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Authors: Joe O'Brien

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BOOK: Feile Fever
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O
n Tuesday morning in maths class, Danny and Splinter were tearing ribbons out of Billy Stapleton, who sat in front of them.

Mr Breen had popped out for a few minutes, leaving the class to revise for a maths test the next day.

Splinter rolled up one of his copybooks and smacked Billy on the back of the head. Billy jumped and turned around, rubbing his hair.

‘What was that for, ye nutter?’

‘You’re calling
me
a nutter when you were the headcase ripping across the pitch on Saturday with your flea-infested donkey!’ laughed Splinter.

‘Shut up, you,’ tutted Billy, ‘That horse is a pure bred.’

Billy loved his horse and spent nearly all his time over at the Littlestown Community Stables with him.

Danny was very quiet during the two boys’ banter. He was very annoyed with Billy, and was picking his moment to let loose at him.

‘Are you finished, ye plank?’ growled Danny.

Splinter leaned back in his chair. He knew what was coming, and he didn’t want Danny to think that he was taking it all too
light-heartedly
.

‘Who are you calling a plank? Some people know me as Billy the Kid. Did you see them big eejits chasing me yesterday? I ran them around the whole of the park and they still couldn’t catch me. Billy the Kid, that’s me.
Untouchable
!’

‘You and your horse won’t be untouchable when my da catches up with you.’

Billy’s face paled.

‘That’s right,’ Splinter backed Danny up, ‘my da told Mick everything about how you made a show of us, and he went crazy!’

Suddenly Billy didn’t feel too well. He didn’t want Mick Wilde coming over to his house and telling his parents what he’d been up to. He quickly changed the subject.

‘I hear poor oul’ Barry Sweeney broke his collarbone in three places. That was bad luck, lads. That’ll damage your title hopes.’

Before Danny had a chance to reply, Mr Breen came back into the room, and he wasn’t alone. Walking behind the maths teacher was the school principal, Mr Dunstan.

‘Now boys! Pay attention,’ said Mr Breen, hushing the random chat that spread from row to row. ‘Principal Dunstan has an
announcement
to make.’

Mr Dunstan was known throughout the school as ‘The Grim Reaper’.

He was tall and thin, and his face was deathly
pale, with dark, hollow eyes. He always wore dark suits and walked in a slow, stiff, military style, as if he was pacing behind a hearse. Because he looked so stern and serious, new pupils always expected Mr Dunstan to have a loud, ear-piercing bellow of a voice, but instead he almost whispered his words – in a
screeching
whisper that sounded like he’d just eaten a pupil for breakfast!


Dia dhuit
,’ whispered Principal Dunstan.

Before the class had time to reply, a boy popped out from behind the headmaster.

‘Jeepers! Where did he come from?’ giggled Splinter.

A few kids sitting near Danny and Splinter laughed, but most of the boys tried to keep straight faces in front of the principal.

Principal Dunstan glared down at Splinter. He didn’t need to say a word; his glare was enough to make Splinter fall silent and sink down in his seat.

‘Now, boys,’ he said then, ‘I want you all to
put your hands together and give a kind and hearty Irish welcome to a new pupil who is starting in your class.’

Everybody just stared. Nobody made a single attempt to put their hands together.

‘Come on now, boys, Todd here has come all the way from Down Under. Surely we can show him we’re a nice bunch of guys?’ said Mr Breen.

That kind of worked. Some kids clapped and then some more joined in.

The new boy, Todd, began to turn red under his tan.

The Grim Reaper went on to tell the whole class that Todd had come all the way from Australia and that every pupil in the class should do their very best to make him feel at home.

Danny could see Todd make a rebellious gesture in Mr Dunstan’s direction as if to say,
Get real, enough with the intro. I’m bored already. Don’t totally make me unpopular.

Mr Breen guided Todd down to his seat,
which happened to be right in front of Danny and Splinter, beside Billy ‘The Kid’ Stapleton

As Principal Dunstan and Mr Breen stepped outside for some discussion, Danny, Splinter and Billy didn’t hesitate to interrogate Todd.

