Getting down and dirty with Fourlakes Tug of War
"LEFT, push, LEFT, push, LEFT, push".
Does this sound familiar to any of you? Ever gone walking past the Carlow youth centre late at night and heard loud gruff noises coming from a small container? Fear not folks what's going on in that container is a unique, minority, but fantastic sport called Tug of War.
The Fourlakes Tug of War club have been training away every Tuesday and Thursday night for the last few months and just last Sunday travelled to Galway to take part in competition.
Tug of War? Sure that's just a load of big men pulling a rope between one another, I hear you say.
Well you couldn't be more incorrect. Having gone along to training last Tuesday night I can tell you Tug of War requires skill, patience, strength, brains and above all fitness.
Upon arriving at the container in the corner of the field I wasn't sure what to expect, it looked dark from the outside, but I could see a cage with what looked like seriously heavy weight in it. On top of this cage was a rope and at the other end of the rope was Old Leighlin man Michael Purcell who was almost in mid air as he hoisted up almost 100kg in the air.
Picture him with rope in hand, feet stuck to the floor and backside about 12 inches off the floor and not a bead of sweat on his forehead. Behind Michael were some onlookers who turned out to be members of the Fourlakes club and behind them was a sight that completely astounded me.
From the outside, the container looks like: a container, but inside is any facility any Tug of War team could possibly need. Never mind the solo training machine that Michael Purcell was tied up to but proper matted floors, lights, seating, special cream called DAX for improving the grip and protecting your hands and anything else you can think of.
I had been advised to get to the Tug Of War training about 9pm as the lads usually meet around half eight and go for a run around town before they start, I was thankful for this because me and running have fallen out recently.
I was introduced to all the lads and to be fair you couldn't meet more honest, and genuine bunch of men. First up I met Peter Buckley, and the only way to describe Peter is to say he is to Tug Of War what Mick O'Dwyer is to GAA. He knows everything about the sport, he can spot in an instant when a man's footing is going to slip and let him down or whether a man's grip on the rope is going to cost the team.
I know this because after watching the other lads pull against the machine Peter put me into the team and between him and Michael Purcell giving me advice it was clear I didn't have a clue what I was at.
Tug Of War is not about getting the heaviest lads to line up and pull. In fact Peter and Michael will tell you that size isn't even nearly the most important thing. Eight men who are fit and who have their technique sorted will defeat men of any size if they don't know what they are doing, as Peter explained;
"it's easy to win a match like that, sure you'd just hold your position, get a good start, hold, and just wait for the big lads to get tired, their hands will go first and after that it's easy" says Peter.
I didn't really believe Peter when he told me this and so when he got me to join in and pull with the lads I was honestly thinking, this can't be that hard.
I lasted about 25 seconds. You have no idea how hard it is to do this sport but you also have no idea how enjoyable it is.
Michael Purcell was the last man on the rope on our end as we got ready for a four versus four contest. This means Michael was the anchor with the rope wrapped around his shoulder and waist. Denis O'Brien, no not the billionaire, although his car is pretty flashy, was at the front roaring out "LEFT, LEFT, LEFT,LEFT" to get all the lads to make sure they were moving their feet in time, as he did that there was always someone else to quietly but sternly say push.
So picture the scene, it's four against four and I'm there with the rope against my side, left hand over right and the call comes "take the strain". This is the Tug Of War version of take your mark in athletics, except it means both sides pick up the rope and apply their weight to each end. Fair play to all the lads involved, Denis O'Brien, Frank Nolan, Tom Kelly, Mick Moore senior and junior, Jim Byrne, Peter Buckley, Greg Owczarek, Timmy Carpenter and Michael Purcell.
The referee's hands go up and as soon as they go down both sides must pull. It's all about a good start according to Peter Buckley;
"If you start well you completely upset the other side's momentum and they have to make up the ground, if one man falls or drops the strain it puts huge pressure on his colleagues and it's almost impossible to get it back," says Peter.
I was pulling with all my might but my feet were out of sync, my hands were getting so tired and I was letting the side down. After 25 seconds I was out of breath and my hands needed an ice bath.
I sat out the rest of the session and watched as Peter but the lads through their paces. Anyone interested in taking up Tug Of War can come along any Tuesday or Thursday night from 8.30pm and make sure and check out their Facebook page.
While you're there look at the Carlow People page for some action videos from the night when I learned Tug Of War the hard way.