'Our backs are against the wall here lads. That first half was feckin' atrocious. We're better than that and you all know it."
I looked around the group. Most of the players were panting heavily. "I mean what the feck are you tired for, 'cause you haven't played yet!" I shouted, pointing a finger accusingly around the room.
"That's not how I trained you and you know it. You're letting me down, you're letting your families down, but most of all, you're letting yourselves down."
Heads started to cock as interest levels began to rise. Was the bollocking working?
"We were like a bunch of calves chasing a rabbit out there lads, no shape, no panache . . . it was dire altogether. But look, that's gone now, that's over. You can't change the past."
I paused for a second and scanned the group. Each player was looking me in the eye now. There was a new-found fire in their bellies. I reached into a kit bag and pulled out a jersey, holding it aloft so that each one could see it.
"You see this?" I shouted, "After that first-half performance, the whole county thinks you're down here." Audible intakes of breath rang out as I threw the jersey onto the floor in the corner of the dressing room.
"But lads, this is an opportunity . . . an opportunity to show those bastards out there what you're made of."
Heads began to nod.
"I'd fecking die for this club lads. If there's any man in here who wouldn't do the same he can pack his bags and fuck off home."
I walked over, picked up the jersey and dusted it off before thrusting it above my head like a flag.
"It's time to put our club back on top lads! Thirty minutes . . . we've thirty minutes to do it!" There were tears of passion running down my cheeks now.
"Let's have you!" I shouted pointing at the door.
There was a loud roar as the lads erupted from the dressing room like a herd of wildebeest. They were ready.
It was half-time in the Under 8s Reserve 'B' Summer League Shield semi-final and things were looking bleak. A ten-minute purple patch for the other team had seen us concede five goals and head in at the break 10-2 to 5-1 down.
I'd been asked to take the reins after the previous gaffer had fallen from a stack of bales and broken his hip. It was a no-brainer for me. The county team had been knocked out, freeing up my evenings and I'd always wanted to try my hand at management.
Unfortunately, the second half started just as the first had ended. The opposition's star man plucked the throw-in, soloed the length of the pitch and lifted the net out of it. I felt somewhat ashamed, but I'd been left with no choice; it was time to send in the cavalry. I turned to my subs' bench. There were ten or so in total, nine of whom were basically in on a day-care service; football vegetables. I'd have been better off sticking the dog in corner-forward than bringing on one of them, and he's only three legs! But there was one gem . . .
"Dimitri, let's go . . ."
Dimitri was my weapon. He'd moved over from Latvia with his parents the previous year and couldn't kick a ball two yards. But what he lacked in skill he made up for in size. At six foot, he was the largest, ahem, 'eight-year-old' I'd ever seen. I say "eight year-old" sceptically because the chap had more facial hair than yours truly at 23.
"Dimitri, you see him?" I whispered, pointing at their danger man. He grunted and I made a fist with my left hand and drove it into my right palm aggressively. He nodded; by now he knew the drill. I took off a corner-back but told him to stay warm. His day wasn't over.
There were no red cards in under eights, the culprit was simply substituted. It was tactical genius.
Two minutes later, Dimitri was back sitting behind me, the corner-back had returned to the field of play and their danger man was panned out on the sideline with a black eye and a bloody nose. Already the change was reaping dividends. We gained control of midfield and began to turn the screw.
God bless the Celtic Tiger.
As we banged in another goal and closed the gap to six points I felt a finger tap me on the shoulder.
I spun around.
"Oh, hello Mrs Keavney . . ."
Sheila Keavney was a fox. She was 40 but didn't look a day over 28 and drove every male in the parish mad.
Blonde locks, dark seductive eyes and a hypnotising smile coupled with a smokin' hot chassis; they didn't come much better than that.
"You're gonna put on my Charlie aren't you sweetheart?" she enquired, touching my arm playfully. What a cougar.
I looked around at Charlie. He was sitting on the ground with his
back to the play. With a finger wedged up his left nostril, he was singing and digging a hole in the dirt.
He was a hopeless case. Even though a county final was on the line, a smile from Mrs Keavney had been too much to resist. I stuck Charlie in the corner. He immediately sat down and began to construct a daisy chain. Oh great.
* * * * *
"We feckin' did it boys!" I shouted as I entered the victorious dressing room. We'd snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and won on a scoreline of 18-4 to 12-3.
"We're in a county final now. Fair play to all of you. I'm truly proud of what you've done.
"Now down to business, I know there's double Drake and Josh on a Saturday morning but can we be up here at 11 to do a good hour's work?" They agreed reluctantly.
"Great, and one more thing. I'm informed it's unhealthy lunches day in school this Wednesday; but fuck that. You're in a county final lads! You don't see All Stars eating a packet of Tayto or a Curly Wurly for lunch."
There was some conferring but after a promise that I'd get them ice cream if they won the final, they agreed to waive their treats for the week. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail . . .
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