“CAN I call you back? I’m just in the middle of another interview with RTÉ.”
It wasn’t easy to get amateur rider Aileen O’Sullivan on the phone yesterday as she was still coming to terms with the public and media reaction to her first racecourse success at Clonmel on Thursday.
The 29-year-old’s expression of joy and emotion on passing the post in front aboard American Image, and in a subsequent interview on Racing TV, was a badly needed feelgood story for the country and it was picked up by national newspapers and the RTÉ main evening news bulletin.
From Walterstown in Co Meath and an employee of AIB Bank, Aileen and her partner Neil Gault have their own horses and also help Co Antrim trainer Michael Millar, who provided her with this week’s winner. Aileen has ridden eight winners in point-to-points and shared the lady riders’ title in 2016 but she has been dogged with injuries in recent seasons.
Aileen spoke to The Irish Field yesterday about the reaction to her win. “The only word I can think of is phenomenal. I have been getting messages 24/7, they are flooding in and I have been unable to respond to any of them yet but I am very grateful to everyone for their good wishes, not just for me, but for Neil, Michael and the wee horse who is the real star.”
It was on the drive home from the races that Aileen began to realise the impact she had made. “One of my friends sent me a message to say ‘OMG – you are on the news!’ I couldn’t believe it. It all went a bit mad from there.”
Aileen’s office is in Swords, Co Dublin, and she was met there on Friday morning with flowers and a round of applause from her colleagues. “The head of AIB got in touch, an email about me was sent around to everyone, and then RTÉ popped in to interview me. I am overwhelmed by it all.”
Asked to explain why she was so overjoyed at winning, she explained: “It’s been two years since I had my last point-to-point winner and I have had a lot of injuries, including breaking my back and my shoulder. It was so hard to get back to fitness. Two steps forward and one step back.
“There were races I felt I should have won but it just wasn’t happening for me. In one race I was beaten by a nose and I was kicking myself. That’s why I was so emotional. It meant absolutely everything to me. All the hard work, not just by me, but by Michael, Neil and the horse. It all just went right on the day.”
A positive mental attitude is a big help, she believes. “My thing is that you have to deal with the situation that’s in front of you. We all have bad days, especially at the moment, but I always try to maintain a positive attitude and outlook on life.”