The fielder: the real adventures of an inter-county footballer
Testing times strain the heart and the wallet
Letting her go was the hardest thing I've ever done. I'd be lying if I said I haven't thought about her every day since. I'd be sitting in traffic or reading the paper and something small would remind me of her.
It's difficult not to shed a tear when I think back to those days. We had it all. She was the only one who's ever really understood me as a person. She saw through the tough exterior and the steely mindset. She was perfect.
I keep a shoebox full of our photos together under my bed. Although my friends have told me that glancing at these will only make it harder to let go, I find some solace looking through them, it's almost therapeutic. Mam can tell when I've been looking at the photos, I'll mope around the house for the rest of the evening, quiet as a mouse.
"Christ gosson, will you stop tormenting yourself and bin those pictures. She's gone and she's never coming back!"
But I refuse to believe it. I'll never forget her gorgeous blonde hair or how her unique scent caressed your nostrils. I loved how she'd look at you with a playful glint in her eye. She was a real looker, but my God what a body. I've yet to lay eyes on a better rear end than hers.
She had savage hind-quarters and big broad shoulders. Her back was smooth and flat and she had a neck like a buffalo. We never had an ounce of trouble with her and every year she'd have a little smasher of a calf. I don't think we'll see the likes of her again.
Last year, the parents had decided that enough was enough. They were funding my education in the big smoke and I'd just failed another set of exams. I was in the toilet when I got the results. It was the only place where the internet worked in our house. My head dropped and I hesitantly called for my mother to break the news to her.
"Well did you get the exams?" she asked on arrival.
"Erm, I passed . . ."
"No, you didn't let me finish, I passed three . . . failed the other three."
There was a silence more awkward than the time Cú Chulainn told the blacksmith that he was after making shite of his beloved doggy with a hurl.
"What's new? Well you know what gosson, you can pay for this set of repeats yourself."
With that she stormed out. At first I was sure she was bluffing, but as the deadline for payment drew closer, I had yet to see a red cent from the parents.
Looking back, I deserved to fail the exams. Being honest, the day I received my Copper Face Jacks gold card had been my ruination. It'd become my second home. I was on first-name terms with all the bouncers and had even sold silage to one of them during the fodder crisis. They let me park in the alley beside the entrance the odd time when I'd be rushing back up from training. It's safe to say that I spent twice as many hours in that fine establishment as I did in the university library.
'You can repeat the exams, but you can't repeat the banter,' had been my slogan that year, but now it'd come back around to bite me on the arse big-time.
I needed a cash injection pronto. My next crop of calves weren't due to go for burgers for a few months yet. I'd thought about going to the county board and proclaiming that if I didn't get the money somehow I'd be forced to go abroad for work but I couldn't face the embarrassment.
After hours of thought and brainstorming, I was left with no other option, she had to go. Selling her off would cover the repeat fees and provide some funds for a few pairs of new football boots or maybe a sun holiday, though I was hoping the journey to collect a certain Mr Maguire would halt any plans for a foreign excursion for the time being.
The week leading up to the exam was torturous. If the boys in Guantanamo Bay are looking for some new persuasion techniques, forcing inmates to study the Common Agricultural Policy or the reproductive system of a sow is guaranteed to reap dividends. I'd study until the early hours and pop some sleeping pills to try and get some rest, though the stress would often
mean I'd stay wide awake for most of the night. With little or no time to prepare good wholesome food, I was forced to live on chocolate and takeaways, though I wasn't complaining.
Training offered an escape and kept me sane, though it was obvious that my study regime had taken its toll. I was on the pitch in body, but not in mind and the final straw came when I won a breaking ball at midfield, turned and drove my boot through it, sending it soaring towards the edge of the square, or to be more precise, towards the edge of my own square. I'm still getting stick for that one. I informed the manager that I'd need to miss training the night before the first exam; I was going to have to pull an all-nighter.
These plans were somewhat scuppered when I sat down to tuck into my third Chinese takeaway in as many days and what came on the telly only Despo Gaffwives. An hour later I sat down at my desk and opened a can of Red Bull. Before I opened the books, I sent a text to my mother, "Exam tomo. Tell Granny to light candle(s)".
The following day I sat outside the exam hall waiting to be called in. When the intercom signalled for us to enter, I gritted my teeth and quickly afforded a glance at the photo I now kept in my wallet. I wasn't going to let her down.
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