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Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: There’s nothing like the school sports day to get the old competitive juices flowing

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly: the triplets. Illustration: Alan Clarke.

So – yeah, no – it’s sports day in St Kilian’s and I am up for it in a major, major way. I never want to become one of those parents – hey, we’ve all met them! – but it has to be said that there is nothing like watching your children being 10 times better at something than everyone else’s children to get the old competitive juices flowing.

“Ross,” Sorcha goes, “do you want me to drive?”

I’m there, “Er, why would I want you to drive?”

“Because that’s, like, the third orange light you’ve driven through?”


“Yeah, no, it’s called being in the zone, Sorcha. If you’d played sport at an elite level, you’d understand it.”

“What, I’d be screaming out the window at randomers as well, would I?”

There’s nothing like the school sports day to get the old competitive juices flowing

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I have to confess to getting a bit carried away, and I stort shouting things like, ‘Eat it up, you pack of losers!’ at the other moms and dads

“A speed bump is not a pedestrian crossing, Sorcha.”

“Well, those two elderly ladies have learned a valuable lesson this morning, haven’t they?”

I’m there, “You know, I’d actually prefer it if you storted getting your head into the race.”

I take the right turn into the cor pork of the school.

She goes, “The race?” – that’s how she literally says it, like the entire thing is a joke to her. “Are you talking about the parents’ wheelbarrow race?”

I’m there, “Don’t say it like it means nothing.”

“Oh, you’re going to give me the same pep-talk that you gave the boys this morning, are you?”

I suddenly spot a porking space and I swing the cor into it.

Sorcha goes, “Ross, I think–”

I’m like, “You think what?”

“I think Hans-Jurgen’s dad was about to reverse into this space.”

“Well, like I said to Brian, Johnny and Leo – if you’d been properly listening – there are two types of people in the world of competitive sport, Sorcha – the quick and the dead.”

We get out of the cor and – yeah, no – Klaus-Dieter Schnellinger gives me an angry blast of his horn. So I walk up to his window and I’m like, “What’s up with you, beepy?”

He goes, “That is my space.”

I’m there, “Hord to see how that’s the case when my famous Five Serious is sitting in it.”

“Move your cor.”

“Yeah – like that’s going to happen?”

Then he shouts it. He’s like, “I said move your cor!”

I’m there, “Do you want to make something of it?” and I stort grabbing at the handle of his door.

Sorcha – ever the drama queen – screams and storts dragging me away, going, “Oh my God! Oh my literally God?”

I’m there, “Calm down, Sorcha. I’ve had worse bust-ups with my own teammates – ask Christian what I was like in the dressing room before matches.”

She goes, “I know what this about, Ross. You’re going through nicotine withdrawal.”

I’m like, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Yeah, no, long story short, Honor persuaded me to stort vaping a couple of months ago. Then she suddenly decided to quit – not a bother to her – and left me pretty much addicted. Anyway, like Sorcha said, I haven’t touched the stuff for, like, 48 hours and I feel like there’s a little demon inside my head, rattling the bors of my brain.

I’m there, “It’s got nothing to do with nicotine withdrawal, Sorcha. This is just me when it comes to competitive sport. Take me as I am.”

So the sports day storts and I’m, like, pacing up and down the field, muttering madly to myself, even though Brian, Johnny and Leo end up doing us proud. Their only competition, in fairness, is each other. It’s, like, Brian first, Leo second and Johnny third in the 50m sprint. Then it’s, like, Johnny first, Brian second and Leo third in the sack race. And then it’s like Leo first, Johnny second and Brian third in the egg and spoon.

Again, I’m definitely not one of those parents, but I have to confess to getting a bit carried away – a mixture of relief and pride – and I stort shouting things like, “Eat it up, you pack of losers!” at the other moms and dads.

Sorcha goes, “I wonder should you try nicotine patches or something?” but I’ve no interest in debating the issue of my supposably addiction, because it’s Hammer time. In other words, it’s time for the parents’ wheelbarrow race.

The adrenaline is, like, coursing through my veins as we make our way to the storting line and my nerves aren’t exactly eased when Sorcha turns around to me and goes, “So which of us is going to be the actual wheelbarrow?” like I haven’t been talking about this moment all week.

I’m there, “Er, the one of us with the guns that are basically the talk of David Lloyd Riverview right now,” and I give my biceps a subtle flex in case she’s still in any doubt.

I drop to the deck along with the other mostly dads and Sorcha grabs my legs as Mr Schwarzenbeck goes, “On your marks… set…”

Before he’s said, “Go!” I notice, out of the corner of my right eye, that Klaus-Dieter and his wife Marlena have, like, false-storted. But Mr Schwarzenbeck doesn’t stop the race. He lets it go on. And suddenly I’m screaming at the injustice of it as I watch Klaus-Dieter beetling ahead of the rest of the field.

I’m going, “You cheat! You focking cheat!” but suddenly – fired on by the unfairness of it – my orms are working like pistons and I’m shouting, “Faster, Sorcha! Faster!”

We manage to close the gap between us and the Schnellingers and we’re pretty much neck and neck 10 metres from the finishing line. And that’s when I end up making a fatal error.

In an attempt to encourage Sorcha to give it one last push, I go, “Come on, where’s your big-match temperament? You’re not playing hockey for Mount Anville’s fifths now!” because – yeah, no – she didn’t exactly distinguish herself in the field of sport and sometimes I can’t stop myself from rubbing her nose in it.

So that’s when she decides to suddenly stop and I end up falling flat on my face – we’re talking, like, five metres from the line.

The Schnellingers end up winning, although this being south Dublin, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court is asked to make the final determination.

I’m left rolling around on the grass, grinding my teeth and howling in agony, going, “No! No! NOOOO!!!!”

Sorcha, standing over me, goes, “Ross, you have a serious addiction problem.”

And I’m like, “Please! Can someone – anyone – give me a blast of their vape pen?”

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly

Ross O’Carroll-Kelly was captain of the Castlerock College team that won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup in 1999. It’s rare that a day goes by when he doesn’t mention it