Well Done Funky !

“Free in the knowledge that one day this will end
Free in the knowledge that everything is change
And this was just a bad moment
We were fumbling around
But we won’t get caught like that
Soldiers on our backs
We won’t get caught like that”


It was cold.

I was cold.

The car heater was at 23.5C, the blower on 4.

The ends of my fingers felt cold, even in my possum fur gloves.

My Soulmate thinks that this has been worse since chemo.

She’s right about most things.

I didn’t want to run.

Across from the car there were kids in big bobbly hats waddling around the playground in three coats and a scarf, with bright red noses.

He was late.

He was late , even for him.

I looked at my phone hoping that he’d cancelled.

He hadn’t.

His car pulled up and he hopped out immediately.

This was terrible.

Normally he’s on the phone when he arrives and holds up a finger to say he’ll be another minute.

Today he was enthusiastic.


“C’mon ! Let’s go.”

Lately when I run , I can’t really talk. This suits today as I’m in a funk. Haven’t been in good form all week.

He talks a lot.

Today I’m grateful.

We run along the river, past Thoth, Muireann and Ailinn, turn left through the yew trees, then right towards Druid.

He’s stopped talking.

I’m praying.

We run along Priestfield lake, up the wee hill at the end.

I’m silently in the middle of a Hail Mary for someone and feel it would be bad luck to stop now.

We turn left towards Dagda’s cauldron of plenty.

There is a hill.

I’m struggling.

He knows I’m struggling.

I make it to the top.

“Well done.” He says.

We keep running, past the baby Giant Redwood, the Mausoleum , turn right towards Lady Rossmore’s Cottage and the Cootehill Road gate.

I feel OK now.

We touch both gates and head back to the Yew Trees.

It’s downhill.

We keep running back along the river until we reach the car park.

He holds out his fist to bump mine.

I made it.

I don’t feel cold.

He doesn’t know that his ‘Well done’ lifted me out of my funk.

Or maybe he does.

I hope he does.

My funk earlier this week was partly caused by organising a group of ten friends to go and see a tribute band performing The Band’s ‘Last Waltz’ in the Olympia. Buying the tickets was the easiest part. Arranging hotel rooms was more stressful than I’d care for. To get the best rate the rooms had to be confirmed a week in advance , and on a ‘no refund’ basis.

The reason for the stress was that my band of friends are of a ‘certain age’ . We all still think we’re Peter Pan, and we are, but these Peter Pans have kids’ birthdays, gall bladders, eye surgeries, and bad backs to contend with.

I booked the tickets, the hotel, made the dinner reservation, messaged everyone, co-ordinated lifts, and … I’m exhausted.

Happy exhausted.

It reminded me of the time I coached our Elliott’s Drumkill Rovers Under 8’s soccer team. I wrote a few wee pieces about it, titled ‘Cat Herding’. I’ve printed them below in the PSsssss.

The rest of my stress was caused by myself , because I can be a tit sometimes.

But it’s OK to be a tit sometimes.

Just not all the time.

So if I’ve said the wrong thing, and unintentionally caused you any stress at all at all, I am truly sorry.

I love you really.

And for all of you that smiled, nodded, said ‘Hello’ or ‘Well done’, thank you. You made a difference this week, and I am truly grateful.


A Tit ( Paul )

P.S. This is for John…and so was that Hail Mary.

P.P.S This was written 13 years ago

Cat Herding #1

(My adventures as the coach of my son’s U-8 football team)

You’d think that as time, and the number of offspring, marched on that this “Dad” malarkey would get easier, wouldn’t you ? But that mistaken assumption would simply be another one you could add to the pile that commonly gets referred to as “experience”. No matter how much of this “experience” we seem to gather it does not, ever, seem to prevent us getting more.

My name is Paul and I am happily married to my long suffering wife and the proud father of three wonderful children aged 11, 9 and 6 respectively, eldest boy, little princess, and youngest son. A few months after our youngest was born a friend declared that his wife was now expecting their third child and asked, hopefully, “Sure there can’t be a huge amount of difference between managing two of them or three?” I put my arm around his shoulder and replied “To be honest Mark, it’s a lot like juggling. Everyone can seem to manage two with ease but throwing in a third takes a lot of getting used to.” 

