It's ingrained in our heads: hate the Reds
The Fielder: the real adventures of an inter-county footballer
'That's two shots again lad, how many pints have you had?!"
My opponent mumbled something about Ken Doherty and staggered up to the bar as I lined up my shot, a tricky plant into the centre pocket. All of a sudden the pub went silent and the room was filled with the sound of static.
"Quiet everyone; it's nearly time for the draw."
Jesus, I'd nearly forgotten about that. I threw my cue onto the table and headed for the counter to get within earshot of the wireless, subtly nudging my red closer to the pocket as I walked by; there was a tenner on the line after all!
There were maybe 20 men in the local on that January Saturday evening and not a single woman save for the barmaid; we didn't allow their kind in here. As the fire roared powerfully in the corner, each man aimed an ear towards the radio.
"WELL LAAAAADS, WHERE WE GOIN TONI..."
"Shut up Jamie!" shouted 20 men in unison as the oblivious newcomer burst through the doors.
"You're very welcome to the draw for the 2011 GAA club championships, coming to you live from HQ...."
I dug my nails into my palms as our draw began. There was an audible sigh of disappointment each time we failed to emerge from the hat, and then it happened; we were named! I grabbed the shoulder of the man in front of me and squeezed for dear life! The place was awash with sweaty brows and deep breathing. There was a brief silence as the MC fished out our opponent.
"...and they will play...oh we've got a tasty one in store here...they're up against their neighbours, the Reds!"
Pandemonium. Chairs were flipped; glasses were smashed; beer mats became Frisbees. It was nuts.
"That's exactly who we fuckin' wanted boys! We'll tear them a new one!"
"Ok Fr McDermot, calm down and get down off the bar now," exclaimed the worried looking barmaid.
Rivalry is defined as 'competition for the same objective or superiority in the same field'. To me this is a bit of a mickey-mouse definition and goes nowhere near outlining the hatred between our club and the Reds. Think of the great rivals of the modern era; Kerry and Cork, Meath and Dublin, Israel and Palestine. Multiply these by 10 and you're getting there.
That night once order had been restored, the younger members of the parish (myself included) sat and listened as the elders shared tales of their encounters with the Reds both on and off the field. I began to realise that back then things were a lot worse. In those times, unlike today, the hatred didn't end at the final whistle.
Billy Ryan, a man in his 80s, reminisced about '66. His upper lip glistened in the dim light under a layer of creamy Guinness. "I remember one morning going down to bring the cows in for milking and there was one dead in the field, a fine beasht she was too. I debated with my brothers about sending her to the knackery, but they didn't want to pay the fee. I wanted to bury her..."
"What did you do?" I piped up.
"That night we loaded her onto a trailer and brought her down to the Reds' pitch. Left her slap bang in the middle of one of the goals. There was holy war for about a year!"
We broke into laughter, fist pumps and shouts of "A'boy Billy boy!"
A bitter Mossy Regan, once the groundskeeper for our club, then told us of the horror he encountered one morning as he went to cut the grass.
"The bastards... the dirty bastards," he shouted, slamming his hand on the bar.
I'd heard about this one and in fairness, it was genius. It'd happened about 10 years previous in the height of summer. On that fateful morning Mossy had arrived down to the club only to find that some of the grass near the halfway line had begun to die. Strangely enough only a small area about 10 feet by 10 feet had been affected. When he went to investigate, Mossy couldn't believe his eyes. Crudely etched into the grass were four barely eligible letters; 'R E D S'. The boys had used weed killer on the pitch and it had worked a treat. The sly whoers.
Months later we sat in the dressing room, waiting to take the field. I thought about that night in the pub, listening to the stories the men told. I could feel the hatred and angst bubbling from my comrades. It was surreal. Despite the fact that we were classmates, work colleagues and ultimately friends with most of the opposing team, at that moment I would've had no qualms about up ending one of them with a dirty shoulder. Our manager hadn't yet given us his talk and I was anxious as to what he would say. Suddenly the door burst open and he entered the silent room. He fished a Reds jersey from his jacket pocket and held it up.
"Take a look at it men. If seeing that isn't enough to make you want to go through a brick wall to beat these boys then pack up your gear, get in your car and fuck off home!"
We got to our feet. This was our duty. We didn't choose to hate the opposition, we were bred to. Scores of men had been in this position before us and scores of men would come after us, all with the same message ingrained in their brains: 'Hate the Reds'. They may have been our friends off the pitch; we may shake hands at the final whistle; but until then, it was time to go to war.
"COME ON BOYS!"
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