Sunday in February

It’s the first morning after the night before of the second month of the thirty eighth year and it must be said that I’m getting the hang of this. Granted, excess was imbibed yesterday evening in the course of watching two games. A splurge of nonsensical tweets were made and subsequently deleted. Some chicken goujons were devoured. Ireland lost to England. Dublin beat Galway. The merlot flowed. There was snow on the hills when I made it to bed. And it was still there when I got up early to shake off the afters and duck egg myself before the gym. Sunday mornings are great in their lazy uncomplicated way and this morning was no exception. Except for that rotten feeling whenever the thought hit that Ireland were beaten by England. Or that Eddie Jones’s win led me to Tweet like an eejit. Or that maybe it was just my own greedy thirst that led to the latter. Any which way, the bottom line is that every now and then, there’s a pang of pain-guilt, guilty-pain, who knows what. It’ll pass.

It’ll pass until Sunday afternoon when the gym is under the belt and a few hours of work in the library have been banked. I’ve earned the right to listen to the Cavan game and so the buds in my ears are keeping me happy. They lead Kerry by 4 points. Come on Cavan! Dublin are sailing past Offaly in the hurling. This is the day that can overturn yesterday. Stone cold sporting with no inclination to Tweet like a fool: a clear win-win. It’s turning out to be a great day.

But you can never rule out the Kingdom, can you? Of course, point borrows point and Cavan shy away from scoring. It levels. Kerry go ahead. The focal that came to mind is quite like the Irish for word. And with a few points to spare, Kerry wave goodbye to the Breffni boys who have tossed away their chances two weeks on the trot. The sadist in me flicks on Twitter to catch comments of the game. But neither Cavan’s loss nor Carlow’s superb draw against Galway come to the fore.

It has started again… Yes, hard to believe but it has… “This is our year” was high and low and everywhere in between: viral/trending/sponsored ads, whatever you’re having yourself. The men from the west pulled out of Healy Park with heads and hopes high. The Mayo mantra dusted off once more. “This is our year,” they cry.

That focal came to mind again.

The Rocky Road from Limerick

A mile the far side of Johnstown, they slowed down to pass a spillage. The rainbow colours of an oil slick spread across the dual carriageway: an arc of colour to welcome the visitors. The paths along Dame Street would say goodbye in all shades of kebab come teatime.  The inbound traffic was a stream of green as fathers and sons and sons of sons all packed hopeful into cars made the last leg of their journey. Skodas and Saabs and Nissan Qashqais ferried Limerick people towards the capital. They had waited 45 years for the day. They were rightfully, high as kites.

Pajo Hayes sat in the front of his daughter’s Avensis and sang Where the River Shannon flows for the third time. He’d sang it on loop since the far side of Newbridge and still managed to hold every note. His son sat behind him, his knee hopping in tune, willing away all traces of a hangover and cursing the black pudding that was repeating. The whole of Limerick had been in Nancy’s till all hours. It was like a Heineken Cup Final. And sure why wouldn’t they? 45 years is a fair bit of thirst.

‘Anyone got any Rennies?’ Pa Junior asked.

‘Sure a pint’ll set you right soon,’ came the father’s wisdom. He was never one for the tablets himself.

‘It’s the black stuff has me this way’.

‘It is aye,’ quipped his father ‘that pudding on your breakfast roll.’

The three laughed then hired up an interview with Eamonn Rea on the radio. A car hooted, they hooted back. It looked like the Clancys from Dooradoyle. Rea spoke of the last time they’d hoisted Liam McCarthy and of the fond memories he had of that day. He told of how that win was one of the most treasured memories in his family. Pajo nodded regularly at everything he said. Pa Junior suppressed a belch and felt tears well up in his eyes. His sister drove on, hairs standing on her arms, afraid to say out loud that today could be the day.

