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Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: I’ve got my top off, and Réaltín’s looking at me like my old man turning his nose up at cheap steak

Seriously – intense isn’t the word for this woman

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Ross O'Carroll-Kelly at the bar. Illustration: Alan Clarke.

So I’m shaking hands with Hugh and Marie Atcheson after our latest victory in the Leinster Padel Championships and the famous Réaltín – as in, like, my mixed doublesportner? – is just, like, glowering at me.

I’m going, “Great match! You played well!” which they didn’t – we blew them away in straight sets – but it’s nice to be nice and I can’t exactly take my top off, punch myself in the stomach and scream, “They just can’t take the power!” like I used to do in my Leinster Schools Senior Cup days.

It’s possible that I’m finally maturing.

Marie goes, “Well, it’s only a game, isn’t it – at the end of the day, I mean?” which is what sore losers the world over always tell you.


I’m there, “Yeah, no, good point, Marie. Did you have far to travel today?” because I can be just as petty if I want to be?

“We live in Bettystown,” she goes.

And even though I’ve never heard of it – she’s possibly making it up – I just nod in pretend-sympathy, as if to say, that’s a hell of a long way to travel to be handed the beatdown of a lifetime.

Hugh gets in on the act then.

“It’s only really a social thing for us,” he tries to go. “We don’t take it terribly seriously.”

And I decide – oh, what the hell – to take my top off after all.

I’m there, “All the same, I’m sorry you’ve had a wasted journey.”

“Anyway,” Hugh goes, unable to stop himself from goggling at The Six, “we’d better get on the road,” and off the two of them trot.

“You played well enough to beat those two time wasters but the standard is only going to get better from now on. If you perform like that in the next round, we’re getting knocked out”

—  Réaltín

No sooner have they driven off in their Hyundai literally Qashqai than Réaltín turns around to me and goes, “What the fock was that, by the way?”

I’m there, “Yeah, I know – do you think there’s an actual place called Bettystown or was she making it up?”

“I’m talking about you,” she goes. “You played like shit today.”

Now, I’m usually my own horshest critic? But I actually thought I played well today. I mention it too.

“You played well enough to beat those two time wasters,” she goes, “but the standard is only going to get better from now on. If you perform like that in the next round, we’re getting knocked out.”

I’m there, “I’ve had one or two things on my mind the last few days. My daughter has her sentencing hearing next week for slashing hundreds of cor tyres and I’m worried that she’s going to be sent to juvey.”

She doesn’t go, “I’m sorry to hear that,” or, “That’d be way horsh if that happened.”

Instead, she goes, “I really don’t care what’s going on in your life. You and I aren’t friends.”

I’m there, “So you keep reminding me.”

Then she says something that absolutely floors me.

She goes, “You need to be fitter.”

I’m there, “You can’t be serious. I’m in the best shape I’ve been in since the early 2000s.”

I’ve still got my top off, bear in mind, and she’s checking out my body like my old man turning his nose up at cheap steak.

She goes, “Are you drinking?”

I’m there, “Are you asking me to go for one? You’re not, are you?”

She’s like, “All that excess weight you’re carrying–”

I’m there, “What excess weight?” suddenly feeling the urge to put my top back on.

She goes, “It’s down to alcohol – and, I’m guessing, a poor diet. What did you have for breakfast this morning?”

I’m there, “Er – pizza?”

She’s like, “Pizza? Are you focking serious?”

“It was left over from last night,” I go. “I’d usually have something like Sugar Puffs but there was no milk left.”

I might as well have said I had a joint and a bucket of nachos.

She’s like, “You need to go on a diet.”

I’m there, “What kind of a diet?”

“You need to cut out alcohol, gluten and dairy.”

“Er, that doesn’t leave much in fairness?”

I chose you as a portner because I thought you had the same mentality as me. I thought you hated losers

—  Réaltín

“I stort every day with boiling water with lemon and two spoonfuls of honey in it. Then I have muesli – I’m talking organic, gluten-free, rolled oats with cranberries and pumpkin seeds. For lunch, I’ll have a mixed green salad with gluten-free pesto. For dinner tonight, it’ll be a kale Caesar salad with a salmon fillet.”

“Jesus, we’ve had mice living in our walls who ate better than that.”

“Well, I’m not the one who’s playing shit, remember?”

It’s true. She was unbelievable today.

She goes, “Do you want to win this competition or do you want to be like the Atchesons of Bettystown?”

I’m there, “Yeah, no, I want to win it.”

“Because I chose you as a portner because I thought you had the same mentality as me. I thought you hated losers.”

“I do hate losers.”

“When that man said that padel was only really a social thing for them, do you know what I wanted to do? I wanted to smash my fist through his face.”

Seriously – intense isn’t the word for this woman.

I’m there, “I really appreciate what you’re saying, Réaltín. It’s just that, I don’t know, if I ate that lot, I wouldn’t have any energy.”

That’s when she reaches into her tennis bag, pulls out a small bottle of greenish-brown liquid, and goes, “I get my energy from this.”

I’m there, “What’s that?” because it looks like something that’s been squirted from the orse of a shivering lurcher.

She goes, “It’s just a little concoction of my own invention. I drink one before every match. I can make one for you.”

I’m there, “What’s in it?”

She’s like, “You don’t need to know what’s in it,” and I get this sudden flashback to my Leinster Schools Senior Cup days.

I’m there, “It doesn’t have, like, drugs in it, does it? It’s just – yeah, no – I had to hand back a medal once. Some absolute cabbage-worrier from Newbridge is walking around with it now, even though I still consider it morally mine.”

She goes, “Take this one. Drink it one hour before we play next week. You’ll feel the difference. Trust me.”

I’ve heard those words before.

I’m there, “I wouldn’t want to drink it if it was, like, against the rules.”

And she laughs – the first time I’ve ever seen it happen – and goes, “You and your rules. No one’s going to drug-test us, Ross.”

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