And so the adventure continues.
O’s coach had hinted at the possibility and then the email came: Our son and two club-mates were invited up to training one evening with the Dublin and District Schoolboy League (DDSL) representative squad.
The DDSL is the biggest and best schoolboy football league in Dublin, and hence the whole of Ireland. Their representative team is thus the best of the best. A very big deal for O – and us, his Dad, Mom, and sister K.
They were preparing for their next match in the Schoolboys Football Association of Ireland (SFAI) Under 13s Inter League Championship. The Leinster semi-final.
Dublin has three leagues, organised primarily according to geography.
There is the North Dublin Schoolboys/Girls League (NDSL), the South Dublin Football League (SDFL) and the DDSL.
The DDSL is full of famous underage football clubs, and many of the country’s Irish-born international footballers started out here. Clubs like Belvedere, Cherry Orchard, Home Farm, St Kevin’s Boys, Stella Maris and St Joseph’s Boys, who play in the DDSL’s highest league, the Premier, are writ large in the annals of Irish underage football.
O’s team have just been promoted to the Premier, and have played four matches so far, three league and one cup. They lost 2-0 to Cherry Orchard, beat Stella 2-0 and drew 1-1 with the mighty Belvedere on their home ground, and knocked Cabinteely out of the Liam Brady Cup.
Yes that Liam Brady, of Arsenal, Milan, Sampdoria, Inter and Republic of Ireland fame. Started out with St Kevin’s Boys, on Shanowen Road on Dublin’s north side. Did okay after that.
Serious football: top coaches … savage competition in cups, leagues … club tie-ins with League of Ireland clubs, scouts from the top English clubs at every game, we hear.
All this sounds like parental blowing: Golden Balls son playing for top team, getting recognition, and us basking in his reflected glory.
And it is, of course. Hard not to: it’s a massive buzz.
But we’re anxious too. The matches are exciting, but they are tense too. We see our boy under pressure to perform, in a way he has never experienced before.
It’s tough out there: coaches and parents are great when things are good, but all sorts can happen … arguments, fall-outs, a player can get dropped. Cast out. That’s a lot for anyone to deal with, but we’re talking kids here. Our boy is 12 years old.
There’s always that feeling when you rise higher, put yourself out there, that you will you get found out.
Maybe our fantastic boy (and not just fantastic because he is a good footballer) will get found out: hit a wall and maybe have to turn back? Or rise again and again when things don’t go to plan, and come back stronger and better every time? Or finally crack?
Maybe he will have to have to process the crushing disappointment of going so far and no further, while still a child.
Sure we’re thinking of ourselves as well, but I really am hoping he succeeds, for his own sake. To see that passion and talent and skill and dedication rewarded.
So over we drove, My wife A, myself, and O to the DDSL training night at Abbotstown, in west Dublin. It would be a closed session, meaning only players and coaches present.
In the car, parked beside the football pitches and dressing-rooms, a wide-eyed but contained O named each player as he arrived, high-fived with the coaches outside and disappeared into the dressing-room. All legends on his Snapchat and Instagram accounts.
O’s greatest reverence was for the seven or eight players from St Kevin’s, who form the nucleus of this DDSL squad.
Only last week ‘Kevin’s were runners-up to Barcelona in the final of the Academy Cup, the elite invitation only tournament they host each year for Europe’s top clubs. Other participants included Bayer Leverkusen, West Bromwich Albion, Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund!
And here was our boy about to strut his stuff with these boys!
We collected him. He was buzzing, saying he had “done alright”.
The next day his club coach told us the DDSL coaches wanted O back the next week.
They were playing the Kilkenny League team on Sunday week. The NDSL were playing the Midlands League in the other semi-final. The winners of both would meet in the regional final!
O had played for the NDSL’s representative team up the ages for four years, but since his new club are in the DDSL, he was no longer eligible for the NDSl’s squad. But he is for the DDSL’s.
