A Quick 18 with Eoin Hand
Eoin Hand

Eoin Hand

Eoin Hand's footballing adventures took him from Drumcondra to Portsmouth, the Republic of Ireland hot seat and then to South Africa. Now living in Kerry, where he's a member at Ballybunion, it's no surprise that Portuguese referee Raul Nazaré doesn't make his dream fourball.

  • Handicap: 15
  • Club: Ballybunion Golf Club

1 How's your golf?

Well, I need to get my putting sorted out, that’s for sure. I am not a fanatic. I play for fun and to meet people. I don’t want to play with people who get angry over a bad shot. For me, it’s about the company and enjoying the game.

2 It must be a treat when your home club is Ballybunion?

I live about 16 miles from Ballybunion, and it’s just fantastic. They’ve just re-opened the Old Course to visitors for the season, and it’s magnificent. And to be honest, the Cashen Course would be very highly ranked too if it were a stand-alone course.

3 How did you get started in the game? 

I started playing when I was 17. It was 1968, and I remember John Givens, Don’s brother, brought me down to Lahinch. I was trying to stay fit for Drumcondra’s game with Manchester United. It was going to be their first game after they had beaten Benfica to win the European Cup at Wembley. So John said, come on, we’ve done some training, let’s go down and have a game of golf.

4 How did it go?

As it happened, the South of Ireland final was on the day we went down, but John knew the starter, and he said, if we went off straight away, we’d be grand because final wasn’t for an hour. [J D Smyth, Lahinch bt G A Young, Kilrush 3/2]. 

We went to the tee, and out of nowhere, a crowd started to gather. I wasn't keen for an audience, but John was loving it and hit a screamer down the middle. I hit about a foot behind it and the ball just dribbled off the tee. They quickly knew I wasn’t one of the finalists! 

5 You signed for Portsmouth later that year. Did you play much golf there?

It was taboo from Wednesday onwards as you got nearer the game. But they had golf most Mondays. I played a lot at Waterlooville. My lowest handicap was 11.

6 You’re 71 now. Do you still have lofty golfing goals?

I’m happy just to be playing off 15. That’s tough enough to do at Ballybunion. It’s just a fantastic club. On a nice day, it is just heaven with the mountains on one side and the sea on the other. So I play as much as I can. 

7 Are you competitive?

I like good company. But I don’t bother entering competitions. I find that when you are committed to a tee-time in a competition, you are also committed to the weather. And I’m sorry, but I am at an age when I don’t want to get lashed on. 

8 What about the football scene? Do you keep in touch?

I'm glued to what the Irish team does, but I've gone off watching the Premiership to be quite honest. I'm fed up with the diving and the simulation of injuries. And it's become very boring, this possession football. It doesn't do anything for me. Gaelic football has become the same with the hand pass.

9 Football has certainly changed. What attracts you to golf?

Golf is a great name for integrity and honesty. If you cheat at golf, you will cheat at anything.

10 They say you can tell a lot about a person's character just by playing golf with them.

That's absolutely true. I've always said that to my sons. Have a game of golf with a guy, and you will know what kind of guy he is. There are guys who think you can't see them marking the ball three inches nearer the hole! I think that's hilarious.

11 Name your favourite course?

I played in South Africa quite a lot but for me, Ballybunion is the nicest course in Ireland. And I've got a special affection for the people at Hollystown, where I played a lot with John Giles and Oliver Brady. We've  had some great craic with the musicians. It's a lovely parkland.

12 What's your favourite hole?

I love the 11th on the Old Course at Ballybunion. That second shot between two dunes to that postage stamp sized green — it's just a great hole.

13 Name your dream fourball.

I'd love to play a game with Ernie Els. I've always been fascinated that he can hit the ball so far and yet appear to swing the club so easy. And I'd love to have met the likes of Muhammad Ali. And John Giles was always a great golfer and great company. He'd make you raise your game, no doubt.

14 Who did you look up to you were starting in your own game?

John Giles would be right up there. I've always had the utmost respect for John, under his management both for Ireland and Shamrock Rovers. He was Stella Maris and so was I and I remember I was 13 when John was about to make his debut for Ireland against Sweden in 1959. Three days before the game, he was at Dalymount with Noel Dwyer, our keeper at the time. They let me kick around with them and take penalties. It was a lovely gesture towards a kid. 
Then John scored a special goal in that game in a 3-2 win. 

15 If I gave you a mulligan in your football career, what would it be?

That World Cup qualifier away to Belgium for Spain '82. We had a  very good team and it was taken away from us by a referee who has since proven to have taken bribes. We had a perfectly good goal disallowed and they were given a dodgy free near the end which they subsequently scored from. An honest referee in that game and who knows. Referees make mistakes but this was blatant.  The guy had a reputation for it. That and the opportunity to play First Division football as well. When I was at the height of my career, I heard Newcastle had come in for me but Portsmouth said the price wasn't right. That would have been a lovely thing.

16 The football team has since had its glory days. Do you get a kick from Ireland's golfing success?

I do very much so. I know Padraig Harrington, and I remember a few years ago he reminded me he played for Rangers in Terenure when my son was playing with them. He said: 'We loved you picking us up for training because you had a big Merc.' It's ironic, I said, because I was driving an old banger and he had his private jet.

17 Small world.

He asked after my son Gary, who's a now a captain with British Airways.  When I mentioned Padraig asking for him, he said 'Padraig who? Oh Jesus, Paddy! Paddy Harrington.' That's what they called him back then.

18 What do you miss most about football back in the day?

There isn't the interaction with genuine supporters any more. Football has lost a lot of the intimacy that we had — the intimacy John Giles showed me when I was 13. The players are mollycoddled now. Of course, there was totally amateurish approach back in the day, as highlighted by Roy Keane in Saipan, and rightly so. 

This feature first appeared in the Irish Independent's weekly Tee to Green golf supplement on 31 May 2017