aiming.

"If I want to look at the hole when I am putting or lining up, I will just turn my head to the left. But with a neck injury you have to turn your entire torso towards the target to see where you are aiming."

More a hurling than a football fan, Harrington plans to take in Saturday's All Ireland quarter-finals before heading to the US for a seven-week stretch on Sunday.

The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational is first up, followed by the US PGA at Southern Hills in Tusla, Oklahoma.

After that he plans to play at least three of the four FedEx Cup play-off events and bid for the $10 million winner's jackpot before heading home for the Seve Trophy at The Heritage in Laois from September 27-30.

Determined to enjoy his Open victory as much as he can before getting back to action, he hasn't touched a golf club since Sunday.

And that's all thanks Hennessy, who has taught him how to listen to his body and get the most out of his training.

Harrington said: "I don't want to cut back in terms of the mental high of winning, but I know I have to get the body back to normality soon.

"I'm only going to win the Open for the first time once, so I'm going to enjoy this. My preparation for Ohio next week will be mimimal.

"At the end of the day, that's the way it's going to be; I'm going to enjoy this week, so obviously I'm not expecting to be all that sharp for the Bridgestone.

"I haven't picked up a club since Carnoustie and I don't feel like picking up a golf club,which is a huge part of what I work at with Liam.

"I'm long enough around now to realise that I don't always have to have a club in my hand. If I don't feel like picking up a club, then I don't have to.

"I have the experience to know that if I don't feel like swinging a golf club, it very probably means that I'm just too tired and that I need to relax.

"Liam has given me over the years; he's given me the confidence to read my own body and to be able to read and understand how I feel and not to be unsure.

"We're all brought up with the thought that the harder you work, the better it is, but there is more than just fitness and coaching ... you've got to work smarter, not just hard."

"My dad always told a story about one of the All-Ireland football finals he played in with Cork. I don't know if it was the 1956 one or the 1957 one (they lost both).

"But the day before the final they went out for their last training session and put in the hardest session they could - and they left everything on the training pitch.

"This is what these guys, Liam and Jim Kilty are about; not about training harder but about training smarter."

Setanta College will offer accredited sports and coaching study programmes through distance learning and the internet in partnership with Energise Sport, Tipperary Institute, the GPA and professional rugby player bodies.

Headed Hennessy and coach Jim Kilty, the college's first course will be a Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) Level 6 Award in Physical Fitness and Conditioning. Details are available on www.setantacollege.com.