The Approach 1 – The Right Side (of History)
On the taxi drive from the airport into Nottingham, the sights are slowly becoming familiar, evoking feelings and memories of the last Euros here in 2018.
I look out the right window as the thick trees of the university campus reach out onto the road and I’m thinking about what I was thinking and feeling back then. I was agitated, on the edge of fury, listening over and over to a Podcast soundbed of Roy Keane, that equally inspired and fueled my rage. I wasn’t liking anything around me or myself.
I remember how I walked alone through those campus trees on the morning of that tournament and imagined if I did my own Saipan, continued walking, got on a plane and flew out of there.
I had to allow myself to imagine it to ease the pressure in my mind. I got close, and not really close.
Truth to Power
I’m drawn to people who are positive and kind and easy to get on with. But an added bonus is if they’re also occasionally outspokenly truthful. When someone who is honest and decent and generally looks for the best in other people says ‘I don’t like that person’, my attention springs. Truth. Invigorating.
I’m thinking of my friend R___ . When you get the sense she likes something, or even better, that she likes you, it has meaning and weight.
Why would you want to like everyone anyone anyway? That devalues the concept of liking. As the Simpsons taught us, some humans, like some animals, are just jerks.
The Squad & The Curious Case of Me
So, saying I was disgusted by the Irish organisation I was involved in at the Euros four years ago, I was. I can equally say that the squad I’ve been involved in for this tournament has been a rare and wonderful joy. So much has been high quality, I’ve been learning things at every session, there’s a culture of decency and respect, good people willing to improve and help each other. The sports cliche says ‘nice guys finish last’. There’s a truth to that in a sense, but I also like the famed All Blacks’ ‘no dickheads’ rule, or as Ronan O’Gara once put it when talking about the success of the Munster team, ‘it’s amazing what you can achieve where there’s love’. I have felt the love.
I’ve moved down three age grades for this tournament from the Senior Championships in Portugal last year, two grades since the World Cup three years ago. As long as I perform at this tournament as I hope to, this Euros is a success already. I’m so excited to be playing at this higher, harder, younger level again. It’s been five years.
(As long as I perform. That still pertains, as always.)
In the last few days, with the hard training done before the tournament, the winding down, I’ve watched some films I hadn’t seen. One was planned. Since I’m in effect, moving down age categories and getting younger, it seemed appropriate to watch Benjamin Button.
It had never particularly appealed to me. It’s a technically brilliant film, provokes fascinating questions about life, aging and being a human, but for me doesn’t say anything fascinating about life, aging and being a human. It seemed strangely reductive of the wonder of being alive. Which is not how I’m feeling at the moment.
The Approach 2 – The Left Side (of Humour)
As we pass alongside the campus in the taxi, the playing fields appear on our left and I make a joke. Nobody in the taxi laughs, or acknowledges in any way, but I can assure you it is a very good joke and I’m writing it here so it can be appreciated.
‘Look,’ someone has said. ‘There’s the fields.’ ‘Yeah, I can see the playing tents.’ ‘Where? Oh, yeah the tents, I see them.’
‘That’ll be me tomorrow,’ I say.
‘In tents,’ I say.
‘Next left, please. Wha’?’
*In tents = intense.
Good, right? Oh whatever.
Intense is my normal state during a tournament (some might argue mental and slightly unhinged). It’s my comfort zone. I dance with it and see where it takes me.
You don’t go into a big tournament in a normal, rational state of mind. The biggest irrationality is that you winning is the natural state of affairs and any loss is an aberration and you have to rip the universe apart to find out how it happened. It’s not logical really, the best logic is that you win or lose, it’s roughly fifty-fifty. But that’s not how it works if you want to be a winner and it can drive you mad.
So, in light of this, I’ve added a new member to the backroom team, a Mental Coach.
Kaja O’Malley seven months old, and wise beyond her age, will be keeping me grounded and sane during the week. She is aware of the challenge and seems confident and unperturbed, not seeming to be taking me or any of my concerns particularly seriously at all.
The Ego and the Rollercoaster
There’s a Polish tradition from Kaja’s mother’s side. Whoever is first to notice the baby’s first tooth gets a prize. On finding Kaja’s first bottom tooth, I was subsequently presented with a complimentary ticket to the cinema, I hadn’t been in over a year, to see the new Top Gun.
So that has become my inspiration for this week, be like Maverick.
Not in the sense of being reckless, headstrong and endangering the team through my ego writing cheques my body can’t cash.
No, more in the sense of the older Mav. Being a leader in the group, a mentor if needed, hanging with the young guys, topless if necessary, spreading calm and good sense, being an example, being ridiculously good-looking for my age, and above all, trying, still trying to be the best of the best of the best, trying to show them all how it’s done.
I’ll take that for the week.
I’m off to have a look at the opening ceremony feeling calm, rested and positive. Until of course the first game explodes it all and off we go again on the rollercoaster. I can’t wait.
All our fixtures can be found on the link here:
These are our games that will be streamed live, with the links.
Ireland v France | Tues 2:40pm
Ireland v Sweden | Wed 5:15pm
Ireland v Belgium | Thur 8:45am
Ireland v England | Thur 12:10pm