Drink makes you lay it on line for team
By Hugh Farrelly
Friday April 10 2009
Good Friday? It certainly is for the off-licences.They were packed out the doors yesterday as the frantic Irish -- going nuts at the prospect of pubs being closed for a day -- squirreled home as much booze as they could carry to get them through the horrors of their 24-hour winter.
Alcohol is our religion, the pub our place of worship and drinking at home the opportunity for private prayer.
It pervades sport in this country and Britain also -- and nowhere more obviously than with rugby, as evidenced by the titles of rugby's three premier club competitions involving British and Irish sides -- the Heineken Cup, Guinness Premiership and the Magners League.
However, aside from sponsorship, drinking has always been inextricably linked with rugby's culture -- the clubhouse bar an arena where players earn their reputations as much as out on the field of play. With the physical nature of the sport putting an extra emphasis on camaraderie and bonding, it's not the ideal environment for teetotallers . . . you drink or you sink.
The pressure can be intense and the effects of succumbing to it long-lasting.
I could never claim to be religious but after making my confirmation, I was determined to keep 'the pledge' -- that Catholic underpinning of the legal decree which prohibited alcohol until the age of 18. I nearly made it too -- crumbling under the weight of an avalanche of peer pressure on a senior schools tour in 1989.
It was a particularly grizzly, experienced squad, the vast majority over the legal age, with the three o'clock shadows to prove it. I was just 17, still a fifth year, and anxious to make an impression on that three-day trip.
After the first game was won comfortably, the speeches made and ties exchanged, we retired to the now extinct 'Cois Farraige' pub on Bray's beachfront (you never forget your first).
Terrified by the prospect of my 'pledge-ability' being unearthed and equally unnerved by the daunting sight of a full pint of alcohol, when the "what are you having young fellah?" question arrived, I panicked. This led to a somewhat unusual order.
"Twelve Heineken, eight Guinness, three cider and a vodka and blackcurrant for herself," said the captain, rolling his eyes in my direction. The barmaid -- impossibly exotic to my untutored eyes -- smiled over compassionately before unintentionally adding to my embarrassment.
"Vodka and black, you mean cordial?"
Cue howls of derision.
The following day, we played one of the top Leinster schools and, after the previous night's long and memorable pub debut, I was in no condition.
However, as I would discover in later years, a crippling hangover can occasionally work to your advantage for, when you run off the initial side-effects, there is a false (fleeting) feeling of euphoria which can propel you to unprecedented heights.
Thus it was that day against St Michael's. Every line-out ball stuck, every kick-off was claimed and every carry seemed to take me into clear space -- I still fell off tackles but it was vodka and black, not a miracle potion -- and shortly after half-time came what I thought was the crowning glory.
Our tight-head prop broke free and set off downfield. Halley's Comet appeared more regularly than Big Kev in open play so this development caused considerable excitement and I tore after him, screaming for the pass.
Fair play to the big man, when he was tackled, he swivelled and popped a beauty into my basket. I could see the line 10 metres ahead and rocketed towards it before producing a magnificent swallow dive for the touchdown followed immediately by an eyes-closed, fist-pumping celebration.
When I re-opened them and turned to receive my team-mates c