Sometimes it's good to make a meal of things
'Go in and get the chocolate hobnobs there horse, will you?" "Feck off you lazy hoor. You may go easy on them too; them jeans are struggling."
I launched a cushion at my brother in retaliation. We were spending the evening as we spent most of our winter Saturday evenings: draped across the sofas in our living room, eating biscuits and drinking tea to beat the band.
"Flick on X-Factor there till we get a look at that Tulisa; I'd say she'd show you a thing or two." For an 18-year-old, my brother was worryingly developed.
There was a noise in the kitchen as Mam arrived in from her weekly grocery shop. I hopped up from the sofa, dusted the biscuit crumbs from my lap and went through to the kitchen.
"Well, did you get me those new football gloves?"
"No, they were closed. You're cutting it fine . . . " "Cutting it fine for what?" I replied. "Isn't the dinner dance on tonight?" "Oh shite!"
Ten minutes later, I was hopping around my room desperately trying to squeeze into my suit trousers, while the mother rummaged through my wardrobe for a shirt and tie.
"Are you sure this is my suit and not the brother's?" I shouted as I tried frantically to get the top button closed.
* * * * *
I walked to the door and knocked gently. I checked my watch; we should've been in our seats at this stage. There was some commotion inside and the door sprang open.
A tall imposing figure greeted me – her big brother.
"I'm . . . I'm here for your sister. I mean I'm here to bring her to the dinner dance!"
He maintained a fixed gaze as he stood back to let me in.
"She'll be down in a second."
The two of us stood in the hallway in silence. I resisted the urge to rearrange my equipment in front of him; even though the severely tight trousers meant that blood supply was now critically low. Still he stared, without blinking, "You're the footballer?"
Finally, "Yea, that's me."
"Not a big fan of football myself." Oh great.
I can safely say I'd never been in a more awkward situation. We stood in total silence as the minutes passed. I maintained a firm focus on the floor to avoid any awkward eye-contact.
"What time will you have her home?" This chap had watched too many Liam Neeson films.
Thankfully, before I could answer, my date appeared at the top of the stairs. In fairness to her, she looked a million euro.
"Hi, sorry have you been waiting long?"
"Ah no, sure I was just having the crack with your brother here."
After some more dirty looks and a vice-like handshake from himself we headed for the car.
I opened the door for her and after removing the tattered old football gloves and calf ear-tags from the front seat, she got in.
I took off out the gate like a man demented.
"Jesus, your brother is some character," I uttered whilst steering with my knees, changing gear and scrolling through my phone. I was ringing the lads to see what the story was at the venue and to pass on some vital information.
"They're serving the starter now? Yea, get me a soup and two breadrolls. What's for the main? Steak? Ah brilliant. Get mine medium rare and . . . one second." I turned towards my date, who was frantically applying the last of her make-up. "You'll hardly eat your steak will you?" "Oh God no, soup is plenty." I smiled at her and picked up the phone again.
"Yea, she wants medium rare too and make it two soups."
The function room was looking spectacular. Our late arrival meant we'd some catching up to do, which meant jumping straight for the top shelf.
"Two Morgan and orange please and whatever she's having." I turned and looked out across the room. The place was wedged. At the main table, the county championship cup glistened like a thousand fireflies. It was going to be a good night.
We got our drinks and headed for our seats. I broke into a light jog as Tipper Doyle, a local dairy farmer, emerged from the toilets to our left. Our relationship had been rocky since I'd forgotten to apply the handbrake on his jeep while out checking his cattle in one of his hillier fields the previous month.
The meal was exquisite. After scoffing down both mine and my date's dessert, strawberry cheesecake, I sat back, took a gulp of my drink and patted my stomach.
"When's it due lad?" The comment came from the opposite end of the table and sparked frantic laughter which was only broken when our club chairman took to the stage.
"Superb year lads, well done to all involved."
He glanced over towards the sparkling cup and uttered three words that brought about a chorus of cheering and applause. "We have her."
When the noise died down he began to speak again. "I'd like to call on Fr Bill to present the award for the player of the year."
The priest stood up from his table and made for the stage. "Go on the father!" a voice echoed from the bar.
"This year's player of the year award . . . " There was a pause as he opened the envelope. "Goes to our rock at centre-back . . . "
There was a mass of cheering and shouting as my name was called. My date began to fix my collar and make me presentable as the lads rapped on my back.
"Hon the gosson!"
I took a gulp of beer, got to my feet and gingerly made my way to the stage, where I could see two priests and two chairmen; uh-oh.
I took the trophy from the chairman and thrust it into the air like a lad receiving Sam on the lower Hogan. There was a mass outbreak of laughter and I could just make out my mother with her hands over her face in the front row.
Then a voice cried out from the back of the room, "Taxi!"
Somehow, two hours later, I was still going. I stumbled off the dance floor, tie wrapped around my head, and headed towards the bar. Before I could order, a hand holding a crisp €50 shot across the bar and cut me off.
"The player of the year shouldn't have to touch his wallet; two whiskeys please, barman."
I turned around to offer my gratitude for this most generous of acts.
"Ah thanks Fr Bill, you're very good."
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