You'd always call home. Just to touch base.
It was always the mother who'd answer the phone and always she who you'd spend the most time talking to. Deaths, marriages, emigrations. What chatter there was about the parish. Perhaps how the siblings were doing, if they were around. It was in these small details, these seemingly innocuous conversations, that the comfort truly dwelt. In those, there was reassurance. Warmth. And always, towards the end, you'd request as to how the father was doing. The answer was always the same.
The usual. Nothing spectacular, nothing drastic.
And you'd put down the phone and get on with things, the remnants of home playing about your mind.
But this week there would be a change in the arrangement and it would be well understood; an unspoken tradition. You knew that when you called this time, it would be a deeper and slightly gruffer voice that'd pick up at the other end.
There'd always be a bit of introductory small talk before the real business of the day would begin and thoughts would shift to the weekend.
There'd be players who've lost the legs, who don't have the head for the big occasion. There'd be dips in form, the strength of the bench, the tendencies of the referee for the day. There'd be the talk during the week and what the experts were forecasting.
And with each word spoken, a silent and deep pleasure in it. The crystallisation of a bond through sport.
You'd spent years following your county alongside him, walking along endless streets, seeing only trousers and shoes. Surrounded by moving and talking skyscrapers as you ran alongside his walk, your four strides to his two. You'd nibbled on your bacon fries and sipped your fizzy orange as he'd swapped wisdom with fellow sages on the likely outcome of the day. Of course, you'd have stopped on the way in somewhere where you'd have eaten your sandwich, carefully wrapped in foil, and he'd have sipped his tea and read the proclamations of the knowledgeable in black and white.
You'd finally get to the stadium and you'd tread the familiar route to your vantage point, gazing out at the sleek surface, staring wide-eyed as your heroes sped onto the pitch. Following the trace of each ball as it flew towards the goals, entranced by the apparent chaos of the warm-up.
But one day, things were different.
A tap on the shoulder and a whisper in the ear had awoken you from your dreams of All-Ireland winning points, kicked to the frantic poetry of Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and celebrated by an enraptured crowd. There was an urgency and an excitement about him as he ushered you to get ready; a restlessness as he sipped his tea and watched the morning wake.
You put your ball in the boot and got into the front seat, mind spinning as to the origin of all this urgency on a Sunday morning. But not worried, for there was an eager joy about his gait as he walked to the car.
Before placing the key in the ignition, he stopped for a moment and looked at you seriously. He patted his pocket, paused, and brought out of his jacket a small brown envelope.
He checked inside, took out two tickets and smiled, placed them back in the envelope and returned the envelope to his pocket.
The road to Dublin on All-Ireland final day is filled with such simple, vital tales.