The boys watched in stunned silence as Mr. Collins wheeled away in unhindered celebration. After a few uncomfortable moments they trudged off to the refectory in their bare arms, reflecting on what might have been. Behind them, the school authoritarians embarked on another rendition of the conga. It had been a nip and tuck affair throughout the afternoon but ultimately the barbarians were halted at the gates of Rome ensuring that civilisation would not be halted in its tracks.
The staff rolled out the heavyweights for the encounter in their resolve to claim victory. The cat-like agility of Mr. Shalvey between the sticks was bolstered by the presence of those two pillars of strength, Collins and Maloney, before him. They were ably assisted on the flanks by the evergreen athleticism of messrs. Carroll and O’Hara. At midfield the much celebrated Laois triumvirate of Jackman, McElwee and Gorman orchestrated proceedings, while up front Mr. Barry Bowen – on a high following the frequent self-vaunting of his efforts in Lesotho – chased down every through ball with gusto.
But the staff weren’t going to have it all their own way. Indeed, Rhetoric 2013 began the contest brightly, capitalising on the protracted thawing-out of staff limbs. It was clear that the students sought to establish a substantial early lead. The inevitable opener came after just four minutes when Fionn Lynch managed to sneak in behind the back four as Collins fell over and Maloney, closely man-marking Carroll, was drawn out of position. The second was not long in coming as Robbie Collins discovered his feet and put them on the end of in-swinging cross. It was redemptory for Collins as just moments earlier he felt the wrath of his teammates when a corner hit his head and ricocheted over an open net. Adam McCrorie didn’t do much better, mind.
At the next break in play Mr. Collins called his charges together for a reappraisal. Once he had caught his breath Sergeant Maloney produced his notebook and began to share the fruits of his investigative work thanks to fine manipulation of his sources earlier in the week. Meanwhile, Mr.Jackman’s considerable footballing nous told him that a change of tact was necessary; apparently running was not in the staff armoury. An adapted version of tiki-taka football duly came to life in the midlands midfield and soon had the students chasing shadows about the park. The comeback began when crowd favourite Gorman put away a corner to ironic jeers from his maths class. Jackman then had the students on tenterhooks as he rifled in a long-range effort following some typically robust tackling from McElwee on his Mountmellick adversary David Garty. Fittingly, it was the tireless Bowen who notched a third to put the staff into the lead when springing the offside trap that had threatened to catch him out on 33 previous occasions.
The students sought to hit back, but attack after attack was negated by the spirited defensive efforts of the staff side – O’Hara in particular with a firm grasp on events. Then, just as Mr. Linnane prepared to bring the contest to an end, David Carolan threw a desperate boot at a random ball and his innocuous effort caught Shalvey cat-napping at the near post.
Tired legs saw to it that plenty of penalties went awry in the subsequent shoot-out, but after Conor Ganley booted the ball high and wide it was left to Mr. Collins to secure a well-deserved victory.
Speaking after the game Mr.Collins said: “We all know the students are a difficult side to beat. When a team comes with the attitude of playing with 45 men it is impossible. It really was a game of three halves. But I am proud of my team. They showed great mental resilience, strength and concentration. I mean, if you don’t think you can win there’s not much point getting out of bed at the end of the day. But sometimes when a team shows up with one intention, to prevent you from scoring in order to score themselves, it makes it very difficult. It all came down to panache in the end. If history repeats itself, I should think we can expect the same again next year. ”
Many thanks to all participants, particularly John Byrne and Mr. Collins for preparing their respective teams. A special word of thanks to Mr. Pat Linnane, a fine referee. An enjoyable and fun afternoon was had by all.