Wednesday 18 July 2018

Joe Brolly: Sing songs in chandeliers, TVs out the window and banquet food fights - Sigerson weekends were character-forming

'Those weekends were incredible, intense experiences, on and off the field'. Stock photo: Sportsfile
'Those weekends were incredible, intense experiences, on and off the field'. Stock photo: Sportsfile

Joe Brolly

Before I went to Trinity, I had heard some of the stories about the Sigerson Cup from the older Derry lads but hadn't really believed them.

About Con Murphy, former GAA president, standing up to speak at the Sigerson banquet only to be struck full in the face with a roast chicken, which was the cue for a food fight. Enda Gormley says, "It was like cattle being let loose in a field." DJ Kane says, "There was bread rolls bouncing all over the place. They never brought the main course."

As the mayhem unfolded, one of the Queen's players stood up on a table and stretched a condom down over his face and "ran about the room looking like a bank robber in a heist movie." The production of a condom would have been a novel sight for our southern brothers. At that time, condoms were only available in the south on prescription, in very limited situations.

Or what about the Jordanstown lads in the Gresham Hotel, throwing televisions and buckets of water out their windows onto O'Connell Street?

I saw it soon enough with my own eyes. My first year, the weekend was held in Maynooth. After one game, we went into a big restaurant/bar in the village. A big lad from UCC managed to climb up into a chandelier that was the centrepiece of the main bar and was rocking back and forth in it singing, Come out Ye Black and Tans.

A few of our lads were keen to join him. Funny how attractive swinging in a chandelier is after six pints. We gave them a leg up and soon there were three of them in it. The chandelier began to groan, then pulled away from the ceiling, before crashing to the floor, depositing the three lads amongst the wreckage. Everybody cheered.

Shortly afterwards one of the Trinity lads, normally a sensitive and artistic young fellow, came back out from the loo holding the hand dryer in his arms, sat down and resumed his pint. I cannot remember where we got them, but we all had scarves wrapped around our heads like the Kamikaze pilots. After every pint, we put the empty glasses upside down on the floor and stood on them. The floor was a carpet of broken glass. Terry Jennings, St Vincent's and Trinity, maintains that it was those Sigerson weekends that prompted the licensed trade to invent plastic pint glasses.

Those weekends were incredible, intense experiences, on and off the field. The football was do or die, with no in-between. In my second year, we were locked in battle with Maurice Fitzgerald's UCC, the reigning champions. We had come up from Division Two for the first time in a generation, but had terrific chemistry and could really play.

Before the games that weekend, as we always did, we sang Elvis in the dressing room. This must have been a disconcerting experience for our opponents in the neighbouring changing room. I liked to imagine them shouldering and roaring at each other, getting ready for war, then gradually stopping what they were doing as the strains of Love Me Tender filled the air.

At full-time in that semi-final, we were level. After extra-time we were level. So, we had to play another period of extra-time. Again, we were level. There was nothing for it but another ten minutes.

With a minute or so to go, the deadlock was broken. I broke through on goal, and as the 'keeper advanced, I flicked it to the corner of the net off the outside of my left, stopping to politely tousle his hair on the way out. We were now two up. The game was ours.

From the kick-out, Maurice took possession, and went on a mazy solo run. Left foot, right foot, dummy, change of pace, men hanging off him, striving to stay on his feet, then out of the blue, a rocket with the left foot from 25 yards that flew past Colm McMahon and hit the top corner. The final whistle. We were beaten.

"Hard luck, Derryman," (to this day, this is all he calls me), said Maurice, "I thought ye had us."

Cathal Carragher, Trinity and Clontibret legend, was marking Maurice. He sat disconsolately in the changing room afterwards, head in his hands, muttering, "I thought he was right-footed." In those days there was no video analysis.

The following year, we hosted the Sigerson in Trinity, and managed to persuade the Boat Club to hand over their cherished, historical premises to us for the weekend.

The banquet had been cancelled after the Con Murphy incident, so how bad could it be? In hindsight, we probably shouldn't have hired a republican band for the entertainment. Likewise, manning the bars with players and supporters of the Trinity team might - on mature reflection - have been incautious.

It all began when a young man in a Coleraine University top stopped to examine a large oil painting of the founder of the Boat Club. " F*** me lads," he shouted, "it's that orange b****** Edward Carson". At which point he pulled the portrait off its moorings, and pulled it down over himself, his head and body ripping through the ancient canvas. He stood there, with the remnants of the portrait hanging off him like a grass skirt. As the band played "Armoured cars and tanks and guns", the place bounced like an early Sex Pistols gig.

The barmen - all full - were now handing out bottles of spirits. A boat was dragged out of the sheds onto the Liffey, with a Jordanstown lad on board, who will remain nameless in light of his successful confidentiality claim in the High Court earlier this week. When the gardaí tried to coax him back to shore, he roared, "I'll take my f***ing chances."

Sadly, during the evening, the priceless oars from Trinity's great Henley Regatta winning year were taken, last seen out the side windows of the Coleraine bus as it drove through Drogheda, the boys shouting, "Heave, ho, Heave, ho."

That was the last ever Sigerson weekend, which is a source of pride to all of us who were privileged enough to be there. As the inimitable David Hanly said on Morning Ireland on the Monday morning, "Boys will be boys."

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