‘So, you’re from Down Under?’ giggled Billy.

Todd didn’t respond. In fact, he didn’t even lift his head to look at Billy.

Danny could see that Todd wasn’t going to settle in easily, so he pushed Billy’s arm,

‘Snap out of it, Billy’ said Danny. ‘Will you give him a chance to settle before you smother him with your sad-act humour.’

The new boy gave a slight smile. Billy noticed this and decided to try a bit more chat.

‘So! Come here, Todd,’ he said, ‘what’s the story? Dunstan said that you’re from Down Under. Does he mean you’re from the Pit of Hell?’

Todd just answered ‘right’ in his Australian accent and then bowed his head again.

Billy was lucky that Mr Breen walked back
into the classroom and closed the door behind him, as Danny was just about to flick Billy’s ear with his ruler to show him that he was being a complete idiot towards Todd.

* * *

Danny and Splinter were out in the yard having a quick kick-about when they spotted Todd sitting under the shelters, all alone.

‘Come on and we’ll go over to Todd,’
suggested
Danny.

‘I don’t know, Danny,’ huffed Splinter. ‘He’s a bit weird.’

Danny laughed at Splinter.

‘He’s not
weird
, he’s just new. Come on, let’s see if we can get to know a bit more about him.’

Splinter slowly followed Danny over to the shelters. Danny sat on one side of Todd and Splinter sat on the other. It was like good cop, bad cop.

‘Alright, Todd?’ smiled Danny.

Todd didn’t answer. He just nodded.

‘Come
on
, Danny,’ urged Splinter. ‘There’s only a few minutes of break left.’

Danny didn’t want to give up on this new boy.
But maybe he needs time and space, and then he’ll come running after us to make friends
, he thought.

Just as the two boys were about to get up, they saw the principal coming across the schoolyard in their direction.

‘Ah, no! What’s
he
want?’ moaned Splinter.

To Danny’s delight and Splinter’s disgust, Todd laughed.

‘Well! If it isn’t the Three Amigos,’ said Principal Dunstan, with a pitiful attempt at a smile. ‘I see you’ve already made new friends, Todd.’

Todd turned and looked at Danny and Splinter, then nodded at the principal.

‘Well, boys. I have some great news for you.’

Then Mr Dunstan paused and looked off around the yard. This was no surprise to
Danny and Splinter as they were well used to his peculiar ways, but Todd just stared at him as if he was looking at a complete alien as he waited to hear what the good news was.

‘Your class,’ continued the principal, ‘has won the surprise school field trip. You’ll be going on a day out before the end of term!’

‘Savage! I mean, that’s super!’ cheered Splinter.

Danny smiled at Splinter’s enthusiasm; he knew well that Splinter was only so enthusiastic because it meant a day out of the classroom.

‘Where’s the trip to?’ asked Danny.

There was no immediate reply to Danny’s question.

Mr Dunstan leaned over towards the three boys with the same expression on his face that he wore at all times.

Danny and Splinter waited patiently. Todd stared at him again, surprised at the way he was able to lean forward with both of his hands in his pockets, balancing on the tips of his toes.

Then out of the blue, he spoke again.

‘Croke Park,’ whispered the principal.

Danny jumped off the bench.

‘Croker!! Why are we going there?’

‘You’re going on the tour of Croke Park, boys. There’s great history in that stadium. A tour well worth taking.’

Danny and Splinter high fived with pure delight.

Just as the, now slightly more popular, school principal was about to turn and walk away, Todd spoke,

‘Bonzer! Is this trip on the tin roof?’

Danny and Splinter laughed at Todd.

‘Ye mad thing, ye!’ said Splinter. ‘What
language
was
that
in?’

‘Just kidding with him,’ answered Todd, ‘I asked him if the trip was free.’

