A changing room crisis meeting that your club has definitely had
- "Well, boy, are you looking forward to this shite?"
- "It's about four months overdue. No point having a crisis meeting now when we have no time to fix the actual problems."
- "What's the biggest problem that needs fixing?"
- "The manager!"
There's a nervous excitement in the air - the sort of giddiness you got in primary school when you knew the teacher was about to unload on one of your class mates. You can't bare to watch but you can't wait for the spectacle either.
There's going to be more people at this clear-the-air talk on this fresh Sunday morning than there ever will be at training - the thrill has drawn them all out of the woodwork.
The season is hanging by the thread of a Sondico glove. We haven't pushed on like we said we would. The league has been a total disaster, defeats piling up on top of one another like a bloodbath and we were humiliated in the regional 13-a-side competition by a club in the grade below who would tell you that we're punching above our weight in Division One. That was our chance to ram home our superiority but, nope, we were well beaten.
Championship? Ha. Two games. Two hammerings. See you next year. But there are two fixtures left in the league and, if we don't win both of them, we could easily be facing a relegation playoff and, the way we're going, there isn't a hope in hell that we'd even make a game of that magnitude competitive.
Our best chance is to pick up handy points in these remaining games against clubs who have nothing left to play for.
"This is pointless. Wolfe Tones haven't had a game in six weeks. They'll have their reserve team out against us," Danny was an optimist.
He was spot on too. The only reason we had to be optimistic was that others could no longer give a flying f**k and we could pick up a few charity points.
You'd nearly feel bad on the boys who had to face Wolfe Tones when they were taking things seriously, and you'd feel bad on the others who have to play off against fellow strugglers at this time of year but the fixture gods have smiled on us this season and we probably could bank on a couple of points next week.
The GAA isn't about winning championships and making memories. It's about accumulating enough gimme points at the right time of the year. At least that's how it's felt for the last while anyway.
"I'm looking forward to this," Conor has an almost psychopathic look in his eyes. He's a manically aggressive tackler at the most mundane of times but this morning he's sporting an evil grin as if he was about to torture and obliterate someone, just for fun.
He's had problems with the management since the first game and, to be honest, a lot of it can stem back to the fact that they have him in the corner when he thinks he should be wing back.
He's intent on letting them all have it today though. "Both barrels", he says.
There's a tray of biscuits arranged in the middle of the changing rooms. Someone jokes that "it's a test". Big Johnny never cared much for tests and he helps himself to a handful and proudly sits back down, firing glances around the room almost daring someone to have a problem with his actions.
A couple of the young lads jump up and grab one, liberated by Big Johnny's boldness but the rest of the group haven't come here for biscuits. They've come for blood.
- "What are you going to say, Barry?"
- "What am I going to say? The truth."
- "What's that?"
- "We're not fit enough. Training's shite. Tactics are stupid. We've fallen way behind every other club in terms of strength and conditioning. Some boys are getting treated differently to others. A lot of lads are on the team and I'm not sure why. The warm-ups are f**king ridiculous and the team talks are worse."
- "Jesus, Barry. Tell us what you really feel."
A release of laughter breaks the tension in the air but the tone has been set.
- "No point lying about it. They need to be told."
Barry isn't for backing down today.
"Alright lads, you all know the craic," the manager isn't a bad lad in fairness, he's just lost the dressing room and that is the easiest thing in the world to do in a team with a losing mentality.
"We're not in a good place right now but instead of going along with it and everyone hating each other, we thought we'd just get into a room and thrash it out. We all want the same thing. I want to win the next two games and I know you definitely do so we're on the same boat.
"I want to help you as much as I can to get something - Jesus, anything - out of this season so rather than me constantly talking down to you and scowling boys, I'm going to open it up to the floor. So if anybody has anything to say, sure get it out in the open now and we can talk through it."
"I'm not perfect boys - I know that better than you. My wife knows that better than me..."
"So come on, let's get the issues out in the open now. I'm a big boy and I can take responsibility."
A couple of glances shoot over to Barry.
Barry has his head down.
With something like this, no-one wants to be the first man to attack. Nobody minds picking off chunks from the helpless body when it's bowled over but to go in for the kill when you're faced with a man standing on his two feet ready to fight back is to put your own head on the chopping block.
Even safety in numbers requires someone to act first.
