Friday 28 October 2016

Billy Keane: 'Old Stager' takes the reins to stop Booleen boasting for another year

Published 25/01/2014 | 02:30

Wexford players receive final instructions before the O'Byrne Cup clash against Offaly
Wexford players receive final instructions before the O'Byrne Cup clash against Offaly

'Alright so", says The Old Stager, "I'll make my comeback." Men drink deep and are silent. The only sound in the packed pub is the cracking and spitting of the logs in the hearth.

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The news of The Old Stager's comeback does not go down well. He hasn't played for years. His belly is roundy and well established. There is no public response to his announcement.

Soon, the hum builds back up, and in quiet corners there are whisperings and mutterings. The Old Stager takes no notice. He's forever young. Home he goes and does 20 push-ups before he goes to bed. His missus takes a peep out from under the duvet and pretends she's asleep.

The GAA season is about to get going. The Old Stager gets to thinking about his place in the world. The inter-county lads have been at it for a while now. Wouldn't it be lovely to win one last championship he thinks. One more year. One more trip to the old national school with the cup.

The Old Stager rummages around the hot press for his togs and boots. The togs wouldn't fit around his thumb now, seven years on since he last kicked a ball. The boots are as hard as the road. There are stony ridges and crevices from lace to toe. He puts them down to boil in the big pot used to cook the ham at Christmas.


The Old Stager puts off going for the six-mile run he planned late last night. The back is in spasm from the 20 press-ups. The three kids under three have been up since 6.0am. How is he is he going to find time to train twice a week with a match every Sunday? Herself is working hard enough to provide for the family as it is. Herself is just back from the gym. "What's that smell?" she asks . Steam rises from the ham pot. The boots are done.

Herself is about to explode. But then she stops. He hadn't the price of a new pair and he's afraid or too proud to ask her for the money. There's no building going on. She plans to call her brother to see if there are plasterers needed. She sheds a little tear, changes her mind and makes another call instead. To the club captain.

You'd wonder how The Old Stager will cope with the black card. He played it hard, but fair. He was never one for blackguarding young lads. For a while he worries he might turn in to one of those so called 'hard lads,' who try to make up for lack of pace by taking the heads off opponents.

The Old Stager thinks about it. He'd hate to turn into one of 'dem lads.' The black card might not be such a bad thing he thinks. He'd be safe from young lads out to make a name for themselves by taking easy scalps, like his.

The lads down in the pub have a name for the black card already. The 'tenna clubs' they're calling it. The worst card in the deck for 25 or 31.

The black fills in the sky. Still no run. No gym either. There's a knock at the door. Out he goes. The lads are there. All the lads bar the college lads and the lads working in the city.

"Come in," he says. "What's up?" he asks. He knows well why they are here. It's to ask him not to come back. It was a mad notion anyway. Brought on by drink and a yearning to be someone again. He's the 'tenna clubs' now. The Old Stager will say the back is gone and he was only seeing if he was up to it anyway.

The lads sit on the shoulders of sofas and armchairs. The good room is full. The captain clears his throat like the lad calling out 'testing 1, 2, 3' on a mike at the AGM. The lads stop talking.

"We want you to train the team this year? There's no one the lads would like more. It was unanimous to ask you," says the captain.

"As is in a player-coach?" asks The Old Stager. "Not exactly," replies the captain. "We know you'ld be well able for it, but with the demands of the modern game and all that and what with being in Division 4C this year, we'll need a coach who will be focused entirely on the one job."

The modern game and all that. Sure isn't managing Tooreenganbonniv nearly harder than Manchester United, such is the weight of public expectation.

The Old Stager is teary. "I'm honoured lads. Truly honoured. Tooreenganbonniv is in my blood. I'm not sure, though, what with three small babbies and all that and Herself working nights. I'll need time to talk to her. I'd say now it is just a few years too soon."

Herself comes in from the kitchen with the first of several plates of sandwiches and a big pot of tea. "Go for it," she says. "Go on. You can't let the lads down. It's been seven years since Tooreenganbonniv last won the championship. We'll never stick listening to dem Booleen boys boasting for another year."

The new coach and his players talk long in to the night. Plans are made and the future is bright. When the lads are all gone home The Old Stager asks Herself. "How did you get the sandwiches ready so quick?" "What sandwiches?" she asks. He gives her a little squeeze. "Thanks".

Irish Independent

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