The fielder: the real adventures of an inter-county footballer
A case of maor the merrier in sideline battle
Up until the early 1990s, it was widely believed that drinking too much water before and during a match made you weak; hence the phrase 'watery whore'.
Nowadays a battered tray of grime-filled blue Lucozade bottles is as common in a GAA dressing room as a fat full-back.
Being a member of the county football panel means I often find myself watching on from the sideline for club games, and this can become frustrating. This year, in an effort to have more of an involvement in these games, I have nominated myself as our main fluid distribution officer (I find the term water-boy somewhat demeaning).
I man the sideline opposite the dugout as part of my duties and hydrate the players on my wing as well as the central-men when needs be. The management team looks after the other side.
Many have said that I am a crucial part of the team; becoming a 16th man. As well as thirst-quenching, I put in a serious shift of referee-abusing, player-motivating, opposition-taunting and talent-spotting.
Last weekend I trialled a new invention of mine at a club league game. We won the game easily and I have no doubt that it was my fluid distribution skills coupled with this ingenious invention that was the determining factor in our triumph.
Some years ago, I did a few days' work with a sheep farmer. We spent a day medicating ewes against worms, which for the townies amongst you involves spraying the solution down the animal's throat using a syringe-like gun connected to a tank on one's back. I figured that this system would come in very useful in my situation, eliminating the need for water bottles which often were lost, stolen or thrown too hard at players causing mild concussions. I would simply run over, say 'open wide' and with deadly accuracy, dispense the water. Of course I gave the gun and tank a good wash before using it on humans, though not too good of a wash; a good de-wormer would do some of our boys no harm.
Anyway, back to the match. It was a fearsome battle, fought in sweltering conditions. With 10 minutes gone the teams were level and I noticed the first signs of thirst. Larry Williams had his tongue out. At the next break in play I sprinted onto the field and motioned for Larry to open his mouth as I raised my dispenser.
"Shite, sorry Lar!"
The first blast had gone up his nose. I readjusted and Larry got his drink. "Any chance of a sip mate?" The request came from Larry's opponent, who looked to be in dire need of some water.
"What do you think this is, St Vincent de Paul?"
I turned and began to jog off the pitch. There was a minor skirmish after one of their players confronted me for refusing his team-mate water. I got a few good slaps in and after a warning from the referee I returned to my line.
Then the fans started. They'd seen what I'd done and behind my back began to mouth through the fence.
"You're nothing but a thug!"
"County player my arse. A water-boy's the only job for you!"
I couldn't take it any longer. I spun round and faced some of the perpetrators, gun cocked.
"Jesus, yis are quare quiet now."
I recognised one of the terrified faces; a cattle dealer who'd sold us a bunch of duds a few months back. I smiled and aimed my gun at his nether regions, saturating his good trousers.
"Ya little bollox!"
The half-time whistle went just as I sprayed him and I was able to slip into the dressing room quietly amidst the commotion.
We were a point in arrears at the break. I did a lap of the dressing room, giving out drinks as the manager spoke. When he'd said what he had to say, he asked the team whether anyone had anything to add. I stepped forward.
"Just one thing lads . . ."
I pointed at our selector.
"Eddie, I'm doing water on the far wing, but all your players are coming across looking for a drink off me. Get your feckin' finger out will you."
With that we took the field.
When I reached my sideline I noticed that our opponents had now appointed a fluid distribution officer along my patch. He'd laid out his bottles at 20-metre intervals along the line. I took a quick look around and as discreetly as I could, booted one of his bottles back across the fence, then another. As the referee threw the ball in for the second half, I desperately tried to contain my amusement as their water-boy, a pasty gosson of about 12, wandered up and down the line scratching his head, looking for his water bottles. My smirking was short-lived as one of our corner-forwards gestured that he needed some fluids.
As the final whistle sounded I turned to the opposition water-boy, screamed in his face and fist pumped. Looking back, it was very unsportsmanlike of me but I guess I was lost in the moment. The tears were a bit much though.
As I ran on to the pitch cheering and spraying water into the air, I thought to myself, 'I better get a mention in the paper this week'.
I have recently discovered that every few years a group of failed Junior B footballers embark on a trip abroad to play other failed footballers. This phenomenon has become known as the 'Lions Tour'. Last weekend I glanced at a picture of the Lions kitman using a Mr Muscle spray bottle full of ice-cold water to cool off his players. I have now added this to my arsenal in the fight against thirst.
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