Maybe ‘cultural context’, the bête noire of the Sixth Years’ English Paper II, actually does matter, as the country boys on the Staff Soccer Team casually worked on their farmer tans while stylishly pinging the ball around the pitch and into the net, and the callow youths of Ballsbridge and Blackrock frantically but futilely raced around in designer boots and incomprehensibly sacrilegious tee-shirts. Maybe an earnest prayer or two would have helped but, really, the deck was stacked against the kids from the beginning. For fourteen years now, we have tolerated the barbs and boasts which proliferate through the hallways and classrooms each Spring, just smiling gracefully and knowingly in reply, and then come mid-May and a lovely day in Irishtown, we do what we do every year: we play the jackeens off the pitch!
Up Leitrim! Up Tipp! Up Meath! Up Kilkenny! Up Wexford! ‘Commissioner’ Gordon Weldon bossed the midfield like it was harvest time in the fields surrounding his native Nobber, and he had a few surly farmhands to set to work on the combine. Oh, and did we obey orders! Mr. Lonergan, Mr. Morris and Mr. O’Neill put their ancestral county rivalries on hold and pulled together as only country lads can, putting in shifts of grit and determination, but the star of the county fair had to be Mr. Smith: watching him prance around the pitch, with all the elegance and subtlety of Messi on a midfield run or a prize Angus bull patrolling his paddock, was a wonder to behold, and his goal was top shelf- and top class. And the Staff Dubs also did their part: Mr. O’Dulaing, a Kevin Moran-like rock in defence; ‘Fuzzy’ Ger, importer of a bit of rugby ferocity to the right wing; Mr. Nolan, scorer of a wonder goal straight from a corner; Mr. Carvill, who got his angles and muscular torsion calculations spot-on, volleying home a stunner; and the ‘Triple S’ brigade of youngsters- Sean, Sam and Shane- who all added some style to our substance. Of course, we cannot forget Gavin Sheridan, our rarely seen PME teacher of Accounting and Home Economics, who came out of nowhere to play like a pro (we said ‘like‘) in goals.
As for the students…. all we can say is ‘Where have you gone, Steven Canavan? On what fields do you now roam, John Martin? ‘ Does anyone remember the absolute class of Steven, and his box-to-box excellence, in 2008, the last year we suffered a defeat, honourable as it was, to such a classy foe? Or John’s absolute screamer of a goal in 2013, alas in a memorable 2-1 defeat for the students? Maybe it is the effects covid but we expected more chutzpah in these kids! To be fair, they had some moments: Matthew McKeown played midfield like he plays life… with quality, manners and style; Conor Hyland did make some memorable runs, darting this way and that, beating half a dozen of us, but then running smack into a northern spur of the Galtees; Oisín Thorton made some turns on a dime and actually did not complain too much; Luca Saroli showed some continental class, and with only a bit of the usual Italian hysterics; the two whippets, Weatherley and Norse, amply advertised their Early Classical Greek sculpture physiques, but to no avail, as Daniel, with his closest miss, almost killed the guy smoking whacky tobaccy under the trees and William played manfully but was left, in the end, sitting cross-legged and despondent on the astro, repeatedly whispering to himself ‘But I am from Blackrock…’ and wondering if the Institute did grinds in ‘soccer’.
Ah, but to be fair, it was a good-natured match, especially in comparison to the Mr. Trenier-orchestrated bloodbaths of the past, and Mr. Keenan barely had to raise his whistle… or look the other way. How rough could it be when the students’ goalkeeper was the amiable back-up drummer to a local Nickelback tribute band? In the end, hands were shook (most of them), platitudes were issued and as the kids began to make much more important (and hopefully more fruitful) plans for impending adulthood and life, we repaired to headquarters (McCloskey’s) and set to work planning for victory number XV!