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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

There was no such thing as “Tweaked Hammers” or “Tight Groins” back in those days!!

Anyone who is into their Football, and by football I mean Football, not ‘soccer’, will know just how much an inter county footballer’s lifestyle has changed over the last 30 odd years. Nowadays it’s incredible really how much training and time goes into preparing your body to last the pace of 70 minutes in Croker, especially when Stephen Cluxton is the man between the sticks, dictating the pace of the game with his short quick kickouts, “Ah for jaysus sake cluxton, will ya fire one down the middle” says a bolloxed tired imposing midfielder with 5 minutes left on the clock!  

Monday could be a gym session, Tuesday field, - during January/February this tends to be the torture session “I’m telling ya, if you don’t run the 200Meters in under 27 seconds you’re going again!!”, Wednesday gym again, Thursday back out onto the field, Friday, maybe a rest if you’re lucky, and then a game at the weekend. Repeat that cycle week in and week out, I’ll tell you that’s some serious amount of washing for the poor owl mammy’s!!”   

 “Maaa, I have a club game tonight, where’s them shorts??”  

Then on top of that schedule you have to watch every last thing you eat “feck sake ma, I told you not to have sauce with my chicken, too bad for ya, I have to get my body fat down” or “By any chance do we have any green tea in the house?”… “GREEEENN TEA” says the confused looking head on the father of a budding intercounty star/farmer! 

Things where somewhat different back when “men were men” and when there was no such thing as a ‘tight hammer’ or a ‘tweaked groin’!  

Well during the early 80s my father was living in Ferguson Road,Drumcondra, Dublin 9, sharing a house with Offaly legend and GAA great Matt Connor. During this time the faithful supporters were living their glory days and a lot of it was due to Matt’s raw talent between the white lines. The auld lad often told me some great stories about Matt. One story I found really interesting was how Matt trained outside of Eugene McGee’s well ran Offaly camp.

Dad would be sitting on the couch having a cup of scald after work and Matt would come down the stairs wearing an old pair of runners with an O’Neills in his hand, “Joe, I’m running down to Na Fianna’s pitch on Mobi Road to do a few laps and have a kick around, any chance you'd follow me down in a half hour so I can take a few shots on ya?” “No bother  Thresher (as he was known), I’ll be down soon”.  

So off Matt would go running along the roads soloing with his left, then his right, while jinxing in and out of the telephone poles along the footpath! Dad never played football at a top level so he was amazed to see what Matt could do with a ball in hand; the man was a pure genius. Dad often described to me how Matt would place the ball on the edge of the either side line, about 55 to 60 yards out and shout at my aul lad who would be gathering the balls for Matt behind the goals “Right big Joe, left or right peg?? Inside or outside the foot?”. Ahhjaysus whatever Matt, just hurry up ta fuck I’m feckin freezin here. “Right so” says Matt, as he’d swing the ball straight over the black spot with a flick of his left peg!! 

One particular day, Matt asked my Dad to stand in the middle of the goal posts and not to move left or right; “Stand dead still Joe”. While Matt was placing the ball on the penalty spot, and peeking up, looking at dad with deadly concentration on his face, my aul lad was getting very paranoid and felt a bit intimidated. “Matt I’m warning you, if you kick the ball at my bollox or anywhere near it, I’ll give you a kick in the arse!”. “Ha, I won’t horse, don’t worry, now don’t move”.

Matt walked back about three steps, took one last look at his target, and “Bang”

The ball, according to my oul lad simply came at him with a spin and a bend, crashed through a hole in the net that was no bigger than a dinner plate right behind him.  

Dad asked him, “Connor, ya aul shnakke ya! Were you trying to fucking hit me or what!?” Matt replied, “No I had planned to put it between your legs alright but when I noticed the hole in the net behind ya, I thought that would be a better target.”  

My auld man didn’t realise at the time that he was kicking around with one of the greatest players to have graced Croke Park. Dad just thought of him as a friend who “was a bit of craic and handy at the oul football”.  

After the ‘kick abouts’ they would call into the “Cat & Cage” on the way home for a few pints of black. The diehard GAA oul lads at the bar would often ask Matt plenty of questions; “Will Offaly stop Kerry this year Matt?”…. “They will Tommy, if they supply me with enough ball”. All this type of banter that goes on in all pubs around the country.  