The years pass by and you end up doing bizarre things, like going to U-10 football matches on Saturday mornings and then attending U-10 coaching sessions on a Monday evening…in Monaghan…in the rain…and even more bizarrely, you love it. And then because you seem to be there so often anyway it seems like the most natural thing in the world for one of the proper coaches to ask you to come on board. And despite all of the knowledge you possess, all of the mistakes you’ve made, the “experience” you have and the juggling metaphor you used in the previous paragraph, you smile and say “That sounds like great fun Emmet, I’d love to”. What you should have said was “Are you mad Emmet? I have enough on my plate with three of my own , I certainly don’t need the responsibility of looking after 14 of the little ..angels.” Too late now.

So now here I am on a Saturday morning at Monaghan United’s clubhouse representing  Drumkill Rovers , with Peader, on the FAI’s  Kick Start course. I have not felt this nervous in a long time. It feels like a business networking event combined with a secondary school entrance exam. Everyone is  a little nervous, most are middle aged men, awkwardly dressed in sports gear for possibly the first time since they left school themselves and all are here to attend the course so that they can then take charge of  roaming gangs of hyper active kids for an hour or two a week with some degree of authority. We all seem to be in the same boat. We all have kids that are playing in our respective clubs and we are all keen to help out. Very few of us have played football, let alone coached, since we left school and we are generally unfit. We are as a group starting to feel more comfortable in our sporty surroundings and in our ill fitting sporty gear. And then it happens. They walk in wearing matching sports gear , in their club colours no less, two guys from Lisnaskea who are coaches already and worse still they seem to know what they are talking about. Before panic takes hold ,John our wonderful FAI coach does the introductions and the course begins.

Up until lunchtime we are taken through a few rules and regulations on coaching, FAI guidelines and some hilariously badly acted coaching scenarios on video. We are each given a lovely FAI folder with fantastic schematics and guides to coaching exercises, warm ups and games to use in a coaching session. This is easy.

At every seminar, workshop, conference or presentation that I have ever attended the words I dread to hear the most  are “ Now we’ll split you into groups…” as this invariably means that the coaches have finished for the day and it is now our turn to embarrass ourselves with a physical demonstration of what we have learnt today.  This is dreadful. It was ok sitting with my middle aged, unfit and ill attired peers listening to this wonderful coaching advice..but now the thought of leading an exercise in front of them was filling me with dread.

We are broken into pairs and each pair is assigned an exercise from our folders that we have to coach the others through as if they were kids. I can hardly eat. The FAI instruction cards that only an hour previously had seemed so clear and concise now appeared to be written in Swahili and the little diagrams of where to set up your cones and the little figures of the footballers seem to have blurred into instructions on how to refill a coffee machine. I’m panicking now. My assistant for this exercise is the youngest in the group today and is fully intent on me taking the lead. I’m really panicking now.

My mood is lightened by the fact that the colour co-ordinated boys from Lisnaskea have to leave early and won’t get to witness the rest of us stumbling about the pitch.

We assemble in our groups and John from the FAI takes is through an exercise to show us what we have to do. Keep them moving, keep them busy, keep them entertained , keep using their names, speak with a loud voice, always encourage ..no cursing. That sort of thing.

I have to say we had great fun. My recollection of training/coaching from school was of the “ run a few laps there lads” followed by some half hearted , mangled, stretching exercises and then a practice match where we were encouraged to kick lumps out of each other. This was completely different.

The FAI seem to have got something right for a change. The coaching being taught and the representatives like John that they have on the ground are inclusive, educational and most of all fun.

The exercises continued and I was so thoroughly enjoying taking part and taking some mild delight in the “coaches” frustration at not getting it right that I almost forgot that I was up next. We were all being very polite to each other. After each exercise the two leading the exercise  were asked how they felt the exercise had gone, what they’d do differently the next time  and so on. The rest of  us as participants in the exercise   were asked to contribute how we felt it had gone and then John would sum up how he felt you’d performed and what you needed to improve on . John was great and had 10 middle aged men craving his approval by the end.

