Subscriber OnlyRoss O'Carroll-Kelly

‘If you play that match, Ross, our marriage is over’

‘Don’t you dare tell me that I’m over-reacting!’ she goes. ‘Don’t you dare try to gaslight me!’

Listen | 06:02
Ross O'Carroll-Kelly holds a rugby ball. Illustration: Alan Clarke.

Sorcha is upset. I totally get that? But I haven’t seen her over-react like this since I ate a tin of macadamias from the hotel mini-bor on a weekend city break in Ljubljana.

She goes, “What in the name of God were you thinking?” which is the exact same thing she said to me as I polished off the last of the things. “Do you have any idea of the damage you’ve just done?”

In the case of the macadamias, it was about €17. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell her that I had the gummy bears as well.

I’m there, “Sorcha, you’re – ”


“Don’t you dare tell me that I’m over-reacting!” she goes. “Don’t you dare try to gaslight me!”

This conversation is taking place in the kitchen, by the way, after the kids have gone to bed.

She goes, “How could you do it? How could you do it to me?”

I’m there, “What did I supposably do to you?”

She’s like, “Sneaking around behind my back. Lying about where you were going at night. Spending time with another woman.”

I’m there, “I’d hordly call Réaltín another woman.”

“What would you call her then?”

“She’s my padel portner.”

“And why couldn’t you have played padel with me? What does she have that I don’t have?”

A strong forehand. A volley to die for. She attacks the net like Tadhg Furlong throwing himself at the opposition try-line. I don’t say any of that, though. I wouldn’t be thanked for it. Instead, I just put my head down and I sort of, like, mumble, “I don’t know,” under my breath.

She’s like, “You must know, Ross. You’re the one who’s been spending his evenings with her.”

I’m there, “Again, you’re looking at it all wrong, Sorcha.”

She’s like, “Oh, you’re going to trot out all the usual cliches, are you? She meant nothing. It meant nothing.”

I’m there, “Sorcha, it’s not like all the other times I cheated on you.”

She goes, “Do you know what this reminds me of? The time you ate the pistachios from the mini-bor in Ljubljana.”

I’m like, “They were macadamias and I don’t see how the two things are – ”

She’s there, “You move through life just helping yourself to whatever’s going, Ross, satisfying your needs and your appetites, and never caring about the consequences or the cost. Which was €27 in the case of the nuts.”

Not €17. I stand corrected.

I’m there, “Sorcha, that was, like, eight years ago. It might be time to let it go,” and I get a sudden flashback to me snapping back the ring-pull on the tin and her throwing herself headlong across the bed at me, screaming, “Noooooo!!!!!!” like she’d just watched me pull the pin out of a grenade.

She goes, “You still haven’t answered my question. Why couldn’t you have been satisfied playing padel with me?”

I’m saying you don’t have the competitive hunger or the big-match temperament to compete at the kind of levels I want to compete at?

—  Ross

I finally look at her – her eyes red and her face all blotchy from crying – and I think, no, I can’t tell her.

I’m there, “Because you’re rubbish at it, Sorcha.”

Okay, it turns out that I can tell her?

She’s like, “Excuse me?”

I’m there, “Sorcha, sport isn’t your thing.”

“Er, I played hockey for Mount Anville, can I just remind you?”

“Yeah, for the sevenths team. I’m saying you don’t have the competitive hunger or the big-match temperament to compete at the kind of levels I want to compete at?”

“What, and Réaltín does?”

“Sorcha, we’re into the final of the Leinster Mixed Doubles Championships.”

“Congratulations. Now you’re going to have to choose between that and me.”

“Are you saying – ?”

“I’m saying if you play that match, Ross, our marriage is over.”

I can tell from the look on her face that she means it.

I’m 44 years old, Sorcha. And for more than half of my life, I’ve felt like I have this big hole in the middle of my chest and it’s the size and shape of a rugby ball

—  Ross

I’m there, “Sorcha, I remember you debating back in the day. You were unbelievable at it. You used to tie the other girls up in knots. Especially the Loreto’s. You hated the Loreto’s, in fairness to you. You won the All Ireland Schools Debating Championship. You didn’t want to be seventh. You wanted to be the best.”

“That’s totally – ”

“Well, that’s how it is for me in terms of sport. Sorcha, when I was 18 years old, I was the best outhalf in the country. It wasn’t even a contest. But then I pissed it up against the wall – or the urinal in Kielys if we’re talking literally. And now when people talk about me, they don’t talk about the player I was, they talk about the player I could have been. Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel that Johnny Sexton stole your life?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I love Johnny Sexton – don’t get me wrong. I consider him a friend and a mentee. But every time he did something heroic on the rugby pitch, I’d get these, I want to say, consoling looks from people – we’re talking my old man, we’re talking Thornley, we’re talking the goys – as if to say, it could have been and should have been you out there, dude.”

I realise that I’m crying – as in, like, really crying? Tears are streaming down my face.

I’m there, “I’m 44 years old, Sorcha. And for more than half of my life, I’ve felt like I have this big hole in the middle of my chest and it’s the size and shape of a rugby ball. But for the first time – probably since I coached the Facebook tag rugby team – I’ve found something that’s filled that hole. And I’m sorry that I lied to you, Sorcha, but I’m begging you: please don’t take that away from me.”

She just stares at me coldly, then turns her back on me and walks out of the kitchen, probably to ring her old pair and tell them what a loser she married.

I grab a couple of sheets of kitchen roll to wipe my eyes and blow my nose. Then I whip out my phone and I stort writing a text message to Réaltín. It’s like, “Unfortunately, I’m not going to be available to – ”

But then the kitchen door opens and Sorcha is suddenly back again. She has my gear bag in her hand. She reaches into it and pulls out my balled-up tennis shirt and shorts and literally throws them at me.

“Those are going to need to be washed,” she goes. “Before the final, I mean.”

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