There's a price to be paid for back garden hurling
There comes a time in every young farmer's life when he must leave the nest. Luxuries like hot dinners, electricity and heating are done without for a few years as he's shipped off to college. He know he'll return to run the farm someday, but under his parents' strict orders he's told to go and 'Get all the messing out of your system'.
The brave lad will head to Dublin, the big smoke, where everywhere is in relation to Harcourt Street. "Hold on, start again, if I'm coming out of Coppers do I turn right or left?"
Early in September, they arrive at Heuston Station or Busáras, wearing their county jersey with a kitbag full of clothes draped over each shoulder. Like a lost little lamb, they'll walk the streets of Dublin. The locals struggle to decipher their thick accents, so they resort to hand signals when purchasing a much needed Kit-Kat and bottle of rock shandy in the corner shop.
I'm in my final year now. Last year some of us rented a house in an estate near our college. There were four of us, two hurlers and two footballers. Seánie is from Wexford; a mean hurler and the son of a potato farmer. Collie is an Offaly man and another tidy hurler. His family are dairy farmers. Davy hails from Westmeath, the son of a contractor and a fantastic footballer.
Our estate had a green in the centre, with a goal at each end. It was here that we spent endless hours kicking and pucking balls around and working on our farmer's tans. When the weather was bad, we'd lounge about in the sitting room with our laptops. Whether it was constantly watching the music video to My Little Honda 50, scrolling through the Cattle For Sale section on DoneDeal.ie or watching repeats of Ear to the Ground on the RTE player, it's safe to say that there was little time in our busy schedules for college work.
I was enjoying the few months off after the busy summer of football. I relished the puck-abouts with Seánie and Collie, the change of code brought with it a bit of a freshness.
Seánie loved two things, spuds and hurling. When he made his dinner, usually at about two in the afternoon, he had two plates. One with a colossal steak or half a dozen pork chops and some veg, and the other loaded with a carefully-constructed pyramid of spuds, onto which he melted half a pound of butter. A gifted hurler, he was let down by a lack of fitness and a bad temper. Although the Wexford championship was in full swing, Seánie was serving a suspension he'd picked up in August. Some poor unfortunate had called his sister an 'oul brazzer'. Seánie responded by breaking his hurl across the lad's back, picking up a six-month holiday.
"That was me good hurl and all."
With Collie off hurling in Offaly, myself and Davy would head to the back garden in the evenings for a puck with Seánie. We'd found a pallet which we stood up against the bottom wall. Across the top of it, we'd arrange some empty beer bottles to smash with the sliotar. We now had an excuse to drink more, as well as getting in some target practice. Talk about killing two birds. "Doesn't Mammy always say Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?"
Myself and Davy would seldom smash a bottle, but Seánie was deadly with the ash.
One November evening we were ready to do damage, but we'd smashed the last of the bottles the previous day.
"Pat won't miss a few pint glasses will he?" Pat was the landlord and a real busybody. He was retired and lived across town and had taken a dislike to us ever since one of his mahogany kitchen chairs went missing. We had run out of firewood in the middle of a cold snap.
"Ah no, we'd better not man, Davy still owes him two months rent."
Seánie stroked his chin. "I have it lads. Davy, open the bathroom window and line up some shampoo bottles on the window sill, we can use them again after we're finished, it's a win-win."
Twenty minutes later, I was holding Pat's ladder for Seánie, who was trying to cover up the hole he'd made in the bathroom window with some insulating tape and an overdue library book titled, The Complete Anatomy of the Modern Cow.
"You may get out a €2 coin lad; Autoglass might do it for free!" I joked as he desperately tried to cover the hole.
From then on we avoided the landlord at all costs. He visited once a week, on a Friday morning, to collect our rent. On the odd occasion we were in the house when he arrived, we'd make a bolt for our rooms when we heard the key turning, hiding under our beds until he left.
One day I was caught off guard, failing to hear the cries of "scatter, the oul' bollox is at the door!" Pat stormed into the kitchen, as thick as a bull.
"Erm, hello Pat."
"What the hell happened to my window?" he demanded.
"Think a bird flew through it Pat."
"Bird my arse! You pups are always playing hurling."
He grabbed his money from the cabinet and marched angrily towards the door, stopping and turning just before he left.
"I'll be taking the damages out of the deposit, you can tell the rest of them."
He left slamming the door behind him. Slowly the lads emerged from their rooms, laughing loudly.
"Look at me, I'm Pat, I'm a big bollox! He can stick his deposit where the sun don't shine but he'll get no rent from me from now on," Seánie declared.
"We'll pull a legger on the last week without giving him any rent lads, block his number on your phones, the smelly oul' fecker."
The four of us froze. Someone was opening the front door. There were footsteps in the hallway and the kitchen door slowly opened. It was Pat. "Smelly and old? Very harsh lads."
Things were pretty awkward for the rest of the year, but we laugh about it now. Then last week, while trying to find some final-year accommodation online, I stumbled across an ad for our old hunting ground. 'AG Science students need not apply.'
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