Another Abbotstown session on the Wednesday evening, and word came through to his club coach that O might be involved, or even play, in Sunday’s match.
So what happened next?
O only went down with the short-lived but nasty tummy bug doing the rounds.
I had brought him to the train station for club training on the Thursday even though he was really pale and unusually quiet. The drill is he gets the train and my wife picks him up two stops away to bring him to training, while I go back to the house and our daughter.
O assured me he was just a bit tired but would be fine once he got going. He’s that kind of kid, will give everything even when he is not feeling 100 per cent.
When they arrived, his club coach told him the DDSL had been on to him and an 18-boy squad would be named for the big game and he would get a text if he was in.
O joined the training, but a few kicks of the ball and a few runs later the game was up. His tummy was in bits.
Straight to the car and a false alarm when A pulled over the car on the motor way home. No puke.
That happened when he got home, the most horrible vomiting and retching and he eventually went to bed, all skinny body and sweaty hair, like a squeezed out sponge.
Kids, eh? We were still in the Easter school holidays and the next morning he was up … and wanting to play Fortnite on the PlayStation. Showered. No food for a while but not bad … he might be okay for Sunday after all. If called up.
Late Friday night, the text finally beeped in. He was in the squad. With two other guys from the club. Fantastic! The club’s WhatsApp group was all about it, and everyone was invited to come along and support the boys. Thumbs ups and congrats all round.
All four of us were going on the Sunday, K swayed by the Milanos pizza afterwards and the promise of a new mascara.
Saturday night, four in the morning and there was the clanging of the toilet seat in the main bathroom and the sound of violent retching. K had the bug!
There was sympathy aplenty and a hot water bottle for our girl and she eventually fell back into bed.
She was up again around seven, retching, but no more puke. By the time O was up and we are getting ready for his big day, K was flat on her back exhausted and sleeping.
We’re not completely heartless you know: we did establish that while she was feeling wrecked and wretched, she would be okay, and the best thing was to just catch up on her sleep and we would check in on her regularly.
We did leave her with basin and water and the usual sick child parapharnalia.
The game itself was a lovely blur. Out on the field doing their exhaustive warm-up O was wearing number 18. Hey, he was in the squad.
Soon the pitch was being cleared of coaches and subs, and O was still there … taking up his usual left central defensive position. He was starting!
What a crowd there was there, moms, dads, siblings and teammates all crowded against the barrier on the public’s side, filling it from one end to the other. The atmosphere was electric, and we were hoping O wouldn’t be too nervous.
None of it. He did fine and his side soon established their superiority, and O looked comfortably central to it all. Pushing up, neatly linking the play with midfield and his overlapping full backs.
The Kilkenny defence was really strong and brave and they ultimately did well to limit the score to 2-0 to the DDSL. The Dublin team missed a number of chances, but it was a job well done. And O played maybe 50 of the 60 minutes.
The second goal was scored by O’s team-mate, AJ, who was barely on the field as a half-time sub, when he coolly finished off a neat passing movement up the left and across to him at the far post. And excelled thereafter on his own debut for the DDSL.
Word came through later the NDSL won their semi-final 4-0. O will be meeting his old team. If selected, as they say.
O was quietly delighted afterwards, sipping on a paper cup of “gorgeous” vegetable soup when he came to the car. He showed the printed slip with his name on it, which he had found attached to his playing jersey, hanging in the dressing-room when they went in. Just like the big guys, Messi and the rest!
He laughed, showing where they had mispelled his surname.
“They’ll have it right for the next game,” I assured our DDSL warrior.
PS: Football politics, eh? True story: The NDSL league management lodged an objection against O playing in the Leinster final, as O had already played in the competition for the NDSL and was therefore cup-tied, so to speak. In other words ineligible for the DDSL team.
So we went to the final last night and O had to look on as the DDSL comfortably beat the NDSL 3-1.
So O’s team are two games away, possibly from an All-Ireland title but O can’t play! He took it so well, but it wasn’t easy as the day he heard the news his club team also lost a match.