Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: ‘One day, there’s going to be a Leinster Schools Senior Cup… for girls!’

There’s actually a bit of a wobble in my voice? I’m quite emotional this week

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

So – yeah, no – the girls have been working unbelievably hord in training, which is why I’ve arranged a little surprise for them. I tell them to meet me in the school cor pork, where the bus is already waiting with the engine idling.

“Er, where are we going?” Shosh Birney goes – she’s turned herself into an unbelievable scrumhalf, by the way.

I’m there, “Okay, I didn’t want to tell you until we got there, but spoiler alert – we’re going to the Aviva Stadium, formerly known as Lansdowne Road! We’re going to do the tour!”

They’re all just standing around outside the bus with, like, blank looks on their faces, like I’ve just told them we’re going somewhere genuinely shit, like a gallery or a museum.


I’m there, “It’s the stadium where I won the Leinster Schools Senior Cup back in 1999. And loads of other stuff happened there as well, which I’m sure will get mentioned while we’re being shown around.”

“My mom and dad got their Covid vaccinations there,” says Tien Lockridge, our number eight.

I’m there, “Jesus, I hope it gets remembered for something more than that. Look, I’ve experienced some incredible moments in this stadium, watching the likes of Drico, ROG, Paul O’Connell and the great Johnny Sexton do their thing. I’m going to be there on Saturday to see Ireland play France in front of, like, 50,000 people. And I have a dream –”

There’s actually a bit of a wobble in my voice? I’m quite emotional this week. I think I’m still a bit pissed after Cordiff.

I’m there, “ – and that dream is that, one day, I’ll watch the Ireland women’s team play in the Aviva in front of the same kind of crowd – and that, hopefully, three or four of you will be on that Ireland team!”

If I’m expecting it to be a moment, I end up disappointed.

“Er, we’re supposed to have, like, classes this afternoon?” Tien goes.

I’m there, “Will you forget about schoolwork? How many times do I have to tell you? You play rugby now – the normal rules don’t apply to you.”

“So we have, like, permission?” Shosh goes.

They really are slow to embrace the benefits of their new station.

I’m there, “Shosh, will you listen to what I’m saying to you? You don’t need permission. You play rugby for Castlerock College! You can do whatever the hell you like!”

I look at Linda and Susan – the two teaching assistants who I’ve persuaded to come along – and I just shake my head.

I’m like, “Hold on – where’s Angelisa?” as in, like, Angelisa Gunning, the team captain.

“She’s in the library,” Tien goes.

I’m like, “Excuse me?”

“She’s studying. We have, like, an English test tomorrow?”

“You’re only in, like, first year. What are you being tested on?”

The Hobbish.

“The what?”

“Er, The Hobbish?”

“What, the movie with the dude out of The Office?”

“No, the book.”

“What, they’ve done a book of it now as well?”

She just shrugs.

I’m there, “Okay, none of you move. I’m going to sort this out once and for all.”

So into the school I morch and up the stairs to the library. It’s exactly as they described it. Angelisa is sitting in a corner of the library, reading quite literally a book.

I walk up to her and I go, “What are you doing?”

She’s there, “We have a test tomorrow – on, like, The Hobbish?”

“I told all members of the First Year rugby team to report to the cor pork for duty.”

“Mr O’Brien said the test was more important.”

Mr O’Brien being their so-called English teacher.

I’m like, “Is this the famous book?”

She nods.

I grab it from her and walk out of the library, with her running after me, going, “Oh my God, what are you doing? My dad says I have to get a good Leaving Cert if I want to be a chortered accountant.”

We arrive back at the bus. No one has even boarded the thing yet. It’s time that some horsh words were spoken. I hold up the book and I go, “I failed everything in my Leaving Cert. All NG’s, as they were known back in the day. A lot of people have managed that once. I did it twice. And look at me today.”

Again, it’s all blank faces. They’re possibly expecting me to tell them how well things are going for me.

I hold up The Hobbish and I’m like, “Who else has this book?”

Every single hand goes up.

I turn to Linda and I go, “Do you have a match?”

I happen to know she does. She smokes like a focking crematorium. She hands me a box.

Angelisa goes, “You can’t burn books!”

I’m like, “Why not? If we burned more books, there’d be a lot less trouble in the world.”

I strike the match off the box and the flame sort of, like, lisps into life. I hold it against the first page of Angelisa’s book. When the thing is blazing, I drop it on to the ground.

Suddenly, I turn into Robin Williams in, like, Dead Poets Society. I’m there, “One day, in the not too distant future, there’s going to be a Leinster Schools Senior Cup ... for girls! And – mork my words – you are going to be its first winners!”

Let’s just say there ends up being more than a few Oh My Gods.

I’m there, “Beating Newpork Comprehensive on Paddy’s Day – that’s the stort of it for you girls! You have the skills! You have the desire! What you need is a bit of swagger! A bit of obnoxiousness! You are the elite in this school! You need to stort acting like it!”

I can see one or two of them smiling and nodding.

“Now,” I go, “take out your copies of The Hobbish and throw them on top of Angelisa’s there! Come on! Corpe Dement! Sieze the day!”

It’s incredible. One by one, they are stort whipping out their copies of the famous book and they drop them on to the one that’s already burning. And – yeah, no – pretty quickly, we’ve got ourselves a bonfire.

It’s at that exact moment that I spot Mr O’Brien walking across the cor pork towards us with a face on him like me tasting Beamish for a dare at Peter Stringer’s 40th.

I go, “Okay, girls, everyone on the bus – quickly! The Aviva Stadium – Field of Dreams – here we come!”

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