Then he stood up and headed back towards the school, smiling just a little, just enough to tell the two boys that maybe he could fit in after all.

L
ater that day, Danny, Splinter and Jonathon were having a game of Kick and Catch on Danny’s road, to kill some time before training.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Jonathon got the bus from his school to Danny’s house before training. Mick was delighted for Danny to have the company; it had been just the two of them since Danny’s mother had died when he was very young, and he sometimes worried that Danny was lonely in the afternoons when he was at work.

Jonathon sat on Danny’s wall as he watched his cousin trash Splinter.

‘Ah! I think I’ll pack it in, Danny,’ groaned
Splinter eventually. ‘I’ll be here all night, trying to beat you.’

‘I’ll give you a game, Danny,’ said Jonathon, and he leapt off the wall.

Just as Danny and Jonathon prepared to play, Deco Savage and Sean Dempsey turned the corner. Both boys played for the Crokes’ rivals, Barnfield, and neither of them was at all popular with Danny or his team-mates. Sean Dempsey, in particular, was no friend of Danny’s, as Mick had kicked him off the Crokes’ team last year for dirty tactics.

‘Here! Giz a game?’ Dempsey called out.

Jonathon looked at Danny with an
Are you on for it
? look.

‘Animal!’ replied Danny. ‘Kick and catch. Me against Deco, and J against you. One player will kick and the other two have to catch, then we switch it around.’

Danny stayed where he was, while Jonathon and Dempsey ran about three houses down the road, to get ready to catch the ball.

Danny kicked first and sent the ball high above the catchers. Jonathan leapt high and managed to grab the ball out of the sky. Dempsey was slightly taller than Jonathon, but although Jonathon wasn’t as good at winning balls in the air as Danny, he was better than Dempsey!

First point to Danny and Jonathon.

Dempsey kicked next, and Danny and Savage contested.

Danny caught that one – two nil to Danny and Jonathon!

Sean ‘Dirty’ Dempsey got it into his head that there was no way he was going to be humiliated in the middle of the road, so he decided to up his game, and the only way he knew how to do that was to play dirty.

It was Deco Savage’s turn to kick and he kicked it very high indeed.

Jonathon timed his jump to perfection.

Dempsey waited and waited and just as it seemed that he’d fallen asleep – THUMP! – he
knocked Jonathon out of the way in mid flight and caught the ball.

‘Ouch!’ yelped Jonathon, as he fell
awkwardly
on his ankle.

Danny ran over to him.

‘Are you alright, J?’

‘I’m fine!’ panted his cousin. He was obviously in some pain, but tried to keep a brave face in front of Dempsey and Savage.

‘Cop on, Dempsey, will ya!’ raged Danny.

‘Get stuffed!’ retaliated Dempsey, as he tried to play the innocent, but Danny wasn’t having any of it.

‘There’s no need for dirt.’

‘That wasn’t dirt!’ interrupted Deco, ‘That was a fair tackle, man. Are we playing on or what?’

‘I don’t think I
can
play on, Danny,’ admitted Jonathon. ‘I can feel my ankle swelling up.’

‘Ah, come
on
, you windbag!’ slagged Dempsey. ‘It wasn’t that bad.’

Splinter jumped off the wall where he had
been watching the whole incident very carefully.

‘I’ll play instead, and then we’ll see who’s a windbag.’

But just as Splinter spoke, another contestant for this very heated game turned up.

‘I’ll jump in if that’s alright?’

It was Todd Bailey, the new Aussie boy! He’d been watching the whole game from the corner of Danny and Splinter’s road.

Danny nodded at Splinter. Splinter knew what was on Danny’s mind, and he too was mad keen to see the mysterious Todd in action.

‘Go ahead, Todd,’ he said.

‘Next point the winner!’ announced Danny.

Danny knew Sean Dempsey well, as he’d played alongside him for long enough and he knew in his heart that Dempsey would do
whatever
it took to win this game.

