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Lest We Forget

by Padraig Parkinson |  Published: Sep 19, '22


The covid lockdown didn’t do us any favors. I lost two good American friends for life who were legends of the game: poker ambassador Mike Sexton and John “Scof” Sheffield of WSOP Binions fame. I had so much fun with these guys over a few decades. Vegas won’t be the same. That’s for sure. Next time around, I’m only going to have friends that are way younger than me. On the plus side, Mary and I and a few friends visited Vegas a few years ago to visit Scof and Fiona when we heard he was in bad shape. We were of course joined by Mike and had a memorable evening laughing at stories of Vegas from the best.

We couldn’t attend Mike’s funeral, but I had the honor of appearing on Matt Savage’s Mike tribute. Matt was fantastic, especially as several contributors had had a glass or two and went on a bit. I know Mike would have had a good laugh at that! I was talking to Jesse May who, like me, was waiting patiently to do his bit. He was concerned that his turn would come when he was dropping his six years old son to school. I told him not to worry. That the way things were going, his son would probably be in college before he got called upon!

Mike wasn’t the only huge star we lost in the last couple of years. I was shocked to hear my former 888 teammate, Australia’s favorite son, Shane Warne had died suddenly while on holidays in Thailand with a group of friends which included our mate Gareth Edwards, former 888 boss. Warney was in a class of his own. He may have been Australia’s heartbeat, but his charisma and personality made him much loved everywhere the game of cricket was played. I had some hilarious times with him at the televised 888 UK Opens and, of course, at the WSOP. But Keith Hawkins nailed it better than I ever could when Warney was surrounded by cameras as he played the WSOP Main Event. Some Americans asked who the was. Keith said he was cricket’s Michael Jordan. He sure was. RIP mate.

Ireland didn’t come out of covid too well either. We lost one of Ireland’s most popular players ever when Leslie McLean left us. I knew Leslie from the Jackpot days in the 80s. Even then, he looked like a kid in a sweetshop. He always had that wonderful smile on his face, which helped to make him the successful salesman he was. He absolutely loved the thrill of playing the game he loved. They say he was a great loser but a bad winner, though I didn’t see him win often enough to have an opinion on that. He once made a complete idiot out of me in the early 90s. I won the Griffen’s flagship weekly tournament three weeks in a row. I said in the pub that it was unlikely to happen again as the lineup was always pretty tough. Three weeks later, it happened again. It wasn’t done by any of the up and coming Irish lads who were to punch above their weight internationally over the next decade or so. Nope! It was Leslie. It was regarded as about as big a shock as a rocking horse winning back to back Grand Nationals. To be fair, it was as popular as it was unlikely and an absolute joy to watch. At his streamed funeral Leslie’s grandson Stephen did him proud. In his eulogy he said his grandad was certain there was no afterlife. That this was it, so we’d better make the best of it. He sure did!

A few months ago, I joined poker legend Colette Doherty, Scott Gray, Peter Mabasha and half the Ivory clan at a celebration of the life of PLO player Neil Duggan who left us way too soon during covid. His partner, the lovely Sandy, and family were unable to give him the send-off they wanted to at the time, but sixteen months after his death they put that right with a lovely afternoon of food, drink, music and laughter and stories of the wisdom, kindness and humor of the man they missed so much told with great pride. I didn’t know Neil as well as the other poker people did, as I was in Paris for decades, but I did spend several nights a week sitting beside him in the Fitz game for its last couple of years in business. Neil always spoke very softly, so seated beside him I heard some of what he had to say whilst most of the table didn’t, and that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing!

We also got to witness another grandchild deliver a great eulogy when Natalia Furlong stepped up to pay tribute to her much loved grandad Noel in a streamed funeral service. To say Noel was my nemesis is a bit of an understatement. He rivered me for the Irish Open in the early nineties. I had just about gotten over that, when in 1999 he knocked me out in third place at the WSOP main event. Some didn’t give Noel credit for his achievement, but they maybe weren’t aware that he had previously been at the final of the main event and had won two Irish Opens. He certainly had his own way of doing things and what’s wrong with that? Noel didn’t play a lot of poker. He was a highly successful businessman and also liked a punt or two on the horses, the most famous of which was when his own horse Destriero won the 1991 Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham. I got to hear that story and a hundred others about his life when we visited Foxwoods for a WPT event for a week. Heads up, he was hugely entertaining and certainly didn’t have to make up stories! 

Noel frequently had tournament last longer bets with another veteran of the Eccentric’s Club, Frank Cruess Callaghan. Frank was favorite in that one though Noel was more likely to actually win the tournament. In the game of life, Frank lived a little longer than Noel but he also left us quite recently. Frank was a success in business, a lucky racehorse owner and loved his poker. He was also fond of the odd pint, especially in Hartigans. Frank played a huge part in the history of Irish poker. In the mid-nineties The Irish Open, which was where it all started in Europe, died. Frank was disgusted that, when poker was becoming hugely popular elsewhere, we didn’t have our own signature event. Frank thought this ridiculous and invited Don O’Dea, George McKeever and I to join him for dinner in Paris to discuss the problem. It wasn’t hard to get the lads behind a plan to revive the event and we quickly got lads like Scott Gray, Frank McGuigan and a host of players onside. The rest is history. Thank you Frank. When Frank retired he and the lovely Evelyn bought an apartment in Paris not far from where Veronique and I were living. Frank employed Vero as a part time French teacher which was odd as he was already taking classes. We then discovered he really wanted to make sure his homework was done well enough to impress his teacher and classmates. Typical! The last time I saw Frank was in The Fitz, a few months before it closed for their iconic Last Thursday of The Month event (a tournament which is now played in The Sporting Emporium and great craic.) I remarked to Colette that he didn’t look well enough to play for eight or nine hours, let alone win. He did and he did. I should keep my mouth shut more often. RIP Frank.

More recently again we lost Harold Huberman. Harold played on the club scene in Irish poker for decades and epitomized all that is special about Irish Poker. He truly loved the game and the characters who play it. But most of all, he loved the craic. He was a master of quick wit, irony and sarcasm and whether it was The Fitz, The Merrion or the Sporting Emporium he was playing in, he made the world a happier place. In the nineties, I christened him Harold the fifth because that was his most likely finishing position. Too tight to win and too tight to lose. He liked it! But I’m sorry. Harold the first is probably more appropriate.

Padraig is currently involved with Jesse May in hosting Irish Pub Poker Tours for medium-sized corporate groups. For info you can contact him on Twitter @padraigpoker.

Any views or opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the ownership or management of
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