The Hope and Madness of January

Posted: January 6, 2013 in GAA
Tags: , ,

waterlogged-pitch

THE inter-provincial leagues started last night, while the majority of county teams are making their first appearance of the year today. Managers are talking about new players, gym programs and preparing for the league. But far from the headlines, ordinary club players across the country are returning to churn up their local pitches and in some cases, the contents of their stomachs.

In the club November and December is a time for reflection and usually weight gain. While players are wintering, the off-season provides the local power brokers and bluffers with the chance to satisfy their egos at the annual display of big talking and posturing better known as the AGM. These boys of summer will reappear in late June, license to pass judgment in hand from the hazy memory of that meeting and the session that followed.

In the meantime the majority of players minds must be reprogrammed. For most a short-term memory is a necessity; bitterness, frustration and memories of disappointment don’t make for good training numbers.The annual wiping of negativity completed, the buzz words are now hard work and optimism. The first night of training brings with it the buzz of excitement and fear.

What’s he going to do to us?

The text appeared encouraging, just a light run with a talk about the year ahead. Sounds very pleasant altogether, might even catch some of the football. The prodigal sons must be encouraged they say, welcomed back into inviting arms and coaxed with admiring glances at their fancy new predators. Can’t do that by flogging the poor boys on their first night. The risk of them stumbling home with their bellies between their legs, promising never to venture to far from the bar stool again is too great. Surely they’ll go easy on us, sure it’s only January for fuck sake…surely.

Cut to two hours later and the unmistakable, yet reassuringly familiar sound of the local fun time Frankie puking behind the stand. There must be something about this sound that brings some sort of sadistic pleasure to managers. It’s usually greeted with a smug smile, followed closely by a jibe about activities in the local hostelries over the festive period. Cue token laughter through gritted teeth, the jokes on all of us though. Turns out by talking, management actually meant sprints; hate it when they mix those two up.

There’s always the exception to the rules. Talk of gym programs and the like have got through to some, probably the boys left waiting for the showers as the majority made a charge for the door come season end. Then there are the young gazelles who gaze in wonder at the anguish on the faces of their supposedly older and wiser team mates. These men in their 30’s, the equivalent of Methuselah in GAA terms, promise it will happen to them one day too.

The college boys who arrived full of swagger hours earlier could tell them. They entered the damp environs of the dressing room, their heads filled with the heady days of summer and years gone by when fitness was a constant, conveniently forgetting that the new constant in their lives is six cans and a naggin of something barely above the standards of bleach.

“Another lap lads.” “Just the one” replies the voice of youth and stupidity. “Two so” is the reply, closely followed by groans and mental promises to nail the little bollox when the chance comes around. He may as well have said, “You’re gone soft boss.”

The words, “That’s it for tonight lads” barely register through punch drunk senses. The retreat begins back to the sanctuary of the dressing rooms. Someone cracks a joke at the expense of Frankie and all is good again as tired but happy faces get there bearings in this old home. What else would you be doing, what else would you rather be at.

These first few nights capture perfectly the madness and addiction of the GAA when expectations have yet to be dampened by loss of form, a tight loss or injuries. Everything that’s great about the  GAA is in evidence on these nights and they have never been so important to those left behind in dwindling communities. Christy O’Connor described it beautifully in his book, ’The Club.’

The nights that capture that lovely madness of hurling and feeling a part of a group sharing the same goal. Sport at its most visceral doesn’t have to involve cups or medals. It has to do with a group sharing experiences until such times as those experiences turn them into something else.

So as inter-county teams prepare to do it all again for another year, keep in mind all those club teams beginning the long road to their own less glamorous version of the nauseating excitement of high summer, hard ground and championship. Chances of success, acknowledgement or even appreciation remain slim, but the message is keep the faith boys, because at this time of year anything is possible. Now ten more laps.

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Comments
  1. coolcom5mike says:

    Hi,

    We are in process of starting up a new, slightly different digital GAA magazine (web and hard copy) aimed at more mature audience. ie articles 2000+ words, insightful comment and analysis. We would like to recruit a broad range of contributors from across the digital domain (blogs, web and facebook, etc) instead of the usual newsprint media columnists. The web has opened the door to new voices in journalism talent and your original blog pieces are ideal. Would you be interested in joining our contributor team. I can fill you in with more detail if you are ?

    Regards,
    Mike,
    Ballyhale,
    Kilkenny

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