THE OXEGEN FIASCO
It was the first weekend in July of 2007. The weather was great for a change and we were all eagerly awaiting our first Oxegen, a music festival, which took place annually in the grounds of Punchestown race course in Kildare. We were anticipating three days of drinking, music and general debauchery. However, Pascal had other plans.
We were in the semi-finals of the Championship against Clonguish that year and the game was scheduled for the Wednesday night after Oxegen. Pascal knew what these music festivals did to young fellas. He’d seen some of his strongest players return from them broken, never truly recovering mentally or physically. He knew that this was our best chance of actually winning the championship, as many of our “big lads” would be overage come December. This was what spurred on his decision.
A two day training camp/bonding session in Sligo read the text message that was sent out to each team member two weeks before the festival. The last line of the text message simply said NO EXCUSES. It didn’t seem real when we first heard about it. We speculated as to whether Pascal had perhaps finally gone mad. Most of us had booked our tickets months in advance. The prospect of a two day football blitz replacing the “rock ’n’ roll weekend of the summer”, as the advertisements were referring to it as, was a bitter pill to swallow. We began planning our elaborate excuses.
Over the next week, Pascal received phone calls offering increasingly unlikely excuses. Illness, family reunions, leaving the country, etc. I text Pascal, explaining that I would be down in Limerick for a few days for a family gathering. The gathering had actually taken place the month prior. He grunted a few monosyllables before hanging up the phone. The rest of the lads followed similar tact. Thomas, however, couldn’t bring himself to do it. Thomas was a pillar of the team, and if Auld Tommy found out he was blowing off football for a music festival, it was likely he would get in the van and drive to Naas to retrieve him.
The bus pulled out from Granard early Saturday morning and some people were drunk even before the bus had left Longford county lines. There was real excitement in the air, a day of drinking and watching the likes of Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes and James Brown awaited. There were a number of mentions of Thomas and what a shame it was that he couldn’t make it. This soon led to a series of drunken phone calls taunting Thomas and his decision to stay behind for the training camp.
We made it into the campsite for one and managed to get our tent pitched. We were just about to head into the music when my phone started to vibrate. It was Thomas on the line.
‘Well, lad, I’ll be up in two hours.’
‘Really? But what about Pascal? What about Auld Tommy? What about the two day training retreat in Sligo?’
‘Fuck it, you only live once.’
I couldn’t believe it. I told the rest of the lads and they looked at me in disbelief. Had we broken the football machine?
He arrived up two hours later with Mikey Thompson aka “Little Leg Long Leg”, known as such due to his right foot being an inch longer than his left. Both of them were drunk on Buckfast. He had told Pascal that he was terribly ill and couldn’t leave the bed.
‘If you’re lying to me, Thomas, I will find out,’ had been the final words of Pascal before he had hung up the phone.
The two days were utter madness. My cousin Patrick had just come back from his holidays in Mallorca and brought with him a litre of 70% green Absinthe. Soon we were running rampant through the festival and no one gave a second thought to what was going on in Sligo that weekend.
Monday morning, we woke with sore heads, covered in mud and miles from civilization. The bus was waiting for us in the crowded parking lot. We sat in silence on the way home. It was difficult to believe that this had been the same vehicle that had brought us to the festival on Saturday. We all received messages on the way back. Training that evening. We groaned. We knew what Pascal had in store for us.
Myself and Thomas arrived at training early and got togged out in the caravan, both of us shaking and barely able to speak. No-Balls was the next to arrive, as per usual. He walked in, fresh from two gruelling days of football camp, with a big smirk on his face.
‘You’re fucked this time Thomas,’ he smiled.
Thomas’s face immediately dropped.
‘What are you on about?’ Thomas asked, panic flushing through his face.
‘Pascal knows you were at Oxegen?’
‘There was a picture of you at Oxegen on page 3 of the Sun yesterday, covered head to toe in shite giving the thumbs up. Everyone in town is talking about it.’
‘Ah man, no way,’ Thomas’ said, letting his face fall into his hands.
Pascal arrived a few minutes later, under his arm he held a copy of Sunday’s Sun. He ran us ragged that evening. Lads were getting sick all over the place, but Pascal didn’t call an end to it.
As we all stood in the circle at the end, all close to keeling over. He finally brought out the newspaper. He made a public example of Thomas and his lack of dedication to the club. We all remained quiet and tried not to make eye contact, knowing that we were all in the same boat. Pascal said if we were serious about this team, it meant giving everything.
That Wednesday, we played the semi-final against Clonguish and were comprehensibly beaten. Pascal would never be quite the same again.