Recently, on Saturday mornings, we have been taking the children to football and hurling training. The boys love it. The Princess stays on the sidelines, solidly (and very annoyingly) refusing to take part. To their enormous delight we dress the boys up in their FC Barcelona and Lions 09 kit (a Christmas present from their uncle) to go to training. And very fetching they looked too.
I did have mild qualms about introducing kit from foreign games but all that is in the past now and I noted that the very patient man training the four year old boys in football was wearing an Irish rugby jersey. After limbering up and working on their ball skills, the four year olds started a match. I was a bit concerned about this as my children had never played a match before. “Never mind” reassured the trainer “wait until you see it, it’s like a flock of sheep milling around a ball.” So indeed, it proved.
The hurling, however, was a different matter. The trainer was from Cork and he took it all very seriously. Ah, well do I remember my primary school days when year after year the hurling team won the All-Irealnd. They would tour the schools, show us the McCarthy cup, and give us all a half day (they won three in a row between 76 and 78 – formative years, I was 7, 8 and 9 and very grateful for the half day). The trainer clearly remembered that too and he was taking no prisoners. Having equipped his 30 four year old with helmets and hurleys, he went down the line “clashing the ash” (essentially walloping their hurleys with his) and he made them all get in the ready position and roar (something that works well for the NZ rugby team). There was some confusion with his instructions. “Is the ready position holding the hurley on our heads?” roared the trainer. Some of the young men thought it was and held their hurleys over their heads. The match itself was more like a real match than I had at all anticipated following the football. Poor Daniel came trailing over to me saying that no one was giving him the ball and I explained to him that he had to go and get it. I then had to wade on to the pitch and separate him out from another little boy who had taken the ball from him. Aside from this minor off the ball incident and despite the fact that 30 little boys were given sticks and told to swing them, there were no injuries.
In encouraging the Princess to play (in vain), I picked up a hurley myself for the first time in my life. My previous experience had only been in hockey and a hurley has a much bigger head, so it is much easier to dribble the ball. I was delighted with myself as I zoomed around the little markers until I heard an English accented voice say “that looks like a back stick to me.” These migrants are clearly mingling well. After confirming that I was indeed playing a different game (with his hurley as it turned out), he encouraged me to go again. I was happily zooming round the obstacles (the Princess lolling disinterestedly by the fence) when a six year old came up and with a sweeping wallop of her hurley took the ball out from under me. This is indeed a very different game, maybe I should stick to what I know.
When relating all of this to my mother-in-law the next day, she told me that her father-in-law, my children’s great-grandfather, had played senior hurling for Tipperary. This is information which was hitherto unknown to me and very impressive indeed, trumping the information I already had that my father-in-law had played minor football for Dublin. I see a great future for my children, particularly, if I ever succeed in actually getting the Princess on the pitch.