‘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.”
“He was watching Ireland v Australia.”
I laugh. I sometimes forget about the ability I have to move people. I have to stort giving myself more pats on the back. “That’s definite progress,” I go.
He’s there, “You’ve got a gift – there’s no doubt about it.”
Murt focks off and I gather all the goys around me. I have a little surprise for them. I’m like, “How would you like to go and see Ireland against the All Blacks this Sunday?”
They’re all looking at each other as if to say, “But how? The tickets are basic gold dust!”
I go, “My old man has a box in the Aviva and you’re all going to be there as the dickhead’s guests.”
They’re suddenly all jumping around the place and high-fiving each other. I’m literally changing people’s lives here.
It’ll be a good exercise in team bonding and a chance for me to get to know their names, a little bit about their character, whether or not they can hold their drink – blah, blah, blah.
I’m there, “There’s a lot of players on that Ireland team who would name me as a major inspiration to them and I’m thinking about Ian Madigan in particular.”
They’re happy. There’s no doubt about that. But that’s when one of them – this is, like, totally out of the blue – turns around and goes, “Anyway, I better get back to school.”
I’m there, “Excuse me?”
There’s a sudden change in the atmosphere. Everyone can sense it. The dude looks around him. He’s a giant. I had him morked down as a possible second row.
“I’ve got physics in 20minutes,” he tries to go.
I’m just there thinking, okay, you’ve given them enough carrot, Rossmeister – now it’s time to show them the stick.
“Physics?” I go, practically roaring the word in his face. “Do you think they’re studying physics out in CBC Monkstown this afternoon? Do you think they’re studying physics in Gonzaga? In St Gerard’s? In Wesley? In King’s Hos? No, they’re working their orses to try to win the ultimate prize in rugby for schools in Leinster’s second tier.”
He looks at the others for back-up. He goes, “I can’t just not go to school!”
I’m there, “I left school without a single qualification,” and then there’s silence and I realize that everyone’s waiting for me to go, “And now look at me – the head of medical research at GlaxoSmithKline”, or some shit like that.
Instead, I go, “What’s your name?”
He’s like, “Risteard.”
“What do you want to do when you finish school, Risteard?”
“I was thinking possibly orchitecture.”
I just nod. I’m there, “I went to school with one or two heads who did orchitecture. Do you know what I say when I see them now? How’s life in Abu Doo Biddabi?”
People are looking down at their Dubes. A voice behind me suddenly goes, “Ross is right.”
I turn around and standing there, in a Leinster training jersey, ready for work, is Eugene Cowser.
“There’s fock-all out there for us,” he goes, taking a ball out of my hands. “Rugby is the only thing we’ve got.”