I’m up next.

Even as I write this down I still get a shiver.

What appeared on paper as a relative simple dribble and passing exercise involving  two teams of two , a ball and four cones descended into a bizarre shouting match between participants and coaches and some tired and emotional exchanges in the debrief at the end. John’s summing up went along the lines of “Paul, your complete lack of football knowledge and ability is compensated by your loud voice and enthusiasm.”

With that I was awarded my Kick Start 1 certificate and am now approved to coach my son’s U-8 football team.

Next Thursday at DK park, 6.30 pm.

Cat Herding #2

(My adventures as the coach of my son’s U-8 football team)

So here we are , DK Park, it’s 6.30 and there are 12 under -8 little Ronaldo’s running around the bottom half of the pitch waiting to start our first training session.

An hour earlier I’d been rushing home to get myself ready in time, ( I’m often referred to as “ the late Paul Bond”) , and have the exercises all planned out so that there are no gaps during the hour for the little monkeys to get bored and irritable. I quickly got changed , put on a cup of tea, and start looking at my FAI Kickstart exercise charts and diagrams desperately trying to remember what I’d been told. I started running out of time. I wanted to be there early to get set up. Got my youngest , One*,  into the car and received a  “Good Luck” from my sniggering wife, which in hindsight may have been directed towards my son, heading out the gate when I realise “Whistle !” , I need a whistle. I tear back into the kitchen screaming “Does anyone know where a whistle is ???”.  Silence. I miraculously find a drawer in the kitchen that has 4 plastic whistles in it and I grab one , rush back to the car and get to DK Park at 6.10 , a full 20 minutes before training is due to start. This bodes well, I wasn’t even that early for my own wedding…but that’s a whole other story.

The U-10 coach, Paul, is already there, has his cones already laid out for his first three exercises, and has even , kindly, set me up with a set of balls and cones and filled water bottles, ( I think that he has to have been here since 3pm ). Paul is taking the top half of the pitch to train his U-10 squad leaving me with the bottom half for the U-8’s.

6.20 arrives far too quickly.  Peader , my comrade in arms arrives with his son, we’re both in the same boat now.  I had taken a few of the FAI cards with me and had laid out a big square of cones to get our first exercise, Treasure Chest, started. “Do you want to take the first exercise ?” I ask. “ God no.” Peadar  replies. “You’re the loud one.”  I can see a pattern developing here.

Now it’s 6.30 – showtime. Three quick blasts on the whistle and now I have their attention. Here we go.

“Alright, I want you to all line up on the goal line.”

There is a lot of shuffling and jostling..but there are now 12 little rosy cheeked smiling faces staring up at me and Peadar. “ Who knows my name ?” , “ Elliott’s dad !!!” they mostly call back. “ My name is Paul, and this is Peadar.  Peadar is the boss and he will be keeping notes on who is paying attention and at the end of the season there will be a prize for who does the best.”  This will keep them in check and , hopefully, inspire a bit of control. A hand shoots up. “Yes ,Two*”. Two asks “ Are you really Elliott’s Dad ?” , “Yes I am”. “Really ?” Three asks. This is not going completely to plan. “OK, now we’re going to have the first exercise”. Another hand shoots up. “When are we playing a match ?”. “At the end”.  Widespread moaning breaks out in the ranks. A quick blast on the whistle gets them back into line.

*Before I go any further I should point out that the wonderful populace of Threemilehouse parish do not have a bizarre numerical quirk when it comes to naming their children, it’s simply to avoid any implied favouritism and most importantly to keep the scouts from Manchester United guessing which of our little all stars is which that I have substituted their real names with One, Two, Three etc…

Peader and I split them into four teams of three  , and the first exercise begins. When the team completes it’s task I have asked them to shout “SAUSAGES !” which causes a bit of amusement.

First exercise completed. You know , this isn’t bad. And you know something else ? I’m not bad either.

