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Authors: Gerard Siggins

Rugby Rebel

BOOK: Rugby Rebel
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My family have always given my books great support, and I would like to dedicate
Rugby Rebel
to them. Thank you Auntie Eileen, Auntie Carmel and Auntie Dor, and Uncle Jim and Uncle David.

The three ghosts in this series, Brian Hanrahan, Dave Gallaher and Kevin Barry, all once lived and I have treated the facts of them and their lives with respect, while obviously taking some liberties with their speech. The story of the fourth ghost, Eugene McCann, is not based on any character or episode from history.

I would also like to acknowledge Donal O’Donovan’s book
Kevin Barry And His Time
(Glendale, 1989), which helped me to get a fuller picture of the man.

I would like to thank all at The O’Brien Press for their help, especially my wonderful editor Helen Carr, brilliant designer Emma Byrne, and Ruth Heneghan and Bronagh McDermott in the publicity department. Thanks also to the many schools, libraries and bookshops that have invited me to talk about Brian, Eoin and the stories behind the stories. The people that work in these places play such an important role in passing on the gift of reading.

As do parents, and especially mine. Thanks Da, thanks Mam.

Chapter 1

. . . . . . . .

UCK!’ came the call from somewhere to Eoin’s left. He instinctively lowered his head just as a bullet whizzed over his helmet.

‘That was close,’ he muttered as he adjusted his
. He gripped his rifle tightly and turned to where the call had come from. A burly man with a black moustache grinned back at him.

‘You still have a few days’ rugby left in you yet, son,’ he chuckled.

‘Rugby?’ said Eoin, suddenly remembering. ‘Oh no, I’m late!’ he called, as he swung his legs out of bed.

Putting on his socks, Eoin paused, recalling the last moments of his dream.

‘Saved me again, Dave, didn’t you?’ he grinned, looking over at the precious piece of black cloth which carried an embroidered silver fern, and which now lay behind a pane of glass on his bedroom wall.

Eoin had been having plenty of dreams that summer after a memorable and moving school visit to the World War One battlefields; he’d won the trip for his
whole class as a prize in the Young Historian Competition.

His winning project had been inspired by a famous New Zealand rugby player whose ghost had appeared to Eoin and given him some very useful help.

Eoin hadn’t expected to meet Dave Gallaher again, but Eoin’s dreams had recently resembled vivid chapters from Dave’s war stories.

Being able to see and talk to the dead was something that still didn’t make huge sense to Eoin. He hadn’t really believed in ghosts, but now he was friends with two – Brian and Dave – and saw nothing strange in that. Brian Hanrahan had died in a scrum in Lansdowne Road many years before; he was only twenty-two when he died and was a real mentor to Eoin now – especially when it came to rugby.

Eoin wasn’t sure quite how he had this special gift, but his friend Alan had been able to see Brian too at a moment of great danger last term and he wondered had that anything to do with it.

Eoin ran downstairs into the kitchen where his mother was shovelling a large mound of bacon and sausage onto a plate.

‘Ah, just in time, Eoin,’ she smiled, ‘I was just about to call you again.’

‘Sorry, Mum,’ he replied,. ‘I have to meet Dylan down the field for a bit of rugby. But keep that for me, please,’ as he swiped one sausage from the plate and sped out the door.

Eoin jogged the short distance to the Ormondstown Gaels ground where his pal Dylan was waiting impatiently.

‘Do you know how many times I’ve kicked this wall?’ he asked.

‘Eighty-three?’ grinned Eoin.

‘Not funny. Look at the state of my boots! Lucky I’m getting a new pair for my birthday next week,’ said Dylan.

‘Nobody asked you to kick the wall,’ Eoin replied. ‘Why didn’t you do something useful like kick the heads off the nettles?’

‘Ah, will you two ever stop that,’ laughed Barney, the Gaels’ groundsman. ‘And do you call those things “boots”?’ he added. ‘Ask your grandfather to show you a pair of his boots, Eoin. They were the real thing.’

Eoin smiled and nodded at old Barney. ‘I don’t think Grandad has any of his old boots still, but I’ve seen them in photos. Big, heavy things like climbing boots, weren’t they?’

‘They were indeed. We used them for all sports, and
once your feet had stopped growing they were yours for life,’ the old man said. ‘You could plant a free or a rugby penalty from anywhere with a boot like that.’

