‘It’s not every day your son goes for a trial at Manchester United. I’m doing well hiding my disappointment’


‘Ine wontherin am I too oawult,” Ronan goes. This is in Sorcha’s Nissan Leaf, as she’s dropping us to the airport.

“Too old?” I go. “Dude, you’re only 16.”

He’s like, “That’s oawult in football. All these utter feddas – Neymar, Lee Niddle Messi – thee were discubbered when they were 12 or 13, Rosser.”

He goes back to looking out the window. He’s nervous. I’m nervous. It’s not every day that your son goes for a trial at Manchester United Soccer Something. I’m doing well hiding my disappointment, though.

I’m there, “You’re going to do great, Ro,” and then I try to think of something practical to say to him in terms of, like, advice? “Any time the soccer ball comes near you, just – I don’t know – kick it as hord as you can.”

I’ve watched a 100 matches with him in the last month and that’s all anyone seemed to be doing.

He laughs. He goes, “Don’t talk about things you don’t wontherstand, Rosser. Here, Ine glad you’re coming wit me, but . . .”

“Yeah, no,” I go, “So am I.”

We pull up outside the terminal. Sorcha gets out and wishes him luck, then Ro goes on ahead of me to see if Shadden has arrived yet, leaving me and Sorcha there on our Tobler.

“Ross,” Sorcha goes, “are you crying?”

I wipe my face with my sleeve. “No South Dublin father wants this for his kid,” I go. “And I can’t help feeling that it’s somehow my fault.”

Your fault? How is it your fault?”

“I don’t know. If I’d taken him to more Leinster matches . . .”

“You took him to loads of Leinster matches.”

“Or put my foot down when Shadden’s old man brought him to Stella Maris. Instead, I let myself think it was a phase he’d possibly grow out of.”

Sorcha smiles. “I’ve got something for you,” she goes, then she ducks back into the cor and pulls an envelope out of the glove box. She hands it to me. My name is on the front and I recognise the handwriting straight away.

“It’s from Father Fehily,” she goes.

Fr Fehily coached three generations of O’Carroll-Kellys: my old man, me and my son.

I’m there, “Father Fehily died eight years ago.”

“He gave it to me at the hospital,” she goes. “He told me to keep it safe and to give it to you if this day ever arrived.”

“Are you saying he saw this coming?”

“Well, he gave me other letters as well. One in the event of Ronan becoming a major figure in the Dublin Underworld, one in the event of . . . Look, there were six or seven. That’s the soccer one.”

I stick it in my pocket. I’m like, “I’ll read it later,” then I tell her I’ll see her in a few days and I tip into the terminal to find Ro. He’s already standing in the check-in queue, with – I can’t help but notice – his in-laws. Or his sin-laws, since him and Shadden aren’t married.

I wander over to them. I’m like, “Hey!”

Kennet, as in Shadden’s old man, has this habit of laughing whenever he sees me, like he finds even the idea of someone like me ridiculous. He goes, “Th, th, th, there he is!” because he’s also got that terrible MC Hammer. “The m, m, m, m, madden himself!”

I’m there, “Don’t tell me you’re coming as well.”

And his wife, Dordeen – who has a face that would frighten a police horse – goes, “We wouldn’t miss it for the wurdled.”

I roll my eye, and that’s when I notice Shadden. I didn’t recognise her at first because she looks like a totally different person. She’s got, like, the tropical tan and the hair extensions. She’s wearing a micro mini and she’s staggering around on a pair of four-inch pencils heels like a pissed giraffe on stilts. I say hello to her, except she can’t answer me, because her face is frozen into, like, a permanent pout. Her boyfriend has a trial for a soccer club and she’s already a WAG?

We go through the security screening area, with me in a, literally, daze. We arrive at the gate and I overhear Kennet talking to Ronan in numbers – he’s telling him what Rooney is on at United and what Suarez is going to be on at Barcelona and what that doorty-looken doort-boord Ronaldo is on at Madrid.

I go to the jacks, just to get away from them. I slip into Trap One and I sit down. And that’s when I remember the letter. I whip the envelope out of my pocket, then I tear it open. It’s pretty touching to think that Fr Fehily spent some of his final precious hours writing to me.

“If you’re reading this,” it says, “you’re no doubt at the end of a long and glittering rugby career, full of Grand Slams and Heineken Cup glories.”

I check the envelope again, wondering was it meant for Drico. No, it’s my name on it. The belief he had in me was phenomenal.

“If you’re reading this, it also means that it’s come to pass: Ronan is about to embark on a career in that other sport whose name I can’t bring myself to write. I’m sad to say that, in the short time I coached him, I could see that he had certain skills that were commensurate with what would be regarded as excellence in that particular sport. Perhaps I should have warned you. I tried to coach it out of him, with no success evidently, since you are reading this letter today.

“This may be the morphine talking, Ross, but I want to say this to you – when you played rugby, it was as if someone had split the sky and God’s face was shining through it. When you watch Ronan play this other sport, I promise you this, you will feel exactly the same way. He must follow his own path. If God had meant him to be any other way, wouldn’t he have made him any other way? Love him and support him. And remember, Ross, you and the Lord makes a majority. Denis.”

I wipe my tears away with my open palm. And I suddenly realise that the way I’m feeling has nothing to do with it being soccer at all. I just don’t want Ronan to go away. There’s a bang on the door of Trap One and I hear his voice go, “Monta fook, Rosser, they’re arthur calling the flight.”

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