“Ok, now for our next exercise…” A little hand shoots up. “Yes, Three.” “When are we playing a match ?” “At the end” I reply. Another hand shoots up. “ Four, can you just wait until I explain this exercise and then I’ll answer your question.”

After I’ve explained the next exercise I turn to Four. “Now Four, what can I do for you ?”

“Why do you have a pink whistle, are you a girl?”. Outbreak of laughter and sniggering in the ranks. I look at my hand to see a pink-ish plastic whistle. Damn it.

“Now Four, this is a light purple whistle, and anyway the colour doesn’t matter. Just because something is pink, or light purple as this whistle is, does not mean that it’s for a boy or a girl.”

“Yes it does!” My entire squad, including our two girls,  shout back.

“OK, who can tell me the name of any footballer that wears pink boots ?”

“Modric” Five shouts. Thank God. “ See Four, premiership players wear pink”.

“But he plays for Spurs and my dad says they’re girls” Four replies.

OK, on to the next exercise.

After two more exercises that Peadar and I conduct with varying degrees of competency we end the training session with a ten minute match. If you remember the old Walt Disney cartoons featuring Goofy trying to illustrate sports where there was one dot which was the ball and then 20 other dots which were the players and they just all seemed to swarm around the ball, well that was what our match ended up as. It’s almost as if the size 4 O’Neills football is a magnet , or magic charm, that draws everyone of the children to within 2 feet of it. It took all of my time to try and keep the goal keepers from following the rest of their little munchkin mates towards the scrum around the ball.

I blow the light purple whistle and get them to line up again on the goal line. I badger them into thanking Peadar, we tell them that they were great and that we look forward to seeing them next week again. And with a final roar of “SAUSAGES!” we release them back into the tender care of their parents.

As Peadar and I gather up the balls, cones and bibs we look at each other with a survivor’s respect for each other and I say “Well ?” .

Peader looks up and smiles and says “ I think we just about maintained control of the dressing room.”

“ I think you’re right Peadar, just about.”

Next Thursday, 6.30, DK Park.

Cat Herding #3

(My adventures as the coach of my son’s U-8 football team)

Panic, the 6 days between our first training session in DK Park  and the next one have evaporated somehow and once again I am tearing along narrow little country roads in a vain effort not to be late for our U-8 training session. Being the coach has brought on the added inconvenience of “late” now being defined as only turning up 15 minutes before the session starts as opposed to my regular definition of “ I’m only late if I arrive 15 minutes after the start time”.

As I arrive at the pitch I suddenly realise that I was supposed to collect one of the little Ronaldo’s , Number Seven, on my way home for work as a favour to his Mum. “ Crap !”. I look around in a blind panic, ok, I have remembered to take my own son, One, but no sign of Seven. No time now to go back now. This is not the start I was looking for. I’ve forgotten one of my little protege’s and have now got a couple of startled parents staring at me for  shouting “Crap !” at the top of my voice for no apparent reason. I decide to brave it out and walk down to the bottom end of the pitch where Peadar  is waiting with the rest of our little Ronaldo’s .

( As mentioned in my last blog, to protect our squad members from Premiership scouts I’m using numbers instead of names. The people of Threemilehouse do not name their children numerically and in order. There was that one kid called “7 of 7”, but that’s a whole other story. And he didn’t play for Drumkill.)

Today we have a delightful lady, Susanne, joining our coaching staff. “ Would you like to lead the first exercise ?” I ask politely. “ No thanks, Peadar has told me that you do the shouting around here.”  My reputation has indeed preceded me.

“We seem to have a few extra this week Peadar ?”.  I immediately think that our fantastic training methods and all-round motivational skills have already been talked about throughout the parish after only one training session.

“ The Gaelic training was cancelled at the last minute and most of them were togged out for that anyway so their parents brought them here instead.”  Susanne deflates my ego.

Just as I’m about to start the first exercise my heart leaps as I spot Seven running across the pitch towards us.

