DOING THE CONGA
The cows were in the fields again today,
As they grazed their lives away.
What thoughts did they possess
As they chewed their grass so sweet;
Did they think about their comrades
That they did daily meet;
Or the colour of their skin
As they passed in the noonday sun;
With their patchwork blankets skin-tight
As they congaed past as one.
Most of us in the packing room at Flahavan’s played soccer, and every lunchtime we participated in full-blooded games in a nearby field. The packing room made up the bulk of the Kilmac minor team, and because I displayed some skill in the kick-a-bouts I was soon in contention for a place. For days leading up to a game all the speculation concerned the likely make-up of the team. Teams were picked, lists were written out and taped to the walls – all futile exercises because the team proper was never picked until the morning of the game, and was mostly dependent on who turned up. At the top of Currabaha hill stood our pitch, Alaska Park, which the team shared with a herd of cattle. Our first task on arrival was to clear the cowshit from the pitch. After the shit had been cleared away, the pitch had to be lined, and the goalposts and nets put up. The lining was done by spreading lime by hand from a bucket, a task rendered hazardous by the icy winds that invariably blew in from the Comeragh Mountains in the background. For my first game I had been picked to play on the left wing, and I wasn’t doing very well. The Johnville defender was kicking lumps off me every time I tried to go past him, and in an effort to escape his attentions I moved into the centre. Nearing the end of the game, with the score level, I found myself unmarked in the six yard box when a high cross from John Kiersey came towards me. Heading was not one of my strong points so I just stood there hopefully.The ball landed on my head and shot into the roof of the net.. I was a hero for days afterwards; we had beaten Johnville, one of the top teams in town. That was as good as it got. In and out of the team, I was tried in various positions – even goal-keeping – but I never managed to secure a permanent place. Marginalised by my talent – or lack of it – I minimised my chances even more the day my dog ran on to the field of play and scored a goal for the opposition. The ball struck him and was deflected into our goal. It wasn’t the humiliation of being beaten by a goal scored by a dog that my team-mates found hard to take, but the fact that the dog was owned by their own sub! Football at Alaska Park was warfare, not sport. Before ever a ball was kicked the bleakness of the place demoralised opponents. Then there were the cattle, guaranteed to put in an appearance at some point during the game, their arses working overtime. This was the cue for the shovel brigade to dash onto the pitch. Naturally, the occasional green pile was overlooked, and if an opposing player went into a sliding tackle and came up looking a sickly shade of green…well, it was just too bad. He should have familiarised himself with the terrain before making the tackle. These townies just shook their head in disbelief; they had never before played at a place where the cows outnumbered the spectators. If this didn’t demoralise them then the spectators themselves did. Partisan to a man, they were vociferous in their support. Every decision against the team was greeted with hoots of derision and torrents of abuse. It was so bad that some referees refused to officiate there. One supporter in particular – on of the team selectors – stalked the touchline throughout the game, a hurley or blackthorn stick clenched in his hand, berating the official continuously. On Sundays that we didn’t have a game we went to Kilcohan Park to watch Waterford play in a League of Ireland game. It wasn’t unusual to hear the same supporters screaming the same abuse from the depths of the stand.
extract from THE SHINY RED HONDA, published by Amazon
Father always hummed at the milking
Pausing only to say ‘easy girl, easy there’
When a troublesome horse-fly struck
Sitting on his three-legged stool
His pail clamped between his thighs,
He caressed old Daisy’s belly with his head
And sometimes sank his fist into the wrist
When she lashed out
The sound of milk hitting the pail
Was like rain dancing on corrugated steel
He could hit one of those flies
At three paces with one long squirt.
Sometimes he practiced on me.