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‘Don’t tell me I don’t know Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. You bullied me for most of secondary school’

I’m playing in the quarter-finals of the Leinster Padel Championship, when I feel suddenly hot and, I dunno, jerky

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Ross O'Carroll-Kelly: I’ve always taken my duties as a godfather super, super seriously. Illustration: Alan Clarke

I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later.

“Ross?” the dude goes, pulling a face at me across the net. “Ross O’Carroll-Kelly?”

The dude is Eddie Earl – and me and Réaltín are playing him and his sister Sophie in the quarter-finals of the Leinster Padel Championship.

I’m there, “No, you’ve got the wrong dude. The name’s Gregor – Gregor Steggles.”


He goes, “Don’t tell me I don’t know Ross O’Carroll-Kelly. You bullied me for most of secondary school. Do you remember you used to make me run around in the lashings of rain and retrieve the balls for you when you were practising your kicking? And do you remember you made me sit your geography exam for you in the Leaving.

Yeah, no, he failed as well. Didn’t tell me that he didn’t even take Geography.

I’m there, “Dude, I’m telling you. I’m not who you think I am. My name is Gregor Steggles.”

He goes, “How are all the goys? Christian and Oisinn? And JP? I saw him on The Late Late Show with that vertical bed he invented.”

Réaltín steps forward and goes, “Are we here to talk about old times or are we here to play padel?”

Eddie and Sophie both look at me as if to say, ‘What is her problem?’

Eddie’s like, “Fair enough. Best of luck, Ross.”

I’m there, “It’s Gregor.”

“Yeah,” he goes, “sure thing, Ross.”

I’m there, “What’s that supposed to mean?” and I feel like – honestly – jumping over the net and cracking him over the head with my racquet

It turns out they’re good. They’re very good. Sophie was a great tennis player in her day – might have even been an Irish No 1. They actually take the first set and Réaltín is rattled.

“You’re playing like shit,” she goes. “I don’t think it’s kicked in yet.”

I’m like, “Er, what hasn’t kicked in yet?”

“I put a little extra something in your protein drink.”

“What kind of extra something?”

“Stop being a focking wuss, will you?”

No sooner has she said that than I stort to feel – yeah, no – weird? I’m suddenly very hot and my body feels a bit, I don’t know, jerky.

When it’s my turn to serve, I aim the ball straight at Eddie’s head and he jumps out of the way like it’s the Luas coming for him.

I go, “You like that? Well, here’s another one for you.”

I serve another ace and he goes, “Jesus, Ross, are you okay?”

I’m there, “What’s that supposed to mean?” and I feel like – honestly – jumping over the net and cracking him over the head with my racquet.

He’s there, “It’s just, well, you’re being very aggressive.”

“He’s trying to get inside your head,” Réaltín goes. “Don’t let him.”

The dude’s like, “I’m all for competition, but you could have taken my head off with – ”

Whack! I serve another ace. He actually bends backwards – we’re talking Matrix-style – to avoid this one.

“Come on!” I hear myself scream at him. “Make a match of it, you pair of focking losers!”

Eddie and Sophie are looking at each other like they know something weird is going on. But they’re powerless to do anything about it. I’m all over the court to the point where Réaltín barely get a dozen touches in the second set, which we end up winning 6-2.

Réaltín is a happier rabbit now. She goes, “I’m wondering now did I give you a bit too much?”

At the stort of the third set, I somehow slip – but I manage to get up off the floor and still win the point. And that’s when I notice Eddie and Sophie looking at me the same way that a dog looks at you when you’re picking up its poo, as if to say, ‘You need help, my friend.’

Eddie goes, “Ross–”

I’m like, “Come on, let’s have it.”

“Ross – ”

“Is there no serve clock in this game? There should be a serve clock.”

“Ross, you’ve done something to your fingers.”

I look down and – yeah, no – he ends up being right. The little finger and ring finger on my left hand are sticking out at different angles. It looks like it should be agony but I honestly can’t feel anything?

“They’re dislocated,” Eddie goes.

“Gregor, I’m just going to pop them back into their sockets,” Réaltín goes

Yeah, no, him and Sophie have come around to our side of the net.

Réaltín is like, “What are you, a doctor?”

“Yes,” he goes, “I’m an orthopaedic surgeon – and so is my sister. Ross, you need to go to A&E.”

“The name’s Gregor,” I go, “and I’m absolutely fine,” which I am, by the way? I honestly can’t feel a thing.

“Ross,” Sophie goes, “you’re quite possibly in shock. You need to go to a hospital – right now.”

Réaltín is like, “It’s all mind games, Ross.”

“It’s not mind games,” Eddie tries to go. “You’re not seriously suggesting playing on, are you?”

I’m there, “It’s only my left hand. I hold my racquet in my right. I’ll go to the hospital after we wipe the floor with you.”

I notice Eddie and Sophie exchange a look of concern.

“Ross,” Eddie goes, “if it’s the match you’re worried about, we’ll pause it at one set each. We can talk about rescheduling after you’ve had your fingers seen to.”

Réaltín goes, “Give me a look at that hand.”

I show it to her.

Sophie’s there, “Jesus, you’re not about to do what I think you’re about to do, are you?”

“Gregor, I’m just going to pop them back into their sockets,” Réaltín goes.

Eddie’s there, “But you’re not qualified. You can do lasting damage–”

But it’s too late. Réaltín pushes my fingers back into their sockets as Eddie and Sophie turn away in disgust. Something tells me that I should be in a lot of pain but I feel absolutely nothing.

I’m there, “Come on, let’s go. Eddie, it’s your serve.”

But Eddie goes, “I’m sorry, Ross. I don’t know if you’re on something, but I can’t do this.”

Réaltín goes, “That means we win. It’s a walkover. We’re into the semi-finals.”

Sophie’s there, “You’re welcome to it,” following her brother off the court, “if it means that much to you.”

It’s weird, though, because I feel no joy. I just feel, I don’t know, frustrated at not getting to actually beat them. I’ve got all this manic energy and nothing to do with it.

Réaltín goes, “You should go to A&E. That’s going to start really hurting in an hour or two.”

But I’m like, “Hop over the other side of the net there. I need to play.”

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly

Ross O’Carroll-Kelly was captain of the Castlerock College team that won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup in 1999. It’s rare that a day goes by when he doesn’t mention it