Here I have attempted to polarize the glamour with which the EPL is beamed around the globe and present Gaelic football with the resultant anti-glamour. I give you an alternative to the shimmering finery of the Premier League…
The fine Irish lads kicked and thumped the heavy leather ball to each other amidst the poverty stricken deeply depressed Sunday morning wind. Shivering, miserable and alive with national pride they watched as the ball fell short of someones outstretched pink cold hands and walloped into the muck with a dismal smack of latent Catholic guilt. The strapping Irish lads stood motionless. The ball sat half covered in the mire, looking up, like a spoilt disabled sibling who never helps themselves back into their wheelchair when they fall out. Big expectant eyes saying I can wait all day.
The small group was confined to a section of pitch near the corner. Judging by their current location it’d take them a good two days walk to reach the goalposts and then the same distance again to see the clean clothes and icy shower/toilet/paint shed of the changing rooms.
Their trainer thrust his arms this way and that, a monolithic dark silhouette against the raging war of greys that clashed on the rippling sky. Pride! The county! Win! Match! Community! His words barked with all the subtlety of a whirring chainsaw hitting a cast iron radiator.
The rain came in sheets, dropping like panes of glass, shattering across the muck war painted heads of the few groggy teenagers out for the training. All sets of eyes but one were focused on the brown slop. All sets of eyes weighed down with the sheer joy of this exhilarating technically rewarding game but one. All sets of eyes rimmed with tears, the liquidation of fun running freely from their ducts but one. All sets of eyes squidgy orbs of tangible misery but one.
That one set of rebellious eyes belonged to Young Michael Cusack Collins O’Halpin Og. For his eyes were fiery spheres of splendid exhilaration. Unperturbed by the obviously ridiculous conditions he powered on in his shorts that lived up to their name so well, they didn’t even come down to his waist. So with his scaldy, freckly pink irish mickey swinging all over the shop he leapt and panted and caught the ball and kicked it high into the air and jumped high off the ground and caught it and fought with the wind and relished the elemental force of Ireland dropkicking him straight into his big Gaelic loving face repeatedly for the hour training had been on.
As he hoofed the ball directly into the rain dripping grey infinity he let his mind wander and his dreams unfurl. Would it be ten years into the future? Even five? He would be getting his hands on the Sam Maguire trophy. Holding it aloft in a packed to the rafters Croke Park, spitting the few wordeens of Irish at the masses gathered to see him. Michael! Michael! They would chant waving jerseys above their heads. And he would make eye contact with each and everyone one of them during his heart lifting speech about community and victory and the county and pride and the match and winning. The contest would go down in history as a tactical masterclass as Michaels teams tactics meant they kicked bigger longer harder balls further and higher up into the sky than the other team could manage. Check mate.
That night a lovely girleen in a county jersey and nathing else would hand feed him the finest of spuds as they listened to Marty Morrissey Dissect the match on the telly. Some day he told himself, some day, as the ball returned from the murky void.
Michael Og looked around and couldn’t spot the rest of the lads. They must have finished training early. He made the long arduous trek to the changing room. Inside, swaying gently from the rafters were his team mates. The pride and tactical pleasure that was to be found at the core of the sport had proven too much for them. They had taken their own lives. Michaels eyes fell to the floor. What would they do for the Championship now? With fourteen dead team mates the parish couldn’t compete in the match. But sure he was tougher than last year when the exact same thing had happened. They had worked through it. The beauty and joy of gaelic football was too much for some people. He sat on the bench and started working out tactics for him lining out against another team. If he played in midfield and kicked the ball really hard and ran and then caught it he could work his way up the pitch. Just then his trainer interrupted his complicated tactical meditiation.
‘Michael Og, the lads have done themselves in’ he said as he pointed to the fourteen gently swaying young fellas right beside where they stood. Michael nodded. The trainer spoke again.
‘Good news though, the team we were playing have ALL done themselves in. So we have a bye into the next round. We’re through Micky! The parish will be proud’ and with that he pressed play on the dressing room boom box and Europe ‘The Final Countdown’ filled the space between the muck, crumpled odd boots, hanging dead bodies and Michael Og and his gaelic trainer. They were through to the next round of the championship. Gaelic, the life blood of the parish, lived on.