Monday 25 September 2017

Even the best of us take a beating in battle of sexes

Women -- you can't live with them, you can't live without them. It can be said that the fairer sex get something of a raw deal in GAA circles at present. 'Get the camogie players off the good pitch; You can't go training, who'll cook the spuds? Sure yas don't even put your toe under it!'

One must remember, though, that they put in just as many hours on the training field as their male counterparts, and sometimes even more if you take into account missed sessions for Champions League nights or forced absences during lambing season. On an icy night last year, when the club championship was slowly gathering momentum towards its business end, I too jumped onto the bandwagon and had a pop at ladies football. On that same fateful September evening, I felt the full-brunt of the second X-chromosome and vowed to never, ever think little of women or their chosen recreational activities again.

We pulled into the club about 20 minutes earlier than normal that evening. I'd skipped my last lecture to get the farming paper before the college shop closed, so we were well ahead of schedule. It'd been my turn to commute from Dublin and I'd picked up the usual lads along the way. We disembarked from the car and made our way into the dugout. I sat down and began to scan my paper for some nice pictures of cattle to stick above my bed.

"Would you look at the arse on that yoke."

"Which one . . . ?" I looked up and realised that he wasn't looking over my shoulder at the paper, but, in fact, commenting on the stature of some of the parish's ladies footballers as they made their way out to train.

The four of us giggled away like schoolchildren.

"Hey, I hope you can run faster that that fake tan on your legs."

Yet more laughter and some quite piercing looks in our direction.

"Don't break any nails now love."

"I'd let you mark me any day."

I'd remained on the fence for much of the slagging but saw my chance as the last girl made her way out of the dressing room.

"Good girl, don't hurt your toe kicking the ball now."

She looked at us and laughed, breaking into a jog in the process. The rest of the team was starting to arrive and with that we made our way into the dressing room.

"Alright lads we're gonna wind down with some shooting practice and a little game against the ladies; just a bit of fun, go easy on them."

There was an instant outbreak of sniggering and muttering amongst the team as we had our final water-break of what had been a tough session. After some instruction, we began our shooting drill, which was simple enough. A quick one-two with a fella facing you, followed by some token resistance from him as you attempted your shot. By the time my go came, it had been a mixed bag and the defenders were ahead by 3 to 2; I needed to get one on the board or it meant certain press-ups for the forwards. I popped my pass and got a rather high, floating return, giving the defender ample time to get to me. The cheeky bollox. I took a step to my left; he'd surely buy the dummy. Quick as I could, I shifted back onto my right but, wise to my decision, he covered me. There was only one thing for it -- the ciotóg was coming out of retirement. I swung my left arm in an arc, shaping up for an attempt with my right. Bingo. He dived aimlessly into the thick September fog and cursed in mid-air as I hopped the ball and turned onto my left. A huge cheer went up as the rest of the lads looked on. I steadied myself and awkwardly swung my left leg.

Now bearing in mind I was on the 21-yard line, straight in front of the posts, you can forgive the lads for the cheering and laughter when I managed to miss the net behind the goal. But seeing our manager nearly having a heart attack from laughing so hard didn't do a lot for the old confidence levels. "That's for standing on lad."

"Right, now we're only going to go for ten minutes so put the effort in. Full rules apply."

I made my way into the half-forward line. I'd experienced a lot of emotions before matches. I'd been sick with nerves, pumped up on adrenalin and even shaking with fear, but I'd never felt awkward before a game. An hour or so earlier I'd dished out some serious abuse towards this girl and her team-mates and didn't know what to say or do.

She didn't make eye contact as I took up my position beside her and I decided to try and fan the flames.

"Sorry about earlier, it was only a bit of fun."

"Was that you that missed the net there in that drill? Jesus, you must be shite altogether."

I was left standing, utterly speechless at this remark as she mopped up the first ball that came our way, my situation made even worse by the little elbow I got as she returned to her position.

"Where were you for that one big lad?"

So this was how it felt.

As the game wore on, I was starved of ball and began to grow restless.

"Will you pass for fuck sake."

My demands were met as a low, scuttery handpass was sent in my direction. I bent down to gather the pass but was bowled over from behind by my new friend but no free was given. I fell forwards onto the ball and in no time at all it became a free-for-all as everyone arrived to try and claim possession. I tried to stand up but the bodies around me prevented it.

"Where's the fucking free re..."

I crumbled to the ground as what felt like a sledgehammer made a ferocious contact with my lower regions. In an instant the whistle blew and the ref sprinted over. "Oh, sorry, I went for the ball . . ."

As I lay in the foetal position, rocking back and forth, clutching my bruised brussels sprouts; I could just make out my opposite number apologising to the ref. The pain was horrific and my whole body felt numb. She put her hand on my shoulder and crouched down to 'comfort' me.

"Ah, you'll be grand, you lads are tough. Oh, and by the way, you were right. I did hurt my foot."

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