‘We would have beaten you with or without Fr Fehily’s doping programme’
Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: Our victory was slightly tainted when the IRFU stripped us of our medals
‘What would you say to the idea of a rematch?’
So it’s, like, Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting in the Bridge 1859 with my tactics book open on the bor in front of me, thinking ahead to the match against France but mostly avoiding spending time with my children.
I’m enjoying a pint or two of the obvious when all of a sudden my concentration is broken by the sound of culchies being happy at a very high volume. I look over into the corner and there’s, like, 20 of them gathered around a table, drinking Guinness and bothering the lounge girls.
“How’s every bit of you?” one of them says. “Potatoes and yellow bream all round – for it’s celebrating we are this day! And even the great Brian Bóru never had a soldier as hungry nor as thirsty as us!”
Another one lifts his pint and goes, “The Lord of all Creation be praised and thanked!” and they all cheer.
And though a lot of time has passed – and the years have not been kind to them – I immediately recognise them as the Newbridge College team we beat in the 1999 Leinster Schools Senior Cup final.
I say we beat them? But Castlerock College’s victory that day was slightly tainted by the fact that the IRFU later reversed the result and stripped us of our medals on account of the fact that we were all doped up to the eyeballs.
I’m not a bitter man but I end up having to go over to say a few words to them.
“Would you mind keeping the whooping and lepping down?” I go. “Some of us are trying to do some actual work over here?”
And their faces light up because they instantly recognise me. Of course they do. I’m Ross O’Carroll-Kelly, for God’s sake.
“Yerrah!” one of them goes. “Would you look who it is? The sun never shone on a more foolish man!” and they all laugh and go, “It comes best from you, Muiris Bán!” and, “ ’Tis God’s own truth to tell – and blessings on all who hear it!”
I’m like, “What are you lot doing in my new local? Does Jamie Heaslip know you’re here?”
Listen to Ross
“Indeed and indeed,” another one goes. “ ’Tis a reunion we’re having this day – for ’tis 20 years ago this very month since the Leinster Schools Senior Cup we did win! And we’ll be going clean out of our minds with the celebrating tonight! Every drink that’s put in front of us, we’ll send it down – then we’ll raise every second bar of a song! And ’tis giddy as a harvest midge I am with the thought of it!”
I laugh. No choice in the matter. I’m there, “You didn’t win the Leinster Schools Senior Cup. You were awarded it on a technicality.”
“A technicality, is it?” the same dude goes. “Yerrah, there’s larks warbling in the heather would make more sense than you!”
Then one of the others stands up in a definitely threatening way and goes, “Wasn’t it a fool you made of everyone?” pointing at me. “And you taking drugs to give you the look of a man! You and Old Nickodemus are lick-alike – and all the water in Poulaphouca wouldn’t wash the sin from your soul!”
I’m like, “The fact remains, Dude, that we handed you your orses on the day. We would have beaten you anyway – with or without Fr Fehily’s advanced doping programme.”
“Fret not a bit, fellas! Tis pure ráiméis he’s talking now! I pledge to God, I’ll swallow my dinner, then it’s the toe of my boot I’ll give him – and I’ll enjoy it as much as second Mass!”
I just shake my head. I’m there, “You goys think you actually won those medals? That’s, like, hilarious.”
Then another one of them – I think his name was Pad Mór – suddenly whips it out and shows it to me. I’m talking about his medal. Yeah, no, he’s wearing it around his neck – the way I used to until I was forced to give it back.
“ ’Tis like the corncrake I sleep,” he goes, “without sadness or conscience or regret to bother me, knowing this medal is mine own treasure.”
And it’s seeing that medal around his neck – and the thought that 20 years have passed since that day at Lansdowne Road when Mary McAleese handed me the famous pot – that makes me say what I end up saying next.
I’m there, “What would you say to the idea of a rematch?”
Muiris Bán laughs in my face. He’s like, “A rematch, is it? Yerrah, there’s horses in the Curragh have more sense in their heads than him, fellas!”
I’m there, “I’m actually serious. I’ll get the goys together and we’ll play you for those medals.”
One of them goes, “You’ll play us for the medals, will you?” and then – I swear to fock – he pokes me in the belly with his finger. “And you with the sign of the feeding you got as an infant on you!”
I’ll train, though. I’ll do more sit-ups than I’ve ever done in my life. Because this is suddenly personal. I’m there, “Unless you’re too scared to play us, of course? Unless you’re chicken?”
“Chicken, is it?” Pad Mór goes. “Oh, you’re a brave man on your own floor! But for nonsense talk, there isn’t better in all of Ireland!”
“So you’ll play us then?”
“Play you we will! And happy we’ll be to put the look of weeping on your faces that day! For I’ll meet you among the dead before I give up this medal without a fight!”
“So it’s a date. What’ll we say – four weeks today?”
“Four weeks today it is! Now have the door for yourself, you big, long gawk of a lad – for ’tis sick of your noisy windpipe we are and I’ll not eat a bite of food nor drink a sup of porter until you’re gone from my sight!”
I grab my tactics book and I walk out of there. I’m suddenly very, very excited. Now all I have to do is persuade the rest of the goys to play.