It didn’t matter that the Mater Hospital car park charged an arm and a leg for the parking, that was the closest they’d get to Croke Park and with Pajo’s hip the way it was, Mary was happy to pay the premium. In with them to The Big Tree for a few. Then a few more. Then one or two for the road. And it may have been the Guinness, or it may have been the wait, but that walk up Jones’s Road was something else. Big occasions are big occasions, but whatever was in the air, Pa Junior felt it right to link his father from they turned at Gills till they got to the turnstile. Pajo looked up to the tangle of bars that reach into the sky from the stadium and the pride glowed on his face. He nodded and his son nodded and they smiled with tears in their eyes.

‘We’re going to do it,’ they said in unison.

‘We are,’ said Mary, who was a step behind them.

And into Croke Park they went, and the rest is history.

 

 

Gymnauseum

I caught his eyes from across the packed gym and my heart skipped a beat. Or maybe two. I was on a treadmill at the time, with incline set to max and as it was the first week in January, I was wearing my Christmas excess. Breath stopped. Sweat poured. If there was anyone I didn’t want to see today, it was the good looking guy from the gym. I didn’t mind the juice heads or the Asian students taking selfies of themselves on machines. I wouldn’t have minded the posers and posturers, the guys with curly wurly arms. But the good looking guy was the one I didn’t want to see.

Amid the normal landscape of a university gym, there’s the healthy ratio of fit girls, fat girls, fab and flab. There’s the proportionate number of Kerry to Mayo jerseys and there’s always that one guy who refuses to wear anything other than his 1999 Utd kit. (Yes, the full strip.) Corporates and scholars train side by side in a smelly mix of plankers and bankers, climbers and rhymers. There are the down to earthers who prefer to do floor exercises above all else and the international students who stare at you until you’re forced to get up and give them your machine.

I hopped into the gym that day with the noblest of new rear resolutions. Squats were my promise to myself. All the squats. That all changed when, already breathless, I laid eyes on the only one who could take my breath away. He was walking shoulders back in the direction of an Arc, wearing a navy Under Armour t-shirt and blue Nike shorts. His runners had only manifested over Christmas. They glowed in unworn whiteness. His round face looked fuller than the last time I’d seen him, but just as distracting. I could still recognise the mix of Stenson and Eriksen that I loved and I struggled even more to breathe.

I tried to push the STOP button on the treadmill, instead hit SPEED and found myself channelling my inner Zola Budd. So much so, that my stomach whipped itself into a trembling mousse. My face smouldered. I couldn’t keep up with my feet and all I could think was ‘He’s watching!’. When I eventually managed to tug the emergency cord, my legs wound themselves around each other and I folded to a panting catastrophe on the canvas. I was struggling to hold down my breakfast, when over appears the ride.

‘Jaysus, that was some workout’ he says, ‘are you ok?’

I couldn’t fight it anymore. Breakfast was served.

 

 

 

Dream Team

What were you doing at 7p.m on Saturday 17th November? Ask any Irish person and they’ll tell you that they were watching Ireland beat the All Blacks. But maybe don’t ask them too loud, especially not first thing the next morning.

Sessioning spilled over into the small wee hours, everyone toasting Joe Schmidt from the highways of Faranfore to the byways of Gweedore. There were more glasses raised to him last night than for any manager in the history of Irish sport. Jack Charlton and Kevin Heffernan certainly earned their fair share of toasts, but the genius gent that is Joe Schmidt deserves any accolades he gets.

The local in Kingscourt was no exception. Men women and children (yes, I have reached the age where the current crop of youth all look terribly young) were gathered in the Block Malone’s to watch the game. Women sipped gin and eyed up Rob Kearney. I sipped Coors Light and did the same. The Irish boys were up for it from the start. From one to fifteen, they put in an immense shift and had the Kiwis under pressure. Peter O’Mahony made a great case for beatification.

When Sexton took his kicks, the pub fell silent, observing the hush of the Aviva. When Stockdale made it over the line, the place erupted. There was an outbreak of hugging. Seeing O’Mahony, Kearney, Best and Furlong leave the field peaked the nerves. More Coors Light was knocked back. In the final ten, New Zealand found form and looked threatening. Ireland held tight. When the ref blew it up, there was more hugging.

