Nothing beats the buzz around the parish in the run-up to a championship weekend. The flags are out, county players are back in training and all eyes are on the prize. There are few better feelings than winning big games with the same lads you started playing with back when you were knee-high to a bullock. It's what makes the GAA. Of course, these wins must be celebrated, and in every club there are certain rituals undertaken whenever there is a big victory.
The dressing room was buzzing. We had just taken a huge scalp in the county championship and were through to the knockout stages. The next game wasn't for a month and we'd been told to "enjoy yourselves tonight". We all knew what that meant -- carnage. Some of the lads had come prepared and had their jeans and shirts wrapped up in Centra bags thrown in beside their boots. A group of them jostled around the tiny mirror on the wall outside the toilets. There were tins of Dax hair-wax and bottles of aftershave flying everywhere, with harder shoulders being dished out than in the game itself. Other, less prepared, lads would have to head home before the rendezvous at the local.
I was late to the pub as the calf we'd nicknamed Houdini had been up to his old tricks again. I walked in the door and broke into a quick sprint to avoid being roped into a lengthy analysis on the game with the die-hards, a group of fiftysomething men who attended every single club game without fail. They were all ex-players and legends in their own right. They loved the club. They sat right by the door drinking porter and pouncing on unsuspecting gossons who entered. It was a rite of passage. There was talk of a bus to Dublin, which meant only one thing: Coppers.
As it turned out, it was more than talk. Halfway through my pint, it pulled up outside. We loaded on and any decent tune that came on the radio caused pandemonium. This particular night it was the Sawdoctors. "Ah brilliant, turn her up! How the bus didn't topple over remains a mystery.
Copperface Jacks is a wonderful place. A place where country folk can mingle with townies in harmony; where relationships are forged; where hearts are broken; where minds are lost and where anything goes.
We split into groups, making sure that the few underage gossons walked up with an older player, acting as sober as could be. I always brought the keys to my college apartment with me so the gossons weren't stranded should they be refused. I assembled my team of underagers and we walked up; a quick flash of the GPA card and we were in.
My phone beeped, one of the other gossons hadn't been so lucky. I climbed back up the stairs and handed over the keys across the railings, a look of devastation on his face. 'Fucker remembered the time I got sick and fell asleep on the bar,' he muttered.
There are many different agendas when a team heads to Coppers. Every team has a lothario. Ours is nicknamed The AI Man. He usually lasts 15 minutes in the club before heading off with some poor, unsuspecting female. We usually receive a call at around seven o'clock the following morning to go and collect him before she wakes up.
Next there's The Poser. He'll be decked out in all the latest gear, hair slicked back, skinny jeans, hundred euro shirt; he can be found telling girls about how he once came on for the county under 15 B team and scored 1-2.
The gossons will just be happy to be there. They'll sip away on pints all night at the bar, trying to look as old and sophisticated as possible, maybe copping off with a recent divorcée who's easier than foundation maths and on the hunt for a rebound.
There'll always be an old head who's happily married with two children but said he'd come for the crack. It's usually a once-a-year thing, to make him feel young again. He'll drink too much and make an arse of himself, eventually being carried out at about one o'clock.
Then there's The Bomber, a chap who'll flip his lid if someone even slightly brushes against him trying to squeeze by. He'll usually see someone with whom he'd had a previous run-in and head in their direction. The next time we'll see him is when we're leaving. He'll be standing outside arguing with the bouncer, "What are you on about, he hit me first!"
This particular night was going well, we were having great banter and the drink was flowing. Some questionable moves were being pulled on the dance floor, with one of the lads hobbling off with a sore hamstring after attempting the worm. The place was wedged. I looked across the crowd and spotted a lad from the team we'd beaten earlier. He'd hit me a nice dig in the ribs off the ball. I could've sent The Bomber in his direction, but it wasn't my style. I glanced at a group of girls to his right and smiled.
"Hi, how are ya? I know your face, where are you from?"
"Erm, Athy. I'm sorry but I don't know you?"
"Are you sure, I definitely know you from somewhere?"
She laughed. "Maybe you do, I'm very drunk, what's your name?"
"Ah, that doesn't matter. You see my friend over there, in the blue jumper?"
"The tall guy?"
"Yea, listen, he's been talking about you all night, he keeps looking over here. We've been telling him to go talk to you but he's too shy. I'm telling you he's absolutely mad about you! He's very bashful though, so keep at him."
"Really? Hmmm, he's nice! Thanks a lot."
She headed briskly towards my nemesis with a determined glint in her eye. I turned and walked back over towards the lads who were chuckling away.
"Ah lad! You can do a lot better than her; I've smaller heifers at home!"
I tapped the side of my nose and winked at them.
The Fielder is not a fictional character. He currently plays for his county and club. For more, follow him on Twitter, @TheFielder2
Sunday Indo Sport