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Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: I want this school to be a conveyor belt of women’s rugby talent

Ross finds out about the ‘deleterious effect’ rugby is having on academic and behavioural standards among girls at school

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Ross O'Carroll-Kelly holds a rugby ball. Illustration: Alan Clarke.

I’ve literally just arrived at Castlerock College when I suddenly get this, like, rap on the window, and I pretty much levitate six inches off the seat. It ends up being Fionn. I wind down the window and he tells me he wants a word.

I’m there, “Is this about me porking in your space?”

Yeah, no, I always make a point of porking in the principal’s space. It’s a power thing. It’s also good for the players to see that I give zero focks.

He’s like, “In my office – now.”


I’m there, “Fine, I’ll see you there shortly.”

Off he trots. I sit there for five minutes – again, just to show him who’s boss – then I head for his office. I walk in and there’s, like, three teachers sitting there. We’re talking Sweaty Betty Hassett (Biology), we’re talking Barry O’Brien (English) and we’re talking Gearoid Gammell (Irish).

They don’t look happy. There’s no reason why they should, of course. They gave their lives to teaching.

I’m there, “What’s all this about?”

Fionn goes, “Some of the teachers have expressed concern to me about the deleterious effect that rugby is having on academic and behavioural standards here at the school, especially among the girls.”

I’m there, “Will you be providing me with an English translation of that?” and I give Betty a big wink, just trying to keep it light.

Gearoid Gammell has a sheaf of A4 pages in his hand. He waves them at me. He goes, “Twenty-six First Year students failed Irish – failed it! – in their mid-term exams. Twenty-two of them are on this so-called rugby team of yours.”

So-called rugby team? I’d deck him if he wasn’t sitting down.

I’m there, “Mid-term exams? Would you ever wind your neck in? They’re, like, years away from the Junior Cert.”

“Mid-term exams are good practice for them,” the dude goes. “Studies show that –”

I turn to Fionn and I’m like, “Is this the reason you’ve called me here?”

Gearoid isn’t finished, though. He goes, “Not only has the standard of their work fallen, so too has their attendance. At least a dozen of them have stopped coming to classes altogether. When I challenged one girl on this, she looked me straight in the face and said, ‘I’m on the school rugby team’.”

You can’t suspend us. We’re on the school’s rugby team. Take it up with The Rossmeister General

I smile to myself. I’m wondering who that might have been. My money is on Shosh Birney, our scrumhalf, who doesn’t take S, H, 1, T from anyone.

Gearoid goes, “These girls seem to be under the impression that playing rugby is some kind of Get Out of Jail Free card that they can play whenever they like.”

I turn to Fionn. I’m there, “It was in our day – isn’t that right, Dude?” but he just looks away – a man, bear in mind, who wouldn’t have a Leinster Schools Senior Cup medal today if I hadn’t spent about 90 per cent of my time at school kicking balls between the posts from all sorts of angles and distances.

“Well, I’m sorry to have to report,” Barry O’Brien goes, “that I’ve had a very similar experience to Mr Gammell. Same lack of interest in their studies from the girls who are on this rugby team. Hardly surprising when they were encouraged by their coach here to burn their books.”

I’m like, “It wasn’t books. It was a book. We’re talking The Hobbish?”

“Yes,” the dude goes, “they had a little bonfire and he encouraged them to throw their copies onto it.”

Fionn’s like, “Is this true?”

I’m there, “Yeah, no, it’s the book of the movie – your man Tim out of The Office is in it. He was also in Love Actually.”

Ross O'Carroll-Kelly in his Leinster gear. Illustration: Alan Clarke

“Yes,” Fionn goes, “I’m familiar with works of Tolkien, Ross.”

I’m there, “They were all stressed out over this exam that this dude here was setting them. They were struggling to remember some of the plays I taught from the famous tactics book. I thought it would be good for team bonding.”

“To burn their schoolbooks?” Fionn goes.

I’m there, “You weren’t there, Dude. It was a real Dead Poets Society moment. I thought you of all people would have appreciated it. You told me once that that movie was the reason you wanted to teach.”

Betty decides that she’s going to have her say then. “Well,” she goes, “even more concerning to me than the fall-off in educational standards is the level of obnoxiousness I’m seeing from them. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the field trip to Bull Island.”

I’ve never even heard of Bull Island. For a minute or two, I’m wondering is she making it up.

“All the way there on the bus,” she goes, “they were singing these awful songs about other schools.”

I’m like, “What songs – just out of interest?”

“Something about a swallow,” she goes.

I stort singing it then. I’m like, “If I had the wings of a swallow, If I had the orse of a crow, I’d fly over… insert school name here… And shit on the students below. Shit on, shit on, shit on the students below-below, Shit on, shit on, shit on the students below.

By the time I hit the last line, they’re all just, like, staring at me – I think it’s a word – aghast?

Fionn’s like, “Did you teach them that?”

I’m there, “Teach them it? That song has been knocking around schools rugby since my old man played the game.”

Betty goes, “When we reached Bull Island, there was a bus there from Newpork Comprehensive.”

These girls are the internationals of tomorrow. They should be allowed to behave whatever way they want

I laugh. I’m there, “I’d say there was war, was there? That’s who we’re playing on Paddy’s Day.”

“They storted roaring abuse at them – absolutely vulgar, most of it. I suspended three girls and they said, ‘You can’t suspend us. We’re on the school’s rugby team. Take it up with The Rossmeister General.’”

I’m like, “That’s me, by the way.”

Fionn is, like, glowering at me. He goes, “Is all of this true?”

I’m there, “Dude, I can’t believe you’re even bothering me with this shit. The pride of this school depends on the outcome of this match on Paddy’s Day.”

“Ross –” he tries to go.

I’m there, “Let me finish. I want this school to be a conveyor belt of women’s rugby talent. These girls are the internationals of tomorrow. They should be allowed to behave whatever way they want. As for you, Fionn, you can either back me… or sack me.”

“Fine,” he goes. “You’re sacked.”

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