Heading west last Friday, the car needed juice. I needed juice.
Applegreen on the M4 where thousands of cars and people are fuelled up heading west. Standing in the queue, I overheard two elderly gentlemen discussing their weekend trip to Castlebar. “We’ve a few niggles. I’m a bit worried. Jesus, we could be bet.”
The second man nods and calmly. “Bring plenty of euros, sure we’ll let the hair down.”
They chuckle. I chuckle.
It’s almost here. The Championship.
Mothers worrying about sons getting injured. Fathers worrying will their sons make the team. Brothers hoping to pilfer the other’s new training gear. Sisters looking for an introduction to one of the team-mates. Club manager sweating whether he’ll be back training on the Tuesday after Championship. Publican looking for a good crowd before and after the match.
We need romance. We need to dream. Will the minnows take a scalp? Journalists sharpen their pencils. Pundits sharpen their wit. Who can get the best scoop. Where’s the scandal? Over the top headlines. Over-robust comments. Radio interviews. TV adverts. Billboards. WhatsApp, Instagram. Snapchat. Online trolls. Supporters hoping to be seen on the box. Managers penning dummy teams. Obsolete match programmes. Players hoping not to be asked.
Give Respect. Get Respect. Referee’s mic-ed up. Sideline officials jump up. Umpires unwrapping sweets in their pockets. Fourth officials begging managers to stay inside the inclusion zone. Timekeepers, TMO’S. Tá or Níl. It’s easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn’t.
Player rituals. Lucky socks. Lucky jocks. Same seat on the bus. Same seat in the dressing room. Porridge and scrambled eggs. No salty bacon, otherwise a gallon of water. That brings its own problems. Gearbag checklist. Spare boots and laces, Under Armour (a fancy vest), toilet roll and Hair-gel (NB for team-photo). Rosary beads.
Fundraisers. Supporters clubs. Tables at Punchestown. Car-washes, lotto, predict the score. Trips to Carton House, Johnstown House and Fota Island. Overseas warm-weather camps on the quiet. Salads, pasta, and vegetables. Gourmet food only. Absolutely no crisps, chocolates, or ice-creams. They’re just for the supporters. No craic allowed, well, not in front of the management anyways. Boys will be boys after all.
Match day commutes. Early risers. Match-day discussion before, during, and after mass. Even the priest wishes everyone well from the pulpit. Packed lunches. What to wear? Flats, sandals, or boots. Jersey tucked in or out? Ponchos, caps, and banter. The banter’s the best. Local lingo and parish-pump politics. Did we peak too soon? The league means nothing. Good vibes coming from the camp. He’s a mighty player. He’s poor tactically. He wouldn’t kick snow off a rope. I’ve seen bigger men on top of wedding cakes.
New format. New grades. No more minors. Will people support the standalone U17 games? I hope so. They’re the future. Provincial games. Historic grounds. Great atmospheres. Castlebar, Clones, Thurles, Portlaoise, Tullamore. Cheap hotdogs. Terrible lattes. Overpriced Mars bars. Overpriced car-parks. Yellow lines. No coins. Take a chance. Double yellow lines. Clampers. Could we lose three championship games and still win the All-Ireland? Technically correct. Morally wrong.
Off the ball, On the Ball. Game management. GPS’s. Kicking tees. Gumshields. Studs or moulded. Jelly-babies, mandarins, and Jaffa Cakes. Sudacream, suncream, and vaseline.
Short Kick-outs. Long kick-outs. Marks. Offensive teams. Defensive teams. Balance. New players. Young Bulls entering the arena. Eoin Murchan (Dublin), Eoin Ban Gallagher (Donegal) and Evan O’Carroll (Laois). The old bulls like Murphy, Donaghy and O’Shea still surveying the landscape and bulling for road.
Managers fretting. Coaches sweating. Fitness tests and analysists. Stats folk and flipcharts. Videos, iPads and soundchecks. Physiotherapists, psychologists, and cryotherapy. Nutritionists and kit folk. Surely everyone can feed and dress themselves? Bus drivers and Sat nav’s. Googlemaps and Garda escorts. Rest, recovery, and ice. You can’t beat a few ice-cubes after a match. Ah, that’s Bass.
The Super 8’s. I’ll do a lucky seven. Kerry and Cork. Mayo and Galway. Donegal, Monaghan, and Dublin. Debates, speculation, ridicule, and noise. Empty vessels make the most noise. One team always pops out from a rabbit hole or magician hat from nowhere. Carlow in 2017, Tipp in 2016. Laois might be that rabbit in 2018.
The winners. The losers. The what if’s, buts, and maybe’s. The simple philosophy. Everyone takes part. Everyone plays their part. Everyone togs out. Players, do your best and once you can look yourself in the mirror and say “I did my best”, that’s enough. Management, no-one can ever question your commitment to having your teams ready. Trust yourself. Trust your players. Supporters, arrive safe and get home safer. Don’t forget the kids.
Referee’s – deep breaths. You’re the brave souls. You have back-up on the pitch. Use them wisely. Pundits, former players, and critics.
Think twice before you speak or write. They are someone’s son. They have feelings. They have lives outside Championship. And trust me, there’s no cure from a wallop of an angry mother’s umbrella. Your choice.
“Any fuel sir?”. “Pardon?”
“Any fuel? Just the coffee. Anything else?”. I’m at the top of the queue.
“I’ll have an ice-cream”.
She stares me down. The queue is twitching. “Which ice-cream SIR???”.
“A Super 8... Super Split of course.”
It’s the Championship.