If someone asked, how would you like to gain two stone, a cirrhotic liver and possibly heart failure what would you say? Of course, they might put it more euphemistically but it would mean the same. However, they might not add that you would gain dozens more true friends, lots of help, loyalty, fun and the best indelible memories of your life. I am talking about taking on the club presidency.
The first part of the year starts innocuously enough with just six meetings a week, a few working breakfasts and a fitting for an unarmed-combat uniform. After a while, members call you President and you look over your shoulder for the real president or wonder if Mary has just walked in. The regulars in the bar, even the statisticians, begin to talk to you. People offer to buy you a drink, like “what’s your poison”; later on in the season they mean it.
You begin to feel the part when the club dinners get under way. Trinity start it all off with an early evening get together, being young students they all have to get home to bed early; and DLSP is the first with a real dinner, like Bacon and Cabbage type. They send you an invitation, an altimeter and a map and you are on your way. Most presidents know each other from playing days, with the scars and memories to prove it, but they smile all the same, a little tentatively at first but by the end of the season, all are staunch friends.
Meanwhile the games have started, which brings you to all sorts of places and often you see four or five games a weekend, so that when you are driving home you even yield right of way at the “Oval-abouts”. The paradox is that, as president you are expected to be objective, dignified and calm but also as president you feel exquisitely, every missed tackle and dropped ball; you go through agony. You have watched games all you life and enjoyed it, but this year no, they are the most painful experiences of life, even the giving birth to a victory, is painful, if joyous in outcome. Then in defeat you must praise the opposition, ply your counterpart and his gang with drink and smile dutifully. The only relief may be the arrival of some of the “Mary’s Birds” like Aoife, revealing their outstanding playing qualities, and with a bit of luck, Spike will start to play his piano and then all the opposition very quickly make their excuses and are gone.
Before AIB AIL matches, of course, are the lunches. Here we see the ever-present JB and his gang and the past presidents looking years younger and fitter than you. Paddy, Matt and Billy are selling their photos for attics, others are selling bananas. We confuse the visitors, for we make them climb steps to get in through the roof, then we give them lots to drink, bring them down a couple of flights, Patsy feeds them royally, we give them more to drink, tell funny stories to them and, when they are totally disorientated, we leave them to find their own way back up, back down, back out and around; by that time, with any luck, we are a few points up.
During the year, you are given the opportunity to meet every player and most of the members, whether they like it or not. After every game, you visit your team’s dressing room, where players look as if to say what is this “oul fella” doing here? However, by the time the season is over they are used to you, you can call them by their nicknames and they even let you buy them a drink; very nice of them. You also get to go on the away trips with the senior team to Cork or Limerick or Belfast. These overnight trips are always a joy and the cement of the year, drawing the team and the alickadoos together. The eve of the match dinner is a special occasion, once Lord Hussey is there to choose the wine; this saves all the other epicureans, such as J Doddy or Springer, Alex, Pyner or JDC, from sulking all night, if their favourite vintage is not chosen. Then selection of the fattest ever, worst ever, boosiest ever,………..teams, takes place after the obligatory eulogy of the PDs by Ronnie.
Meanwhile the club dinner circuit progresses. By now you have heard every joke ten times at least, in fluent Gingish, Neddish or Maherish or in broken Westian or pure Doyler; still you laugh and love them and grow closer as group, its all great fun. You even start wishing Terenure and “The Chappies” luck. In no time it is the Carlow Collection, the last Hurrah, when the women are allowed ingress; for each to stand by her man and say what a wonderful guy he is, even if she barely recognises him, having hardly seen him for a year and by now he is a couple of stone heavier, wearing a mottled, soup stained blazer, bleary eyed and in a totally confused state.
The AGM comes around, the trophies are displayed and counted or discounted, as in this case. They all say farewell and are delighted to get rid of you. When you return from the convalescent home and Health Farm to the new regime and walk in to the bar or the dressing rooms, no one looks your way, then someone approaches with a smile, your spirits rise: Could you tell me where the Gents is? What can you do but flush! It was worth it all. It was some year.