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Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: ‘Now I’m doing something that I never do, doubting myself’

Ross is left in a mild depression having lost his job as the coach of Castlerock College girls rugby team.

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

The great and very much late Father Denis Fehily used to say that rugby was very much like life – in that you’re never more than one awkward bounce of the ball away from disaster.

I’m actually, like, reflecting on this on Wednesday morning, having lost my job as the coach of the Castlerock College girls rugby team after my challenge to the Principal to either back me or sack me sort of, like, backfired?

And now I’m suddenly doing something that I never do, which is doubting myself. I’m thinking – yeah, no – maybe I shouldn’t have encouraged them to think that playing rugby for their school gave them a certain, let’s just say, entitlement and that their lessons didn’t matter a fock.

Hey, that’s my rugby philosophy and I’m too old to change.


Still, I’m sad that I’m not going to get to see the project through to St Patrick’s Day, when we were due to play Newpork Comprehensive in a grudge match that would have made Blackrock v Michael’s look like a fun day in the pork.

“The fock is wrong with you?” Honor goes, because – yeah, no – she can see that her old man is upset and she’s trying to bring me out of myself. “You haven’t got dressed for, like, five days.”

I’m there, “These Six Nations weekends off always send me into a bit of a depression,” but she knows that it’s not that?

She goes, “Why don’t you do an Enoch what’s-his-name and just keep turning up to the school?”

I’m there, “I can’t do that, Honor. They’ve stopped paying me.”

“I thought you weren’t doing it for the money,” she goes.

I’m there, “I’m not – but if it gets around that I’m prepared to work for free, it could undermine my earning potential for my next role. People take the piss, Honor.”

She’s there, “Whatever.”

“And by the way,” I go, “if Wilson’s Hospital want to get rid of Enoch, all they’d have to do is put him in chorge of the senior rugby team. After one training session, they’d never see the dude again.”

And that’s when my phone all of a sudden rings? It’s Fionn – as in, like, Fionn de Barra, the Principal.

He’s there, “Ross, can you come to the school please?”

I’m like, “Is this because of the shit I said about you on LinkedIn? Because I’m not taking it down.”

“Ross,” he goes, “a situation has developed and I’m appealing to your sense of, well, I don’t know what.”

I’m there, “What kind of situation are we talking in terms of?”

He goes, “The girls are protesting against your sacking. They’ve barricaded themselves into the staffroom.”

I actually laugh. I’m there, “Dude, you made your bed–”

He goes, “Ross, please – if you care about this group of players as much as you claim you do, then you’ll help us resolve this.”

It’s, like, moral blackmail. But, being very much a people person, I decide to drive to the school to see if I can help.

When I arrive, all of the other students have been sent home and the teachers are standing around the lobby. I walk up to Fionn and I’m like, “What’s the play here?” thinking about every hostages movie I’ve ever seen.

“Just talk to them,” Barry O’Brien, the English teacher – and very much not a rugby fan? – goes. “You speak their language. Whatever language that might be.’

I’m like, “It’s called the language of rugby,” and it’s a real mic drop moment – so I make it the moment that I approach the staffroom door.

I knock on it three times and I’m like, “Girls, it’s Ross. It’s the Rossmeister.”

Inside, I hear them going, “Oh my God, it’s the coach! It’s the coach!” and then I hear furniture being dragged away from the door.

I walk in there and there’s, like, actual cheering. I’m a hero to them, bear in mind. Before I came along, they saw themselves as the doctors, barristers and hedge fund managers of tomorrow. Now they see themselves as the future of Irish women’s rugby.

I’m there, “So – yeah, no – you’ve made your point and now they want you to give up the protest.”

“They can fock off,” Shosh Birney – our scrumhalf – goes.

I laugh. I’m the one who helped give her that ‘tude.

I’m there, “All I would say is that you have to think this through tactically. What’s the endgame here?”

“We phoned the RTÉ newsroom,” Angelisa Gunning, the captain, goes. “I don’t know if you know this but today is International Women’s Day?”

I’m there, “I did know that.”

Even though I didn’t know that. Jesus, it comes around very quickly, doesn’t it? Maybe they’ve slipped an extra one or two into the calendar and everyone’s just scared to pull them up on it.

She goes, “We told them we were choosing this day to make a stand against the patriarchy that runs this school and thinks that rugby should be for boys only.”

I smile at her. I’m there, “Angelisa, making you the captain of this team was the best rugby-based decision I ever made. Give me five minutes.”

I walk out of there. The teachers have got big – I think it’s a word? – expectant faces on them. That is until I go, “They’ve phoned RTÉ.”

Fionn’s like, “What?”

I’m there, “Yeah, no, Samantha Libreri is probably on her way with a crew. As you know, me and Libreri go way back. If she asks me for an interview–”

“What if I reappointed you?” Fionn goes.

The teachers aren’t happy with that.

“What,” Barry O’Brien goes, “you’re going to reward this behaviour by giving in to them?”

Fionn’s there, “Do you know what day it is today? It’s International Women’s Day.”

“What, again?” Barry goes. “It comes around very quickly, doesn’t it?”

He does have a point.

Fionn’s there, “We can’t let this become a story on today of all days. Ross, will you come back?”

“If you double my money,” I go.

He’s like, “Double? That would make you the highest paid member of staff.”

I’m there, “Proper order, a lot of people would say,” and I go to walk away. “I look forward to seeing the bit on the news about the patriarchy and how they’ve stopped girls from playing rugby.”

“Okay,” Fionn goes, “you win.”

And I’m there, “Fantastic – I’ll just go and tell the girls the good news.”

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