There was no such thing as Pilate’s classes, bikram yoga, top class diets, or any of that craic back then, it was just training with your county two nights during the week, a game at the weekend and make a holy show of your friend down on the local GAA pitch on the off days.  

It’s such a pity that this naturally gifted footballer met with a bad car accident which ended his football career at 24 years of age, god knows what he would have went on to achieve in the game. Well my aul lad for one, was delighted to have had the chance to run after many a ball that Matt curled over the black spot below in the Na Fianna Gaa pitch on Mobhi Road. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

The day I was introduced to the fastest field game in the world!!

When I was growing up as a young lad, like most other chaps, I played every sport that came my way. Football, hurling, soccer, golf.. You name it, no such thing as ‘player burn out’ when you’re a fresh gosson!

One day, not long after my 10th birthday all the lads I hung around with were going to sign for the local soccer club ‘Ashbourne United’. So I said I would ask my father to sign the form and pay the joining fee for me. Now my auld man is from a very rural part of Offaly, where it’s nothing but hurling and Football, a place where let’s just say soccer is the forbidden fruit! I doubt half of his local parish have even heard of Lionel Messi, proud GAA countrymen down that neck of the woods, the way it should be in my own opinion. Ah sure I said I would chance my arm anyhow and see what he’d said,

“Daa, all the lads are joining Ashbourne United soccer club, will you sign my form for me? I reckon I’d be handy enough at it, the joining fee is £100!”

“Rory, there isn’t a chance in hell a son of mine is playing a foreign sport, so don’t be annoying me” as he stuck his head back into the latest edition of ‘Irelands own’.

 “ Da, pleaaase”..

 “Rory I’d give you a bottle of whisky and 20 cigarettes before I will let you play soccer, go join the hurling like every normal chap!”..

 “Feck sake da!”

So that was the end of me playing soccer for a few years anyway. I was at the time playing plenty of football for Donaghmore/Ashbourne, we played every Saturday morning in the North County Dublin League (Meath had nothing set up for that age group at the time!)  I loved it. So I decided to take my aul man’s advice and give the small ball game a rattle.  Now you must remember I’m from Meath, so hurling was never that strong, especially during the late 90s when the Royal county footballers were ever present in Croker during the latter end of the Championship. Well myself and 2 of my buddies, whose fathers were big GAA men as well, said we would head down to hurling training one evening with the u10s to see what the craic was.

I remember it well, it was a lovely summers evening, fresh cut grass, nettles all along the side of the pitch just waiting in the long grass to pounce on a young lad who had over hit a sliotar! When we got there we gave our names and were handed a hurl each and told to spread out 40 yards apart and puck the ball to each other. This seemed to come very natural to everyone around us but we were all typical young townie chaps, who were used to playing soccer around by the shops, where the craic was whoever had jumpers on their backs had to sacrifice them as goalposts!

Well we were finding the going very tough, at least two ‘fresh-airs’ before we even connected with the sliotar and even when we did connect, god knows how far the ball would travel, one could go off over a lad’s head and the other would skim off the stick and go about 7 yards in front of you “a feck sake” as you walked up to give it another whack.

This went on for a while and then we were called into a huddle, our manager at the time – ‘Big Pat’, was the biggest brut of a man you can imagine, he was from the heart of Kilkenny, had a voice that would scare the bejesus out of you, he’d a pair of hands on him like two big IKEA frying pans and has never been seen with a clean pair of trousers on - RAW.

“Right lads, we have a few new boys joining the team today, Rory John and Eric, Welcome lads..” At the time we would have been considered the ‘bold boys’ at school so a few lads were a bit intimidated by us showing up.

Pat turns around and says “right men, I need to find a goalie, who wants to play in goals!?” ..Of course nobody put their hand up – sure for the love of god who wanted to be a goalie in hurling, only the maddest of the mad survive between the sticks on a hurling pitch! “Ok so, I’ll do it my way” says Pat, so he picked out the 3 biggest lads in the group, I was one of them, “Right chaps, says he “We have to find a goalie for this team so I need to test yee out” … “holy god what does he mean by that” I says to myself, as I looked on with a dog shit of a hurl in my hand and a Celtic jersey on me.

So this lad called, ‘Mark’ was up first, standing there, big tall gangly gosson, with a pair of Argos shin pads on and an old raggedy aul Wexford jersey on his back. Pat stands about 15 yards out from goals with a Goalies shovel in his hand and 3 sliotars at his feet.