OK , 4 teams of 4, blast of the whistle and the “Treasure Chest “ exercise kicks off proceedings nicely. Thank you God, I am indeed a coaching natural……

After 4 different variations  of “Treasure Chest”  at the end of which the winning team shouts “Sausages !” ,we commence a new exercise called “King of the Ring” . This exercise entails each little Ronaldo dribbling the ball, (some also dribble in the biological sense), in a 10m x10m square and trying to kick away one of the other Ronaldo’s ball whilst retaining possession and control of their own. This exercise looked fantastic on my FAI Kick Start hand out. And in my mind it was great fun…

In retrospect having sixteen under 8’s in a confined space under instruction from their coaches to kick at each other was not the best idea. Forgetting to check at the start of training if they were all wearing shin guards was another error.

First casualty was Four who howled like a banshee and dropped to the floor like Chelsea forward  after being kicked on his ankle by  Eight.  A little mollycoddling of Four along with a promise that he can be captain of one of the teams in the practice match gets things moving again. Four and Eight are usually best friends   but now appear to be stalking each other.  As your ball is kicked away you are out of the game and we get whittled down single figures quite quickly. In fear of their shins a couple of them seem to have kicked their own balls away. The game is now down to 5 remaining combatants and it takes Peadar, Susanne and I all of our energy to keep them from ignoring the ball and simply running around kicking each other….

A shrill blast of the whistle and I call a halt to “ King of the Ring” with four kings as joint winners.

During the next couple of exercises we have to keep an eye on Four and Eight who seem to built up a rivalry similar to Roy Keane and Patrick Viera  in the space of 30 minutes.

I then make the mistake of putting Four and Eight on opposite teams in the practice match. It takes all of 2 minutes before the first incident. Four bundles over Eight on the sideline and Eight tears after Four with murderous intent. I quickly blow the whistle and lie , saying that the ball had gone out for a throw in order to diffuse the situation.  Within another minute Eight has tackled Four who has collapsed in a heap and is inconsolable. I blow the whistle, “Free kick.” He has a big bruise on his leg.  I whisper to him “ I reckon you could score from here.” He jumps up “ I’m taking it.”

Free kick taken, goal scored, match finished, training session almost over. I am a nervous wreck. Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all.

“OK, everyone on the goal line.”

All 16 of our little Ronaldos line up. Blast of the whistle. “ Listen , you all did very well today. But you have to remember that we are all on the same team. What  team’s that ? “

“DRUMKILL !” they scream back.

“That’s right. Now say thank you to Peadar and Susanne for the training.”


OK , training next week at the same time. Now what’s the magic word ?


They all run off screaming towards the car park. Peadar and Susanne and I gather up the bibs, cones and balls. “ That was a bit tougher this week Peadar”.

“Indeed it was” Peadar replies . “Those two were really going at it”.

I’m about to say that I’m not sure that I want to do this anymore when Seven comes over and says  “Coach, do we have a match on Saturday ?”   After a moment’s silence Peadar replies….all I heard was “Coach”. He called me Coach.

Next week 6.30 pm DK Park

Cat Herding #4

(My adventures as the coach of my son’s U-8 football team)

First match!

At the end of our regular training session I get all of the kids to line up on the goal line and tell them that we will be having our first match on Saturday. “Who is it against? Glaslough Villa?” Number 7 asks. Glaslough Villa are a well-regarded team in every league they play in and it seems to be every one of our little stalwarts ambition to beat them. This is akin to every non-league team in England hoping to draw Manchester United in the FA Cup. But I have my own reasons for wanting to avoid Glaslough Villa for the moment, until perhaps my U-8 squad grow beards and can handle themselves in a fight with a badger. Let’s just say , if the occasion should ever arise and you’re innocently emailing Paul Clifford, convener of minor leagues, FAI representative and wearer of baseball caps and query the ages and eligibility of the Glaslough Villa U-8 squad be prepared for the backlash when he manages to forward your email to the coaches of all clubs in the minor leagues including, you guessed it, Glaslough Villa. 

“No, it will be against Drumlin Youths in Emyvale at 3 o’clock on Saturday”.  There, in one concise sentence I’ve managed to head off a barrage of questions…or so I think.

