Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: ‘This could be the drink talking . . .'

‘This could be the drink talking but it looks to me like I’m very much gainfully employed again'


Murt Cowser is a man who knows what buttons to push with me.

He goes, “I was one of the lucky ones who saw you play rugby,” and then this distant look comes into his eyes – a bit like Sorcha when I try to explain the bonus try system to her.

“The way you led that Castlerock team. Those boys would have walked through walls for you.”

We’re sitting in Kielys. I don’t actually know this man, I should mention. He gave me his business cord at a porty a week ago and mentioned a possible coaching job. I have an idea what it might be, except I don’t want to count my basic chickens?

There ends up being more blah then.

He’s like, “When I think back to that time – 1998, 1999, wasn’t it? – I just can’t believe that you never made it. As a professional rugby player, I mean.”

“It’s a genuine mystery,” I go. “Although I think the management of this place had a lot to do with it. All those times they borred me – if only I’d stayed borred.”

“People used to say, he’s going to be one of the all-time greats. There was you and there was Brian O’Driscoll and everyone said …”

“Stop – please, don’t say it.”

I drove by the National Convention Centre last week and there was a 40ft-high photograph of the dude projected on the side of the building. His testimonial is only just over – it’s only natural that I’m feeling a bit raw.

I knock back a mouthful of my pint. Murt is drinking coffee. It’s lunchtime, I suppose, and this is technically a job interview?

I try to steer the conversation back to the reason we’re here by picking up my famous tactics book, which I’ve brought with me, ever the pro.

“This is the kind of shit I’ve been doing the last couple of years,” I go. “I watch a hell of a lot of rugby on TV and I write down what I would have done differently in certain situations – as a player and as a coach? I’m like that Good Will Hunting. We’re talking, like, diagrams and everything.”

I open the book and discover – to my horror – that Honor has written, in thick black morker, the words, “Sad Bastard,” across every page. I quickly close it again.

I’m there, “Let’s not get bogged down in detail. Let’s talk turkey – what’s this job you’re offering me?”

He goes, “It’s coaching at schools level.”

Schools level? You mean coaching just a focking school.”

I can hear the disappointment in my own voice.

He goes, “Yes.”

“What a waste of my time,” I go. “I thought deep down that Joe Schmidt had sent you.”

“Joe Schmidt?”

“Yeah, no, I thought he maybe wanted me to help out coaching the backs. I’ve made a total focking orse of myself as well. I gave Dave Kearney a shoulder nudge coming out of Bear the other day and told him he was going to be seeing a lot more of me. Jesus, I even texted Dorce and told him I believed in running a tight ship.”

“I’m sorry,” he goes.

“That’s no consolation. What school are we even talking about?”

And that’s when he says it: “The Institute of Education on Lower Leeson Street.”

I stand up.

He’s like, “Where are you going?”

I’m there, “I think you’ve wasted enough of my time.”

“Ross, please.”

“The focking Institute?” I basically roar at him. “What are we talking about here – rugby or chess?”

“Ross,” he goes, “just listen to what I have to say. Please. Look, have another pint.”

Like I said, he knows what buttons to press. I sit back down.

“The Institute,” I make sure to go. “You’re out of your goddamn mind.”

He orders me another pint of the Golden Wonder – good as his word. “Look,” he goes, “I know it’s not a rugby school. But when you think about it, it should be. All those repeat students from Blackrock, Michael’s, Mary’s, Clongowes, Belvedere. I mean, I hate to say it, but even Terenure. There’s got to be the guts of three decent teams in there.”

I’m there, “But they’re not even in the Leinster Schools Senior Cup.”

“Look, I went to the school a week or two ago and I asked them if they’d be interested in entering a team in the Vinnie Murray Cup.”

“Okay, this is crazy talk.”

“And they said yes – provided I organise everything.”

“Like I said – mental. So what’s in it for you?”

“You’re right to ask that question. I’m a very wealthy man. A busy man, too. I don’t need this in my life. But I’m going to level with you. My son is in the Institute. Eugene Cowser?”

“Never heard of him.”

“Well, he was kicker – like you, except he was Clongowes. Oh, they predicted big, big things for him. Then he got injured in January – eve of the Leinster Schools Senior Cup. It broke his heart.

“Ended up messing up his whole year – Leaving Cert, everything. I told him he could always repeat.”

“There’s no shame in repeating. I did it two or three times. Straight NGs all the way.”

“That’s what I told him. But in the summer, he told me he wanted to go back and, well, concentrate on his studies.”

“Jesus! What’s the point of that?”

“Because he doesn’t want to think about rugby. That’s why he chose the Institute. He’s fallen out of love with the game.”

“So what do you want, like, me to do?”

“He needs a mentor . . . ”

“Dude, I’ve not interest in being a mentor to your son. I’m not even a mentor to my own daughter.”

“For which I will pay you €10,000 a week and a bonus of a quarter of a million if you win.”

This could be the drink talking, but it looks to me like I’m very much gainfully employed again.

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