 “Right boys… I’ll hit three balls at ye each and whoever saves the most is our goalie, it’s as simple as that!”

 “Holy mother of god, he can’t be serious” I thought, as I stood in line already starting to regret beginning a hurling career.

So Pat flicked up the first sliotar with his hurl and absolutely launches it at poor owl Mark, Mark dived out of the way and Pat ate the head off him “ lord jayyyysus gosson, you’re meant to save the ball not jump out of the way” he did the same with the next two balls, “Right Mark, well it’s safe to say you won’t be our goalie, stand aside there..” then up stepped Tommy, He did the exact same to Tommy.. “God lads have we any goalies at all?? Did yee ever see Davy Fitz jump out of the way of the ball? Never! Bunch of pansies I have here...” and we all 10 years of age, with barely a hair on our legs!!

“Right, in goals there with ya Rory.” I was shitting it altogether, I had bad asthma at the time and could feel my chest tighten up with nerves, because here I was at my first ever hurling training session and I was being asked to stand in front of a beast of a man with a massive hurl in his hands and I was expected to save the sliotar he was going to launch at my head!

The first two balls I managed to jump out of the way of, but I wasn’t so lucky with the last Sliotar! I didn’t manage to dive out of the way quick enough and it caught me right on my shinbone.. “Ahhh me fecking shin” as I dived onto the ground! Pat stood there with a big grin on his Face and says “Right Young O’ Connor, you’ll be the goalie so!”

After that mini nightmare was over it got worse, Pat then had us paired off in groups of 4, Pulling the shins off each other for the next 15 minutes while shouting at us, “I’m telling yee men, this might be sore now but your legs will learn to get used to wild pulls, so we’ll be more than ready when we come across a dirty shower from north Meath!!”

When that bit of torture was over we spent the last 15 minutes trying to puck the ball over the bar, every one of us absolutely bolloxed from pulling the shins off each other. The session ended soon after that and we all gathered around the back of Pat’s working van as he handed us a bottle of ‘score’ and a bag of ‘Tayto’.

 “There ya go young chaps, great session, twill be the same again next Tuesday evening”.

I’ll tell you if anyone was going to make men out of us it was Big Pat!

Monday, 13 January 2014

Rory’s Royal Roasting!!

I have always been a very keen GAA man; it’s a huge part of my life. When I was a young lad, all I wanted to do was play for the Royal County in Croke Park. I grew up watching Big John McDermott in the middle of the field, he used to pluck balls out of the sky for fun and I always wanted to be him.

Growing up I was always very big for my age, my manager from u10 to u14 had to bring a copy of my birth cert to most matches to prove to the ref and the other team’s manager that I wasn’t a “banger”.

From u14 to pretty much minor football I had it all my own way. If I’m being honest, I was never a great footballer, I was the type of chap that once I’d won a ball I’d hear “Lay it off Rory, lay if off” from the side-line. I could though, catch most kick-outs because I was a foot bigger than anyone around me; I thought this was a ‘piece of piss’ and I was destined for Croker!

Eventually though everyone around me began to naturally grow and I wasn’t as influential as my underage days. I still am an awkward whoor to have around the middle to ‘shake things up’!

In 2008 I was midfield for the Meath u21 team; we got absolutely spanked by Kildare in Navan. I did though, have one of my better outings and was proud of my efforts after the game. In the showers after, like most GAA lads, we tried to forget about the game and spoke about the drinking session we were going to go on, “mon we hit Navan lads, drown the sorrows”. As we headed back into the changing rooms, Colm Coyle (Meath manager at the time) called me over and says “I want you to come in for a training match tomorrow morning with the seniors, you deserve a shot after that performance”.

This was great news, but I was still mad for a few pints with the lads as it was my last year u21. So I said I would go for the famous ‘1 or 2’. Sure of course the craic was ninety and as the night went on I’d say to myself just to justify what I was doing “Sure even if I play a stormer tomorrow, I’m still not going to be on the championship panel so fuck it, I’ll arrive up and do my best”(a woeful attitude altogether). So I ended up getting locked and got a taxi back to Ashbourne about 4am, absolutely mouldy drunk!

The next morning I woke up on my couch in an awful heap. I just heard my doorbell ring, the mother answered it, came into the back room and says “Cormac is at the door (Cormac was a fellow clubman on the Meath team at the time) “What does he want..” says I.. “You have a game don’t you??” .. “OH SHITTTE, I do”!!

