Joe Brolly

JOE BROLLY: Tweedledum and God

THERE is a five-year old chess sensation nicknamed ‘Tweedledum’ who is currently setting the chess world alight. A video emerged of him last week, playing in a tournament against a seasoned chess master from China.

The child sucks on a piece of lace, yawns and looks all around him as his 50 year old opponent agonises over his next move. As soon as he makes it, the child immediately makes his move then goes back to his wandering mind. After a dozen moves, the older man stares at the board for an eternity before conceding. The child shakes hands, gets up and wanders back to his parents.

The great ones are different. Peter Canavan was born in a manger. Big Tohill was engineered in a laboratory outside Garvagh. Maradona was juggling a tennis ball with his head, shoulders, knees and toes when he was four. Paddy Heaney was on an All-Star tour once and late one night, sitting at the bar, he noticed Colm Cooper absent mindedly doing keepy uppies with an empty beer bottle.

No wonder the newspapers have been looking for Luke Littler’s birth certificate. Sixteen year olds normally look sixteen. This chap would have no bother getting into a night club. No need to ask the older brother for his ID when you looks like the doorman checking the IDs.

Like the naturals, he doesn’t understand the fuss. After all, he scored his first 180 when he was six years old. Like David Clifford or Maradona or the baby Jesus, he was born different. Like them, he has a serenity, a “what’s the big deal” shrug of the shoulders aura that deeply unsettles his opponents. His demeanour reminds me of John Carpenter, an early contestant on the American version of Who Wants To be a Millionaire.

Carpenter cruised through the questions without using a lifeline, until he came to the million dollar one. With excitement in the audience at fever pitch, the host read out the question ( Q. Which of these US presidents appeared on the television series “Laugh In” A. Lyndon Johnson B. Richard Nixon C. Jimmy Carter D. Gerald Ford? ) Carpenter smiled and said, “I’d like to use my lifeline to call my parents right now. My father.” When his father answered, he said, “Hi dad, I don’t really need your help. I just wanted to let you know I’m gonna win the million dollars,” prompting nervous laughter from the audience, then an enormous ovation. Keeping his dad on the line, he continued, cool as a breeze, “because the US president who appeared on ‘Laugh In’ was Richard Nixon, that’s my final answer.” With that, he became the first ever million dollar winner. To be fair though, he was 31 years old at the time. Ancient.

Littler’s mother posted some tweets of the boy happily unwrapping his presents on Christmas morning, reminding us that he is just a child. His diet has already passed into legend. Chips and omelette for breakfast, pizza for lunch, kebab and chips as his post match meal.

When I went to Trinity, I applied for the Halls of Residence in Rathmines and ticked the ‘smoker’ box on the form. I reckoned a smoker would drink and generally be more interesting, even though I have never smoked.

I was training and sleeping – hurling, football, club, county, college. My room mate, now an eminent Kings Counsel, was not. He would drink late, then go to a kebab shop in Rathmines in the early hours, before staggering into our shared bedroom and lighting a bed time fag. After a few weeks, he came in one night, shook me, lit a ciggie and said indignantly, “Here. You’ll never believe what just happened.” I sat up. The owner of the kebab place was a big, curly haired man and when my friend appeared on that night, he was deeply unhappy.

Q. You here again?

A. I suppose

Q. What do you do?

A. I’m a student

Q. Student? How you pay for that?

A. My parents.

Q. Your parents? They know you come in here every night, drunk, and eat this shit?

A. No

Q. Your parents feed you beer and kebab?

A. No

Q. I bet they don’t my friend. Neither will I. Get out. You barred. You never come in here again. I mean it.

With that, the big man ran him out the door and slammed it shut after him. To this day, he has never had another kebab.

To deprive young Luke of his kebabs would be cruel and unusual punishment. He is not one of those angst ridden people like his opponent in the final Luke Humphries, who had years of depression, weight gain, weight loss, stage fright and therapy before finally realising his great potential. He just is. Playstation, telly, half an hour practice a day (boring), friends, a bit of a laugh and turning up at the World Darts to win £200,000 and come within a whisker of winning it altogether.

This is the astonishing thing about Luke. It is the fact he is totally unselfconscious. While mature world champions agonise over every dart, every miss, he just plays, has no concern for the consequences and ignores his opponent entirely. Like Maradona. Like Clifford.

After he was beaten in the final (he missed a double to go 5-2 up which would almost certainly have won it for him) he screwed up his nose for a second, grinned, then enjoyed the adulation of the crowd.

Back stage, when he was asked by a reporter, “How disappointed are you at this moment Luke?” he said, “Give me a break, I’m only sixteen.” Before going back to his hotel room, where his mother made him a nice hot chocolate and tucked him into bed.

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