"I think there's a lot of frustration that we haven't kicked on and we're in the same position as last year, relying on other teams to do us favours, and that's just caused a lot of boys to start talking and asking why has this happened. Whether it's fitness or tactics or lack of effort and commitment..." Paul took the diplomatic approach to kickstart the thing.
"But we're not relying on other teams, Paul. It's in our own hands. Win the next two games and you're safe." Typical manager talk. Even if he's right, he's not really. We'll probably beat Wolfe Tones with their weakened team alright but the last game is against the Rossas and they're still in the championship and, even if they field a few subs, they'll be busting their balls trying to get on that team.
The reality is we will probably beat Wolfe Tones and the way the fixtures are set for the last game, we might not even need a result against the Rossas but this is a crazy time of year and it's annoying having to deal with the fear and the mathematics every season.
- "Lads, let's get real. Wolfe Tones probably won't even show up against us," Danny wants to get out of here early. "And the way those last day fixtures are set, I'd be very surprised if we're in a relegation playoff by the end of it."
- "No, I'm going to stop you right there, Danny. I don't want to hear anymore of that shit or any of this rubbish about what other teams are and aren't doing. It's in our hands. Win our two games and that's the end of it."
- "Well I'm just being honest..."
- "No, you're looking for favours and shortcuts. That's been the problem with this team all year. Not enough action. Too much feeling sorry for yourselves and hoping such and such doesn't play for that team, and the referee doesn't like the other team. The reality is, it's all our fault that we're in this position again. No-one else's."
We've heard all this before.
Every management team works cyclically. They get appointed, you have the team meeting, they lay down the law and the wild ambitions, they take no shit for the first few sessions and they have new and improved stats and tests for your conditioning.
You think this is the real deal, everyone's on board and then you start to actually play games and the wheels come off.
The dropping of whomever is a big issue. Bringing on that lad who never trained tears down all the good work and culture that the management created. Apathy rises, the motions are gone through, the blame game starts, bitching intensifies and, before you know it, you're sitting in a cold changing room eating biscuits over a clear-the-air chat.
You might end up winning your next game, you might end up getting relegated - we've had both outcomes already and not one of them were determined by whatever false promises were made in this setting right now.
We've finally gotten somewhere albeit at the expense of each other.
Rather than come straight out and have a go at the management, the lads are jumping down each other's throats instead.
Adam is taking it in the neck because he hasn't made the trip home from Dublin every weekend. Boys have been pestering him all year. The talented young lad who's moved to the capital is an easy scapegoat for a rural mob. You'd have heard things all season like, "he's got notions" - as if he thought he was better than us or something, that was the perception. When, in realty, he just got a good job and is enjoying his life.
You often wonder how many of the rest of us would actually do what we're asking him to do. Come back every Tuesday and Friday and hang about until Sunday night for at least nine months of the year. Just to play a bit of football - some nights you never even saw a ball. A lot of us won't ever have to find out if we'd make the same commitment that we're demanding but 'f**k Adam'. His absences from training are to blame for everything right now.
You feel for Adam with his head bowed in the corner now but he was almost a necessary kill to get the knife turned on the management.
Big Johnny goes for it though - talking about their inconsistencies regarding attitudes to boys training and not training. Some still play if they don't train, others are excused more easily, only some of the injured lads bother their arses to show up. They've fostered a culture where the line is no longer clear and, as a result, too many are stepping over it as freely as the please.
We started the year with all these grand plans. We had a board checking attendance. We had to take pictures of ourselves in the gym and send them on through WhatsApp to prove we were there. We had our fitness tested and, four weeks later, we had it tested again.
Another four weeks after that though, there was never another mention of fitness tests or scheduling training months in advance or even any kind of talk of gym work. One crack appeared and we tried papering over that and, every week, another would follow and the whole season became a firefighting mission.
Darragh is sitting quietly looking at his laces. He's been bitching for the last month with anyone who'd listen. He even started a WhatsApp group with six of us in it and it was called 'Doherty Out' - the surname of the manager.
Right now, he's not interested in finding any solutions. It seems that some boys are just happier bitching. And we're certainly not getting the 'both barrels' promised from Conor who's disappeared to the toilet.
Mickey has his say on the team selection and how we're playing too many backs in the forward line. He says we're being too defensive and we don't have enough scorers on the field. He's a substitute attacker at the minute - a free taker by trade - so his disgruntled remarks are falling on death ears.
Marty says we're meeting for games far too early. There's no need to be showing up at pitches 90 minutes before throw-in - whether you want to show them you're up for it or not.
