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A time for teams to gel but not on your hair or in disco trousers

By Declan Bogue

Published 09/12/2015

Weather watchers: The adverse conditions won’t deter hardcore fans from attending O’Fiaich Cup games
Weather watchers: The adverse conditions won’t deter hardcore fans from attending O’Fiaich Cup games

You are fresh out of the minor set-up and this is your chance. The big leagues. The glamour. The kudos. The respect. The adulation.

This weekend, you pull on your county jersey and become a countyman. And you make your debut… in the O'Fiaich Cup.

Tumbleweed.

While the rest of the sane world have already taken to the couch with no intention of moving until sometime around December 28, you have one chance of showing that you can make the step up. The fact that it comes in the worst possible conditions for football matters nothing to your manager.

So in our wisdom, we offer you the Seven Golden Rules of how to do just enough to make it past December and into the glamour of your respective Dr McKenna Cup panel.

In no time at all, you will be commanding your public to meet you in Coppers as you hoist Sam above your head.

1. Nobody cares: That's right, nobody cares - about you, about the O'Fiaich Cup or the result. The only people there are club volunteers, the hardcore fans, Crossmaglen club people, those in pursuit of a hangover cure and GAA musos.

There might be a report in your local paper, but only really if one of the more experienced lads - there to help you make the transition - sustain a nasty injury.

On the power of your life, give post-match interviews. Reporters will forgive a player at any level of incompetence as long as he responds favourably to a request for 'a quick minute?'

2. Prayers: Look out your window on the morning of the match. If you are up for it, then carpe diem. If not, get on your knees and invoke the help of St Florian. He is the patron Saint of flooding, and not even a Prunty pitch can stop him.

3. Equipment: December football requires a nice dry pair of boots, a pair of skin-tight leggings, an Underarmour jersey, two pairs of gloves, a pair of socks for each half, a beanie cap, a pair of the new tracksuit bottoms - tight around the ankles - a waterproof jacket, a snowsuit, a car with a functioning radiator and, of course, a working knowledge of survival in extreme conditions.

4. Humility: Yes. That might be Sean Cavanagh sitting beside you in the dressing room, with his three All-Irelands and five All-Stars. Watch what he does and learn from it. Then go and take his jersey from him. It's just business. He will understand.

And it might be the O'Fiaich Cup, but last year a crowd of 8,463 arrived at the Athletic Grounds, delaying the throw-in for the first round of a Dr McKenna Cup game between Armagh and Tyrone.

Not bad for a tournament that critics said not even the McKennas were attending a few years ago.

5. When to come on: You've got to be careful here. A crucial element of the trialist is getting on at the right time, which is just before the interval. Enough time to get up to the pace of the game and a couple of touches before getting a breather.

The last thing you want is the manager scanning the bench with 10 minutes left, your extremities already having surrendered to frostbite. You won't have time to get warm, your body will be stiff and everybody knows that losing one ball in the closing period has the same value of losing 10 balls in the previous 60 minutes. In short, you are on a hiding to nothing.

Better to keep your head down and maintain an intense study of your studs to avoid catching the manager's eye.

6. Faking it 'til you make it: This is challenge match football, baby. The legendary St Pat's Maghera and Jordanstown coach, Adrian McGuckin, once said he had no interest in those who turn up in disco trousers and hair gel to score 3-4 and won't do it for you later in the year.

But this is your chance to be the guy in disco trousers. Play like it's a challenge match. Take that extra solo. Give a no-look handpass. Hit a cross-field ball and pray the wind takes it over the bar for you. Have your hair streaked and coloured. Whatever you do, get yourself noticed. As Eminem would say, you only get one shot.

7. Another day at the beach: On rainy days, Lance Armstrong used to turn up at the front of the peloton, greeting his fellow travellers, huddled and miserable in lashing rain, with a cheerful, "Hey guys, it's just another day at the beach".

We now know that Lance was getting some help and so we can understand his sunny disposition.

Don't try that carry on, lads. It's illegal. You will be caught. Your name will go into this, and other, newspapers.

Belfast Telegraph

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