Monday 22 January 2018

Croker date calls for shock to the brother's system

It was a mid-summer championship morning. I'd just been woken by the sun beating in through my curtains. Exhausted, I rolled over in my bed and peered at my alarm clock; half seven. I'd gone to bed at 10.0 the previous night, but as usual I'd been up a lot during the night thinking about the game.

I hated big games for the hype they brought. All I wanted to do was kick some football. No one had told me about the sleepless nights, the sick stomachs, the dry mouths or the sweats that were part and parcel of championship weekends.

I didn't panic. Altogether, I'd probably got five or six hours' sleep, just enough. Although I felt like I'd just run a marathon, I was wide awake. What to do now?

Suddenly, I heard footsteps at the end of the corridor. It was Dad up early to check the cattle. Normally, he would get up, get dressed and head down the corridor; either stopping at my brother's room, or mine at the end of the corridor. He'd then crack open the door and whisper, "Gosson, you awake? I need help with the cattle."

The sound of Dad's footsteps stopping outside my brother's room is one of the best feelings you can imagine. You know then that you've been spared and can roll over and fall back asleep. There's always a little adrenalin rush and drumroll in your head when you hear the footsteps coming and a feeling of devastation when they continue the full length of the corridor and stop outside your door. Like a lamb to the slaughter, you're powerless; it's your turn.

This particular morning, I welcomed the footsteps. Myself and the brother had a pact: if either of us had a game, the other would take one for the team and get up early with Dad. The brother had gone out the night before. He was a young lad of 17 and just cutting his teeth socially. He was at the make-or-break age. Decisions he made now would decide whether he'd spend his future Sundays kicking points in Croker or skulling pints in Quinns.

To my astonishment, the footsteps passed his room and Dad came to my door. I spun around in my bed, gritting my teeth and shaking my head in utter disgust. There was a loud creak as the door opened.

"Gosson ... "

"Are you serious? What about Croke Park in a few hours' time Dad? Get him up and get out of here; I need to sleep!"

"He's fucked gosson, only arrived in at half five and puked all over the stairs. He's asleep on the edge of the toilet bowl; one shoe, no phone, wallet missing. I'll redden his arse with a hurl when he wakes up!"

"The little bollox, he knew well he was on duty this morning!" I sat up, the anger welling up inside me. I was like a kettle about to hit boiling point.

"You try and wake him. But if you can't, I need you, there's a calf out!"

I bounded out of bed and made for the toilet. The smell was the first thing that greeted me; it was like vomit mixed with petrol. Sure enough he was using the toilet bowl as a pillow, it wasn't a pretty sight. He was sprawled across the floor covered in puke. It was like a murder scene. I turned on the cold tap and cupped my hands under it, throwing the water in his face.

"Get up you little fecker, not a hope I'm running after cattle this morning!"

Nothing. Repeated slaps to the face only produced groans. He was a wounded animal; a man down.

What to do?

Twenty minutes later I was back in bed. It'd been a harsh move but the situation had warranted it. Dad had objected at first but I'd talked him around. Like myself, a part of him had always wanted to do it to somebody. I also now had a hilarious video to show the lads on the way to the game. We'd assumed the crocodile clip (for any townies reading, think of a close-peg) snapping closed on his big toe would've been enough; but alas no, not so much as a peep. He'd given us no option but to switch on the electric fence battery.

I awoke again at 10.0. My mouth was dry; even though I'd drunk gallons of water the night before. I was wrecked, even though I'd got more than enough sleep. My legs were heavy, even though we'd had a handy training week to be fresh for the game. I began to lay out my gear while doing a few stretches.

I smirked as I arrived in the kitchen and saw the electric fence battery in the corner. Mam had a bowl of porridge ready as always.

"That was very mean of you on your poor brother. He limped in about half an hour ago."

"He'll know the next time. Championship is a big deal Mam."

I willed myself to eat the porridge but it wasn't happening; the butterflies had kicked in.

Beep beep! The lads were here to collect me. Go time.

* * * * *

"Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann."

The roar from the crowd sent shivers right down my back.

I took a deep breath and squeezed the shoulders of my team-mates left and right.

"This is it lads, cool heads! This is our time!"

"Come on."

"No regrets."

We broke away from the line and embraced each other before jogging to our positions. The atmosphere was building. I looked my marker up and down as he briskly made his way in my direction. He looked athletic and strong; as fresh as a daisy. My stomach groaned. I was built like the side of a tenner and exhausted. I stuck out my hand in a sporting gesture, but instead was met with a shoulder to the chest.

Welcome to Croke park.

My throat was so dry I couldn't even muster enough saliva to spit on my hands. I watched as the ref put the whistle to his mouth. A sudden flash of white as a shiny new O'Neills soared into the air, reaching its apex before plummeting back towards the pristine grass of Croke Park and the outstretched arms of four burly midfielders.

Let's do this.

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