The Fielder: Hot under the collar on lightweight debut
My emergence onto the inter-county scene began with a bang. Now I know what you're thinking. 'Here we go, a stereotypical story about a wiry looking youngster being sprung from the bench to bang in a goal on a dream debut, similar to what happened in Cusack Park last weekend'. Yawn.
Stall the digger, PJ. Don't just reach for Life magazine and its Irish models just yet. For this is by no means a tale of an heroic coming of age. There are no big crowds, no fist-pumps and no signature-seeking mobs of blushing females. This is a tale of sweat, soreness and suffering.
It began on a nasty November Saturday morning some years back. We'd just been eliminated from the club provincial championship after taking the county title. A decent campaign at the heart of the club's defence had earned me a call-up to the county panel. It was nippier than an episode of Ground Force. I was a fragile wean of 19 years and remember the harsh weather well. We'd been summoned to a random club ground in the back of beyond, away from the public and in full, glorious breach of the winter training ban; the third most broken regulation in Irish history after the anti-green diesel movement and the one-hour fast before you went swimming as a sprog. The icy temperatures became an instant problem when I was handed a plastic jar and told to produce a urine sample. The lad had headed north for the winter.
A drop of Lucozade Sport, a splash of a team-mate's piddle and a couple of seconds under the hot water tap birthed a concoction Ben Johnson would have been proud of.
I was thrust straight onto the main panel, joining the boys in the middle of a multi-purpose, gruelling pre-season. The plan was to host a massive fundraiser to boost the team's training fund in early January; a white-collar boxing night to be precise. At that time the team was training (or not training for those of you with offices in Croke Park) three times a week. Though I admit that the white-collar boxing is an excellent idea, one my own club has since embraced and profited well from, I will honestly say I would rather shake hands with a mains electric-fence than do the training again.
Though not much bigger now; back then I was built like a soggy Rich Tea biscuit. I relied on skill, vision and pace to get me by. At the first session I weighed in at a miserable 12 stone, nearly two stone lighter than the panel average. There were sniggers as I willed the needle upwards. I was like a wobbly suck calf thrown into a pen of bulls, weaker than a politician's alibi.
The white-collar boxing outfit is run as an all-in package and I'm sure many of you have had some experience of them. The trainers are ex-fighters themselves, one of which has represented Ireland. In fairness to them, they're the hardiest boys I've ever come across. They also provide everything from sound and lighting on the night, to referees and the physical gear itself. May I take this opportunity to afford them a hat-tip for their ring girls, one of which had a bottom like two eggs in a hanky. Right from the get-go I was fecked. I was thrown straight into a sparring session with an established corner-back who had arms like legs and had about three stone on me. It began as body shots only. I tucked my elbows in and danced like I was full of vodka and Red Bull; throwing the odd drizzly swipe as I dodged his efforts. Fair dues to him, he sensed my yellowness and didn't really try.
But after a shrill blast of the whistle, which no-one had informed me meant that the head was now in play; I was on the flat of my arse seeing stars within seconds. A feeble left hook had been enough to finish me. My KO earned me a headache and a chance to sit out a couple of exercises. I was sent back into the action for the last one. As I rejoined the group we were being split into threes. Eventually there were two of us left, myself and the captain and we went as a pair. The trainer explained the drill. He was about 5' 10" and there wasn't a pick on him.
The drill involved putting your hands behind your head while the others punched your stomach. The captain went first. The trainer blew his whistle and I began to gently pat his stomach, wise to the fact that angering him would earn me a battering when my turn came around. "Mon t'fuck kid, hit me," he shouted.
On hearing this, the trainer made his way over, shoved me to one side and began to throw missile-like punches into my partner's abdomen. It was painful to watch. Thud, thud, thud. With each impact he winced more and more, hunched over like a wounded soldier. The whistle went and we swapped over. Now the trainer put his hands up and urged us to hit him. I resumed my meek assault while to my left the captain exacted his revenge and put everything he had into his hits. It was payback time for him. I looked up at the trainer. Even he was finding it hard. His face was scrunched-up in pain as the ferocious barrage continued along his right side. Then the whistle went.
"Last man!" was the call from across the floor.
Oh Jesus. I was rightly fucked. Two bull-thick hoors were about to take out their anger on a little lamb who just wanted to be friends.
I raised my hands slowly whilst muttering a joke . . . "Remember now boys, I went easy on . . ."
Smack. An uppercut from Bruce Willis swiftly followed by a straight right from the captain left me sprawled across the floor like a wet towel, struggling for air. Sure I was only young I didn't even have abs.
They tried to pull me up but I resisted, sticking to the floor in a ball until the whistle went again. They chuckled, urging me to get used to that sort of thing as I found my feet. Looking back, they weren't wrong.
Sunday Indo Sport