Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: ‘I can lie – very easily – but not when it comes to rugby’

An encounter at rugby training sees Ross making an unexpected connection

‘If you tell me you don’t sell Heineken on draught, I’ll turn my back on you and walk away before you can even say the words ‘We have our own microbrewery’.’

There's a few familiar faces at rugby training in Willow this afternoon – one or two Rock heads I remember from back in the day. We're talking Graham "Kelloggs" Kelligan. We're talking Trevor "Tocky" O'Casey. We're talking "Spunk" (never knew his first name) Miley.

We're, like, watching our children fling the old shaved coconut around and it's – yeah, no, I'm going to use the word? – random? I feel like a definite, definite fish out of water here.

Kelloggs, Tocky and Spunk are standing in a little huddle together and it’s all in-jokes, and things whispered behind their hands, and catchphrases, and loud, guffawing laughter.



Hey, I'm not saying I'm any different when I'm with my old schoolmates? When it comes to sticking to what you know, there's no one like the Rossmeister. Chinos, Dubes and a light blue Ralph is practically a uniform for me. And if you tell me you don't sell Heineken on draught, I'll turn my back on you and walk away before you can even say the words "We have our own microbrewery".

Sorcha's always telling me to, like, open my mind to new experiences – but I always think, er, why would I? I love my life. But then at the same time, I hate not being at the centre of things. Once a 10, always a 10, I suppose you could say.

I think about maybe breaking the ice with a compliment about their kids. Except their kids are poor. Tocky’s son can’t throw the ball straight, Kelloggs’s son closes his eyes in terror every time he’s about to be tackled and Spunk’s son has literally zero positional awareness. And I can’t lie. Well, I can – very focking easily – but not when it comes to rugby.

People talk about multiculturalism. This is it multiplied by 10.

Then Johnny – as in, like, my Johnny? – throws a long, looping skip pass that finds his brother Leo on the wing.

“Whoa!” the other dads go, then Tocky turns to me and goes, “Chip off the old block, eh, Ross?”

I'm like, "Wh . . . wh . . . what?" because this is a dude I shoulder-nudged at a Dublin Business School open day in 1999.

He goes, "That was one of your signature moves, wasn't it?"

I’m like, “Yeah, no, well remembered,” and I can nearly hear myself smiling.

“Your kids are great,” Kelloggs goes.

I think he’s waiting for me to return the compliment. But like I said, I could tell Kelloggs that I was in love with him and make him believe it was true. But I couldn’t tell him that his son was anything other than a physical and moral coward on the rugby field, albeit one who’s still only six years old, so I say fock-all.

Something amazing happens then. We stort, like, talking – just shooting the s**t about everything. Our marriages. Our parents. Our recent skiing holidays. The whole, like, pandemic thing. Where we’re living. What we’re driving. How much we all hate St Michael’s and wish they’d just, like, fock off already.

Yeah, no, we end up going around the world with our conversation about this, that and the other. I'm suddenly remembering what Sorcha said to me going out the door this afternoon. She was like, "Stop making strange, Ross. You're not a Castlerock rugby player any more. You're a Willow dad."

Suddenly, I hear myself go, "So where do you tend to do your socialising?" which is very odd because that would be, like, a famous chat-up line of mine?

Spunk looks at me like it's the most random question. "Used to be Kielys," he goes, "and now it's The Bridge – same as you."

And I'm thinking, fock! Have I really been that blinkered? Am I so caught up in my own little Castlerock world that I didn't even notice that for 20 years I've been drinking just yords away from these dudes – who are all sound, by the way? I literally could be talking to Christian, Oisinn and JP here.

“We’re heading out for a few beers tomorrow night,” Tocky goes, “if you fancy it.”

I’m like, “Er, yeah, no, that sounds cool.”

“The Bridge,” Kelloggs goes. “Eight o’clock?”

I’m there, “Yeah, no, I’ll see you there, dudes.”

I open the window a crack, like you do for dogs, then I head to the Mad Hatter for a pint

So we end up exchanging numbers as our kids come off the pitch. Then I head back to the cor with my head literally spinning? People talk about multiculturalism. This is it multiplied by 10.

Sixty seconds later, I’m pulling out onto the Rock Road and that’s when it happens. The kids stort singing, Brian first:

"Rock boys are we, our title is our glory . . ."

Then the other two dopes join in:

"Fearless and bold, whatever the danger be . . ."

I’m like, “Goys, I’m trying to concentrate on the road here.”

"Onward we go, to flinch or falter never . . ."

Suddenly, old feelings of bitterness and hatred are stirred up in me. I’m there, “Seriously, I’m going to drive the cor into a focking lamppost unless you stop.”

"Rock boys are we, the blue and white forever!"

Then – I swear to fock – they stort again, from the top:

"Rock boys are we, our title is our glory . . ."

Petty as this sounds, I stort singing Castlerock Über Alles at the top of my voice to try to drown them out.


"Fearless and bold, whatever the danger be . . ."


"Onward we go, to flinch or falter never . . ."


"Rock boys are we, the blue and white forever!"


When they stort again from the beginning, I suddenly swerve into a porking space – this is in the middle of, like, Blackrock village? – and I slam on the brakes.

I whip out my phone and I send Kelloggs a text. It’s like, “Something’s come up. Can’t make tomorrow.”

Then I phone Sorcha. She's in, like, Brown Sugar – having, I don't know, something done to her? I tell her I've left her kids in the cor and she can drive them home herself. I open the window a crack, like you do for dogs, then I head to the Mad Hatter for a pint.

I’m, like, two mouthfuls into the thing when Kelloggs texts me back. He’s like, “Pity,” and there’s a real we-can-never-know-each-other’s-world vibe to it.

And I’m there, “Yeah, no – pity alright.”