Monday 19 February 2018

Cowboys and townies kicking up a right stink

COMBINING senior inter-county football, studying for a degree and helping out on the family farm can sometimes seem like too many balls to juggle.

After a hard day running after cattle, shearing sheep or even worse, attending lectures, training can be a godsend. Hopping into the car, knowing that for the next few hours there'll be no cows to calve, fences to fix or sheds to muck out is a great feeling. Although chasing some of our nippier forwards around the training pitch is comparable to catching suck calves.

Our land isn't all in one block, so a lot of time is spent driving between fields so one can imagine the state my car is in. I am constantly reminded of this by the lads I share the driving duties to training with. They're a great bunch, but from very a different background. I think 'Townies' is the Oxford term.

So you can imagine the scene when it's my turn to drive. They often claim they can get 'the bleedin' smell' of my car before they see it. Even the exceptional reversing skills every culchie is born with isn't enough to impress them.

I pull up and the three eventually get in, opening the door in stages, as if it's been heated to 100 degrees. In fairness, they could be sharing the back seat with anything, and I mean anything: wellies, bags of feed, buckets of nuts, bottles of medicine, syringes, wavin pipes (the tool of the trade), ropes or even the occasional toplink.

They generally squeeze into the back, bags and all. The boot is off limits after the unfortunate dead-calf incident, although I tell them it's fine now. They're usually content to sit on a newspaper or a jacket and we soldier on.

One night there had been a change in our training schedule and it happened that the route to the new venue took us by a field of our cattle. I asked the lads would they be alright to come with me to check them on the way home and they agreed, not knowing what to expect, but it was a glorious evening after all.

The ground was hard, the studs had been retired for the summer and the mouldies had been dug out from the bottom of the press. Summer time was upon us, or as we like to call, Silage Season. These nights are what it's all about and this particular evening we were finishing up with a game. Training had been brilliant and lads were bullish, mad to make a good impression. I started in the backs with the three townies on the opposite team. I was eager to impress, and got my chance about 10 minutes in.

"YEAH, BIG SWITCH!" I roared.

I was all alone on the edge of the 'D' and waving for the ball as if my life depended on it. I'd taken a chance and sprinted forward. There I was, in uncharted territory, scared but determined, like a suck calf sniffing a bucket of feed for the first time.

I had acres of space, now all I needed was the ball to come out from the mass of bodies in the corner. Suddenly there was a flash of white, it was air-born and heading in my direction. This was it; I took a step and leapt like Kauto Star. The ball stuck to my hands like shite to a shoe. I pulled it in and landed. Then there was darkness.

PEEP! The referee's whistle sounded. I'd been cleaned from behind with a dirty shoulder. I opened my eyes. I was flat on my stomach, the ball nowhere to be seen. "Ah jaysus man, sorry!" Two long legs sporting shiny white boots came into view, socks taped up. I could only see as far as his waist but there was no question who'd done it. One of the lads I shared lifts with had just upended me. This one even had shotgun that night. I felt betrayed. The free was clipped over the bar and my chance was gone.

After training we set off to check the cattle. I only had two spare pairs of wellies so two of the lads were heading into a minefield of cow shite at dusk. We set off down the field, the lads staying alert as if a killer-heifer would leap out of the bushes and devour them. They crept along like ninjas. I decided to exact some revenge.

"Lads, the black ones are extremely dangerous, they bite if provoked, so don't make any noise."

"Are you havin' a laugh?"

"No, just be careful and stay behind me, don't make any sudden movements."

"Wha? This is like bleedin Jurassic Park! Fuck this I'm going back to the car!"

"No, you can't leave now, they'll chase us, we won't make it, trust me. Stay close and keep quiet."

I looked around at them -- all three white as ghosts, shaking with fear, beads of sweat on their foreheads. We walked through the herd, I took a quick count, all present and correct.

"Ah Jesus, Mary and Joseph me kicks!"

I spun around and sure enough the cow shite had claimed its first victim. This outburst caused a few calves to scatter and I saw my opportunity.

"I told you not to shout, RUN, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!"

In all my years playing with these three guys, I can honestly say I have never seen them cover 100 yards so quickly. It was astounding. They hopped the gate and kept going. I strolled back to the car and on rounding the corner in the yard, the three of them ran over and hugged me; all three covered in sweat and shite and panting like dogs.

"Thank God man, we thought you were done for. Those cows are bad news man. Vicious bastards."

To this day I still haven't told them.

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