You have of course heard of Lacken Celtic GFC. It would be highly ignorant of me to assume that you haven’t.
I’m sure that you are aware of the senior championship victory in 1908, the intermediate victory of 1997, and the time the under -13’s were robbed of a semi-final victory in Cornafean in the same year (more on that fiasco later in the series).
I’m certain that Joseph Crowe Memorial Park is a venue that you and your family visit regularly.
Therefore, there is no real need for me to delve in to the complicated and convoluted origin story of my first sporting club. You can find that on Wikipedia. It begins in Scotland, and ends up in Corlismore or something.
My introduction to Lacken Celtic was at a very young age. As the first grandson on the Brady side of the family, I assumed there was some kind of Lion King moment where I was presented to the parish as a confused baby, held aloft over the 13 metre line as the future and new hope of the club, as the sounds of tribal music blared in the background.
More than likely, it was in a basket in a covered stand that stank of piss and Benson & Hedges, neither of which were mine, to the sound of some disgruntled neighbour screaming, ‘Agh! Fuck ya ref, ya whore’s tramp’s bastard!’
Ollie, or dada (or possibly gurgle gurgle burp), as I knew him at the time, was an ‘aul whore for the football. He still is. It consumes him. It’s his only vice. He was quite good apparently. Played a bit of county at under-age, had a few schools medals, some county league medals for the club.
A neighbour once told me at my uncle’s 50th, that Dad was the hardiest bastard he ever played with. Tough, but fair. Even tempered, but likely to lose it if provoked. Like all good GAA club defenders, he’d hit you a skite, but only if you deserved it, and never in a false way. A good, honest box in the jaw. It was a nasty business in the full-back line. A dark business. It ruined many men. But at least it had a code of honour. If you stuck by the code, your ability to function in real society remained with you.
The expectation on me was that I’d follow in his footsteps and begin what would be an incredibly storied career, ending in Cavan’s first All-Ireland victory since the 1960’s. I remember back in 1997, after Cavan lost an All-Ireland semi-final to Kerry, I asked Dad, ‘Will we ever win an All-Ireland?’
He replied, misty eyed, ‘Of course son. When you and Daniel and your cousin Paul are playing senior. We’ll win one then.’
That didn’t quite happen. Here’s why:
I was shit.
Maybe that’s a harsh assessment. I was mediocre at best. The fundamentals came easily to me. It was speed that I lacked. I never had that blistering pace that could skin a corner back and fire the ball in to the top corner. The compromise that the club and I came to was that I’d be a back. Like Dad.
Nothing more honourable than being responsible for defending the lines of the parish under-10 team in a community games tournament. I assume. I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t fucking picked. The reason given to me at the time was, I was 9, and I had another year of playing left when I turned 10. I thought it was a harsh decision from the manager to be fair, making his first born son a sub.
But it didn’t dampen my spirits. I bloody loved the game. Absolutely loved it. Some of my best memories are wearing the sky blue and navy of Lacken and playing football with my friends.
Some of my most cringe-worthy memories in sport (life?)also came in the sky blue and navy. One in particular really stands out.
At this point in time, I would like to make you aware that I was a huge Manchester United fan as a kid. I’m sorry if it offends you, but it’s relevant to the story. Do you remember that Eric Cantona goal against Sunderland in 1996? It was the one where he beats a few defenders, does a 1-2 with Brian McClair, and then chips the keeper. Do you remember the celebration? Cantona does this really slow rotation, marvelling in his own genius, and slowly lifts his arms in the air, as if to say, ‘Look, this shit comes easy to me. I’m class, the rest of you are rubbish. All hail the king.’
I did that same celebration in a Gaelic football match. Not once…twice. And it was in the same bloody game.
The club had set up a challenge match between us and Belturbet. It was for the under-10, under-12 and under-14 teams. The idea of the day was to give everyone a game. Everyone was getting a full half of football at the least. I couldn’t wait. When the team was picked before the under-12 match, I couldn’t believe it. Full-forward. I’d be playing full-forward. Up front! Like Cantona.
At the throw-in I shook hands with the full back, then I flicked up my collar. To be fair, I wasn’t the only sap doing that. Most of the kids who supported United had their collars flicked up. I scored two goals in that game. I did the Cantona celebration to an empty stand and bemused side-line twice. However, that wasn’t the stupidest or most embarrassing thing that I did in the game. The worst was yet to come.
About five minutes from half time, we were losing by two points. We needed a goal to get back in front. One of our boys made a blistering run up the left wing. The Belturbet goalie ran way off his line to go and tackle him. For some reason, even after scoring two goals, my marker didn’t see me as a threat (the prick), and joined his teammate to try and close our fella down. I was un-marked with an open goal in front of me. I called for the pass.
I just want to stop the story here for a minute to tell you something. And believe me when I say this, this is a fact, I’m not bragging. I have excellent hand-eye co-ordination. I always have. If you throw something at me, there’s a 99.99% chance that I’ll catch it. It’s one of those weird things that runs on my Mam’s side of the family. One of my cousins once caught a tennis ball that he saw coming at him out of the corner of his eye, while still maintaining eye-contact with the person he was in conversation with. I didn’t witness it, but he’s not a liar, so I assume it’s true.
Right, back to the action.
All I had to do was catch that ball and blast it with my left foot, in to the top-corner, putting us ahead at half-time.
As the ball sailed through the air, my overly confident 11 year old brain thought, ‘You could go for the spectacular here lad. Over-head kick? Volley? You can do it. Show these chumps what kind of superstar you are!’
Making these split second decisions is something that separates elite athletes from the rest of us. I wasn’t an elite athlete. I panicked, got my footing all wrong, and did the stupidest thing that I’ve ever done on a sports field while sober.
I headed the ball. I fucking headed an O’Neill’s size 4 ball. It was like heading a bowling ball. And I didn’t head it with my forehead. There was no finesse to the shot. The ball bounced off the top of my massive head, hit the post, and went wide. To the untrained eye, or to anyone basically, that was watching, it looked like I jumped for the ball and forgot to raise my hands. The force of the blow knocked me off my feet. Stupid fucking 11 year old brain. I got back up to the goalie and my marker both laughing at me. Smug cunts.
Pat Smith was doing umpire. He knew my intent. ‘Ah jaysus. Young Brady! What are you at? You’re not playing soccer!’ That was good advice Pat. I cherished that.
Needless to say, I was subbed off at half-time. My own fault really. Poor Ollie. I’m sure having me as a son wasn’t easy on him.
I’d go on to have more ‘incidents’ on the Gaelic football pitch as I grew older. I’ll touch on them again and again throughout the series.
Next time on A Brief History of My Sporting Failures – soccer. What is it, and why can’t I play?