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Authors: Gerard Siggins

Rugby Warrior

BOOK: Rugby Warrior
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To my brothers Aidan and Ed, and sister Ethel

Thank you to all at The O’Brien Press for their encouragement, especially my long-suffering editor, Helen Carr. Thanks to my family and friends for their support, and various U13 rugby, cricket and soccer teams for providing inspiration – you know who you are. And thanks to the many schools, bookshops and libraries that have given me the opportunity to talk to readers about Eoin, Brian and the world of school sport.

‘M
ind the cow pats, Eoin!’ came the call from behind the goalposts. ‘Ah … too late …’ the voice called again.

Eoin Madden looked up and grinned. He had been kicking a ball over the crossbar for half an hour, but hadn’t seen his grandfather, Dixie Madden, arrive. He rambled over to where the old man was leaning on the rail that surrounded the Ormondstown Gaels GAA pitch.

‘You’re kicking well,’ said Dixie, ‘but it’s cheating to use those Gaelic posts – they’re a good bit lower, aren’t they?’

‘Yeah, I suppose so,’ said Eoin, picking the rugby ball up carefully from where it sat atop a crusty slab of cow manure. ‘The crossbar is two and a half metres high, and
in rugby it’s three metres. The GAA goal is a good bit wider too, but sure it’s good practice and it’s quiet here today.’

‘Your mother tells me you’re getting ready to get back up to Castlerock next week?’

‘I suppose I am,’ replied Eoin. ‘I had a great summer and the Gaels had a good run in the championship too, but I really missed the rugby, to be honest. I must be the only thirteen-year-old in the country who can’t wait for the holidays to end and to get back to school!’

‘Well, you look like you’re getting back in the groove,’ grinned Dixie. ‘That last kick was as good as the one you made to win the Father Geoghegan Cup.’

‘That was a great day, wasn’t it?’ Eoin replied, with a smile. ‘I’d love to play in the Aviva again someday.’

‘I must say, that whole day was a huge tonic,’ said Dixie. ‘I was treated like royalty and then to cap it all you really showed some class to keep your nerve for the kick. I was just looking at the scrapbook last night, because Andy Finn sent me on some great photos of the game I’ll have to put into it. Maybe you’ll give me a hand with that tonight?’ he asked.

‘I’d like that,’ said Eoin, ‘but I’ve set myself a target of a hundred kicks this afternoon and I have a few more to go, so I’d better get back to work now if that’s OK?’

Dixie laughed and waved him back to his mark. ‘That’s some dedication, Eoin; mind you don’t wear down the toe of that boot before the season starts!’ before he
wandered
away towards his car.

Eoin teed up the ball a bit further away on the right, and gave himself a more difficult angle, but still split the posts. ‘Huh, smaller target my eye,’ he muttered to himself, ‘I’d put them over even if it was half the width!’

He carried on with his practice for another ten
minutes
before he was interrupted again. This time it was a new Ormondstown Gaels team-mate called Dylan.

‘Howya, Eoin,’ chirped Dylan, who was about a foot smaller than Eoin and wore his hair shorter than a tennis ball.

‘I’m grand, Dylan, what’s going on with you?’

‘I’ve a bit of news actually. I’m off to Dublin next week – they’re sending me to Castlerock. Isn’t that where you go?’

‘It is indeed, that’s great news. It’ll be good to have another bogger to share the loudmouth Leinster fans with!’

Dylan looked a bit nervous. ‘I’m not sure about that, I’m Leinster myself – Drogheda – don’t they teach you Geography up in Castlerock? Leinster’s not just about Blackrock and Dublin 4 you know. So, if you’re getting
grief for being a Munster fan then you’re still on your own,’ he grinned.

‘Ha, thanks a bunch, pal! Are you any use at the rugby? It’s pretty big up there in Castlerock.’

‘Yeah, we lived in Limerick for a while too, so I picked it up. I wasn’t bad at scrum-half they told me.’

‘Well I didn’t have you marked out as a second row, anyway, unless they’ve started a Smurfs rugby team …’ laughed Eoin, as he skipped out of the way of Dylan’s lame attempt to throw a punch. ‘I’ll see you before you go, and give you the lowdown on what to expect. But I’ve got to dash, just remembered Mam told me to be home early. It’s fish pie tonight.’

And with that Eoin picked up his ball and shot out of the Gaelic grounds as fast as his legs could carry him.

