‘You are my son!’
If I got a peso every time a student in my Buenos Aires school shouted these words at me, I’d be ... well not exactly rich. Pesos aren’t worth much in this struggling economy.
The phrase is translated from Argentine slang…”¡te tenemos de hijo!” and means the Pumas will boss the Irish rugby team.
The boys bring up 1999 and 2007, saying history is on Argentina’s side; Ireland have never been in the semi-final and will lose again tomorrow. We were being slagged unmercifully this week as the clock counts-down to tomorrow’s World Rugby Cup clincher.
We love it though and are well able to hold our own and fly the flag for Ireland.
We’re not the only Irish here: our school Colegio Cardenal Newman is a Christian Brothers School and the brothers have a small community here.
Galway man Br Thomas smiled at me and slipped me an Irish scarf to wear in the primary school. I wore it at assembly while talking about the strong friendship between our countries. I spoke about revered war hero Admiral Guillermo Brown from Mayo and Fr Fahy from Galway who set up schools for Irish Argentines in the 1840s.
The boys listened patiently until I provocatively held the Irish scarf up in the air and waved it about. You just gotta do it!
The Brothers founded Newman in Buenos Aires in 1948 and introduced rugby as a cornerstone for education. The school is obsessed with rugby, has four beautiful pitches on campus and its own team, Club Newman, in the Top 14.
Rugby here is amateur but has fanatical fans. They travelled in their droves to the recent Top 14 semi-final in La Plata. Although favourites Newman were beaten by one point, the club’s noisy die-hard supporters sang and danced passionately throughout the match just like the Puma supporters in England.
The pupils say that they’re the best supporters at the World Cup. I smile to myself.
I spend mornings chatting to rugby-mad students. Towering figures with firm handshakes and broad smiles who enthuse about the virtues of rugby, talk tactics and teamwork, and have an encyclopedic knowledge of World Cup trivia.
They hold Ireland in high regard and would have preferred France in the quarters. They are proud of the Pumas and predict a narrow Argentine victory. A one-score win they say, either a try by Cordero or a drop goal by El Mago, the magician Hernandez.
They point to Ireland’s injuries and the loss of O’Connell, O’Mahony, and O’Brien. Proud of their history, students talk about Manolo, Br Timothy O’Brien, a deceased Christian brother from Cappamore who was the driving force of rugby in Newman and the club’s No 1 fan.
Students bubble with pride about past pupils and current Pumas Ayerza and Montoya who still has a brother in the school.
Many pupils including all 87 final-year students went to the World Cup group matches.
It’s been all rugby since I arrived. Last week there was a glimmer of relief when Newman held a special mass to celebrate a past pupil’s 25 years as a priest. I congratulated Fr Juampi Contepomi afterwards. He said that he loved Ireland so I spoke to him: “Your brother Felipe is very popular in Ireland, even in Munster where I’m from.”
Instantly he had an answer, we were off again.
“Now you have to say Felipe could’ve played for Munster, couldn’t he? He had the spirit, the heart of a Munster man, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, he did,” I said. “You made a mistake though. He could have played for Munster, not Leinster. You should have signed him, not O’ Gara.” I wasn’t taking this lying down, not even from a priest. “O’Gara’s a Corkman though!” You can’t beat that!
“Ah so you’re from Cork!!” Yes indeed. As a Cork, Munster, and Ireland supporter, I`m putting all my pesos on the Irish to boss the Pumas on Sunday.