“This Saturday?” Three asks.

“Yes, this Saturday, at 3 o’clock, in Emyvale”.

“ Who are we playing ?” Eleven asks innocently.

“Look, we’re playing against Drumlin Youth’s , this Saturday, at 3’0’clock in Emyvale” I say as calmly as I can. My eye is starting to twitch involuntarily.

“OK, now we’ll be emailing your folks with the details and I hope to see you all there.”

Eight’s hand shoots up. “Yes Eight”.

“I won’t be there my cousins communion is on”.

Well ,we’ll just have to struggle on as best we can without you.

“OK now everyone say thank you to Peadar and Suzanne.

“Thank you Peader. Thank you Suzanne” they roar.

Now what’s the magic word?

“Sausages!” they bellow, and with that they run towards the car park and all of their parents who now have new plans for Saturday afternoon.

Three is standing in front of me.

“Yes Three, are you ok?”

“What time is the match on at again?”

Jaysus I need a drink.

Peadar and I walk back to the abandoned 40’ container/dressing room/store to put away the balls, cones and indispensible hi viz vests.

“You have the patience of a saint ,Paul”.

Unfortunately Peadar, I don’t . I have ulcers. See you Saturday.

Saturday arrives; I have the Drumkill Rovers kit in the car, captain’s armband, water bottles, my own son and my secret desire for the day. “Please don’t let us get hammered”.

We arrive in good time. Four and Five are there already and their Dad says he thought he was in the wrong place as there is nobody else here. Over the next 15 minutes another 8 of our squad arrive with no sign of anyone at all from Drumlin. Nervously I call Emmett, secretary, captain and all round fixer for Drumkill. “Emmett, I’m here in Emyvale for this match and there’s no one else around, it’s still on isn’t it?”  “Don’t panic Paul, they’re always late.”

A harassed looking lad arrives with 5 kids in tow saying “Sorry I’m late” and my nerves can get back to warring with each other over the match.

As it transpires we have 14 kids each for the match and decide to play two matches of 7 a side and then swap opponents so that they all get a run out and two matches each. Each game is played for 10 minutes a half.

We split our squad into two groups of 7 and hand out the jerseys. “Can I be #7 ?”, “No I want to be #7”, “Can I be #9 if he’s #7 ?”

Look , the number doesn’t matter. ( My eye starts  twitching again)

Peadar takes one squad and I take the other.

The pitch is half the size of a regular pitch but looks enormous.

The game starts and with wild and carefree abandon we quickly go 2 goals up. Before I have a moment to bask in this glory we equally quickly concede three goals. Only 5 minutes have been played.

The game continues in this fashion.

It is mighty to watch the complete devotion they have to getting that ball into the other team’s net.

The first game ends, I honestly can’t remember if we won or not, I think it was a draw.

There is a heated debate among Seven, Eight and Nine over who should have passed to whom at an earlier stage but all in all they’ve enjoyed it.

There is only a 5 minute break and the next match starts. I should point out that in a regular U-8 match you play 7 a side and make liberal use of substitutes so that they all get a go and also don’t get tired out. This Saturday is different and there are no subs and they are playing two matches back to back.

By the second half of the second match their little red faces are glowing molten lava hot.

There are now two types of players on the pitch , those that chase after the ball no matter what part of the pitch it is in and no matter what the risk of personal injury ,they are never more than 2 feet away from it. And then there are the others, that are no less enthusiastic, but seem to believe that if they move more than six inches from the position they stood in at the start of the match they’ll explode.

Anyway we win this second match by a country mile , at least morally, in vulgar numerical terms we won by a margin of 1. And at the  final whistle all thoughts of tiredness and frustration evaporate and they cheer and beam from ear to ear.

They drain all of the water bottles and reluctantly hand back their jerseys. They head off looking up to their parents and relaying every kick of the ball , perceived injustice and heroic act to them.

“They’ll sleep well tonight” Peadar says.

“So will I Peadar, so will I.”

Author: paul

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