‘If I farted the first three notes of ‘Ireland’s Call’ over dinner, he’d say I was the next Rachmaninov’
I can almost feel the tension coming through the door of the dressing room. Beyond it, there are 15 rugby players, plus substitutes, who are waiting to hear what I have to say – waiting for me to, like, inspire
I go to push the door and that’s when I hear Murt Cowser’s voice behind me.
“Our little project,” he goes.
I turn around. I look at him and I nod – you could almost say – thoughtfully ?
He’s there, “It’s 80 minutes away from completion,” and then he sort of, like, smiles to himself. “Can I tell you something? Whatever happens today, whether we win or lose, it doesn’t matter. My son has fallen in love with rugby again – you know, he’s talking about maybe getting a professional contract? – and that’s down to you. So in a way, I feel like we’ve already won.”
I nod. I’m wondering does that mean I’m getting my 250Ks, irregordless of the result. He reads my mind.
“That thing,” he goes, “about it not mattering whether we win or lose – you know I don’t mean that literally?”
I suspected that. I nod. Then I’m like, “I need to go and talk to my players.”
There’s, like, silence when I step into the dressing room. I look around at this, like, sea of faces, expectation written all over them.
I had this plan to sit down last night and watch the speech from Any Given Sunday – Alpa-focking-cino – but I discovered that my daughter had smashed up the disc with a hammer when I refused to buy her a bassoon two Christmases ago. I thought about possibly watching it on You Tube, but then I thought, no. I’ll talk to them from the hort.
“You know,” I go, “people laughed when they heard that the Institute of Education was entering a team into the Vinnie Murray Cup. What, that grind school on Leeson Street where rich kids go to repeat the Leaving? I have to admit, the first time I laid eyes on you, I shared those doubts. Some of you were pure white – it looked like you hadn’t seen fresh air or sunlight for years. All that studying. Crazy, crazy stuff. Then I took you down to Herbert Pork and I watched you throw some balls around and I knew I had a potential team.”
They’re lapping up my words like a dog licking piss off a lamppost.
“We’ve been through the drills,” I go. “Forwards and backs. I’ve emptied my mind on you goys in the last 10 weeks. There’s nothing else I can teach you. There’s things I could say about Gonzaga to motivate you – ‘Always the Tánaistes, never the Taoiseachs’, for instance – but I won’t. Because it’s down to you now.”
I look every single one of my players in the eye and I go, “You’ve sacrificed a lot to get here today. I know most of you haven’t done a tap of work since Christmas and you’re probably going to fail your Leaving and possibly fock up your chances of ever getting into college and eventually onto the property ladder. Just make sure you haven’t done that in vain.”
They all nod.
I’m there, “We all get opportunities in life. But most of us don’t recognise them. Do you know why? Because they come disguised as hord work. Don’t make that mistake. Believe in yourselves like I believe in you. Now go out there and win this thing.”
From that moment on, I never have any doubts.
I won’t bore you with the match details. You’ve probably already read them by now. We concede a try in the first two minutes, which is then converted, but we dig deep and we keep doing the right things and Eugene Cowser’s boot puts us into a 9-7 half-time lead.
Midway through the second half, totally against the run of play, Gonzaga score a breakaway try, which they again convert to go 14-9 in front. But with five minutes left, Eugene gets the ball in his hand, just inside the Gonzaga half, and he dances past seven players to put the ball under the posts and make the conversion easier on himself.
I think Gavin Cummiskey put it better than I could when he wrote in these pages, “You could almost see the handwriting of God in the Institute of Education’s winning try.”
At the final whistle, all hell breaks lose. Eugene and a few of the other players grab me and they try to lift me onto their shoulders, but I go, “No! I had my time. This is yours.”
When they go up to collect the cup, in fact, I’m already walking away. Murt manages to collar me, though. He’s like, “You’re a genius.”
I’m there, “That’s for others to say.”
He shakes his head. He goes, “I can’t believe the IRFU doesn’t have a job for you.”
“I actually do a lot of their shredding, but I know what you mean.”
“The other thing you’ve done is you’ve brought me and my son closer together.”
“Can I say something to you, Murt? Did you see that man who was on the far touchline today, in the camel hair coat?”
“The one who kept shouting, ‘Ross O’Carroll-Kelly – Lions coach, 2017’? Who was that?”
“That was my old man.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry. He’s a tool and also a knob-end. But if I farted the first three notes of Ireland’s Call over dinner, he’d say I was the next Rachmaninov. He’s proud of me no matter what I do. Eugene might turn out to be the next Johnny Sexton. Or he might turn out to be just an orchitect. But you’ve got to love him just the same.”
He goes, “There’s a lot of wisdom in you.”
I’m there, “There’s not really. Sometime I say stuff that just sounds kind of deep? But there’s very little happening in my head. Two hippos putting lipstick on each other.”
He goes, “Thank you. I mean that.”
I’m like, “Hey, it was a job. And I loved it. I’d have actually done it for nothing.”
And then as Murt turns around to watch the presentation, I go, “You know I didn’t mean that literally, don’t you?”