The boys laughed along with Barney, who had been the heart and soul of the Gaels as long as they remembered, and long before that. All summer long Eoin and Dylan had played Gaelic football and hurling, but every morning for the last month they had started a bit of rugby practice on their own. One or two members of the Gaels had muttered to Barney that rugby shouldn’t be allowed on the GAA pitch, but he told them to mind their own business and, sure, wasn’t it helping the lads in their GAA skills anyway?

Eoin hoofed the ball high into the air and Dylan set off in pursuit like a demented puppy. He ran one way, and stepped sideways a couple of times trying to get under the ball as the strong breeze tugged at it on its descent. At the last second it seemed to drift away further, but Dylan dived forward and held the ball just before it hit the ground.

‘Yes!’ he roared. ‘And Ormondstown have won the Ashes!’

Eoin laughed. ‘You might make a decent cricketer yet, but if this was a rugby match you’d be already buried under five or six big forwards.’

The pair went through a few moves before Eoin spent the last fifteen minutes of their session taking kicks at goal, with Dylan happy to run around collecting the ball.

‘All set for next week?’ Eoin asked his pal.

‘Yeah, the uniform still fits me, which is a bit depressing,’ Dylan replied.

‘Well you’ll be fine then unless GI Joe wants it back,’ Eoin quipped, before skipping out of reach as Dylan took a swipe.

‘Come back here, you big lug,’ Dylan roared, as the pair charged out of the grounds, laughing all the way.

Chapter 2

. . . . . . . .

YLAN really seems to have settled down,’ Eoin’s mum announced after tea.

‘Yeah, I suppose so,’ said Eoin. ‘Once that thing with his dad was sorted out he’s been in great form. He’s really put it behind him and it’s been good crack to have him around for the summer.’

Eoin and Dylan had been involved in a dramatic incident at Lansdowne Road at the previous season’s schools’ cup final, but they had escaped with no harm done.

‘There’s a big weight off his shoulders, I’m sure,’ his mother chipped in.

‘Yeah, I suppose,’ Eoin replied, before turning to his father. ‘Did you ever notice how mam never asks questions?’ he grinned. ‘She just puts a statement out there and expects you to comment, like she’s on one of those TV politics shows or something …’

His father chuckled. ‘Well, now that you mention it …’ he started, cautiously.

He was cut off by a flying tea towel as Mrs Madden
stood up in mock fury.

‘How dare you, young man, and me after cooking you a lovely meal too!’

‘Sorry, Mam, I was only having a laugh. But if they had you on the telly I’d definitely watch it!’ Eoin replied, as he fled from a second tea towel spearing in his direction.

He trotted upstairs to his bedroom, which was in the middle of a major overhaul. Most of his clothes were on the bed, and he had a large plastic sack into which he had been tossing the old toys and books he had decided he wouldn’t miss. All the old bedtime story books had been replaced by new books on the things he was interested in, such as rugby, ghosts and history.

He picked up a coaching book his grandfather had given him for his birthday and studied one of the diagrams. It was all very well seeing a slick move like that printed on a page, but what were the chances of the Castlerock team executing it? As the old coach Mr Finn used to say, ‘Keep it simple’.

He lay down and stared at the ceiling. It was funny how the first two years at Castlerock had gone for him. He had been terrified at first, and having to take up rugby only added to his nightmares in those early weeks at the boarding school. But, in a funny way, it was playing
the game that helped him to settle in and make friends. Now it was his main passion and everyone said he had turned into a decent player too.

But this was going to be a big year at Castlerock. Devin, the captain of the Junior Cup team, had come up to him in the schoolyard just before the summer break and told him he wanted him in his squad. Eoin was excited by the idea of playing in a huge competition like that – and he knew how seriously they took the ‘Js’ at the school.

It was also the start of the state exams cycle and his mum had been nagging him all summer about how important it was to get good results in the exam, and how he would have to work steadily over the two years. The arrival of his school report kept her quiet for a day or two, but she soon started picking holes in the results and pointing out where he would have to turn those B minuses into B pluses.

Eoin laughed, still amazed at how positive the school report had been, but he reckoned it was his win in the national Young Historian Competition that had given the teachers such a good impression of him. It was even funnier to remember how he had been bored by history in primary school – it was learning more about the past through his ghostly pals that had sparked his new

I wonder will they give us another project this year?
he thought.
I wouldn’t mind having something like that to keep me busy.’

