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Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: ‘There’s no caps for your so-called matches against Mexico and, I don’t know, Guava Larva. I made the entire thing up’

I’ve honestly never seen the old man look so crushed

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Ross O'Carroll-Kelly: Charles. Illustration: Alan Clarke.

The old man is as excited as I’ve seen him since the members of Elm Pork Golf Club voted to name the lateral water hazard on the 12th hole “the Chorles River”. It’s, like, Friday night – the night before Ireland play Romania in the opening match of the Rugby World Cup – and I’m sitting in The Connemora in Bordeaux, listening to him phone pretty much everyone he’s ever known in his entire life to tell them his so-called news.

“An historic injustice is about to be put right!” he’s going, his big, booming voice shaking the foundations of the pub like a focking mortar attack. “Fiat iustitia et pereat mundus!

Yeah, no, he’s very much looking forward to being awarded the two caps he won on an Ireland B tour of Latin America in the late 1960s. I’m just trying to figure out how to tell him that I made the entire story up just to get him here.

He’s there, “Yes, it’s happening tonight, according to Ross, who’s been in touch with the IRFU! It seems they are finally prepared to accept that the matches I played against Mexico and Guatemala in the year of Our Lord nineteen-hundred-and-sixty-eight were, in fact, contrary to all previous statements, full internationals! A special ceremony is to be held in the team hotel, of all places! It’d be nice to think that Andy Farrell and one or two members of the current team might stick their heads around the door! Palmam qui meruit ferat!


I’m like, “Jesus, will you keep the focking Latin down!” because the bor is full of Ireland fans and they’re all listening. No choice in the matter.

He’s there, “I have to go! I’ll see you soon!” and then he hangs up and goes, “Michael McDowell says hello!”

I’m like, “Dude, maybe don’t tell anyone else.”

He goes, “Oh, tish and pish, Ross! I’ve waited so long for this moment, I want to tell the world and his brother! I am officially the first – and thus far only – member of the O’Carroll-Kelly family to play rugby for Ireland!”

I’m there, “Is that a dig at me?”

He’s like, “Of course it’s not a dig at you! If Ireland had had a coach worthy of the name, you’d have a hundred caps today, Kicker!”

I’m there, “Well, it sounded like a dig. I was actually storting to feel sorry for you but now I’m not. See, the thing is–”

But before I can tell him the truth, he storts looking around the bor, going, “I haven’t seen any of the chaps yet!”

I’m there, “What chaps? What are you on about?”

He goes, “My team-mates, Ross! I wonder have they met up somewhere else for a straightener or two!”

“Dude, I’m trying to tell you–”

“I’m looking forward to seeing them again! Of course a lot of them will be old men now! Maurice Murnane! Ear Lingus they called him! Quote-unquote! Two giant listening devices on the side of his head! Chap looked like he was taxiing for take-off! No scrum-caps in those days, of course! Well, there were, but to wear one was to declare oneself to be less than a man!”


“Arthur Crangle! Six Mickeys, as he was otherwise known! He was something of a ladies man, you see! A romancer! The chap actually left the tour after the match against Mexico! Met a girl called something-or-other – terribly pretty, if memory serves – and he ended up shacking up with her in Cancún for six months! Didn’t work out in the end! The rumour was that he was also doing a line – inverted commas – with her mother and the girl walked in on them! He reminded me a lot of you, Ross!”

“Excuse me?”

“Nerves of steel! Could put the ball between the chopsticks from any angle you wanted! A stadium full of people booing and hissing and it didn’t bother him at all! I’m looking forward to seeing Six again!”

“Okay, I’m going to have to come clean here–”

“The Soup!”


“Livinus Roche! Our number eight! He was known as The Soup! How he got the nickname was that any time we played against a team in the North who were of the – shall we say – Protestant persuasion, at the banquet afterwards he always refused to eat the soup! It sort of became his – quote-unquote – thing! You know, I’ve seen neither hide nor hair of Livinus since the day the famous Donald Brooks got married! They both ran for the auditorship of the L & in UCD and Livinus lost by one vote! Donald went on to become a Supreme Court judge, don’t you know! He was a Protestant as well – nothing wrong with that, of course! But there we were at the reception, Ross, having a wonderful day! Soup course arrived – potato and leek, I think I’m right in saying – and Livinus sent the serving girl away with it! He was still doing it, Kicker, after all those years! Have you ever heard the likes of it!”

I’m like, “Dude, will you shut the fock up for, like, two seconds. I’ve got something to tell you.”

He’s like, “Sorry, Ross, I’m as giddy as a kitten here at the thought of seeing The Soup again.”

I’m there, “Dude, you’re not going to be seeing him?”

His faces turns literally white. He goes, “Oh, no! He’s not dead, is he?”

I’m there, “I’ve no idea who he even is? I’m saying you’re not going to be seeing any of them. The Soup. Ear Lingus. Ten Mickeys–”

“Six Mickeys!”

“Whatever. There is no IRFU presentation. And there’s no caps for your so-called matches against Mexico and, I don’t know, Guava Larva. I made the entire thing up.”

I’ve honestly never seen him look so crushed.

He’s like, “What? Why on earth would you do something like that?”

I’m there, “Because you were sitting in a prison cell, refusing to purge your contempt. Over a seagull. And the old dear was worried about you. And so was Hennessy. And, you know, I was kind of looking forward to going to – yeah, no – the World Cup with you?”

“Right,” he goes, staring into space, absolutely flattened by this news to the point where I end up nearly feeling guilty.

I’m like, “Dude, you’ll get your caps one day.”

Pollice verso!” he goes, except the boom has suddenly disappeared from his voice.

And like I said, I’m very close to feeling sorry for him.

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