The island swayed to the rhythm of four million dancing fans. It was an unforgettable performance from a world-class Irish team. Beating the All Blacks in two of the last three tests is a decent record. Hopes are justifiably high with the Six Nations around the corner and the World Cup just beyond it. Joe Schmidt and his backroom team were rightly toasted last night. And this morning, I offer up my hangover to him.

Her big day

The main doors were thrown open and there she stood. Dressed in white from head to toe, except for a blue belt around her waist. Her father stood beside her. She looked at him and nodded. He nodded back before they walked forward, in step together.

Many heads turned when they entered. A chap standing near the door looked at his watch. A red-faced boy fanned his face with a booklet. Although it was snowing, the temperature was soaring inside.

As she and her father made her way to the top, some people gave her a thumbs up. They moved slowly, she set the pace and her father respectfully stayed beside her. This was supposed to be her big day.

She stopped beside a row of men wearing shirts and black ties. They tried to shake her hand, but she couldn’t free herself of the crutches so they reverted to tapping her arm gently instead. The tallest of them looked at her leg and shook his head.

-It’s awful, he said, bad timing.

-Yes, she replied, I was ready for today.

-There’ll be other days, he said.

-Maybe, she said and looked around the room.

-You still wore it. He pointed towards her suit.

-A mark of respect, she said.

She had dreamed of this day for a long time, but the dream ended on Tuesday evening. Months of preparation smashed to pieces in the break of a bone. Taken from training to the hospital in an ambulance, she’d cried for the trophy she wouldn’t now win.

Beside her, two girls took to the ring, their fight about to start. A group of black belts did patterns across the room. She gripped her crutches and held back tears. I’ll fight again, she thought.

Some man for one Mullane

Think helium balloons and amphetamines and maybe some drink. In fact, definitely a few drinks. Think roaring and panting and breathlessly talking into a mic. Think a man who is always in line for a good dose of laryngitis. He has the voice of a child’s on Christmas morning. It’s hyper and hearty and soprano and alto all at once. It could probably break glass. Think Tom Jones, Big Tom and Frank Patterson all rolled into one.

What language does this voice-lord speak you ask? Déise. Pure Déise. A native form you might find around the sidelines and dressing rooms of De La Salle, Waterford. Like all dialects, it has its own vocab, nuances and what have yous. Though this cunning linguist coins his own language every few breaths or so. And no one complains. Sure how could we? They are the GUBUs of this generation. Great. Unique. Bonkers. Unforgettable. He turns the mundane into the insane.

Take just this year, for example. Ennis, June 2018. Epic game of the tightest margins. Our voice-lord was covering it. He was reveling in it. Loving every puck and catch of the game. His commentary did not belie his passion. We all heard how the ref had got a call right, the next one wrong, a miss should’ve been scored, a block was sublime. We all heard how one point was scored with the legs to land it the far side of Ennis, and how the next took such flight it wound up in Boston.

His sagacity extends to the highways and byways of the land. “You never have Kilkenny beaten till you’re driving down the motorway,” he roared in the next game, with more energy than a box of plastic explosives. He has been breathless during games, talking so wildly that he has literally run out of breath. But no more honest a man will you find, owning up to it immediately “I can’t keep up, I’m out of breath, it’s unreal.”

The author may have missed her chance to sit beside the voice-lord on a flight back from an Old Firm game a few years ago. She may have chosen to swap her seat and sit beside a special Mr. something or other, for reasons that will never be discussed in public. Although when the swapee came back to point out that he was delighted with the swap because it meant he got to sit beside the Waterford legend, she did feel a pang of guilt. A flight bantering with him about Celtic would have been epic, no doubt. Besides, her mother loves him and if she knew that her daughter had flunked the chance to sit beside him, she’d be given the back of the hand fairly sharpish. Her mother was never informed. And never will be.

