The larger goal liberated Bubbles from himself

Cody knows as well as I do that if you’re relying on substitutes, you’re as well off not to bother.

The biggest disappointment of my multiple careers remains my unsuccessful campaign to ban all substitutions — except in the instance of the death mid-match of the parent of a player.

In that case, I initially proposed that the player in question would be permitted to leave the field without a substitute taking his place.

Support snowballed when I agreed to a modification of this clause, namely allowing the grieving player to return to the field later if management so wished (crucially, the player would be debarred from any input into the decision), thereby effectively being a substitute for himself.

But it was not enough to sway the duller minds arraigned against me.

And so I lost. For once. And my conquerors lived, or at least existed, to regret it.

When is a suffering player meant to learn if not on days like yesterday?

There is no place to hide. Shut the gates. Board up the dugouts. Every roasting is school day.

Watching his men squirm was Cody’s attempt to salvage something from yesterday’s savaging. He knew that every passing minute of pain would be better than a thousand team talks next year.

And it was this eventuality I was beginning to contemplate late on Friday night last when a certain Mr O’Dwyer, of frothy moniker fame, swung at high speed — always a telltale sign of wonderful, invaluable vulnerability — into the most famous farmyard in all of Gaeldom.

Bubbles remained unsure of his place.

“Picked,” he wailed, “but will I start?” “Entrusted with a position,” he yelped, “but trusted?”

I detected a need to change the conversation. That kind of introspection can drag a man down.

Three hours later came the critical breakthrough.

“What you’re saying, Noel, if I’m hearing you right” he summarised, morning light breaking through, “is that the 2017 championship really starts Sunday? And that I need to take a pre-emptive strike to get two steps ahead of Cody?”

I nodded.

He swooned.

It took an hour to convince him of the absolute imperative of marking Cody tightly.

And another two to agree on the optimum method.

“Hurling is about hate,” I sermonised, side profile, “and you must foment it wherever you get the chance Sunday.”

Thus, Bubbles was no longer obsessed with yesterday’s game: the larger ideal liberated him from himself. I was nearly home — I had seen enough in the warm-ups — when I heard the after-match interview.

His sulphurous trail caused me to smile. “A good student,” I said to Nancy, “we might just have burst Cody.”

And my final thought was of the anguished look on the great man’s face when he reads this humble contribution this morning, and recognises the hand of his greatest and oldest adversary in yesterday’s 13th-hour subterfuge.

Yesterday wasn’t just the end of one championship: it was the public relations launch of another — without the powerpuff.

Any good general knows you never win the war by confining your actions to just one front.


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