Sunday 18 March 2018

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

Driven around in circles by small-ball code


The Fielder

'Twenty-one . . . twenty-two . . . or did I count her already? Ah flip it anyway, I may start again." It was a scorching May afternoon and I was carrying out the daily stock check on our farm. As anyone with country blood will know, every field has a name. This particular field was called 'the elbow' but not because of its shape. In this particular field almost three decades ago, my father had fallen off his tractor and broken his elbow. As a result, he'd missed the Junior C county football final, which the club lost. Many reckon we'd have taken home the cup had my dad been playing.

I had just started counting the cattle again when a low-pitched drone began to echo across the hedge. The noise gradually got louder and I walked over to investigate, peering across the bushes on my tippy-toes. Our neighbour, Jimmy 'The Lurcher' Ryan, was bombing across the pasture on a bright red quad bike. I waved my arms to get his attention.

"A'boy Lurcher, serious piece of kit!" I shouted through cupped hands and deafening noise.

Lurcher played centre-forward for our club team and was a real character. He was mad as a shoebox of mice and had a fierce lip for stout. This had proven to be his downfall on more than one occasion. He had been my only club-mate on the county football panel the year previous, but had been seen in the town square on the wrong end of a beer bong at 4.0am on a Sunday morning the week before championship. He subsequently got cow and gate. Poor oul' Lurcher couldn't resist a beer bong and often packed one in his gear bag for after club games. He could do a full pint in two seconds flat and it had been said that he possessed the suction power of a slurry tanker on full revs.

As he powered towards me, he suddenly dropped his left shoulder and broke into a series of perfectly symmetrical doughnuts. Black smoke billowed from the exhaust of the pristine quad bike. After his fifth circle, Lurcher cocked the handle bars and rolled over to greet me. "How's the gosson, what you make of her? Th' oul' lad bought her lasht week!"

"Some job buddy! No more chasing calves for you!"

After explaining how training was going with the county and listening to Lurcher moan about how the manager was a bollox and that "a few pints never did anyone any harm," the chat turned to the club's annual Golf Classic.

"Oh jaysus lad, are you around this Friday?" Lurcher asked.

"I've the NCT Lurch . . ."

"Don't mind that, your bucket of shite hasn't a hope in hell of passing. Will you play with me in the Golf Classic? The brother was meant to play but he's going shiftin', he's a new budgie."

"Ah I dunno . . . "

"Mon t'fuck, it's all paid for and there's a lunch included!"

Well, I certainly wasn't one to turn down a free meal.

The morning of the Classic was a strange one. I'd played in front of tens of thousands of people before but I'd never experienced nerves like this. I'd borrowed my uncle's clubs, shiny expensive Callaways as well as his shoes; which were size 11s but I counteracted this by wearing three pairs of football socks. After throwing on my good jeans and my club polo shirt I walked out into the garden and began to practise my swing. As my confidence grew, I decided it was time to chance hitting a ball; it'd been a few months since I'd played my last game of pitch and putt and I'd been quite intoxicated at the time.

I dropped a ball onto the lawn and looked out across the field. I addressed the ball and took a deep breath, tightening my grip whilst doing so. After a few seconds I slowly raised the club and after a brief pause drove through the ball. I winced as the shock rippled up my forearms; I'd shanked the shite out of it. I looked on in horror as my ball made a bee-line for a group of calves resting in the corner of the field. "Foooooore . . . " but it was no use.

I looked around and made a dash for the car, quickly throwing my clubs in the boot and hoping that the stricken animal was simply resting in the sun and not unconscious or worse. I was late for my tee-time.

My heart pounded as I stood on the first tee. Slow play by the club chairman and his wife ahead of us had resulted in a backlog and a large audience of anxious golfers had developed beside the tee-box. Oh great. I took another deep breath and pulled the club back.

"Hey lad," Lurcher interrupted, "try swapping your hands around, you're not hurlin' now." I took his advice and somehow sent a half-decent shot down the fairway.

"That's your fuckin' stuff boy," Lurcher shouted. He then turned around to the crowd and pointed towards the carpark. "Yee may go home fellas. This gosson's on fire."

I picked up my bag and began a determined stroll down the hill.

"The bastards. How the hell did they find out?"

Four hours later and myself and Lurcher had just tucked into our dinner in the clubhouse when a steward informed us that we were disqualified from the competition after posting a score that we thought would at least put us amongst the prizes.

"You were seen kicking your ball out of a bunker I'm afraid." We couldn't believe it. "I thought you said the coast was clear you plank," Lurcher mouthed.

The following week, as I browsed through the local paper, I came across a photo that nearly made me spit out my orange juice. It was a picture of the 18th green at the golf club where the tournament had taken place.

"Golf Green Ploughed Up in Senseless Act of Vandalism"

I only knew one man who could do doughnuts that perfect. That'a boy Lurcher.

For more, follow The Fielder

on twitter at @TheFielder2

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