While the eyes of the football world were on José Mourinho at lunchtime on Saturday, the legs, arses and bellies of our particular corner of it had more pressing concerns.
Indeed, if we had to name a specific concern it was at a general lack of pressing employed by The Irish Times team at the annual Carl O'Malley Cup, a six-a-side media tournament run in honour of our late, lamented colleague on the sports desk. A lack of pressing, a lack of passing, a lack and alack.
The game is about glory, Danny Blanchflower said. Danny boy, you never saw the like of us trying to play it.
The closest we came to glory on Saturday was going 2-0 up after three minutes of our opening match against Off The Ball, at which point we started looking at each other and wondering had anyone remembered to write a victory speech. By the time we trudged off on the wrong end of an 8-4 defeat a whole 11 minutes later, it's fair to say glory had found better things to be doing with itself.
Carl wouldn’t have been long diagnosing our shortcomings. You could have just seen him at the afters on Saturday night, standing outside the pub pulling the good out of a fag and shaking his smiley head. Too old. No legs. Have to find some young lads for next year. Half-joking, half-coming up with some bit of a plan do to something about it.
He’ll be gone five years next February. Imagine. A brutal thing that feels as raw to think about now as it did then. He was 36 when he took ill playing a game of five-a-side on a Thursday night and died in St Vincent’s hospital a few hours later. He was on paternity leave that week.
A week and a half before he died, Carl played for us in the inaugural media tournament, held that year in UCD. It’s the usual way of these things that they go for a year, maybe for a few and then the general level of interest ebbs away.
Getting 16 different teams into the same place on the same day is a cat-herding job, and all it ever takes is for a couple of companies to pull out one year and just like that, it runs aground. Without Carl’s name attached it’s no big stretch to imagine that it might have faded from view by now.
Yet there we all were on Saturday, in the cool and gloom of a winter’s afternoon, running around like halfwits who frankly should know better. The Irish Independent soccer writer Dan McDonnell is due the lion’s share of the credit for corralling everybody who wants to play and guilt-tripping the ones who are half thinking of ducking out. Four groups of four, top two into the knock-out stages for the cup, everybody else into the plate.
We were plate-fodder from early on. Off The Ball made short work of us after our quick start and the Mirror likewise chewed us up in the second game. Both sides had lads who were young and willowy and fit, which for journalists of any stripe is cheating, frankly.
We were more at our level when we met the Star, half of whom were our vintage and shape. Beating them 6-3 gave us something to bring home with us.
Out and playing
None of which was the point, of course – although admittedly it’s easy to be sanguine when you haven’t a hope of winning the thing. The point was to be out and to be playing, and to be cattle-prodding away at the thing that will come to us all in time. There’ll come a day when you can’t be at it. So be at it.
The good thing about a day like that is that it doesn’t matter and it matters a great deal. Every year there’s at least one game that gets spiky and spills over into a bit of hold-me-back carry-on. On one such occasion on Saturday, the referee actually stopped the play and pulled the teams together. “Carl O’Malley was a good lad,” he said, simply. “Cop yourselves on.”
Mind you, Carl was a cranky enough sort when the mood took him. But it seemed to have the desired effect all the same. No animals were hurt in the making of this tournament. Not even the ones from the Sun.
Carl’s brother John played on the Fathom FC team, made up of Carl’s five-a-side mates with whom he played for years. Fathom won the plate competition for the second year running, which the rest of us are quite happy to paint as a sort of charitable donation for as long as we can get away with it. Three-in-a-row might be pushing our luck though.
The highlight of it all is the fact that Carl’s parents turn up to the prizegiving and his mother Katherine hands over the cup. In her speech last year she made a few of us catch ourselves in our throats a little with a simple message. “Keep playing for as long as you can,” she said.
That’s the root of it, really. We woke up on Sunday as stiff as telephone poles, creaking and half-limping, and making the same promise to be in better shape for next year’s outing as we did 12 months ago.
Silly old crocks still playing a silly old game, keeping the end date at bay for no other reason than the vague hope that it might be possible.
And every once in a while catching ourselves in memory of a good lad gone way too soon.