One of the great traditions of the GAA over the years has been all the rigmarole associated with the round up of players before the game. Although we still pride ourselves on being a resolutely amateur organisation, in matters such as preparation for matches, even the most junior B outfit these days will run their matchday logistics like clock work.
Players will be given precise times to load up with carbs ahead of the big game. They will be well hydrated, well enough to know that clear water means go and amber means stop. They will have digested the psycho-babble at meetings, the individual stats sheet prepared meticulously by the coach, gleaned from a shiny silver Macbook he bought after a stint on placement with a company that specialised in greyhound performance management.
Nowadays no self-respecting coaching course is complete without the mandatory section on what to eat before, during and after a match. Steaks, rashers and bacon; a slice of orange and a rake of pints replaced by pasta; energy bars and more pasta. But it wasn’t ever thus. . .
Sunday morning, coming down for the game, there were always fellas that were too keen by far at the prospect of a game; likewise plenty of the other lads could see a match far enough on a Sunday. The former not up to much, maybe played corner back marking the slowest forward, but he’s invaluable in pumping up balls filling water jars and maybe making sure the jerseys were washed once in a while. “There’s nothing like the smell of another man’s sweat on your shirt to clear the head, eh lads?” would roar one oul boy whose wintergreen would bring a tear to any man’s eye.
The other lads, well some of them would be sittin’ in the house or maybe still lyin’ in bed hopin’ they’d never hear the craggy diesel of the minibus or the doorbell would never ring. Their pre-match routine was a feed of rashers and eggs scorched to within an inch of being edible, maybe a puddin’ or two. A recuperative Major would complete the process, before the painful business of locating football socks, togs and especially boots last seen under a bed, dried turf intact and still in place. The final items in the carrier bag a yellow Mikasa glove and a clean pair of Y Fronts.
This scene was repeated in numerous households round the parish as fellas faced into the fag end of a season. Then there was the lad that managed finally to disentangle himself from active football, but walked that murky twilight between playing and not playing. So the boys still called at the door when they were stuck for players and he inevitable obliged.
His whereabouts might depend on who he was seen talking to the night before and the minibus often trekked the parish looking for him to bring him back to his mammy’s to get his stuff and his inevitable mercurial contribution delivered through the fugue of last night’s fun.
The throw-in time of course was a moveable feast – refs knew not to get there too early, for them could be a long stand waiting for the away team to appear.
But, to its eternal credit the Powers that Be have always recognised the difficulty of rounding up fellas for an away game, with Rule 2.2 permitting a team to start a match with only thirteen men – it explicitly says that so long as the other two lads appear by the beginning of the second half that’s grand.
The arguments around any abolition of Rule 2.2 would make the debate over opening Croker look like a teddy bear’s picnic. The origins of the rule are thought to date back perhaps to more agricultural days when fellas had to complete the farmwork and might be delayed getting away; others put it down to the checkpoints operated by occupation forces targeting known GAA men. Others just point out that it’s a practical rule that has its place and that’s that.
So, the next time your pre-hydration or your carb loading is behind schedule and you’re running later for a match, remember Rule 2.2. Twas made for days like that.