The Song of a Wandering Touch Player
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head.
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
In the traditional Irish poetic form the aisling, the poet feels weak from thinking of the woes that have overtaken the Irish Gaels and he falls into a deep slumber. In his dreaming, a figure of radiant beauty draws near, so bright, so stately; she is Erin, the nation of Ireland and she is filled with sorrow.
Semi Final vs France
On Day 5 of the tournament, we would finally face France in the last four. They’d beaten us 6-2 in the group stage. Some said to us at the time that the score didn’t reflect the match but they were still clearly better than us in that game. We had to do something more, show more than we’d previously done.
‘So that team that think they’re ready to see you, they think what they seen on film? They ain’t saw what film shows. Because every day is a new day, every moment is a new moment. So, now you gotta go out and show them that I’m a different creature now.’
One thing we knew we could rely on as a team was our effort, our ability to stay in the fight and stay together as a team. This was a great group of lads, led by great coaches.
Help is coming
In the sixteenth century, Pope Clement VII refused to annul King Henry VIII’s marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. England lurched towards Protestantism. Ireland remained staunchly Catholic and this had far-reaching effects into the ensuing centuries.
English oppression of Catholicism in Ireland led to religion becoming inextricably intertwined with Irish nationalism and resistance to English rule. From the early 1600s, Irish leaders were seeking assistance in the fight against England from Catholic countries abroad.
It seemed that the Irish nation was constantly waiting for the Spanish or the French or the Papal army who were rumoured to be ‘on the seas’ and coming to liberate us. We often waited in vain.
Similarly, for much of the week of the Euros, the Irish M30s were waiting for reinforcements to arrive. We had a player coming who would add greatly to our team.
But then, like so many times in Irish history, our hopes were dashed. The player that was supposed to be coming to join us, now was not. The team took the information in and heads lowered.
Yet, unbeknownst to most of us, something had already stirred, forces had moved, a Fionn MacCumhaill like figure was arising from the mists of time…
Flown across at the last moment, it was Eddie Devitt who appeared at the Irish players tent to play for us.
With the final piece to the puzzle added…
…a quick wave to his fans before the game from Darren…
…cheered out on the pitch and whipped up into a battle frenzy…
…the raiding hordes of Irish Fianna were ready to be unleashed on the French.
Straightaway, I injured my calf.
I tried to hide it on the pitch. I had to adapt a bit my ambitions and throw everything into what I could still do, drive, defend, communicate.
The first half was tight, 1-1 until the last play of the half. And then I was caught. My body position and pre-touch position were not great, but if I was moving ok, I’d get away with this. I couldn’t get my footwork going and move fast enough.
They were 2-1 up at half-time. I walked off the pitch knowing it was my fault and somewhere Erin was weeping quiet tears of woe.
The support and text messages from home mean a lot when you’re playing these tournaments.
From Fiona McGinty (our manager ten years ago in Treviso) after our quarter final win against Belgium.
From Kaja’s other godfather, Jim, she’ll meet him soon, to me and Fed.
I’ll show you mine if you show me yours
What are your values?
I know what mine are. I know what the M30s values are, decency, excellence, respect, togetherness. I know even those of the MO because I trained with them so many times, hard work, relentlessness, pushing the boundaries, shaking hands with everybody, being on time.
Our Touch organisation? I’m not sure.
When someone is assaulted in a team, do you have a position on that? I’m not saying what the position should be. The matter was handled extremely well by the leaders within the team. Maybe no more action needs to be taken. But is it discussed?
My friend is considering whether he will ever wear the green jersey again. And if he doesn’t, do you have a position on that?
What did you think when things were blatantly happening at previous tournaments? I thought some of them were disgusting. Did you have a position, a process, a procedure? I didn’t see it.
Just because I have had a great experience at this tournament, I have not forgotten here four years ago, and three years ago at the World Cup and the fact that my experience now may not be somebody else’s. I think of the people who may already have stopped wearing a green jersey.
I saw an incidence of subtle bullying in the players’ tent on a young player from a figure who has a long history of it. Maybe it wasn’t anything but maybe it was. Is there any position on this? I don’t see it. It’s not good enough.
Should I rather look to the Carphone Warehouse for my values?
Clear eyes, full heart.
In that second half, I rediscovered something I’d forgotten in Touch, the love of defending. Six players holding out another team on the line for repeated sets… joy.
At the other end of the pitch, our attack pod took over.
There was controversy too. We argued with the referee that the scorer was dummy half and the score shouldn’t count. The French were adamant it should count. In the Irish post-match analysis, another controversy was mentioned.
In fairness, this time the French were hard done by.
But in the end, we had enough to do it.
To win it 5-4.
One of the best things in this tournament for me was the elation of some of the more experienced players at making this final, players who’ve been there as long as, or longer than, me – our captain Fitzy, Nick, Fraser, Brian watching on from the box, Glen. It hadn’t struck me before that they’d never been in a European final, never had a chance to win a European medal of any colour.
And now here we were.
The Song of Wandering 2
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
In an aisling poem, the poet promises the female figure of Ireland that soon some Irish heroes will rise up and drive the English invaders from the land, Ireland will again be a land of plenty with singing birds in all the branches of the trees.
We were ready to be those heroes. (After we’d checked our phone messages.)
Final vs England
‘Don’t overthink it,’ Claire from the Womens 35s said as I was walking towards the pitch. ‘Too late. You’ve put it in my head now,’ I said with a smile.
