As the Bell Tolls…

As featured in Leinster v Scarlet match programme (13/09/14)

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Tick… tock… tick… tock…

It had been a long day and Jack’s interest in the findings of Pythagoras was waning quickly. Looking through the glare from the classroom window, Jack could have believed it was a summer afternoon. Allowing his thoughts to drift, he cast his mind to more pressing matters. Had he moulded his gumshield? Had he packed his new Leinster garb? Unbeknownst to himself, he had already grabbed the straps of his gear bag that lay beside him. Tick… tock… tick…

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring!!

A collective sigh of relief could be heard as the most anticipated bell of the day sounded. It seemed as though an entire school had looked forward to that noise like young children about to be taken to the circus. Instantaneously, chairs screeched throughout the building as they retreated from their desks while classroom talk of theorems was replaced by frenzied discussions on tactics, training and tries in the corridor. The senior boys shared a smug grin as their younger peers whizzed past them, sidestepping and undressing in one foul swoop. Though exercised in different fashion both groupings enjoyed a similar sense of enthusiasm… Rugby was back!

Once again the hearts and minds of kids across Leinster have been seized as the verdant playing fields of the province awake from their slumber. Over the past number of weeks eager neophytes have been inducted into the rudimentary skills once acquired by Heaslip, Madigan, Kearney, Healy and McFadden; each one eager to impress their sun-kissed coach recently returned from his summer vacation. The coming months will see coaches across the province investing themselves in the development of Ireland’s next batch of rugby talent. Nobody can question the commitment shown by our school coaching staff, for without the after-school and weekend hours there would be no foundation for the players you see before you this evening. These people give of their time and energy to encourage, cajole, enthuse, impress and bewilder the fresh faces into what must be an impenetrable language of knock-ons, scrums, off-sides, forward passes – “Yes the ball must go back young Brian, Robert, Gordon, Jack …”.

Needless to say, not all returning scholars will be fresh faced and wide eyed. The rugby fraternity encompasses all within the school community. You know the seasoned campaigners by their faded and tightening strips, while the aspiring SCT and JCT players will have worked hard on their fitness and physique. But there is also the social side in every school – yes, the souls who don’t venture out in less than 10 degrees, and only under a clear sky fearing God’s damnation should they set foot on the ‘far pitch’ somewhat overgrown and often the cemetery for antiquated grass mowing machines. Nevertheless, someone is needed to coach and support them as they represent their school for one last campaign before hanging up their boots in favour of a place in Cambridge or Oxford – rowing was always their strength!

So, as we begin a new school year, brightly painted classrooms, new gear, neat books and clean boots, let us acknowledge those who have given of themselves to ensure that these children are happy playing a game that brings joy to so many. The role of that coach entails more than teaching any individual how to tackle or how to ruck. There comes mutuality in this relationship – one that is both trusting and fulfilling. Where one might see the fruits of a developing character, the other might see glory at the RDS next March. However, regardless of their respective goals, both coach and player will have embarked on a journey of highs, lows and lifelong memories.

Here’s to a great year for schoolboy rugby – whatever your level – and thanks to your countless teachers, coaches and pastmen who bring dreams to life.