It's finally something everyone can agree on and we move on.
We're going to meet 70 minutes before the next game because we need a good start so we need to be ready and we need a good warm-up.
We need to show them we're up for it.
The groundsman is being bitched about by everyone now.
Cages around the goalmouths - how the hell are we supposed to practice properly?
Closing the pitch whenever any bit of rain falls.
God forsaken sand thrown all over the field in the summer. What was he thinking?
He's not here to defend himself.
The "younger boys" are being asked do they care enough now. Do they really want it enough? Do they dream of winning a championship when they go to bed at night?
"Be honest, how many of you were at that 21st last night?"
Mark and Gary get into it.
After our last defeat, Gary - a real classy player, a fearless footballer and one with serious experience - took to the forum on the club website to lambaste the team. 'Cowards' he called us all. He said he has been playing for the team for 17 years now and this is the 'weakest side he's ever come across'.
I think most people had sympathy for him when they saw the time stamp reading 3.37am. It didn't take a genius to work out alcohol was involved but all Mark can say right now is, "Why?"
"Why? Why would you do that, Gary? Why?"
A few sniggers are heard and Gary certainly isn't embarrassed. He stands over his words and the worst of it all is that most people there probably agree with him.
A team talk from the management three months ago is brought up. It sent the wrong message. It was too negative. Caused too much of a divide between the coaches and players.
The management apologise for it.
The manager is laying down a fresh list of things he's going to do and make us do over the next few weeks to get out of this mess. It's like it's January again.
He's already been in contact with the county manager and he's coming to take a session.
He has a 'high profile' sportsman lined up to come in and give us a talk - the details are sketchy at best.
He's booked out the county ground for a session and he's "in the middle of" organising a weekend away - if we stay up.
After the manager's fantastic pitch, he hits us with the hard sell.
"But, boys, I always said I'd act in the best interests of this club," he says. "And if ye don't want me in charge, then I'll do the honourable thing and step aside.
"So myself and the backroom team are going to step outside and let ye talk amongst yourselves for as long as you need to.
"You can give us the verdict afterwards."
"F**king brilliant! So we tell them to clear off then?" Conor is all talk now. He hasn't said a word to their faces.
Paul stands up and explains that there's only two games left now and, if we got rid of the management, we'd have to sort out their replacements ourselves. Boys suggest we could talk the training ourselves and Paul could pick the team but he puts it as bluntly as he can.
"You can f**k right off if you think I'm going to be listening to your whinges when you don't like the team or whatever else. I don't want relegation on my plate either."
None of us do and that's the reality of it. We don't want to get relegated, we don't particularly want the current management in place, but we sure as hell don't want the responsibility.
That point is hammered home by Tommy, our 40-year-old goalkeeper. This is on us. Either we get behind the management who are trying their hardest or we go out and find a replacement with just days to work with and we accept full responsibility for the outcome.
Eddie asks if we can tell the manager to leave but to keep his son playing for us - a talented youngfella who transferred when the manager got the job. He's not here today though - an example of the inconsistencies.
In the end, the vote is pointless because boys just follow the room and we all agree to keep them in place.
Barry shakes his head. "Joke," he says.
Boys tell him to shut up, that he had his chance. The management are informed of the decision.
They thank us and promise to do everything they can to get us out of this mess but warn, "we can't do it for you, boys." Basically it's up to us to get them out of this mess.
Everyone says they are going to row in behind and do whatever it takes.
We're told training is on Tuesday and, lastly, if we don't train, we won't play.
Barry's first to his car to make a statement. He's storming off in what looks like a huff, shaking his head before bouncing into his front seat and speeding out the gate.
It's the ultimate buck pass though because he firstly got out of affecting change and actually telling the manager his problems. Then he got out of changing the manager, where it would have been on his hands as well as the rest of us. Now, he has gotten himself out of the decision to keep the manager - after the decision was already made for him of course.
He can't lose this way.
You expect that sort of stuff. We've had a weak mentality all year and boys are on edge - they don't want to be blamed for anything, especially not the impending doom.
It feels like we've gotten somewhere though. It feels like we're together at long last and that we'll just focus on the football from here on out. We've a united front and we've addressed most of the issues. The air is clearer.
And, if nothing else, at least it will stop all the bloody bitching once and for all. If ending the bitching is the only thing to come out of this meeting, then it will be a huge success.
Thankfully, it looks like we've done it.