‘Dude, I’ve never said this to any man before in this pub – I want you to come into the toilets with me’
I’m having a few nightcaps in Kielys of Donnybrook Town, sitting at the bor with my famous tactics book open in front of me, looking at the team I’ve picked for the Institute of Education’s first round match in the Vinnie Murray Cup against St Patrick’s Classical School Navan tomorrow, and I feel a sudden buzz, which might have something to do with drinking seven pints on an empty stomach, or it might just be pride.
I like to think it’s the latter. In the space of, like, six weeks, I’ve taken a ragbag collection of ex-Blackrock, ex-Clongowes, ex-Michael’s, ex-Mary’s and ex-Gick players – many of them totally disillusioned with the beautiful game – and I’ve fashioned them into a team that actually believes in itself.
A lot of people looking in from the outside would say that this is a little bit of what the Irish rugby team is missing right now. I’m looking at the various plays we’ve practiced over and over again for tomorrow and I’m thinking that this is what I was born to do.
I’m like one of those charity chief executives, as in I’d nearly do it for free if I wasn’t getting paid 10 Ks a week plus a €250,000 win bonus.
I check tomorrow’s weather on my iPhone. It still says rain. See, this is what I’m like. I’m on top of every little detail. I honestly haven’t felt this comfortable in my own skin since Father Fehily said to me, on the morning of the 1999 Leinster Schools Senior Cup final: “Providence! Providence sent you to this school! Er allein, wem gehört der Jugend, gewinnt die Zukunft!”
I’m ordering another pint when my phone, all of a sudden, rings. It ends up being Eugene Cowser, my number 10, whose old man is bankrolling this entire operation.
I answer by going: “Dude, you should be in bed, dreaming about all the damage you’re going to do tomorrow.”
He takes a deep breath. There’s something wrong. I can tell before he even says a word.
He goes: “Ross, I can’t play.”
I’m there: “Whoa, horsey! What are you talking about?”
“I know it’s short notice. Look, I’m sorry to let you down.”
“Dude, what’s wrong?”
“I can’t explain. Like I said, I’m sorry to leave you in the lurch like this.”
I go: “I’m sending a cor for you. Are you at home?”
“Okay, I’m sending a taxi to your gaff to get you. I’m in Kielys. You owe me at least an explanation.”
I’m thinking, fock it, I’ll expense it.
He’s there: “Okay.”
Half an hour later, he walks through the door, looking like – okay, I’m going to be honest here – shit.
I don’t even get to open my mouth. He launches straight into it.
He’s there: “I can’t do it, Ross. My head is gone. I’m lying on my bed and I’m thinking what if it happens again? What if I fail again? I don’t think I could live with the disappointment. I don’t think I could live with the knowledge that I let everyone down. You don’t need a number 10 with doubts, Ross.”
I look him square in the face and I go: “Dude, I’m about to say something to you that I’ve never said to anyone before in this pub. Well, I’ve certainly never said it to a man – I want you to come into the toilets with me.”
I hop off my stool. He looks at me, definitely worried.
I’m there: “It’s nothing funny. I’ve only had, like, seven pints. Come on, follow me.”
And that’s exactly what he ends up doing. The two of us walk in there and I stop in front of the old urinal trough. I’m there: “What do you think of this thing?”
He’s like:“What?” obviously wondering, okay, has this dude lost it?
“It’s here about eight years,” I go. “Made of steel. The old one was porcelain. Horder to clean, apparently.”
He’s like: “Dude, why are you showing me the urinal?”
And I go: “Because that’s where my talent went.” That suddenly grabs his attention.
I’m there: “Oh, yeah, you heard right. I pissed it in there. Every last drop of it. The goys behind the bor say they’re going to put a plaque up in here with my name on it. And I laugh along with them – I’m a
people-person – but can I let you into a little secret? It kills me. It focking kills me. Every time.”
He’s like: “Dude, you won a Leinster Schools Senior Cup medal. No one can take that away from you, even though you were stripped of it for a doping offence.”
“That’s nice of you to say, Eugene. And I wish it was true. People come up to me all the time and they say, oh, it must be a consolation for you that the likes of Drico and Dorce ripped off a lot of your moves and you must feel that you played a major port in that Grand Slam and those three Ken Cups. But it’s no consolation. It’s no consolation at all.
“There’s nothing wrong with failure, Eugene. We all fail at shit. But do you know what’s worse than failure? It’s not knowing. It’s not knowing how good you could have been. For me, it’s looking at Rog and Johnno and Mads and all those dudes – heroes to me – and knowing that I was at least as good as them once. But I let it go because it was raining out or it was happy hour in this place or I just didn’t have the focking bottle.”
I see a tear – a genuine tear – escape from the corner of his eye and roll down his cheek.
One of Father Fehily’s lines comes back to me, as they always do, just at the right moment.
“God has given you a gift,” I go. “What are you going to do, return it unopened?”
He just nods, his face full of resolve now. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he goes.
And I’m there: “You will.”
He leaves me standing there in the gents. I run my hand along the wall above the urinal and I think to myself, yeah, no, in some ways a plaque in here would actually be nice.