Sorcha's gone to her old pair's for Sunday dinner while I'm at home looking after the kids – which I honestly don't mind? The triplets are, like, six years old now and reaching that lovely age where I actually want to spend time with them, instead of just throwing a Wagon Wheel into their bedroom, locking the door and letting them fight over it to the point of exhaustion.
Yeah, no, my children are storting to grow on me – and I’m going to shock a lot of people when I say that that has a lot to do with them going to Willow Pork.
Since they storted school there, it's been – honestly? – rugby, rugby, rugby, with not a mention of soccer anymore. The search histories on their tablets are filled with Drico and ROG's best bets, instead of that, I don't know, Ronaldo dude, and we're suddenly enjoying the kind of relationship that I had with my old man – in other words, standing outside in the pissing rain, flinging the old Gilbert around.
And it’s lovely for me as their – I suppose – father, seeing little flashes of myself in each of them. Leo, for instance, has my famous side-step, while Johnny has my signature acceleration from a standing stort. Randomly, it looks like Brian – not Johnny – might end up being my kicker, certainly judging from the way he puts his foot through the ball. It’s classic, classic me.
I’m showing him how to put more spin on the ball to give his passes more distance and accuracy. I go, “Like this, Brian”, and his little face lights up with the joy of learning something new.
I sometimes think that I should have been a teacher, except I’ve got a brain the size of a packing peanut.
“I want to go inside,” Johnny goes. “I’m focking storving.”
Yeah, no, I haven’t given them lunch – or breakfast – just like I always storved myself to give me an extra edge.
I'm there, "You couldn't be storving," because I gave them each a Dioralyte before we came out – just to keep their electrolyte levels up? "Give me another hour, then I'll let you eat."
As a coach, I would describe myself as firm but fair.
“Can we phone for a Deliveroo?” Leo goes.
Brian’s like, “Five Goys!”
And Johnny's there, "Eddie Rockets! "
But I’m like, “It won’t be burgers and chips, goys. I’ll do you some chicken and pasta.”
“Fock that shit,” Leo goes.
I’m there, “That’s what professional rugby players eat, goys – and I’m saying that as someone who’s had the guided tour of the Leinster Rugby Academy. It’s about loading up on protein and corbs.”
"I want McDonalds! " Leo goes.
I'm there, "No empty calories, goys. These are the sacrifices you have to make if you want to play Senior Cup rugby for – yeah, no – Blackrock College one day."
There's a definite quiver in my voice when I say it and I have to admit to having one or two – it might be a word – qualms about training kids to one day wear the colours of the school I hated more than any other. But then I have to rise above it. I have to be mature enough to accept that my rugby-playing days were a long time ago and my children have to make their own histories? If that ends up being in the blue and white stripes of Blackrock, then I'll have to accept it and persuade my brain that they're playing for Orgentina.
“Brian,” I go, “when you make the pass, aim for the space in front of the player rather than the player himself. Give him something to run on to – otherwise, he’s static when he receives it.”
“Fock this,” he goes – he’s definitely not captain material. “I’m going inside.”
Leo’s like, “Yeah, it’s focking raining,” before following his two brothers into the gaff.
I’m there, “Do you know why the Leinster Schools Senior Cup is played in January and February instead of April and May? To weed out the wusses!”
But at that stage, I’m just a 40-year-old man, standing in a downpour, shouting to himself.
I follow them into the kitchen. I fill a pot with pasta and water and I throw six chicken breasts under the grill while trying to hide my disgust with them – my children, not the chicken breasts.
I’m there, “We might look at maybe doubling your daily magnesium and calcium allowance.”
“I want to put my jersey on!” Brian goes.
I’m like, “No, remember what I said – not in the house.”
But he won’t be told anything – none of them will. They all go chorging upstairs together. And that’s when my phone rings. It ends up being the old dear.
“Hello, Dorling!” she goes. “How are the twins settling into their new school?”
I’m like, “They’re triplets.”
"Er, there's three of them?"
“Three? Are you sure?”
"Yeah, I think I know how many children I have – under this roof anyway."
“Why did I think they were twins?”
“Because you haven’t been sober since the Millennium. Who knows what you see half the time – you scrag-faced gulper fish. They’re getting on fine, by the way. I’m just cooking dinner for them here.”
"Cooking it? Why don't you just phone for a takeout?"
“Er, because I want my kids to know the difference between good calories and bad calories.”
She sort of, like, chuckles to herself.
She’s like, “You sounded just like your father there!”
I’m there, “No, I didn’t. I’m nothing like him.”
“Chorles had you out in the gorden in all weathers, throwing that ridiculous ball around. And he wouldn’t let you eat breakfast or lunch.”
“It was the hunger that made me the rugby player that I very nearly–”
I stop, mid-sentence. I literally can’t say another word. Because my three sons are suddenly standing in front of me in their blue and white jerseys and my entire body turns cold. I hang up on the old dear and I realise that I’m actually shaking.
Suddenly, it all comes back to me. The hateful things that the Blackrock crowd used to shout at me when I was flashing The Six at them after scoring a try.
There’ll be days when I’m okay with this and there’ll be days when I’m not. Today, I’m not. I switch off the grill and I tip the pasta into the sink.
“Fock Blackrock,” I go. “Let’s phone out for burgers and chips.”