I was in a good place mentally for this final, moving slightly better than in the semi-final after work from the physio. I wasn’t daunted at all by the challenge, I was inspired by it.
The English had destroyed us in our pool game. But we had played a limited game plan in that game and now we had our reinforcements, we had heart, we had hope, we had the weight of history behind us. We were ready.
When the whistle went, I was straightaway working, up hard in their faces, trying to make dominant touches, impose our will on the game, on them. Show them we were different to before.
The English drove back at us. They scored.
We didn’t panic.
In 1601 Hugh O’Neill persuaded the Spanish King Phillip III to send a force of soldiers to help the Irish in battle. The Irish were organised and united. When the Spanish arrived by ship to Kinsale, Co. Cork, later than expected, it made no difference to the outcome of battle. The Irish were routed. The Spanish went home. It was a disaster of Irish history.
The English scored again, running back to their line, high-fiving each other.
We tapped off and drove back at them, kept fighting.
When the French came to Bantry Bay to fight with the Irish during one of the stormiest winters of the 18th century, they were unprepared for the severe conditions, their communications were infiltrated by English intelligence. It was a disaster. The Irish were routed again.
England scored again.
We dug in, refused to give up. I caught their speedy winger the second time he took off. I must have been moving relatively ok though I felt like I was hobbling by now.
The Tournament as a Work of Art
Lying is in many ways among the most sophisticated accomplishments of the human mind.
There are times when you sense someone is lying to you and you don’t mind. Perhaps you can see how much the lie means to them, how much energy or charm they’ve put into trying to convince you. The pretence of it being believed may be far more important to them than it is to you to point out you don’t believe it.
Then, there are times when somebody is lying to you and you realise they’re not even showing you the respect of trying to make the lie convincing. They don’t even care if you believe them.
Like when someone is breaking up with you and ‘it’s not you, it’s me… this is hard on both of us’ is said in such an offhand fashion that the person seems to resent the time taken away from scrolling through their phone to deliver the message.
Or like when an international sports body, FIT for example, who in a meeting with the European associations, declares ‘We’re taking over the Euros for the good of the sport. With our expertise and experience, we’ll be able to run the tournament more cheaply and efficiently… I’m not sure how much players have paid previously to take part in European championships?’
Claiming you’ll run something more cheaply when you haven’t even done the basic research to find out how much it previously cost, really? Anyway, these Euros did turn out to be far cheaper and more efficiently run than previous ones so all’s well, right?
One of the referees tried to joke with me on the pitch at the start of the second half, something about getting back onside. I growled at him, ‘I am getting back. If I’m not, penalise me. You ref, I’ll play.’ I think I heard one of my teammates snigger in approval. You don’t play a final in a relaxed mindset. I was completely focused.
England dominated us some more. I could see us doing things that we wouldn’t normally do. Not getting up to the seven-metre line to set up our strike plays, allowing ourselves to be driven backwards. I fought every second of the game against it.
This is the last minute and a half of the match.
Our work-rate, our effort is all there. We’re still giving everything for each other. Nobody can judge effort. That’s between us.
Despite everything, I felt proud walking off the pitch.
Ultimately they were just better.
FULL MATCH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wed2IAlCtJQ
The desire to create modern legends, to put narratives, create meaning and imbue a place with special import never leaves us.
It comes from the people who inhabit the place, the moments that are exchanged, the relationships and the stories that are created.
And so it is, not just with Kylie and Jason and the rest of the Neighbours, but also with our own list of legendary characters.
Brian Fitzgerald. Brian Leveau. Darren Broderick. David Condon. Declan Keane. Dave Newell. Diarmuid Kidney. Fraser McMullen. Glen Braithwaite. Jonathan Jones. Nicholas Leung. Richard Jermyn. Ross Galvin. William Finnegan. Mark McAuley. Eddie Devitt. Ian O’Malley. Michael Kearney. Faiz Anand.
In a tournament you are always focused on your own team, on yourself, your own little world. I did follow some other teams and individuals in this tournament that I’ve got a connection to.
I was happy for the Swiss Women 27’s and the Irish Women 35s who both won bronzes.
I don’t normally follow the progress of referees during tournaments but Kaja got on to me to watch out for Ania Tomaszewska who got her Level 3 badge. She done well.
I was disappointed for the French SMX who I have so much respect for, having played them for so many years. And even more disappointed for the Irish MO who also lost their final against England. I know how hard they’ve worked. The progress they’ve made since four years ago is immense, though they might not feel it right now. They are an inspiration and flagship team for all of Irish Touch.
The Wanderers Return
And so it’s over and the players scatter back across Europe and what is left?
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done.
Where do we find ourselves? What did we learn? We carry on. And the seasons pass, and the cares lay deeper on our skin. I have more hair on my head than last time and a medal. This silver is very different from the last one at a Euros in 2016 which burned on my esteem and soul for a long time. This one is cherished.
The night after the tournament, I had a dream that we’d designed an attack play based around me subbing out, looking after Kaja on the sideline, then subbing back in on 5th touch and scoring in the link channel. We had to rep the move loads of times, so it was a long and tiring, but very pleasant, dream.
The night after that I was back in Stonehaven pub in Carlow with my dad discussing the tournament, the Irish economy, politics, and why there’s never been a culture of proper regulation in Ireland.
Though the world may break your heart, within the heartbreak you may find camaraderie, kindness, love, respect and renewed excitement.
And maybe, as we feel a stirring through the trees again, and hear a birdsong that could just be the voice of Erin whispering to us, maybe next time it will be a gold.