It's 3.25 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, 30 players, all fit, all determined are waiting. They follow the brass band around the field, to the tune of "Sean South of Garryowen". They look up towards the crowd, they too are waiting, eager, apprehensive. A gentle breeze blows from left to right towards the hill. It's Championship Day! St. Kevins V Wolfe Tones in Ballymount, home of Northern Gaels.
The "Waiting" for this May 28th date started on a cold night in February when we came in from training in near storm conditions, to hear we had drawn near neighbours, Wolfe Tones in the first round of the Laois Senior Football Championship. The reaction was indifferent, could be worse, could be better. But one thing was for certain, we would need to be very well prepared for the day.
All during the next four months we spent two nights a week working ourselves to near exhaustion, 100m X 10 in sprints, 6 laps in 12 minutes, down for 50 press-ups, down for 50 sit-ups. There were nights when I felt like getting sick, and nights when I did! All this in waiting for 1 hours football.
In the mean time we had league matches to play. By strange coincidence our first league match was an away game against Wolfe Tones. It was a sort of dress rehearsal for May 28th. It was a tense affair. Neither team wanting to fully show their hand, neither wanting to hand the other the initiative. In the end we struggled through by a point, 1-9 to 11pts. It was the start of a roll which shot us to the top of the table with a maximum 12 points from 6 games. But 'Tones were second with 10 points.
The day was drawing closer! Soon it was the Tuesday night before the big day. Training was light and concentrated on shooting, tackling and a few forward moves. But we had some selection worries. Captain Jimmy Gacquin was out through a bad shoulder injury, while our big full forward would be absent as he was on holidays. We had other niggily injuries too and the manager decided to defer team selection until Friday night.
Friday night the team was announced. I was in! Brilliant, all the hard slog was worth it and I would be lining out No.1 on Sunday. There was one surprise though as our veteran, former All-Star Larry Kerins was brought in instead of the ageing Noel King. Both men are 39 years of age and for them to be still playing senior football was a credit to themselves and an example to the rest of us. The trainer had a few words of advice. No drinking, relax, don't mind the crowd, play your own game. All words of wisdom from a man who had been through it all before.
Saturday night, 18 hours to kick-off. Basil, "Dixie" (our two wing forwards) and I meet and get out a video. "Unforgiven" is the name of it but we don't have much interest and a lot of football is talked over a cup of tea.
I get up Sunday morning and go to 11.30 mass in the local church. The "boys" are there, we meet afterwards and talk about the upcoming events, we depart saying "See you later on". The nerves are jingling the stomach is beginning to tingle. At home I prepare my gear. Boots-check, socks-check, shorts-check, gloves-check, top-check, towel-check, all present and correct. It's 1.29pm, I look again it's 1.32. Waiting , waiting all this waiting is killing me! I eat some dinner, 1.45pm, still waiting! At last its 2 o'clock and my father says "C'mon, it's time to leave". I sit into the car, gear beside me, I see Tom Lennon driving past. As does Seanie Mac. Its a half an hour drive up. It seems like forever! I hardly say two words on the way up. Its 2.35pm outside the ground. We talk for a few minutes and at 2.45pm our manager comes out and says "Right lads, get togged". In the dressing room a few jokes and wise cracks are greeted with a few nervous giggles. The smell of "Deep Heat" is clogging up the air. I breathe faster, by now togged out, looking around at the others. The manager talks I hardly hear him. Then those fateful words "Lads go out there and play with PRIDE". We run out like tigers let loose from a cage. The cheer goes up! "C'mon 'Tones!" is the cry. We warm up.
Now its time for the parade. Its 3.25pm. I pick up a piece of grass and check the wind. Its blowing left to right towards the hill. My mind drifts back over the months of training. The slogging, the hardship, the enjoyment, the comradeship, the waiting. Its too late to blow it now. The band plays "Amhrain na bhFhiann", I sing it with all my might. The adrenaline is flowing. The players are lined out. The referee picks up the ball. Blows the whistle, throws the ball. THE WAITING IS OVER!
P.S. We lost!
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