Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Hazy Shame of Winter

Watching Wicklow v Carlow on Saturday (brought live to the nation by Setanta Sports by virtue of it being Mick O'Dwyer's first game as Wicklow manager) brought it all back to me. Not being managed by Mick O'Dwyer (he never did take up that offer to coach in the Donegal South West U12 B division), or being featured live on Setanta (unfortunately they were not in existence at the time of aforementioned team's glory days); rather, my boyhood experiences of playing Gaelic football in winter.

Strangely, for all the Championship football that spills with colour and pageantry from our screens during the summer, I'm never reminded when watching it of long, balmy summer days when the livin' was easy and the football too. Nope, seems I consigned all that to the memory trash folder, along with the names of the battles in the Nine Years War and the the words of approximately forty-seven prayers.

But tune in to TG4 or Setanta of a Baltic winter's afternoon and it all comes flooding back. The spine chills, and it's school lunchtim and I'm there, shivering and bedraggled.....

A fusillade of hailstones, especially during training laps. More terrible because that way they got you from all sides. On the back of the ears going down one side of the pitch. Turn the corner, along the goal line and they bombarded the side of your head; left again for 140 metres of coruscating pain right into your face that surely paid off a millenium of purgatory in advance; then along the other goal-line to take care of the part of your head that isn't swollen and vermilion. Ten laps of it.

The thwack of ball on bare leg. O'Neills size 4s pick up little bits of grit in the stitching, which aid the stinging process so efficiently that the Spanish Inquisition were said to rattle them off the fleshy thighs of recalcitrant heretics, as a last resort. Blocking a point blank shot with exposed flesh was a deed nobler than any man could ever wish to perform for his team.

The sogginess of Mikasa gloves. With movement already severely restricted by the quagmire that existed where once a pitch was said to, and the body slowed by the corporeal numbness caused by the hail and the gritty balls, the standard issue Mikasa gloves would become sodden and heavy, weighing the hands down as limply as the rest of the body.

The magical rubbery spots which made the Mikasas so splendid for catching were rendered pointless due to the absorbtion of several litres of moisture. This caused the gloves to sag uselessly, as if made of used tea-bags.

Truly it was a whole different ball game. Players who cavorted down the wings in summer like sprites from the world of J.M. Barrie were despised and ostracised come the foul months of winter.

Weaving solo runs and impish corner forward play? Forget it. Wheel out the the monstrous early developers. The boys with voices like Paul Robeson and chest hair at the age of twelve. Station one of each at full back, centre-half back, two in midfield, and another pair at centre forward and full forward.

Tactics thus: Full back blocks stinging shot with fleshy thigh. Grimaces. Picks up ball and punts down central channel to next available manchild/primate. Centre back or midfielder collects ball in soggy Mikasas. Delivers thundering long hoof into opposition goalmouth. Goalkeeper waves hands in vague direction of ball. Simultaneously closes eyes and emits high-pitched, barely audible whimper. Full forward stands on his head while fisting earthbound ball into net.

Manager - dry and toasty in woolly hat and waterproofs and snugly tucked up in the dug out - hollers approbation. Opposing manager searches Dictionary of Hiberno-English Insults for suitable description of his team. Finds arcane term of Anglo-Norman origin which translates roughly as "homosexual goats". Bystanders nod in agreement at term's appropriateness.

Game proceeds in this manner to its conclusion - the Homosexual Goats possessing no sad-eyed, oversized lumberers with which to copy the opposition's supreme tactics - ending in a score of 8-14 to 0-1. Noone remembers the losing team's point; many suspect the sympathy of a humane referee.

Result gets recorded in local paper, accompanied by the phrase "in atrocious conditions at Pairc na nGael, the under-12 Bs had a disappointing result...."

Happy days.

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Anonymous Dunner said...

It's a far cry from the GAA, but imagine the same scenario, played out on rugby fields as U9's or U10's, when the 'sad eyed' lumbering primates were perfectly within the rules of the game to drive the smaller members of the opposition into the sodden turf, jump up and down on them, maybe even punch and kick them before scoring a try. Whereupon the dejected children were asked to return possession to them at the kick off. I played in 100 point defeats where we didn't touch the ball. Twice in mt early career the referees blew up after a couple of minutes of the second half in order to spare us the indignity of conceding 100 points for the third week in a a row.

10:17 a.m.  

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