The Carrick-on-Suir dressing room was a quiet one last Saturday night in the appropriately windswept Ardgeeha grounds, the impressive home of Clonmel RFC.
Having just gone down by 36 points in this Gleeson Cup outing, the initial sound of silence was understandable.
The muted atmosphere demonstrates that losing hurt, that pulling on your club colours does count for something; that you’re not just out there purely for the fun of it.
As the players digested what had gone wrong, having trailed by just a converted try at the break, prop forward Eddie Barry, the senior player in the group took to his feet to address his team mates.
“It’s never nice losing, lads,” he said. “But all any of us can ask of each other is honesty, effort and commitment out there, and we got that today.”
The words were timely, words which can only be genuinely uttered by somebody who has stood in a huddle for several tough, often difficult campaigns. Eddie fitted that bill perfectly.
A young player gains nothing from having someone with a few more rings on the bark spouting bile after a match, but that’s not to say that players don’t occasionally benefit from a bit of ‘hairdryer’ treatment.
Certain times demand certain words, and the Carrick man chose his words wisely as the wind howled outside and the shower water down the corridor began to run cold.
“Sure, there were things we didn’t do as well as we should have. We did make mistakes out there, but the most important thing is that everybody in here kept going out there until the final whistle. That gives us something to work on. And that’s where training comes into it, lads.”
He concluded: “So what do we do from here? We work on those things we need to get right at training, we learn from the mistakes we’ve made and we’ll try to move it up a level for the next match. So we keep our heads up, lads, and we’ll take it from there.”
Eddie’s words were, justly, met with applause. Some of the other, more experienced players in the group also took time to have a quiet, encouraging word with many of the younger players.
The spirit among the team is a credit to manager Jamie Walsh, and as a clubman, I took great pride while listening to those words being spoken.
The game itself was largely played in good spirit; with the tornado-like wind sweeping around the paddock made the game something of a lottery.
For the first time in my life, I saw a ball kicked to touch by a player actually lead to his team losing ground, the strong gale sending the oval 10 metres backwards.
As the game wore on and Clonmel’s greater offensive quality became evident, keeping the spirits up in Carrick colours didn’t, notably, prove too difficult.
Enthusiasm is an important ingredient in any group, and the significant number of players in their late teens and early 20s also brought the best out of their older colleagues.
Up front, Carrick competed when getting to the breakdown promptly – but a few of the team – myself included, needed to get through the gears a little quicker in the contact zone.
The scrum held up quite well; bar my failure to hook the ball back just minutes after entering the fray which eventually led to a Clonmel try. I held my hands up immediately. I’d little option since the try was, undoubtedly, my fault. There’s no buttering up some boo-boos.
Despite the cause being long lost, the match finished with Carrick on the attack after a couple of quickly tapped penalties had seen us move upfield.
But the second try (our only try being scored and excellently converted by skipper Ross Clery) which our efforts surely deserved was destined not to be recorded.
“The only safe ship in a storm is leadership,” according to American humanist Faye Littleton, and that’s exactly what Eddie Barry offered his young team mates thanks to his post match comments.
Reflecting upon the events of Saturday night, the words of an American songstress also sprung to mind.
Stevie Nicks hit the nail on the head when putting the lyrics “players only love you when they’re playing” to sheet music. Sure what else, while the body so permits, would you want to be doing?
Footnote: Full credit must be extended to Clonmel RFC for the superb facilities which they have developed in recent years. Their superbly finished patrons’ stand puts many an All-Ireland League club to shame and gives you some idea as to where the club intends to position itself looking towards the future. Meanwhile, on Sunday next, Carrick-on-Suir’s Under 14s host Fethard at Tybroughney while the Under 16s welcome Waterpark to the same venue.