‘Murt stares at me, obviously seeing there’s depths to me, depths that probably don’t actually exist’
W e’re getting our orses kicked. We’re being given a serious, serious rugby lesson. Which is portly down to me telling the goys that St Gerard’s of Bray would be a pushover. I’d be the first to admit that I got a bit carried away with my team talk.
“Bray!” I went, channelling the late, great Fr Fehily. “Where it’s bright for only four hours of every day and the only occupations are sucking petrol from cars at traffic lights and slapping the left-handedness out of children.”
I told them that this was a 20-point match, thinking with, like, my hort rather than my head.
And now, midway through the second half, we’re nine points down and it’s an actual miracle that it’s only that many.
Yeah, no, we’ve been cleaned out in the lineout. Destroyed in the scrum. Our backs can’t string three passes together without knocking on. And Eugene Cowser, my number 10, couldn’t kick a blind man’s stick away the way he’s playing today.
His old man – the dude who hired me to coach the actual Institute – is getting on his case as well. He’s going, “It was in front of the bloody posts, Eugene! You should be putting those ones over with your eyes closed!” and, “Think! Think before you do something, for God’s sake!”
I can see that it’s getting to the kid as well. He’s disappearing from the match with every passing minute. You can see that he doesn’t even want the ball.
“Where’s your pride?” his old man is shouting at him “Where’s your bloody well pride?”
That’s when I decide to have a word.
“Murt,” I go, sidling up to him. “Can I talk to you?”
He’s there, “Talk to me? Wouldn’t your time be better spent coming up with a way of turning this match around?” and he makes a big point of looking at his watch. “We’re
20 minutes away from being knocked out here.”
“You’re putting Eugene off,” I go, calling it – one of the things I’d be famous for. “You’re killing his confidence.”
“Well, someone needs to talk to him. How many kicks has he missed today?”
“Three! None of them difficult! If he’d got them, we’d be bloody well level!”
“There was this thing that Fr Fehily used to say to us back in the day whenever we were playing badly. ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Conversion. Another try. Another conversion. Drop goal.’”
Murt looks at me just blankly. He’s like, “What the hell does that mean?”
I’m there, “It means stop kicking the shit out of yourself when there’s still time to do something about the situation. But, I have to say, you’re not helping. In fact, Dude, you’re the reason Eugene’s like a jelly out there.”
Murt is not a contented temporary tent dweller when he hears that. He goes, “Do I need to remind you how much I’m paying you to coach this team?”
I’m there, “You’re paying me 10Ks a week. For that, you get my expertise, my hord work and my loyalty to the Institute of Education. But you don’t get me.”
He’s like, “Well, let’s see some of this expertise then. What are you going to do?”
I know what I’m going to do. Because I can read a rugby match like my wife can read sheet music and my daughter can read, I don’t know, text messages.
I tell Johnny Osbourne, our inside centre, and Clive Buntin, our outside centre, to switch places. They both look at me as if to say, ‘Okay, has this genius suddenly flipped?’
I go, “Do it. Trust me.”
They do. And straight away, it’s better. They stort putting passes together and making yords and for the first time today you can see the Gerard’s goys thinking, ‘Okay, we’re suddenly in a match here.’
Out of the corner of my eye, I can sense Murt staring at me in basically awe.
Then we win a penalty. It’s just beyond the 22-metre line, off to the left. It’s very
“He better not miss this one,” Murt goes.
I turn around and I’m like, “Why don’t you say something positive?”
He’s there, “What do you mean?”
“Let him know you believe in him.”
“I do believe in him.”
“Well, why not focking tell him?”
Without taking his eyes off me, Murt shouts, “I believe in you, Eugene,” and I can tell he feels ridiculous saying it.
I’m there, “Again.”
“Eugene,” he goes, “I believe in you. You can do this. You’re . . . You’re the best kicker of your age in the country.”
Eugene splits the chopsticks and suddenly – ridiculously – it’s a six-point game with five minutes to go.
As the match restorts, I turn to Murt and I go, “There’s an old story about the sun and the wind. And they have a contest to see who can get this dude to take his coat off. The wind blows and blows – we’re talking basically brute force here – but the dude just keeps pulling the coat tighter and tighter around himself. Then it’s the sun’s turn. The sun shines its rays on the dude. Then off comes the coat.”
Murt stares at me, obviously seeing there’s depths to me, depths that probably don’t actually exist. It’s my old man’s story.
A roar suddenly goes up. Johnny Osbourne has intercepted the ball just inside our half and slipped it to Eugene, who finds himself in space with 50 metres between him and a try. Off he goes, like a dog from a trap, with three Gerard’s players in hot pursuit.
His old man goes, “You can do it, Eugene! They won’t catch you! You’re too quick! Come on, you’re nearly there! You’re nearly there! Yeeesss!!!”
Eugene grounds the ball under the posts and the place goes literally ballistic. Thirty seconds left and one point in it, with the old cheese and biscuits of the conversion to come.
“What are you,” Murt turns to me and goes, “some kind of genius?”
And I just stand there and watch Eugene kick us into the semi-final of the Vinnie Murray Cup with a little smile on my face that says, ‘Genius? That’s for other people to say.’