So I jumped in the car, still in the jeans and shirt from the night before “where’s your gear!?” asked one of the lads in the back seat, “awe boys I can’t play I’m in an awful way, I wouldn’t run up the stairs right now. I’ll just say one of the Skyrne lads were meant to pick it up for me and they forgot”. – Such a brutal excuse!

So we got to the pitch, late of course, most of the panel were out on the field warming up. I’d got sick out the window on the way down to Navan so I was as white as a ghost getting out of the car. Tommy Dowd (Meath Legend, was a selector at the time) took one look at me and says in a pure thick Meath accent “You’re soooome cowboy O’ Connor” and burst out laughing.

I strutted into the changing room, with the stamp from the nightclub clearly visible on my hand and stuttered my woeful excuse to a dead wise Colm Coyle. I thought being size 13 in boots that I would have been safe enough that nobody would have spare boots of that calibre, so I was thinking that I was going to be sitting in the dugout having the bit of craic during the game and let my hangover pass by comfortably.

But no, just my luck up perked an excited Mark Ward (Meath Midfielder at the time) “jaysus Rory, I have a spare pair of 13s in my bag here, you can wear them!” he knowing well the state I was in – da bollix!

“Ah jaysus thanks Wardy, you’re such a gentleman!!” I then got a pair of socks and size 34 shorts off another lad, I’m size 38 at best, so they were completely bet onto me! So off I headed out onto the pitch to join the warm up; looking like a chap they had dragged in off the street to make up the numbers. I was marking Nigel Crawford and I never got such a roasting in all my life, I was calling for kickouts and jumping about 10 minutes too early. The game was a complete disaster and an utter blur!!

After the game as we were jogging from side-line to side-line to warm down, I had to pull up along the railings and put the fingers down the throat. Anthony Moyles, Meath captain at the time walked by with a look of utter disgust on his face, shook his head and pointed at me saying "that is what is wrong with Meath football right there". I was in such a heap down on my hunkers that I couldn't even feel ashamed; I just stuck the fingers back down the throat again to get the last of the Navan Supermacs out of my system.

When I was eventually done getting sick, I didn’t even bother my hole having a shower; I just jumped into Cormac’s car, sat there dirty and freezing, waiting on the lads to come out so we could go home ta fack!

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t too surprised that I didn’t get a call back to training the following Tuesday – nor play another game for the Royal county!!

Monday, 6 January 2014

Sure tis no wonder it took me 3 attempts to pass my driving test…

Everyone has been on family holidays down through the years, they are great, especially when your 10 and you just spend the two weeks jumping in and out of the pool, drinking gallons of coke, orange and 7up, while annoying the life out of your aul lad every second you get “ Da, watch me do this dive into the pool”.. “Da, will you play table tennis with me!?”.. “Da, will you buy me a ball for the pool!?”.

Well in 1996 we jetted off to Santa Ponsa(wouldn’t be like us Irish to go their during the 90s) for a 2 week holiday. Myself, the mother, the Father and my older sister Carol. We were having a great holiday, sun was beaming every day, we had met plenty of sound folk around the pool to have the craic with and the entertainment at night was brilliant. One of the lads I palled around with at the pool had been to this top class park the day before, he said it was unreal, it had an arcade room full of the best of the best video games, it had a class big snooker area and it had GO KARTS!

So for the next 3 days I plagued the aul man to bring me to this park, “ Daaaa pleaseee” .. “No Rory, go play in the pool their like a good chap and don’t be annoying me”.. Well I kept at it and at it until eventually he gave in.. “ok ok, I’ll bring you tomorrow, just give me peace for the rest of today. “yeoooww” I shouted as I did a big ’bomb’ into the pool and drowned half the people who were sun bathing, “ Jaysus Margaret, what was that!?” says one man who had the ear phones in and got a right drop of water on his forehead.

So the next day myself and the father headed off to the park while the two women stayed by the pool and did what every woman loves to do – read books and try their very best to get a tan! The last thing I do remember my ma saying was “Joe, make sure he doesn’t get on anything to mad, you know what he’s like!!” and off we went.

We got to the park after 20 minutes or so, I was uncontrollably excited. “Da, can I go on this, da, can we do that”.. “Settle down now Rory or we’ll go home” !!

I went on a few different things in the park, was having a great day. I then asked can I go on the go-karts, at first he said “nooo way Rory, your far too young for them and your mother would kill me!” But like most fathers after minutes of pure harassing him, he eventually gave in. “Right ok, but just take er handy, these are fast!”

