‘Oh, look! Daddy’s watching that game that he was a failure at’
‘How’s the match going?” Sorcha goes.
The girl wouldn’t know a rugby ball if she sat on one in the bath, although it’s nice of her to show an interest.
I’m like, “The Lions are winning by five points.”
She goes, “Five!” like it’s focking hockey we’re talking about. “Oh my God, I’m so happy for the players.”
I could try going through the rules with her again. But teaching my wife about rugby is like teaching me the difference between “there”, “their” and “they’re”. It’s hugely time-consuming and all anyone gets is a migraine.
Honor, standing in the doorway of the living room, goes, “Oh, look! Daddy’s watching that game that he was a failure at.”
Sorcha puts his hand on my knee. “Don’t react,” she goes. “It’s all she wants.”
Except I do react? I’m there, “If I failed – which I actually don’t think I did – it was because of circumstances that were beyond my control.”
Honor goes, “What, the fact that you weren’t a very good player?”
I totally lose with her. I’m like, “A lot of people would disagree with that assessment!” and I end up, like, roaring it?
“Okaaay,” she goes, “I’m going to leave you to self-soothe,” and she puts her buds in her ears and turns up the volume on Rihanna.
I turn around to Sorcha. “Being bullied by a seven-year-old girl,” I go. My voice even cracks. “Our family must be God’s favourite sitcom.”
Sorcha smiles. “You watch your rugby,” she goes. “I’m going to ring my mum.”
Five minutes before the end of the match, with the result still in the balance, there ends up being a ring at the door. Actually, several rings? Sorcha can’t go because, like she said, she’s on the phone, while Honor regards answering the door as – and this is a quote – “menial work”.
So it’s left to me to do the job. There’s a blond dude standing on the doorstep wearing board shorts, a navy Apple Crumble and a pair of sunnies on his head.
“Are you out of your focking mind?” is my opening line. “There’s a rugby match on!”
“Ross!” he goes. Then he laughs. “Oh my God, you haven’t changed one bit.”
I pick up on the accent straight away. He’s American. He’s there, “You don’t remember me, do you? It’s Chad! We worked together in Ocean City!”
Shelling prawns. My famous J1 summer.
“Ocean City!” I go. “Jesus.”
“It was the summer of ’01. I got to tell you, just seeing you right now brings back so many memories. Remember the 24-hour laundrette where you used climb in the spin-drier to see how many rotations you could do. You and JP!”
“Like it was yesterday.”
“And you had a drawer full of condoms that you used to call your Johnny Cache.”
“I still do.”
“Remember you trashed your apartment and there ended up being a whole item about it on Fox News?”
“A lot of happy memories. Dude, I’m not being rude here, but there is a rugby match on and it’s very important that I see the end of it. What do you want exactly?”
“Well,” he goes, “you did say that if ever I was in Ireland . . .”
I look down and, with a sinking feeling, I notice the bag at his feet. “Dude,” I go, “my circs have kind of changed since ’01? I’m, like, married now.”
“Married?” he goes. “I thought you’d never settle down. Man, you went through girls that summer like mononucleosis.”
“Okay, I was technically going out with the woman I’m now married to at that time, so I’d appreciate it if you kept your voice down. She can get jealous.”
“Hey, no problem, Dude.”
I’m missing the final, vital minutes of the match, so I end up just, like, inviting him in, even though he’s not staying here. I’ll drop him to the Burlington or even just the 46A bus stop as soon as this is over.
“Hey, rugby!” he goes, when he sees the screen. Fock. It’s the final minute and Kurtley Beale is about to win it with a penalty for Australia. “I remember you used to say, ‘One day I’m going to play rugby for Ireland. That’s not a prediction. That’s a promise.’”
Honor, who’s earwigging from the kitchen, goes, “Well, he didn’t! But he texts Johnny Sexton on the morning of every big game, even though Johnny Sexton never replies to him and doesn’t know who he is.”
I look at Chad and I go, “He does know who I am.” And Chad sort of, like, whispers to me, “Hey, is that your daughter? She’s kind of an asshole, isn’t she?”
Which is a lovely thing for me to hear, especially after the hord time she’s been giving me.
Beale ends up snotting himself on the wet ground and the penalty wobbles like a shot pigeon wide of the posts. The Lions have won. I’m jumping around, celebrating, when Sorcha arrives back in the room.
“Oh, hello,” she goes, when she sees that I have company. I make the introductions. This is my wife and this is some randomer I peeled prawns with 12 summers ago.
“Sorcha!” he goes. “Ross talked about you the whole time!” He’s a good wingman. I’ll give him that. “And you are even more beautiful than he described you.”
Sorcha smiles, even though it’s a lie. She doesn’t look great at the moment and I’m saying that as one of her biggest admirers. “So have you come for The Gathering?” Sorcha goes. Chad’s like, “Er, yeah, I guess.” I’m there, “I’ll drop him to a hotel.”
“Ross!” Sorcha goes, one smitten kitten. “It’s our patriotic duty to show visitors hospitality!” She grabs his bags and we show him to the spare room. “Hey,” he goes, when we’re on the way upstairs, “maybe tonight you can show me the famous Kielys that you always talked about.” “How exciting!” Sorcha goes. And I smile, even though I can’t remember ever setting eyes on this dude in my life.
ILLUSTRATION: ALAN CLARKE