‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Give him a rugby ball and you show him the face of God’
Twenty-two people answer my advertisement for players for the first rugby team ever to represent the Institute of Education and my first training session with them ends up being a reminder to everyone of what a genuine loss I was to the game in Ireland.
I bring them down to Herbert Pork in the pissings of rain and I empty a big sack of rugby balls onto the grass. “Tools of the trade!” I go.
They all laugh, already loving me. If Eddie O’Sullivan had had my way with people, he’d possibly still be the Ireland coach today.
I split them up into groups and I tell them to just, like, pass the ball around, so I can get an idea of their basic skills set. And while they do that, I stort hitting them with some of the motivational lines that are written down on the inside cover of my rugby tactics book, including, “The only angle from which to approach a problem is the try angle”, and “Hord work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hord”.
For the next hour, it’s as if I’ve been possessed by the spirit of the great Father Fehily. I genuinely believe that I’m, like, channelling him, if that’s a word?
And the nicest thing of all – from my own personal POV? – is the smiles on the faces of the goys while they’re throwing those balls around. It’s as if they’re discovering rugby for the very first time. Or reconnecting with some port of themselves that they’ve forgotten.
I’d nearly do this for free if I wasn’t being paid ten Ks a week plus a bonus of two-hundred-and-fifty grandingtons if I can lead them to Vinnie Murray Cup glory.
Suddenly, as if to remind me of what’s at stake, Murt Cower is standing beside me. “I don’t see my son out there,” he goes.
He’s talking about Eugene – the reason he’s bankrolling this entire operation.
I’m like, “He didn’t show.”
He just nods. He doesn’t seem too bothered. “What did you say to him the last day?” he goes.
I’m there, “Just common sense stuff. There’s no jobs out there – the country’s focking banjoed – so what’s the point of actually learning stuff at school? Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Give him a rugby ball and you show him the face of God. That’s another one of Father Fehily’s.”
He stares at me for a few seconds, a bit lost for words. It’s a genuinely amazing quote.
“Well,” he goes, “whatever you said, it seemed to work. We’re talking about a kid here who hasn’t even watched a rugby game since he got injured and lost his place on the Clongowes team. If rugby comes up in conversation, he leaves the room.”
“I hate to think that kind of suffering is going on in the world.”
“Well, last Saturday, his mother stuck her head into his room and do you know what he was watching?”
“I’m going to take a guess and say a bluey.”