My first training session with the county panel was something of a blur. I was now on a par with some of the men that had been my heroes up until a few weeks previous.
I remember taking a pass from a player who'd won an All Star that winter in the warm-up and nearly having to pinch myself. Was this real? Did he just call me by my name? I dropped the ball, but that was beside the point. It didn't get much better than this.
I was sucked in straightaway by the camaraderie that was evident in spades throughout the panel. It was like a club in itself. As we ate our post-training meal in the canteen that night, one of the more senior men sat down beside me, introduced himself and shook my hand enthusiastically.
"Alright mate. Welcome aboard!"
"Thanks a lot. It's great to be here! I still can't believe it!" I replied.
"You're here on merit after your exploits with the minors lad! Well deserved too. If you need anything give me a shout yea?"
"There is one thing . . ." I uttered quietly.
"Fire away . . ."
"Do we get the spuds after every session?" He laughed and nodded his head.
"You betcha. Here can I give the missus a quick bell from your phone? My battery's gone."
"Yea of course, here," I exclaimed, thrusting my phone towards him.
A superstar in his own right had just asked me for my phone as if we were best buddies and we got spuds every night. This was like my own personal Carlsberg ad.
* * * * *
"Quickly flick on the news, it's six o'clock!" I shouted from across the sitting room.
My brother looked at me as if I'd two heads. "Go and shite, The Simpsons are on sure."
I fished my phone from my pocket, opened the calendar app and tossed the phone across the room to him. After a quick glance at the screen, he frantically fished the remote from under his arse and switched over to RTE 1. Phew, just in time.
"I like what she's done with the hair today," the brother mumbled in a hypnotic state, his eyes firmly fixed on the telly.
Myself and my sibling were massive Sharon Ní Bheoláin fans; so much so that I now had a reminder on my phone that beeped at six o'clock every evening she was due to deliver the headlines. It's amazing what these smart-phones can do nowadays.
As our Sharon read the headlines, my phone buzzed again. I sat up in my chair. It was the manager of the county team. I wasn't dropped already was I? With a sick feeling beginning to materialise in the depths of my stomach I opened the message.
"Who's that?" my brother shouted, "are you cheating on Sharon?"
I didn't answer. With a brow more furrowed than a badly ploughed field I read the message over and over again.
"What in the name of jaysus?"
The request was very clear, but seemed strange. I slowly deciphered the message one more time. The last few lines made some sense I suppose.
". . . normal for new squad members . . . important for injury prevention . . . daily, starting tonight. . ."
I slowly rose from my armchair and headed upstairs to my room.
* * * * *
"Gosson have you any dirty cl . . . Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what are you doing?"
I leapt to my feet and quickly covered up using my duvet. "Jaysus Ma, get out! What have I told you about knocking?"
She stood there stunned.
"I had my doubts about the other lad, but I never expected this from you? Have you no cop-on at all?" she uttered, shaking her head in a disappointed manner.
"What?" I questioned.
"Is it money? Are you stuck for money?" She pointed at my phone which was propped up on my dressing table on video mode.
"Then why in God's name were you doing press-ups in your Y-fronts and recording it gosson?" she shouted, "I'm ringing Fr Smyth. We can't have this." She blessed herself before turning to leave the room.
"I leapt up and grabbed her arm.
"Wait Mam. It's the new manager. He makes every new squad member do it. It's to see if you need flexibility work, Look!" I held up the message I'd received some days ago.
'Attention new squad member. I need you to video yourself doing x10 press-ups, burpees and sit-ups daily, starting tonight and send them to me. Wear only underwear whilst performing exercises as it makes it easier for us to see what shape you are movement-wise. This is normal for new squad members and is extremely important for injury prevention. Thanks. C U 2MO'
Slightly relieved, my mother handed me back my phone.
"This is the third day I've been doing it Ma. Inter-county teams use this sort of technology. That's the way the game's going nowadays. I'm not a minor anymore you know!"
Suddenly my brother burst through the door in a fit of laughter holding his mobile.
"Have you seen twitter lad?" he managed to blurt out between chuckles. He was laughing so hard his face had turned crimson.
Intrigued, I looked at his phone. I smiled, it was a tweet from the player I'd asked about the spuds on my first night; my new team-mate.
'It'll be a while before our latest panel member lives this down! #Muscles'
My smile quickly vanished. A video link followed the tweet and my heart began to pump violently as I opened it. The Eye of the Tiger theme tune began to blare before it cut to me performing the various exercises in the nip save for my batman budgie-smugglers. It had already amassed over 1,000 hits.
I looked up at my mother and brother who were both hunched over, laughing uncontrollably.
Calling his missus my arse! Training's going to be fun tomorrow . . .
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