Saturday 14 December 2019

Stealth tactics offset costly hammer blow

The Fielder: The real adventures of an inter-county footballer

'It was like watchign rhinos on the Discovery channel; lots of grey and wrinkles.' Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
'It was like watchign rhinos on the Discovery channel; lots of grey and wrinkles.' Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

The Fielder

The worst text message possible? I can think of a few: 'Your car is now due for NCT'. 'Your M50 toll is now six months overdue and currently stands at €15,000'. 'Hey, it's me from last night. You left your wallet in my house'. 'Training now on Bank Holiday Monday morning at 9am'.

Though all bound to trigger an instant rotation of one's pupils in a skyward direction, for me these don't even lace the boots of the annual message from the club secretary looking for the membership fee.

How dare he ask me, a finely-tuned athlete, to pay to play ball for him. It's an outrage. Especially with the crowd-pleasing points I'd be knocking over from half-back.

The fact that the timing of this beastly bulletin usually coincides with the post-St Patrick's weekend recuperation period adds insult to injury. The second half of March is a dark time for many. An era spent curled up in a foetal position, with a wallet emptier than a Samantha Mumba comeback concert; leaving the house only to train, attend college (or part thereof) and check the cattle.

Unfortunately, 2014 has followed suit. The secretary has been Sherlock Holmes-like in his pursuit. From lurking in the changing rooms after training to hanging around the car park after Mass, he's even gone as far as to call to our homes.

"Who is it?"

"The secre..."


The weeks crept by. We waved goodbye to March and, as usual, I kept a tight clamp on my capital. April rolled in and the messages kept coming thick and fast. More and more of the lads crumbled. The constant hounding became too much for them. He'd cycle by the house at snail's pace, shooting daggers through the sitting room window. Once or twice our eyes met in an Eastwood-like gawk-off as he wheeled slowly by. His nostrils would curl in disgust while I struggled not to smirk furiously from behind the safety of the couch. He knew if he rang the doorbell he would be ignored. He needed to get me face to face to have any chance. In the odd situation when he did I always had an excuse to run before he brought the subject up; a cow calving or an assignment due.

My levels of ignorance knew no bounds. Those who before me had fallen looked on in awe as I kept the charade going. The chaff had been separated from the barley. They were weaker than me, lacking the mental substance to be as much of a bollox as I was being.

"It's €40 quid for feck's sake. You're getting the student rate."

"It's the principle goddammit," I'd reply. As April came to a close, I was the last man standing. An accolade I could be proud of whatever the outcome.

I'd arrive to training kitted out in my gear and be in the car for home just seconds after the warm-down concluded. I stayed away from the front windows of the house and parked my car round the back. I'd convinced my reluctant dad to ask the priest for some takeaway communion for his sick, house-bound mother in my forced absence from the chapel on Sundays, even though my granny was as fit as a butcher's dog. Every angle was covered.

I had the upper hand. The messages had become less regular. Then, last week things came crumbling down like a house of cards.

As I swung my left peg at the white leather orb from an audacious angle near the right corner flag the muscle fibres in my hamstring went on strike momentarily and a sharp dart shot along my arse. I was kicking around before training and as usual I hadn't stretched. The physio would later call it a "twinge" though I saw it as more of a "tweak". She added I would need to see someone for a couple of rubs over the coming weeks.

Disaster. That meant claiming the bills back from the club. Two or three physio visits could set you back €120. My ruse had carried on for long enough. It was time.

I trudged up the secretary's driveway later that evening, wallet in hand passing a shiny Mercedes. His wife must have changed her car. I reached the front door and raised my index finger towards the bell. Before I could press the buzzer a female voice from within the house stole my attention.

I shrugged and wandered quietly towards the source of the dialogue: the nearby window.

The voices grew louder. I peeped under the curtain and my jaw dropped. There were legs and arms everywhere; crucially none of which belonged to Mr Secretary's darling wife of 40 years. It was like watching rhinos on the Discovery channel; lots of grey and lots of wrinkles. I shuddered and turned on my heel, wishing the image could be unseen.

The next night I showed up early to training and as I strutted confidently towards the dressing room there were gasps from players and management alike. At the bottom of the corridor the office door burst open, he'd obviously been informed of my presence. He smiled contentedly and rubbed his hands together as I continued by the dressing room towards him; a sense of victory on his face.

"I went to your house last night to pay the oul' membership but I don't think you were there... around 9," I said, discreetly winking at him in the process.

He froze and turned a white colour, his eyes wide in shock. "... sure I'll post it on yea..." I continued. He remained silent before swallowing and nodding repeatedly, tripping over his words.

"Oh there are a few physio bills I'm owed too from last year. Six in all, I think. Sure you know my address anyway."


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