L
ater that evening, Dixie took down a bulky brown envelope from the bookcase and called Eoin over to the dining table.

‘Andy posted these down to me last week, there’s lots of you in action and a few of us old codgers up in the grandstand.’ Andy Finn was an old friend and team-mate of Dixie’s, who had helped him to get over his dislike of rugby and encouraged him to watch the game again.

‘Look, there’s one of me with Andy and my new photo album he gave me that day,’ said Dixie. ‘And here’s one of us all with the trophy.’

Eoin picked up the group photograph and smiled – his mum, dad, grandad were all there, proud as punch as Eoin hugged the shining silver cup that he had played a large part in ensuring was currently sitting in the trophy
cabinet up in Castlerock College.

‘And here’s one of you just about to kick the winning conversion …’

Eoin took the picture from his grandfather.

‘It’s a nice action shot,’ said Dixie, ‘but there’s
something
wrong with the way it’s been printed. There’s a strange blur just under the posts there.’

Eoin peered into the image and, sure enough, a
section
just under the crossbar looked as if it was
shimmering
. And only Eoin knew why – he stared at the blurred patch, remembering that it was the very spot where his ghostly friend Brian had stood, encouraging him as he took the vital last minute kick.

Eoin had met Brian on a school tour to the Aviva Stadium and hadn’t realised he was a ghost. They got chatting; Brian helped Eoin to learn the new sport and gave him great tips. It was only weeks later that he explained how he had been fatally injured during a match at the old stadium – and had continued to haunt it for almost a century. It took a bit of getting used to, but Eoin became very fond of his ghostly big brother.

‘I don’t know, Grandad, it’s probably some flaw in the printing,’ Eoin suggested, ‘and the sun was doing funny things through the roof of the stadium that day – maybe it was that.’

Dixie shrugged, and passed on to the next photo.

‘We’ll have to have a couple of these framed, and put the rest in the album. I’d like that group shot for my wall; it brings back one of the best days I’ve had in forty years,’ he smiled.

‘And can I take that blurry one, please?’ Eoin asked. ‘It’s a moment I’ll never forget, but I still want to be reminded of it as often as possible.’

‘OK, leave it there and I’ll get a copy for you,’ said Dixie. ‘Now, tell me, when are you heading up to Dublin?’

‘Sunday, Grandad, I think Dad’s going to drive me up after lunch. Want to come for the ride?’

‘That would be lovely. I’ll see what your dad thinks, though. He’s always fretting about me since my heart attack last year, and me in the peak of health and fitter than I’ve been for years.’

The night before Eoin was due to go back to school, Dylan knocked on his door.

‘Howya, Eoin,’ he mumbled, ‘wanna go for a bit of walk?’

Eoin grabbed his hoodie and followed Dylan out the gate, catching up with him as they rounded the corner into the main street of Ormondstown.

‘When you going up?’ Dylan asked.

‘Tomorrow afternoon. You OK for a lift? I’m not sure we’d have room.’

‘Yeah, I’ll be OK, I think. What’s this school all about then?’

Eoin filled Dylan in on the way the school was
structured
, and how the school day and week worked for first years, especially for those who were new to the school. He explained the rugby set up, and told Dylan that he’d probably have to start on the third team, but he could work his way up quickly if he was any good. He explained his own experience of working his way up the teams and finishing the season by kicking the winning goal at Lansdowne Road.

‘Are you a bit nervous?’ asked Eoin.

‘Not really,’ said Dylan, ‘We’ve always moved around a lot so I’m used to walking into brand new classrooms full of strangers. But there’s a few things going on at home ….’

‘Are you OK?’

‘Yeah, I’ll be fine. Just needed to get a bit of air. Fancy a bag of chips? It’ll probably be boarding-school mushy peas from now on.’

Eoin joined Dylan in their last supper in
Ormondstown
before their migration next day.

As they walked back to Eoin’s house a Garda car
cruised slowly up behind them.

‘Take the hoodies off, lads,’ came the call from the Garda.

The boys stopped and lowered their hoods. Eoin stood, shocked at being addressed in such a way for merely walking along the footpath. ‘Is there something wrong?’ he asked.

‘No, nothing at all. Move along now,’ came the reply.

The pair quickly turned the corner and stopped at the Madden family gate.

‘That was a bit weird, wasn’t it?’ said Eoin.

‘You get used to it,’ said Dylan.

‘Anyway, see you this time tomorrow up in Castlerock, have a good trip,’ said Eoin, turning to go up the pathway.

