The Fielder: Sometimes disc problems can improve training
'Here lad can that heat not go any higher, it's Baltic in here?" I cupped my hands over my mouth and blew hard to try and warm them up.
The temperature gauge on the car read minus three. There were five of us crammed in, huddling together for warmth. We looked on through the frost-covered windscreen as our trainer set up the pitch for that day's session. It was an icy Saturday morning in mid-December and the shit was about to hit the fan.
"We may make a move lads, it's ten ta . . ."
"Ah hold on just one more minute will yis?"
We began to disembark into the piercing cold. The boot of the car was opened and we proceeded to get changed. Ten milky-white legs, awash with goose pimples, shivered furiously as numb fingers fumbled to tie bootlaces.
I wasn't taking any risks that morning and during the week I'd persuaded the mother to shell out on expensive lycra tights and a top. With a woolly hat, scarf and gloves, all that was left was a slit for my eyes so that I resembled a ninja as I strolled onto the pitch. My response to the laughter and slagging was to remind the lads who'd be laughing in half an hour. The whistle sounded and we jogged in for the warm-up.
"Jesus Christ, my lungs are trying to abandon ship here," I was hunched over with my hands on my knees, desperately trying to draw in some air before our next run. It was about 20 minutes into the session and by God was it a tough one. I'd jettisoned my hat, gloves, scarf, jumper and lycra top after getting too warm and they now lay at various places across the pitch.
"You're well able lad, keep it going. This is where championship games are won."
Our captain was in a similar hunched position beside me, a real leader. I nodded at him and walked up to the starting line, waiting on the whistle for the next run.
"Right lads everyone in for a quick drink." We must've been about 40 minutes in at this stage. My legs were beginning to ache and I was longing for the final whistle. I raised the water bottle to my lips. Nothing; It was frozen solid.
"Hey, Hey . . . look!"
It was one of our selectors, running towards the group; he appeared to be pointing back towards the clubhouse and was trying to get the manager's attention. He ran into the centre of the group and, after panting uncontrollably for a few seconds, began to talk quietly.
"Lads, there's someone sitting watching us in a strange car above at the clubhouse . . . "
"Oh shite, who is he?"
It was highly unlikely to be anyone from the GAA. We'd adopted the strategy of training in the most inconspicuous grounds to avoid being caught breaching the training ban; hence the ultra-modern changing facilities. Whoever it was, I was grateful to him for breaking up the training session for at least a further minute or two.
"Don't stare at him for jaysus sake! Take a jog over to the far corner till we figure this out."
Our manager was obviously worried and rightly so. Although every team was back training, none had yet been outed; perhaps they were looking to make an example of someone.
We lazily did some stretches in the corner, each man repeatedly looking over his shoulder at the stranger. "How're them heifers of yours doing la . . . "
"Holy fuck, look he's coming out onto the pitch."
Sure enough the stranger was making his way onto the pitch. He was tall, dark-haired and dressed in jeans and some sort of GAA jacket. One of the selectors waved in our direction and pointed towards the clubhouse in a "Get-the-hell-out-of-here' sort of fashion.
"Oh lord, we're rightly fucked aren't we, caught with our pants down big time."
As the lads headed sharply for their cars, I ran around the field collecting the items of clothing I'd shed during the session. I looked towards the centre of the pitch; the stranger was now talking to our manager and his selectors. Ten feet to their left I could see my scarf rolled up in a ball on the turf. It was my good Liverpool scarf I'd bought on a trip to the Merseyside derby as a gosson; there was no way I was leaving it behind, training ban or no training ban. I quietly walked over and collected it. I afforded a glance at my distraught manager's face and he gestured at me to get going. The stranger was speaking in a serious tone, ". . . yes, but are you aware it's against the rules to hold any collective training sessions . . ." He was from the GAA alright.
As I jogged over towards the lads, I passed by our guest's vehicle. It was an old Ford Mondeo, Dublin registered. I slowed down and looked through the windows. Newspapers and paper coffee cups littered the back seat, nothing exciting. I walked towards the lads who were wide-eyed and glued to the windscreen of the car, watching the drama unfold on the pitch. But as I strode by the Mondeo something caught my eye. I checked again just to make sure and immediately broke into a brisk jog towards the lads in the car.
I opened the back door and looked in.
"What's happening out there?"
"He's from the GAA alright, we could be rightly fecked. Here Tommy, come here for a second will you?"
Tommy had changed back into uniform. "Go way lad, it's freezing."
"Trust me man, this is important."
I filled Tommy in as we made our way out onto the pitch where things were beginning to get heated.
"What the hell are ye doing here I thought I told you . . ."
Tommy cut him off.
"One second coach. Sir, are you aware your tax is out of date by six months?"
The stranger began babbling and scratching his head awkwardly. I caught our manager's eye and gave him a wink. He afforded a tiny smirk.
Who says the GAA should turn professional?
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