He divided the last of his old belongings between a cardboard box, to be stored in the attic, and the plastic sack, to be taken to the charity shop. There were some hard decisions, and he realised he hadn’t a clue what would mean most to him about his childhood far in the future. He shrugged his shoulders and decided not to think about it too deeply, consigning mementoes of his first thirteen years on earth into the ‘keep’ or ‘lose’ piles on a whim.

Chapter 3

. . . . . . . .

HE last few days of freedom went quickly, as they always do. Eoin stuffed his books into his schoolbag and crammed the sports gear in a large Munster Rugby holdall, while his mother neatly folded his carefully ironed uniform and casual clothes into a large suitcase.

‘Ah, don’t iron the socks, Mam, the lads give me an awful time about that,’ he said.

She smiled. ‘Don’t be worrying about that. It’s nice to look nice, although I don’t imagine your pals would notice. Have you everything packed?’

‘Think so,’ replied Eoin. ‘I’m just going to run up to say goodbye to Grandad.

‘I do believe he’s just saved you a journey,’ she replied, as she pointed out the window to where his grandfather, the great Dixie Madden, was standing, waving up at them.

Eoin lugged the two bags over his shoulder and struggled downstairs and out to the car.

‘Hello, young man,’ said Dixie. ‘All set for Castlerock?’

‘I suppose so.’ said Eoin, ‘Are you coming up for the spin?’

‘I’d love to, but there’s not enough room with you and your pal and all those bags.’

‘Oh, I’d forgotten all about Dylan. Where is he?’ asked Eoin, looking out the gate.

‘I’ve given his mam a ring,’ said Eoin’s father. ‘We’ll call by his house and pick him up.’

‘Well, Eoin, I hope this school year won’t be quite as dramatic as the last one.’ said Dixie, ‘Although I do hope we get another trip up to the Viva Stadium.’

‘Ah, Grandad, you never get that right – it’s the A-viva,’ laughed Eoin.

‘Oh well, it will always be Lansdowne Road to me,’ chuckled his grandad.

‘Well, I wouldn’t get your hopes up, Grandad. I’d be really lucky to even make the Junior Cup panel – it’s unheard of in second year. I’ll have another go at it after this year though so keep taking your cod liver oil tablets!’

Dixie laughed and slipped a banknote into Eoin’s pocket.

Eoin smiled and gave the old man a hug. ‘Thanks, Grandad, I’ve had my eye on the new Ireland jersey for ages. I’ll be able to get it now.’

‘Oh, sure can’t you wait till you’re selected – they’ll give you any number of jerseys then for free!’

Eoin laughed aloud. ‘Thanks, Grandad, no pressure!’

With all the bags loaded in the boot, Eoin turned to give his mother one last hug and hopped into the front seat beside his dad.

‘See you all at Hallowe’en!’ he called as the car pulled out of the drive and turned towards Ormondstown town centre.

‘It’s great that Dylan’s going back to Castlerock,’ said his dad. ‘He should be a lot more content this year too.’

‘I hope so.’ replied Eoin, ‘He’s been in good form all summer and seems mad keen to get back. I hope we can keep the rugby going too.’

‘Yes. I expect it will be tricky this year with you pushing for the JCT squad. Will any of the rest of the lads be in contention?’ asked Dad.

‘It’s hard to know. The squad’s weak enough in the backs, so Richie Duffy might get called up too, maybe Mikey O’Reilly. Dylan’s still very small though …’ Eoin ventured.

‘And here is the pocket rocket himself,’ said Mr Madden, as he eased the car up against the kerb. Dylan was standing outside the house where he lived with his mam and sister Caoimhe.

‘Howya, Mr Madden,’ called Dylan, as he started lugging his bags across the footpath to the car.

Eoin’s dad stepped out to help Dylan, while Eoin stuck his head in through the doorway.

‘We’re off, Mrs Coonan,’ he called, as Dylan’s mother and sister came into the hallway. Caoimhe was carrying a tray.

‘I cooked some sausage rolls for you for the journey,’ she said.

‘Oh, that’s fantastic!’ said Eoin. ‘You’re a total legend, Caoi!’

Dylan’s sister blushed. ‘There’s two each, don’t let Dylan have any more, he’s been raiding the oven all morning.’

Eoin grabbed the sausage rolls, gave the pair a wave and hopped back in the car as Dylan gave his mam and sister a hug.

‘Be good, work hard and keep in touch,’ were his mother’s last orders as he rolled up the window and the car zoomed off in the direction of Dublin.

BOOK: Rugby Rebel
13.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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