In a world of wonderful sports commentators, there’s no shortage of choice when you pick your favourites. We all know a few dyed heads that are pretty good and a few iconoclasts who no longer take to the airwaves but will forever echo in our minds. And then there’s John Mullane. An absolute legend who talks and breathes hurling. And sometimes, hurling takes his breath away, just as listening to him does mine.

 

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MMA MoFo

A scrum of men with outstretched mikes and smartphones huddled close to the screen to catch the fighters as they emerged for their post fight interviews. The chap they’d sent from Joe.ie was significantly shorter than the rest of the pack, and so jostled his way to the front. His fringe hadn’t been cut since Fianna Fáil were in power, and covered his face entirely. The sheen from his oversized glasses could be seen between his greasy tresses every now and then, the way Lough Owell might peak out at you from between the trees as you snake around the road towards her.

Odd looking bastard though he was, he had poll position of the pack and was closest to the victorious Irish fighter when he finally emerged to meet the rabble. Seamus ‘Shameless’ Connors, was a heavyweight MMA fighter who’d just won his second of 6 fights. He’ll tell you he was robbed in two of the losses and beaten by killer blows in the other two, but bottom line was, your Ma’d fight better. Mine probably would and all.

He squared up in front of the assembly, sucking in his paunch,  resulting in him having the look of someone with acute indigestion. His shoulders were the broad and fleshy kind used to bare-knuckle boxing. In fact, that’s where he cut his teeth in the fighting game, and since being named King of the Travellers back a few years ago, ‘Shameless’ moved into the cage and has cut more than teeth along the way. Today he’s sporting a brand new slit to his right eye. Handy if you’re looking to ventilate the eye socket, though an altogether awful spot to heal. With every blink he was sending dark red fluids gunge down his chubby cheek.

Fringey Boy was first with a question as per usual. Small men are notorious at making up for lack of height in verbal dexterity.

“Seamus, that wasn’t an easy fight, how do you think you did?” he asked, pushing a gold iPhone 8+ in front of the sweaty fighter.

“I won, didn’t I?”

A chorus of laughter from the hacks.

“I mean, it went he distance, did you find it tough in there?” Fringe tried again.

“It’s not bleedin’ ballet. Of course it was tough like. He’s a strong opponent, but I was ready like, I prepared for it like, d’ya know?”

“But did you think he’d go the distance?”

Seamus, looked around, as if someone had just called his name, then before anyone could blink, he’d buried his left fist into Fringe Boy’s face. He now lay splayed on the ground, arms and legs akimbo, gold iPhone on his chest.

Nobody moved to see was he alright. In fact, nobody moved at all.

One of the hacks continued to question Seamus – “So who’s next for you Seamus? There’s been talk of the Russian Canon Ball – is it likely you’ll fight him?”

“Brendan Grace”.

“Sorry, who?”

“That ape Brendan Grace. Never liked the fool. He made a joke on the Late Late Show about lads who support Rushden and Diamonds back in 1998 and I haven’t forgotten. That’s my team like. Your team’s your team like. I’ll take him on,” then he leaned over and spoke into someone’s recording Samsung Galaxy, “Brendan, I’m here, take the fight. I’ll fucking show you, you fat fool of a thing.”

Silence from the hacks.

“Did ya get that did ya?” said Seamus, turning to step over Fringe Boy and walk back towards the dressing rooms.

One of the older hacks rushed forward to catch up with him before he disappeared, “Seamus, do you mean Brendan Grace… as in the comedian Brendan Grace?” He stuttered slightly, hesitation in his question.

“I do, yeah. I’ve been waiting for this fight like, all my life. Let’s see if he’s man enough.”

No sooner had the shameless fat frame of Connors disappeared through the dressing room door than the entire bunch of hacks, including the still unconscious Fringe Boy creased themselves laughing. The. Fucking. Neck. Of. That!!!!!!!!

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