For Greece and Rome who bravely stood…
In one of the greatest encounters of antiquity at Thermopylae, they say that King Leonidas led 300 Spartans to victory over the Persian God-King Xerxes I and his army of one million men. The story has proven to be a topic of cultural inspiration and is renowned as the most famous ‘against all odds’ tale in military history. Thousands of years later numerous books, video games and films are continuously produced in tribute to that extraordinary feat. By contrast, despite the equally emphatic nature of victory achieved by Paddy Collins’ men, the triumph of the Staff XI over Rhetoric 2014 will be granted little more than a footnote on the Brendan Cullen Trophy. However, the quality of the victory will live long in the memories of those lucky enough to have witnessed it.
Taking to the field on Monday afternoon, the magistri of Clongowes would have been forgiven for their initial ashen faced expressions as they encountered a troop of a hundred able-bodied young men huddled together, beating their chests like oversized gorillas descended from the rainforests of the Congo readying themselves for battle. Meanwhile, streams of Third-Liners hurried as if to storm the Bastille so to ensure that they would have the best vantage point in the house.
Yet Eamon Jackman was self-assured to a degree that would seem beyond a Laoisman. As those around him struggled to hold their nerve, Jackman, a former inter-county hurler, removed the albatross of sporting inferiority from the minds of his teammates by assuming control of the ball and instigating the tiki-taka style that has become synonymous with dainty footballers at the pinnacle of the game. Even Goliath (in the form of David Sharkey) began to subscribe to this approach. Suddenly the magistri side could see how this game could be won.
Men against boys…
From the off Jackman began to pull the strings like an aged Mozart, with his regional compatriots Paddy Gorman and Richard McElwee adding the power and precision to his aspirations. To their right strode the tireless Emmet Condron who seemed like a greyhound teasing a multitude of whimpering collies. At the back the three musketeers, Tom Carroll, Stephen O’Hara and Paddy Collins assumed the role of outrageous romantics who believed in the comic-book heroes of their childhood that took on a dusty street of baddies and laid them all low. Beside them, Matthew Wright played with the coolness of a veteran and the zeal of a newcomer. Hedged by such minders, Brendan Shalvey was not going to have his pocket picked.
It was to the great surprise of the Rhetoric selection that the most obvious tactic was not deployed by their educators. Unbeknownst to them, David Sharkey had indicated that he would prefer the ball played to his feet. “You’ll be surprised to note that I’m actually more of a Bergkamp than Drogba,” Sharkey had proclaimed in the changing-room. For a moment, the big man was perplexed by the sudden hush of his colleagues. It was only when Carroll let out an unruly snort that it dawned on Goliath how each to a man had been struggling to suppress their sniggering. However, Sharkey would have the last laugh…
With Hugh McMahon and Hugh Reynolds to the fore, Rhetoric sought to find daylight between the teams in the early stages. Yet, in what was the most frenetically footballing quarter, the magistri coped commendably against a very capable outfit. It was a nip/tuck affair for much of the first half, with little in the way of clear opportunities – for his sake I will not mention Sean McGovern’s hilarious impersonation of a striker. McGovern’s open-goal opportunities aside, both teams possessed resolute defences, prompting several players to find their inner Matt Le Tissier by becoming partial to optimistic attempts on goal. Deprived of the slightest breath of wind, both teams began to look to Pat Linnane to signal for a break. Up front though, David Gibbons was waging war and seemed oblivious to the Saharan conditions. Alive to the opportunities more than most, Gibbons pounced onto a loose ball and let fly from all of 40 yards with a strike that drew widespread applause from all in attendance.
A game of two halves (would you believe)
The second half saw wholesale changes on the Rhetoric side. Neat footwork was replaced by bulkwork as the rugby contingent entered the fray to ruffle a few feathers. Yet the components of the staff side were not ones to shirk a challenge. Indeed in years to come they will still be talking about the Battle of Mountmellick 2014, as McElwee and Josh Pim collided. From a footballing perspective Fergal Cleary and Alan Hughes were particularly prominent as they sought to regain a foothold in the game. Excited by the greater possibility of physical confrontation, David Sharkey came to life. Boasting more cup jerseys than all of Rhetoric put together, Sharkey felt he had a point to prove. Though he may not be as mobile as when he once (allegedly) tormented the Third Line league defences in 1999, Sharkey nevertheless resembled the elegance of a rhino in a tutu. Ten minutes into the half, and with little option other than to play the ball down Sharkey’s channel, Jackman threaded the ball through in the spirit of fair play rather than any real hope that something might happen. Enthusiastically chasing down the ball from inside his own half, Sharkey, though slow to get going, built up such momentum that the back wall began to sweat. Touching the ball away from the last defender, Sharkey let fly and the ball settled in the netting. 2-0.
With the game now getting beyond their reach, the third set of student reinforcements arrived en masse. Though in front, the staff was at this point on their last legs. Sharkey, who was suffering from exhaustion after running to the crowd in celebration, was simply rendered useless. Even Barry Bowen’s bellowing from the sideline was beginning to die out. With a man down, shots began to rain in on Shalvey’s goal. To catch some air, Condron and Gorman were forced to exercise some time-wasting tactics. Indeed when Matthew Wright pulled back Brian Dowling as he closed in on goal, members of the staff thanked him for having gained them a moment’s rest. Meanwhile, Rhetoric sensed blood and after some deliberation Brendan Nulty stepped up to rifle the free kick into the top corner with aplomb. Game on…
That is until Pat Linnane immediately decided to bring the curtain down on what had been a fine afternoons entertainment.
When the sick parrots fly close to the sports hall
Speaking after the game Paddy Collins said: “Credit to the Rhetoric lads, ultimately it wasn’t going to be their day on the night. At first we thought we were going to be numerically outnumbered but we knew we’d get a handle on them. They looked confident but no side could ever underestimate us, we were probably just a lot better than they thought. Thankfully our game plan came together and we were consistent in patches in implementing it. That’s three wins in three years for the staff and, while I wouldn’t say that it was the best performance we have ever produced, there have been none better.”
Many thanks to the boys of Rhetoric and Mr. Paddy Collins for organising a most enjoyable afternoon of sport and fun. Thanks also to Mr. Pat Linnane for agreeing to officiate. Speaking to Rhetoric players after the game Mr. Collins wished them all the best in their future endeavours – a sentiment that is echoed here.