On the other hand, he was faced with the problem of not knowing Todd at all, but he would just have to trust Todd to bring the points
home and send Sean Dempsey and Deco Savage back to Barnfield with their tails between their legs.

Deco won the toss of a coin to throw in.

The Barnfield midfielder looked at his team mate and seemed to make a signal.

Dempsey picked up the signal and grinned.

Savage kicked the ball short and not too high.

Dempsey stepped forward to catch it, but just as the ball was coming down right on target, Todd Bailey swooped up behind Dempsey and leapt in the air, landing almost on his
opponent’s
shoulders, to catch the ball.

Dempsey tumbled to the hard ground with Todd behind him, but somehow Todd kept the ball glued to his hands.

Danny, Splinter and Jonathon leapt about in celebration, then Jonathon quickly sat back down on the kerb again, remembering his injured ankle.

‘That was a foul!’ shouted Dempsey as he brushed himself off, getting back up.

Todd stood very tall and very strong with the ball in his hands.

‘No it wasn’t, mate!’ he smiled. ‘Don’t be a possum. That was a mark.’

Just as Dempsey was about to take the
disagreement
further, Mick drove up the road. As Dempsey was not a favourite of Mick’s, he decided very promptly that he and his friend should head off before Mick got out of his car.

Todd fisted the ball over to Danny.

‘Here you go, mate. I’m gonna take off now. Thanks for the game.’ Then he turned to leave.

‘Hold your horses, Todd,’ called Danny. ‘Aussie rules! That’s what that move was. You’re good. You could play GAA for our team.’

Todd didn’t hang around to take up Danny’s offer, and he disappeared back around the corner leaving the three boys feeling nothing but pure admiration for his display of talent.

As Mick got out of his car, he called Danny over.

‘Back in a minute, lads,’ said Danny, leaving Splinter and Jonathon sitting on the wall.

‘Was that Sean Dempsey running off?’ asked Mick.

Danny nodded.

‘What did he want? Was he giving you grief?’

‘No he wasn’t, Da. We were playing football and Dempsey and Savage asked for a game. We slaughtered them,’ grinned Danny.

‘Keep away from those two,’ ordered Mick. ‘They’re bad news. I don’t want you hanging around with them.’

‘I don’t,’ said Danny. ‘It was a one off. The only time I see Dempsey is at training for the Dublin development squad.’

Mick looked up to the sky in exasperation.

‘Is he still in the squad? I can’t believe they let Jonathon go and kept Sean Dempsey.’

‘I know,’ agreed Danny. ‘Jonathon was doing really well. I thought he played much better than Dempsey in the Easter tournament.’

Mick walked toward the house, then
turned back to Danny.

‘Who was the other lad?’

‘What other lad?’

‘The big lad that you were talking to a few minutes ago, as I was driving up the road.’

Danny’s face lit up.

‘That’s Todd!’ answered Danny with great enthusiasm. ‘He’s a new lad in our class. He’s from Australia.’

‘Australia. Really!’ smiled Mick. ‘He looked older than you, son. They sure know how to grow them down there. All that good sun.’

‘You should have seen him, Da. He joined in the game and he
skinned
Dempsey.’

Mick raised a brow.

‘He’s a player?’

‘He’s savage,’ smiled Danny. ‘He pulled off this Aussie Rules move. A mark, that’s the one. Dempsey didn’t know what hit him!’

In an instant, Mick Wilde’s managerial brain switched on.

‘Can you ask him to come training?’

‘I’ll try, Da, but he’s not really that easy to get on with.’

‘Give him a chance, son. He’s only new to Ireland. Probably missing his pals back home.’

‘I’ll ask him tomorrow in school,’ suggested Danny.

‘Nice one,’ smiled Mick. ‘We could really do with putting a bit of strength back into the team after losing poor Barry.’

Mick turned the key in the door.

‘Don’t stay out too long. I’m going to put on a bit of dinner for you and Jonathon before training.’

BOOK: Feile Fever
6.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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