‘Yeah, I can’t wait,’ said Dylan, although from the look on his face he certainly didn’t appear quite as
enthusiastic
as Eoin.

T
hree generations of Maddens piled into the car next day, with a suitcase, rucksack and kitbag – all tightly-packed – filling up the boot. The drive from Ormondstown to Dublin usually took less than two hours, but Eoin’s dad was the slowest driver in the country at the best of times. With a full load and Dixie’s first long excursion for six months he was in danger of being overtaken by any moderately energetic tortoise. So the trip took far longer than it ought because his dad decided to stop every thirty miles for a bottle of water, or to get rid of a bottle of water, or to look at the view. Twilight was getting ready to make an appearance when they pulled into the grounds of Castlerock College.

‘Not a lot has changed, has it?’ said Dixie, looking up at the grey stone walls and the school motto carved
over the doorway – “
Victoria Concordia Crescit
”,’ he read, ‘“Victory come through harmony”. But it’s been such a long time since I turned up here for the first day of term …’

He stared all around as Dad pulled the car into the parking area, taking in the new buildings that lined the rear of the school. He tapped Eoin on the shoulder and pointed away to his right where the playing fields lay.

‘See that, Eoin, that’s where I used to practise my goal-kicking too. I never did more than fifty at one
session
though – no wonder you’re twice as good as me!’

They got out of the car, and started to lift Eoin’s
luggage
from the boot. With almost four months until the Christmas break, he needed an awful lot of supplies to get him through the term.

‘Welcome back, Master Madden,’ boomed out the voice of Mr McCaffrey, the genial headmaster of Castlerock. ‘And a great welcome to our two former pupils as well!’

Mr McCaffrey strode down the steps and thrust his hand towards Eoin’s grandad. ‘Dixie Madden, welcome back to the Castlerock. Is it really six months since you last visited us? That was a truly memorable day, thanks mainly to young Madden Minor here, of course,’ he said, clapping Eoin across the shoulders.

‘You’ll come in for a cup of tea and some sandwiches before the journey home, won’t you?’ he pressed.

The two senior Maddens agreed, and headed off to the headmaster’s study.

‘I’ll be fine, it’s no bother to lift three heavy bags up to the top floor on my own,’ called out Eoin. ‘I’ll come down to say goodbye.’

‘Ah, don’t be such a moan, Eoin,’ said Mr McCaffrey, ‘and anyway, you’re on the first floor this year, the rare privilege reserved for first-year students. There’s a list of names on the wall there, you’re in room … seven.’

‘Great,’ harrumphed Eoin, only marginally happier. He carried the suitcase up to the first-floor landing.

As he returned for the rest of his luggage, he looked out the big open doorway and saw a small figure
staggering
up the long driveway. As the figure came closer, Eoin noticed that he was carrying a huge suitcase and a rucksack hung from his sagging shoulders. And as he reached the forecourt of the school Eoin recognised who it was.

‘Dylan! Do you want a hand with that?’ he asked.

‘Eoin, great to see you. Yeah, could you take the
suitcase
?’ Dylan replied.

The boys lugged the bags into the hallway where Eoin looked at his tiny Ormondstown Gaels team-mate.
Dylan looked like he was about to collapse.

‘Are you all right, Dylan? How did you get here? Did you
walk
up the drive?’

Dylan looked at his feet.

‘I did. I got the bus out from the city. It left me a couple of hundred metres from the gate.’

‘And how did you get to Dublin?’

‘Another bus. It was grand, plenty of room and I was able to have a snooze.’

‘And you had to haul all that with you? Ah, Dylan, you should have said last night that you didn’t have a lift, we would have worked something out.’

‘Sure I was fine. Now, any idea where I’m supposed to be staying?’ asked Dylan.

Eoin walked over to the list, and to their delight they found they had been billeted in the same dormitory. They struggled once again up the stairs under each of their burdens until they finally found room seven and pushed open the door.

‘EOIN!’ came a roar as a head popped up between two of the beds.

‘Alan,’ Eoin replied, ‘You’re not looking for your mouse down there again, are you?’

‘No, I was just checking the beds – I’m first in so I get first choice. And a Father Geoghegan Cup medal gives
you no extra privileges either,’ Alan chuckled.

Eoin introduced his two pals to each other and they each picked out the bed that would be their resting place for the next nine months.

BOOK: Rugby Warrior
10.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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