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Dublin: 15 °C Monday 13 July, 2020

Davy Russell pays poignant tribute to former Cork footballer Kieran O'Connor after Grand National win

Moments after achieving another Grand National success on Tiger Roll, Davy Russell dedicated his win to his East Cork neighbour.

JOCKEY DAVY RUSSELL has dedicated his second successive Grand National victory aboard Tiger Roll to former Cork footballer Kieran O’Connor.

With the world watching after he guided the Gordon Elliott-trained Aintree great to a slice of history — in victory, Tiger Roll became the first horse since Red Rum in 1974 to claim back-to-back Nationals — Russell was interviewed by ITV and expressed his gratitude towards Elliott, the O’Leary family, and his own family back home.

Kieran O'Connor and Tadhg Kennelly Former Cork footballer Kieran O'Connor takes on Kerry's Tadhg Kennelly during the 2009 Munster Senior Football Championship semi-final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

As the interview seemed about ready to wrap up, however, the 39-year-old East Cork man reached out towards the microphone once more and paid a moving tribute to former Cork footballer O’Connor, who is currently battling Ewing’s Sarcoma — a type of cancer that forms in the bones or soft tissue.

O’Connor’s illness came to national prominence in March when former Cork captain Graham Canty wrote of his friend and team-mate in Irish Examiner, shedding light on the ‘Friends of Kieran’ fundraising page which has since seen €315,000 raised towards O’Connor’s treatment.

Russell, who is the same age as O’Connor and a native of Youghal, about half an hour’s drive from Aghada, told ITV and the world of the All-Ireland-winning Rebel:

“There’s a guy at home, Kieran — Kieran O’Connor from Aghada, and he’s going through an enormous battle of his life. And just to let him know that we’re thinking of him.

“He played football to Cork and he gave his life to sport. He’s a real fan of mine.

“This one’s for Kieran.”

Russell was rendered almost speechless in the minutes following his and Tiger Roll’s historic achievement, breathlessly describing the victory.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “Ah, Jaysus, I can’t… I don’t know.

“At my age, now, to be after winning two Grand Nationals…

“I must say hello to Finn and Lily as well,” he added, referring to his two children — aged three and four respectively. “Finn thinks he owns Tiger Roll, so… He’s at home now. And Edelle [wife] at home…

“Dad came over this year.

“I don’t know… He’s one hell of a horse.

“The O’Learys have been so good to me throughout my career, and Gordon [Elliott]. Ah, what can I say?”

Tiger Roll’s owner, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary, deflected all praise onto the horse, trainer and jockey.

“We haven’t made history. Tiger Roll, Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell have made history,” he said. “We’re just happy participants.

It’s incredible. I thought he had no chance today. The history says you don’t win two in a row. And what a horse — he keeps coming out, he keeps winning, and he keeps apparently improving. I can’t believe it — I’m floating on air, here. It’s brilliant.

Trainer Elliott added:

“This is unbelievable. We’ve worked so hard for this the whole time, and I’ve got a brilliant team behind me: my family, all at home.

Davy Russell’s mother died last year, and this is for her today. My uncle, Willy Elliott, died this year — I wouldn’t be in the horses only for him. This is for him today.

You can donate to the ‘Friends of Kieran’ GoFundMe page here.

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