James Corrigan: Paddy prints money for pub regulars

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Any fear – or, indeed, hope – that the credit crunch might bring a more restrained air to the Cheltenham betting ring was eliminated in spectacular fashion here yesterday when Forpadydeplasterer won the Irish Independent Arkle Chase and his owners proceeded to turn Prestbury Park into Roker Park.

In fact, as the 20-strong revellers decked in their red and white scarves broke off from a rather repetitive chant of "Here we go" to collect their winnings, the only discernible tightening of belts was being undertaken by bookmakers trying to secure their rapidly emptying satchels. Mervyn King would have been proud of their quantitative easing.

"Our Taoiseach has talked about our Government having a €2bn deficit," said Charlie Chawke as his 8-1 hero took the plaudits with a snort and a wheeze. "Well, you can tell him we'll be bringing that home with us."

As head of the The Goat syndicate and owner of the Dublin pub which gave the syndicate its name, Chawke could obviously afford to laugh on a few counts. But there is more to the story of this man of Limerick than the simple feelgood factor of a landlord persuading his regulars to invest in his dream and a euphoric reality arising from those slops; not least because Chawke owns a chain of pubs and, as a part-owner, has invested millions in his beloved Sunderland FC. Hence the scarves, hence the look that was part Bay City Rollers, part The Pogues.

But there is more. Six years ago, Chawke was set upon by two burglars with shotguns. Wisely, he handed over the pub's takings – €48,000 – but was still shot in the right leg. He lost the limb, but in his own words "retained every other bit of my life".

And then there is the connection with Bertie Ahern, the former Taoiseach, who famously had to explain to a tribunal the cash "dig-outs" he received from friends during his days as finance minister. Chawke testified that he had lent Ahern cash and the name of the horse comes from one of the characters in Ahern's circle. There were two Paddy Reillys mentioned by Bertie and for the avoidance of confusion, he referred to one as Paddy The Plasterer. When the boys in the bar buckled, the name inevitably fitted.

"There are 20 in The Goat syndicate," said Chawke. "Ten are really mad guys and call themselves the Piano Gang. They get barred from the pub every weekend and reinstated every Monday."

Last night a few Cheltenham hostelries were just bound to have their patience tested. In truth, they would have it no other way. Relieved to have the ruction, fulfilled with all those euro, the collective apprehension of a "flat" Festival was very much apparent when the legendary Cheltenham roar that traditionally welcomes the start of the first race amounted to a comparative squeak. It was left to Charlie and the Piano Gang to kickstart the party. Cheltenham had begun. What financial crisis?