This Sporting Life

Joe Dolan

Last Saturday was a night at the dog track in Mullingar with some college buddies and other middle aged guys for a Stag party to consign the last man standing to the wonderful institution of marriage.  In the course of the night I was recommending that a couple of the guys look up this poem.  Pertinent as it is also set in Mullingar.  It is both the saddest and the funniest poem I know about sport.

Sport; by Paul Durcan

There were not many fields
in which you had hopes for me
but sport was one of them.
On my twenty-first birthday
I was selected to play
for Grangegorman Mental Hospital
in an away game
against Mullingar Mental Hospital.
I was a patient
in B Wing.
You drove all the way down,
fifty miles,
to Mullingar to stand
on the sidelines and observe me.
I was fearful I would let down
not only my team but you.
It was Gaelic football.
I was selected as goalkeeper.
There were big country men
on the Mullingar Mental Hospital team,
men with gapped teeth, red faces,
oily, frizzy hair, bushy eyebrows.
Their full forward line
were over six foot tall
fifteen stone in weight.
All three of them, I was informed,
cases of schizophrenia.
There was a rumour
that their centre-half forward
was an alcoholic solicitor
who, in a lounge bar misunderstanding,
had castrated his best friend
but that he had no memory of it.
He had meant well – it was said.
His best friend had to emigrate
to Nigeria.
To my surprise,
I did not flinch in the goals.
I made three or four spectacular saves,
diving full stretch to turn
a certain goal around the corner,
leaping high to tip another certain goal
over the bar for a point.
It was my knowing
that you were standing on the sideline
that gave me the necessary motivation –
that will to die
that is as essential to sportsmen as to artists.
More than anybody it was you
I wanted to mesmerise, and after the game –
Grangegorman Mental Hospital
having defeated Mullingar Mental Hospital
by 14 Goals and 38 points to 3 goals and 10 points –
sniffing your approval, you shook hands with me.
‘Well played, son’.
I may not have been mesmeric
but I had not been mediocre.
In your eyes I had achieved something at last.
On my twenty-first birthday I had played on a winning team
the Grangegorman Mental Hospital team.
Seldom if ever again in your eyes
was I to rise to these heights.