In the fraught early stillness of the dawn, men walk in silence, each isolated, each drawn inexorably forward, burdened by their thoughts, by the weight of their role in the impending events.
Game 1: vs Singapore. Lost 4-2.
Today was as deep as I’ve ever gone on a Touch pitch. We were up at 6am and I didn’t sleep badly. I just didn’t sleep. Not a minute. My mind was chasing over and over, not even bad thoughts, just active, active. I wasn’t within 10 miles of relaxing. My sleep has been all over the place with jet lag and the pressure of trying to get over being sick but this felt like the build up of more than that. I’ve only experienced it once before in my life. It was weird.
Warming up, my body felt empty. I was irritable and silent. Miserable and worried.
What they always say about good players – they seem to have more time on the ball. What happened to me in this game was the opposite process – my brain sped up. I cut down the time for myself. Eg. snatched and threw the ball to ground when there was a clear overlap and just get the ball to hands and a score.
Funny – a couple of the lads said to me after that I played well in this game. Great defence. For much of the game, because I wasn’t thinking straight, ironically, I settled into working hard physically. I did a lot more defending. I drove up and got us to the box, got off the pitch and recovered. Other players ended up leading the attack. In a way I liked it. I felt more part of the team effort, more a cog. We got two scores and I was involved in neither of them. I loved that.
I began to appreciate how hard teammates were working. How, despite the number of errors we’re making, the team is improving, coaching is being taken on board, systems are being run.
At one point, I subbed off in this match and I was on all fours trying to recover. This is horrible.
Game 2: vs England. Lost 8-4.
There was a lingering hangover for me for this game and maybe for others too of the last Euros where we lost 10-1 or something. I had a really poor performance in that game, offering nothing in attack. Now, I should have been excited at the chance to go again. I actually felt ill at the thought of going out to play. The pressure of trying to get back into my attacking game. The responsibility to help the team. The tiredness. The heat. A noon game in 42C.
My whole body felt prickly like an exposed nerve. Let this be over.
‘Ian, Ian!’ says Fed all excited.
He wanted to show me a video Jim had sent to inspire us. I didn’t want to look at it, I was too burdened down.
‘No, no, it’s good Ian. Watch it. Really.’
‘Oh, whatever, grand.’
A two-word message. Perfect. My addled head could just about manage that.
Jim’s full message – ‘Ok Fed/Ian day 3. It’s getting harder, it’s your time to shine late in these tournaments when others fade. Keep doing all the right things. Your teammates will follow. Continue to hold everyone to high standards we will all benefit in the long term thanks to work you doing right now. Good luck today🍀 Let’s F**kin Go!’
Jim loves Tom Brady almost as much as he loves Tiger Woods.
Another message to our team from one of my all-time Touch heroes Claire Camillieri.
‘I know conditions are really tough, but you looked pretty resilient out there…whatever they threw at you you gave it back in spades. There was some lovely passages of play. Issey diving for that touch, Tonka stretching them all the way across that pitch, James’ cover defence, Jono’s driving…you’re all important cogs that make up the machine. I know there’s tough matches ahead and you end up battle tired, but keep enjoying what you’re doing out there. Throw the ball around and see what happens! Take care of yourselves and enjoy every minute!’
When you’re representing people like this, it’s ok to be a bit tired. LETS GO.
There was a little plastic seat in the subs box for some reason, I kept sitting down on it with an ice towel around my head. I didn’t even look at our defence. Too much to take in. Narrow the focus. I sat there, zoned out, waiting for my time to sub on. Switch on. LETS GO!
Straight at the England middles, test them, quickie set up, drag them apart, gap opens, dive in. I’m sure I’ve got the ball down. In reality, it’s probably 50-50. ‘Touch made,’ ref says. ‘That’s six. Turn over.’ ‘What?’ Quick glare. Defend. Off. Sit. Recover. LETS GO. Check their middles again. That gap appears again. Dive and I make sure it’s a score. First time I’ve ever scored against England. LETS GO. Middle attack again. They correct their defence, middle shuts in. Link too slow. Pop pass to Jono running supporting line. His first try. If ever someone has deserved to score a try in the history of Touch, I’m happy for him in this tournament for what he has done in getting us here.
We lose against a good English team but with the team we have, weaker than in the Euros, where we’ve lost five of our six middles from then, these two games today have made this tournament for me. We competed well in both when I thought we might be overrun. This team, made up as someone said ‘from every spare rusted part you could find around your garage’ has come together, got better day by day, shown spirit and fight and you can’t ask much more than that.
It took me hours to get over these games. I still haven’t. Overheated. Sweating. Exhausted. But all that aside, perfect. Not an ache. Not a bit of strapping. Not a moment of the physios time taken up. Mentally, if I was going to have a crisis of confidence like I do in nearly every tournament, today was the day to crash. I was grand.
I like how long it takes you – maybe it’s just me, some lads seem to have it pretty much straight away – to properly become an international player. It only took 50 odd caps.