The final whistle blows and I burst into tears. The greatest day of my life? It’s definitely up there. People bang on about the birth of their children, but children let you down. This Ireland team never do?
The old man goes, “One for the ages, eh, Ross?” putting a big, meaty hand on my shoulder. “You and I have been fortunate enough to see three Irish Grand Slams in our lifetime – but this is the first time we’ve enjoyed one from here!”
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Here means the corporate box that once belonged to Anglo Irish Bank, which he bought after the place went tits up in a ditch.
I’m there, “Yeah, no, it’s the first Grand Slam that my sons have been old enough to properly–” and then I stop because I realise that Brian, Johnny and Leo are not in their seats. They’re inside, rolling around on the floor – see what I mean? – trying to stab each other in the eyes with cocktail sticks. I go in and I separate them – three little thugs – then I drag them outside to watch the presentation.
I’m like, “Goys, this is, like, literally history happening and you’re missing it.”
Johnny – the Johnny – lifts the Six Nations trophy and the crowd goes ballistic. In all the madness, it’s quite possible that I end up hugging the old man. The boys just stand there, shrugging their shoulders, like Grand Slams are two-a-penny, which they probably will be for their generation.
I’m there, “Goys, look at Johnny Sexton down there. He considers your old man his guru, by the way.”
The three of them laugh in my face.
I’m like, “What? Did I say something funny?”
Brian goes, “You don’t know Johnny Sexton. Honor said it’s all in your head.”
I’m there, “If it’s all in my head, then how do you explain these text messages?” and I stort scrolling through my phone. “Night before the England match, I texted him, ‘Eat nerves, shit results!’ and he sent me a thumbs-up. Night before Scotland, ‘Eat nerves, shit results,’ and he replied with, ‘Love these texts – keep them coming!’ Night before we beat France, ‘Eat nerves, shit results,’ and he’s like, ‘Wouldn’t be the player I am today without your support and guidance – you’re a legend to me!’”
And that’s when Leo goes, “Honor said granddad writes them!”
I turn around and I look at the old man. “The fock is he talking about?” I go.
The dude suddenly can’t look at me. And that’s saying something. He’s a politician. He lies for a living.
I look down at my phone and I write a text message to Johnny Sexton. It’s like, “Fair focks, Dude!” and then I add a high-five emoji, a rugby ball emoji, a shamrock emoji and a trophy emoji before sending it to him. Two seconds later, the old man’s phone beeps.
I’m there, “What the fock? What the actual fock?”
“Oh, it was just a bit of hormless fun!” the dude tries to go. “It was actually Hennessy’s idea! You were always complaining about how the great man never replied to any of your text messages since he made the step-up from the Ireland A team! So Hennessy thought how funny it would be if he changed Johnny’s number in your phone to a number that was registered to him! He ended up giving the phone to me in the end! I think he was surprised at the sheer volume of messages you sent to the chap!”
I’m like, “So that’s who I’ve been texting all these years? You?”
“We did plan to tell you!” he goes. “Like I said, it was a joke at the stort – an April Fool’s joke, if I remember correctly! You know Hennessy – he’d humour a dying man! But then, well, you took it so seriously that I felt I had no choice but to maintain the ruse! Good Lord, it became a full-time job as well! I’m actually rather relieved that the cat is out of the proverbial bag!”
I’m just, like, staring into space, all my illusions shattered.
I’m there, “So all those videos I sent him of me doing various exercises in the gym – one-ormed push-ups and blah, blah, blah – it was you who sent me back all those thumbs-up emojis?”
He goes, “Come on, Ross, it was a white lie at worst!”
So that’s when I decide to hit him with a secret of my own.
I’m there, “You didn’t get a hole in one that time in Portmornock – the day I was caddying for you.”
He goes, “What, at the charity pro-am in ‘97?”
I’m there, “Exactly. The time you were playing with Paul McGinley and Ronan Collins. You hit your ball into the bonker. I was the one who picked it out and dropped it into the hole.”
His face. He’s actually devastated. Good enough for the focker.
He goes, “All these years, I thought . . . I got a hole in one!”
I’m there, “It was Hennessy’s idea. He gave me a hundred snots to do it.”
He’s like, “My name is on the board in Portmornock, Ross! I’m going to have to phone them now and tell them to take it down!”
I’m there, “It’s only a bit of hormless fun, dude.”
I turn around to the boys and I go, “Come on, goys, let’s go,” then the five of us walk out of the ground, silent while thousands around us celebrate.
Brian is laughing – cruelly, I might add. He goes, “You didn’t get a hole in one and you don’t know Johnny Sexton.”
I’m there, “Dad, will you drive these three dickheads home? I’m going to meet the goys in The Bridge and get wasted.”
The old man – still in shock – goes, “Right-eo, Kicker.”
Halfway up Lansdowne Road, we hear this, like, humongous roar behind us. The team bus is making its way through the crowd. It stops at the traffic lights. Suddenly, I spot him – we’re talking Sexton himself – sitting next to the window, halfway down the bus. He cops me and – I’m not making this up – I watch him mouth the words, “There’s Ross!”
In front of him, I watch James Ryan turn around in his seat and go, “Who?” which is a typical Michael’s thing to say.
And I see Johnny go, “Ross O’Carroll-Kelly!” and he gives me a smile and a thumbs-up.
I’m like, “Goys, did you see that?” except the old man and the boys are walking, like, 20 paces ahead of me. “Goys? Goys?”