So I put on my helmet and got aboard the go kart – now if you don’t know me, when I was a young lad, I was desperately overgrown for my age, awful big gosson, so the Spanish people running this Go-kart business, well I’d imagine they thought I was at least 16, so they didn’t bother explaining to much to me on how the motor worked, or the possible dangers!!

The truth is folks, I was terrified deep down getting on the Go kart, but I didn’t want to let onto the father that I was a complete nervous wreck so I just went for it anyway. So there I was doing a couple of laps of the track at my own comfortable pace – about 9 miles an hour. I was getting lapped over and over again by the other people around me; I didn’t care though because I felt 10 feet tall. Then at one stage I just heard the aul man shout from the crowd “Mon Rory, give er a bit of welly…put the boot down Schumacher!!” and sure so I did, Well as god is my judge nothing could have prepared my poor father for what was about to happen!!

As requested by the big man I put the boot to the floor, the car shot off and straight away I knew I was facked. With the size 11 loafers I had at the time didn’t my lanky toes get caught and I couldn’t slow down…”Ahhhh, daddddyyyy” and what happened, I completely bulldozed straight through the tires that outlined the track and was heading straight towards a gang of aul wans who were having their afternoon tea.

As this Go Kart was heading towards the crowd of people my aul man was running behind me shouting “Holy god RORRRYYY, take your foot off the peddle” but sure I was in that much shock my body was frozen, luckily enough I had the small bit of cop on to turn the wheel away from the group of terrified women and crashed into a hape of tables and chairs where luckily nobody was sitting.

The whole eating area came to a standstill, every single person gawking over at me upside down in the Go-kart which had a tire hanging out the back of it, about 4 chairs on top of me and smoke coming out of all angles!! Dad ran straight over to the cart to see if I was still alive, I was thank god, so he picked me up, me wearing my fake Man Utd jersey which I had bought off the dell boys down the beach the day before. He then brought me into get ‘doctored up’ by the parks first aid team. I was grand just a few scratches and that, luckily enough!

So when we left the emergency area, the aul lad called me aside and said “now Rory, we can’t tell your mother about this because.. Well, I won’t be in her good books for a long time, put it that way”.

I says, “ok Da” so he bought me an ice cream to calm my nerves. So there I was a few minutes later going around on a Ferris wheel, still shaking with fear, while eating my Cornetto Ice-cream and being surrounded by kids no older than 5.

I think me and the aul man couldn't have been happier!!

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Ah, The 1st of January…

Right, come on now folks, raise your hand if you are after waking up this morning hung over to bits for the 19th time in the past 25 days!!? “a me fookin head” !!

No doubt your first thoughts were “awe god not again! That’s me, No more drinking or smoking for at least 4 weeks.. I feel absolutely cat!”

And so like the rest of the nation you will probably spend some part of today dragging your weary body up to the bottle bank with a life supply of empty cans and bottles, no doubt spill a bit of Bulmer’s on yourself while throwing them into the container “fuck ya anyway Tommy not finishing your cans, ya nuisance!”

You’ll then arrive back home, grab a black bag from the press and walk around the house throwing everything and anything that’s nice to nibble on into it - the Pringles, the box of foxes biscuits, the last few sweets in the tin of roses and straight out to the wheelie bin the lot of them will go!!

Awe sure you will no doubt attack the fruit, that’s been sitting in the fruit bowl since the first week of December, which by now has cobwebs on it and gone a dirty brown colour. You will lorry them out into the bin as well.

You’ll come back into the house, sit down on the couch and say to yourself “my god I feel crap and so unhealthy” around then you’ll probably pick up your laptop or phone, log onto Google and search for the nearest gym to you for a years direct debit membership, and pay big bucks for it!

My advice to you would be DON’T BOTHER YOUR HOLE, because come mid February you will have a pain in your bollix with the gym and be ragging with yourself for signing up to a 1 years membership. So just go for a walk or run over the next week or so to clear the body and mind, consider the gym membership in mid January when all the demons have left the system.

Awe for sure January is a rotten aul month, no doubt about it, but once these few weeks are over and we run into February we can start to get the ball rolling again and enjoy the better things in life. So until then, sit back, relax, light the fire and recharge the batteries.

All the best for 2014, please keep sharing the page for me and stay tuned for some seriousssss craic !!