By Ralph Scoville
Traditionally, the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US coincides with another sacred ritual – Morris Rugby traveling to Castleisland for a celebration of life and rugby. This was to have been the Once-in-a-lifetime, Never-to-be-repeated (9th Annual) weekend, but as with everything else across the world, traditions had to be paused for health reasons.
As we could not hold our manly contest, our Team Captains still felt that there should be a recap of what never happened. I (Ralph Scoville) will try to summarize and highlight the events of this game that never was.
Morris would take the red-eye into Shannon and head immediately to the Brosnan house for pregame activities and Irish “spirits”. The sun shone brilliantly above as if to welcome Morris to Ireland. As the 17 course meal was drawing to a close, it was time to head to the pitch. As we stepped out of the house, we were met with weather that you would not send your dog out into: cold, dark, wet and windy….. but perfect for rugby. Normally the Crageens is a 15 minute walk. Between the elements and a weeeee bit too many pints and shots, and the ritual stop at the Fountain to gaze at Con Houlihan and the remains of Sheila Prendiville’s bar, the walk ended up taking 30 minutes.
The crowd gathered as the captains Mike Ryan (Morris) and Bill Horgan (Castleisland) met for the coin toss. Bill noted that although Mike kept his holey, holy, 20 year old shorts, he at least had clean underwear on underneath. As both teams lined up for the start, a hush fell over the thousands in attendance, followed by a collective GASP…. Legendary Dan Casey had come out of retirement. As usual, Séamus was a traitor and cast aside his US friends in favor of his local town mates.
The game was a sloppy affair. Morris Old Gal Lil Rimac would be the referee. She tried to keep the game moving, overlooking numerous infractions and boyish uppercuts and pointy elbows. Between the elements and old reflexes not being quite as responsive as they used to be, drop balls were numerous. All the rucks and scrum-downs did have the benefit of the jerseys soaking up all the water from the puddles. Midway through, Don Slade attempted a box-kick from the Morris end. Unfortunately, it went into the teeth of the wind and was repelled directly back into his mush, loosening a few of his own teeth. For those of us that know and love Don, this could only improve his looks. Andy Smith, transplanted from far away Listowel, would break free for a try and Castleisland would lead 5-0 at the half.
Back in the Morris huddle, Ronan (O’Laughlin, not that other American O’Gara) would exhort his teammates. At least, that’s what I thought. Between the Donegal accent and the alcohol, God knows what he actually said. But a collective “GO MORRIS” would arise. Whatever he said clearly worked.
The second half continued, the pace of play made even slower by the aging muscles acting even slower. Late in the game, Chris Walsh scampered down to the 22M, where that crafty veteran John Sutherland pulled the ball out of the ruck and sold a dummy. No, he did not give a tremendous fake that caused the Castleislanders to lose their collective jockstraps, he literally sold them a dummy (as he is a ventriloquist on the side). Whilst they were arguing over who would pay for the dummy, John flipped to yours truly, who turtle-walked into the try zone for the first try of his 40-year career. Mitch Miller would add the conversion and the Morris Ref would quickly whistle the game over. The home team was stunned, but Morris had just pulled off their 1st International victory and won the John Browne Memorial Cup.
Back at Peter Browne’s, John’s trickery was the talk of the bar. The Irish thought they had mastered all the “tricks” of the game, but that wily Yank had one-upped them. There was muttering that they should revoke the Honorary Lifetime membership they had bequeathed on him last year. Luckily, word was quickly spreading that Mike Ryan was buying a round of Jameson for the house and all such muttering was quickly muffled. Both teams would look forward to the 10th annual match in 2022….. and the hope that it actually will occur.
Photos by John Sutherland