So I'm in the laundry room, working myself to the bone, although not - it probably goes without saying - doing laundry.
Yeah, no, I'm on the old Ab Cruncher Sit-Up Bench that Sorcha panic-bought six or seven summers ago after ordering a Victoria at Victoria Beckham dress in her "aspirational" size rather than her "actual" size for her cousin Giorsal's wedding.
Like the dress, the bench has never been used, although it’s certainly paying for itself this week.
I’ve been hord at it for, like, half an hour, doing sit-up after literally sit-up, working through the pain barrier until I reach a brand new pain barrier, then working through that one as well.
I dedicate each sit-up to someone who's done me wrong over the years. My mind is like a mental rolodex as I shout their names before each crunch: everyone from Declan Kidney, who left me off the Ireland Schools team in 1999, even though I was the best player in the country, albeit a pisshead; to one of the Corter Twins, who knocked over a tray of watermelon mojitos that I'd just paid for while demonstrating a back-flip to Laura Woods in Renords at the height of the Celtic Tiger.
Eventually - inevitably, given the pressure I’m putting my mind and body under - I end up blacking out.
Some time later, I wake up to the sound of voices. Sorcha and Honor are standing over me. I’m lying face-up on the cold, tiled floor and Sorcha goes, “Oh my God, is he drunk?”
Honor’s there, “Why don’t we use the fire extinguisher to wake him up?”
I open my eyes. I’m like, “Don’t even think about setting off that fire extinguisher again!”
Yeah, no, she has form.
I’m there, “I’m not drunk this time. I was on the Ab Cruncher Sit-Up Bench and I exercised to the point where I blacked out.”
Sorcha goes, “You did what?” obviously jealous because I’ve got more chance of fitting into that Victoria at Victoria Beckham dress than she does.
I’m there, “I want a flat stomach to show the crowd when we play Newbridge College tomorrow.”
Sorcha laughs. She goes, "Oh my God, Ross, you are being so childish!"
I’m there, “Oh, so schools rugby rivalry is childish now, is it? You didn’t think that back in the day.”
“Why is this match so important to you?”
I stand up. I’m like, “Is that a genuine question?”
“What I mean is,” she goes, “it’s not going to change the result. As in, the IRFU isn’t going to take Newbridge College’s name off the cup and puts yours back on it.”
“This is about proving to ourselves that we were the best. But more importantly, it’s about proving it to everyone else.”
“If you were the best,” Honor goes, “why did you have to take drugs?”
I'm there, "We didn't have to take drugs, Honor. Father Fehily suggested it just to give us an edge before the final."
"I'm just saying, if you were so good, you shouldn't have needed drugs to win?"
“I know what you’re doing, Honor. You’re playing devil’s avocado. To keep me focused on the prize.”
"And here's something else to think about? What if they beat you?"
“They’re hordly going to beat us, Honor. They’re muckers.”
"All these years, you've been able to say that you won the final and they took the medals off you unfairly. So what if they actually beat you this time with no excuses?"
Sorcha goes, “Honor, don’t upset your dad.”
But she has upset me? And filled my head with doubts. I go to bed that night and I end up not being able to sleep for hours.
And then, when I finally do close my eyes, I end up having the weirdest dream, in which I'm sitting in the office of the late Father Fehily in actual Heaven - he's got angel wings and everything - and he's giving me my pre-match peptalk, except it's not the usual motivational lines about the need to steel ourselves in the holy determination to wield the sword.
He's a lot more, if you can believe this, restrained?
He’s going, “Just go out there and do your best, Ross!”
I'm like, "Excuse me?" because that's something he never would have said.
“If you do your best,” he goes, “then ultimately it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose.”
I’m like, “What happened to ‘Castlerock Boys are we, There is nothing that we fear’? What have they done to you in that place?”
“I have achieved what you might call a state of transcendental grace.”
“That’s fock-all use to me. I need you to tell me how to win this match.”
He sort of, like, chuckles to himself, then goes, “You’re not going to win, Ross! You can’t!”
I’m like, “What?”
You're not going back down to that Ab Cruncher, Ross. I've locked the door of the laundry room
“They’re too big. They’re too strong. I knew that twenty years ago. That’s why I put you on a programme.”
“Are you saying they would have beaten us if we hadn’t been on drugs?”
“Of course they would! Just like they’re going to beat you tomorrow!”
I wake up. I’m suddenly sitting bolt upright in the bed. I decide to get up. I throw back the sheets.
Sorcha goes, “You’re not going back down to that Ab Cruncher, Ross. I’ve locked the door of the laundry room.”
But that’s not where I’m going. I tip downstairs to the study and I call Ronan. He answers on the third ring.
“Rosser, you mad thing,” he goes, “it’s four o’clock in the bleaten morden. What are you, pissed?”
“No,” I go, “I’m not pissed. I’ve got this match tomorrow and I’m nervous. I need to ask you something, Ro. And I admit it’s an unusual thing for a father to ask his son.”
“What is it?”
“Could you get me drugs?”
“I just need a little something to help me through the match.”
“Oh, and you thought, who can I ring? Oh, yeah, I’ve got a son who lives on the Northside, he’s bound to know where to buy drugs.”
“That’s not what I thought.”
That is what I thought.
He goes, “What do you think I am, a character out of The Woyer? I’m highly insulted, Rosser.”
“What are you looking for?”
“Just something to turn me into a total animal.”
“I’ll have a word with Buckets of Blood. I’ll ring you back.”