‘BRENO, YOU’RE STARTING AT CORNER-FORWARD’
IF YOU were looking for proof that small club teams in the G.A.A. are in trouble regarding numbers in this day and age, then our last game on Tuesday evening would have been the perfect case in point.
Positional strengths or weaknesses are no longer of any importance.
For small clubs it has come down to a case of 'have body, fill position', as villages and towns are scoured on match day for upright and mobile male human beings whose only connection to the G.A.A. club is that they may have once drove past the football field on the way to work or that they may have accidentally paused on a match on the telly while channel surfing.
No, times are bad lads. Times are bad.
I pulled in to the football field of the club we were facing in the third league game of the year on Tuesday evening and I wondered whether both teams would have the 15.
The club we were playing are a proud club, long-time rivals of ourselves.
In fact, 20 odd years ago both sides met to see who would go up a grade and that club won and they enjoyed a sojourn in Senior and Intermediate for two decades while we battled away in Junior, visiting Intermediate briefly after a wonderful championship win in 2006, only for about half the team to then decide to hop on the next plane to Australia for a year or two.
We survived for one year at Intermediate but crashed back down in the second year. Still, I hear they had a great time Down Under.
As is the case nowadays, the car park of the club was almost overflowing with cars yet there were only a small group of players milling around. Nobody car shares anymore apparently.
A head count was ongoing when I arrived. I think I made number 11. Eventually we had 14 and someone said they had heard that ' Humph' was on the way so we made our way to the dressing-rooms to prepare for battle.
At the start of this diary process I didn't for one second believe that I'd ever be comparing the bauld 'Goose' with Clare legend, Davy Fitzgerald, but would you believe it I have solid grounds for making just such a comparison.
I can't find my one and only pair of knicks. Don't know where they're gone. I've even enlisted the almost canine search and rescue skills of the wife but to no avail. They're gone.
So I'm left with this baggy tracksuit bottoms; grand in the cold and wet and dark evenings but starting to look a little weird now in the fine, bright days. People will start talking. Rumours will begin to circulate.
‘What's the story with Da Breno lads? It's not normal to wear a tracksuit bottoms. Is he a pervert or what?’ That sort of thing.
But it's really just a case of laziness combined with being miserly to be honest. My boots are now more tape than boot, my gumshields were a gift from ' The Gar', and the Carlow jersey I wear to training was a gift from work colleagues in that fair county when I left the last job.
Almost every day I take to the field wearing the lovely bright garment I'm hit with the same question - ‘where did you get that yoke?’ I quite like it.
Anyway, the bauld ' Goose’ and Davy Fitz. So I've took to the field (you reach the field by crossing over a bridge if you don't mind, across a little river, very pretty) in my tracksuit bottoms and I'm busy warming up my kick-out leg when 'Goose' sidles up beside me.
‘You're starting at corner-forward,’ he says, cool as you like and in the same manner as Davy Fitz must have told young O'Donnell on the morning of the All-Ireland hurling final replay last year that he was starting against Cork.
‘I am in my arse,’ I replied (or something along those lines). ‘I can't run. My chest wouldn't be able for that. I've no knicks.’
I made a long list of reasons why I shouldn't start but I could tell it wasn't going to make any difference to the 'Goose’.
‘You're starting at corner-forward,’ he said. ‘There's a bit of running in your legs, and I have knicks in my bag,’ he added.
Back I go to the dressing-rooms trying to get into the mindset of a corner-forward, trying to recall the thinking from my outfield playing days. Got to the dressing-rooms, can't find ‘ Goose's bag so J.P. (another bearded one, suave, sophisticated) pulls one out of his bag, fits perfectly. Can't find the feckin gumshields anywhere. It'll be alright, I haven't really worn them at all yet, usually stick them in the sock. Be grand. They're hardly that strict are they?
The teams line out. I take four blasts of the inhaler, four!
It's me and 'Beefy' in the corners. I spot a young looking corner-back and head for him and let Beefy take the stocky, tough looking dude. I've a young family lads.
Game on, first ball, I'm out in front, gather and lay off. I like this, like the freedom, like the potential, feel like a carnivore, a hunter.
The ' Breadman' is centre half-forward. During an attack the ref blows his whistle and confronts ' Breadman' over not wearing his gumshields. Flashes a yellow card. ‘Bugger,’ says I to myself, he'll spot me now and I don't have any on me.
Selector Joe is on the sideline. I tell Joe to get injured Johnny's gumshields off him for me. He does, but they're shaped to Johnny's mouth and it's the quarest mouth I've ever came across but it beats shoving your tongue up under your top lip every time the ref is in the vicinity.
Another ball in, gather, seem to think I'm 'Gooch’ Cooper all of a sudden and I launch a shot for a point from about 45 yards out. It lands around about the 21-yard line. Still, I'm showing well, as they say in the G.A.A. and in maternity wards.
Turns out my choice of cornerback was a very good one, not because I was superior or anything like that, but because he was possibly the nicest young man I've ever met in my life. A pure gent. All business when the ball was around but, during the quiet times, ready and willing to chat and have a bit of banter. He's a credit to his club and at 17 he can already boast of a mature looking growth of facial hair. Mine is still undecided and I'm 37.
We won the game. I didn't score but did make a few, and pulled off some good interceptions and dispossessions.
Thought my selfish team-mates could have passed the ball to me a bit more but I'm not one to wash the dirty underwear in public. Know what I mean lads?