Playing football seriously at any level is all about prioritising. It's about realising that football must come first and that friends, nights out, women and even school or college must be put on the back burner.
However, for some there are exceptions to the rule. The Leaving Cert is a horrible inconvenience created by townies to annoy farmers. What sort of a society takes away its best tractor drivers during the busiest time of the year, silage season. It's a well-known fact, that rural-Irish adolescent males (RIAM) between the ages of 17-20 are the best tractor operators on the planet.
If reversing tractors was an Olympic sport our lads would wipe the floor with the opposition. They are born with the JD-gene ( John Deere), which activates itself around the time their culchie-sideburns start to grow. This unfortunately correlates with the timing of the Leaving.
My Leaving Cert went pretty much how every RIAM's Leaving Cert goes. I trained more during the exams than I ever did (preparing for championship with the county minors), breezed through Ag Science and scraped through everything else. Sure how would you be well studying and there grass to be collected?
This particular year was a scorcher, typical exam weather. This meant that the silage would be cut ahead of schedule, right on my last day of exams. I'd chosen my subjects carefully to make sure I finished the exams early and in time for the cut. My father had been so proud.
I sat in chemistry, watching as others around me called for more paper, something I hated, feckin' lick-arses. I looked down at my answer book; what had started as a diagram of the element 'zinc' had finished up as a Massey Ferguson, coloured in and all. It was bound to get me a few marks. I took one last glance at the exam paper. "Feck it, she'll do." My hand shot up and an invigilator made his way over, fishing an answer book out of the bundle under his arm as he did so.
"You can keep that horsebox, I'm outta here . . ."
"B-But we've only been here an hour, how can you be finished?"
As the door to the exam hall closed behind me, I reached for my phone. I was supposed to be training with the minors that evening. Our club manager had called off training until after silage season, but the county manager was a townie and didn't understand the fundamental importance of the job at hand. As a result, I'd spent most of the chemistry exam pondering an excuse and I'd come up with an absolute gem.
"Hello . . ."
"Seán, how's it going, I'm just ringing to say I won't be able to train tonight or Thursday . . ."
"What . . . why?"
"I'm absolutely dying Seán, caught something serious; let's just say the old plumbing isn't working too well. They had to give me my own room for the exams because of the smell. Doctor says it's a five-day bug. Like I'm on the jacks all day it's just a constant flo . . ."
"Alright, alright . . . okay I get the picture. Jesus, is it contagious?"
"Very contagious, the brother has it now too; he's stuck to the toilet bowl."
"Fine, stay away until the weekend. I'll be in touch."
Result. I hopped into the car and took one last look at the school I'd spent six years in, before zooming out the gate, screeching the tyres in anticipation as I took off.
I arrived just in time to see the convoy being prepared. Six huge tractors, each rigged to a wagon, were lined up alongside two harvesters. You wouldn't see as much horsepower on a formula one grid. The mother was frantically running around covering every machine in holy water. A biblical-sized tray of ham sandwiches wrapped in cling-film was sitting on the bonnet of one of the tractors, her handiwork no doubt. Dad noticed me and made his way over.
"You sort that training out?"
"I'm all yours."
"We're giving you the 'big Deere'.
"No way! You serious? I won't let you down."
It was a proud moment. I was getting the newest and most powerful tractor of the lot. She was kitted out with every possible mod-con you could think of: CD-changer, air-con, GPS, cruise control, leather seat, air suspension, you name it, it was there. She practically drove herself.
I ran into the house with a spring in my step and grabbed my Silage CD which I'd spent the evening previous collaborating on the computer. Who needs chemistry anyway?
I threw on my boots and overalls and scaled the ladder up to the cab of the 'big Deere'. The engine roared like a thousand lions as I turned the key. I clicked her into gear and took off with 40 feet of steel snaking along behind me. Once on the road I put the foot down and felt the force of the 250 horsepower beast beneath me. I was the king of the road. Of course my max speed was about 35km per hour, but up here on my throne it felt like 100.
It didn't take long for a chorus of car horns to start up behind me. They grew louder as I passed gateway upon gateway where I could've let them by. But was I going to pull in? Like hell I was. I gave the horn a blast as I drove by a group of the parish girls, all three of them. They went bright red and waved back. The 'big Deere' had more pulling power than any boy-racer piece of scrap. In there like swimwear.
"Oh we're the Joyce-Country, Ceili band!" I flicked on my Silage CD just as I rounded a bend and came to a straight. The drivers who'd been queuing up behind me for the last ten minutes began to shoot by.
I watched in my mirror as one disgruntled road user sat on his horn as he pulled up beside me. I could just make out his left arm as he pointed angrily in my direction, still repeatedly sounding his horn. Feck him; with my eyes on the road I stuck out my clenched fist and slowly lifted my middle finger, waving my hand from left to right just for extra effect.
Laughing, I bent down and afforded a glance at the driver and swallowed hard, instantly withdrawing my arm. My heart nearly leapt out of my mouth as I watched the car speed off.
Training was going to be fun on Thursday.
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