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Sean Moncrieff: Lads, let’s not talk about sport

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Because my Covid coping mechanism is to be always doing something, I built this trellis thingy in the back garden to accommodate some climber plants. I’m reasonably proficient – and I enjoy – the DIY aspect of manliness, so the trellis turned out fine. Gardening, not so much. The trellis remained naked for several months until myself and Herself went to a garden centre and waved our little helpless arms until one of the staff there told us what to buy.

Armed with three plants, (I still can’t tell you what they are), we came home. I dug three holes in our mostly-rock back garden and waited for them to die.

Surprisingly, that hasn’t happened. Yet. But within 24 hours, I noticed a nagging pain in my rib cage. It spread around to my back and became so severe that I had difficulty sleeping.

Quite reasonably, I assumed that this was the beginning of the end. It was clearly lung cancer, probably well advanced.

Being a man, I decided that the best thing to do was say nothing. There was too much other stuff going on at the time. Daughter Number Four was starting school. We still needed to get the kitchen floor tiled. Best not to make a fuss. Perhaps go back into the garden and dig another hole for myself.

I know I’m not enjoying sport as much as other people: like watching an un-subtitled François Truffaut film when I only have
Junior Cert French

But because Herself has this weird mania for monitoring my physical and mental well-being, she noticed I was in pain and forced me to ‘fess up. I assumed that within minutes she’d be helping to lift me into the back of an ambulance, but instead she hmmed and said: you’ve probably hurt your intercostal muscle.

I didn’t know what that was. I certainly didn’t know I had one. But if I’d known even a tiny bit about sport, I could have saved myself all that time planning my funeral and writing tearful letters to the kids. A quick google revealed that people in sport are continually abusing their intercostals. But in this area of maleness, I’m completely rubbish.

I’m not oblivious if there’s a big All-Ireland or an international match. I’m happy to watch them and I do enjoy it: yet I know I’m not enjoying it as much as other people: like watching an un-subtitled François Truffaut film when I only have Junior Cert French. In rugby, it’s not always clear to me if a maul is going well or badly. I’m often baffled by why penalty kicks are awarded. In GAA, I have repeatedly failed to understand the backdoor rule, or why New York is considered part of Connacht.

My ignorance about sport doesn’t bother me unduly. Yet it has, on occasion, made me feel uncomfortable on behalf of other men. I’ve been able to spoof my way through brief conversations with taxi drivers, but sometimes when asked: did you see the match? I have to confess that I did not and I have no idea what match they are referring to.

I’ve witnessed men become distinctly uncomfortable with this answer: so much that they’ve quickly struggled to establish what sport I do like. Which only makes it worse. I have considered choosing some obscure sport – curling, say – just to diffuse these situations. But that would require me to do research.

A cliché it may be, but many men establish preliminary social links with each other by talking about sport. And that’s not a bad thing. It’s just not the only way to do it.

As with all the other genders, there’s no such thing as a typical man; and many of the societal structures that advantage men, limit them also: to being two-dimensional beings who aren’t allowed talk about pain, physical or emotional, who aren’t allowed to be scared. And it’s not always possible to completely shake off that conditioning, that expectation gap between who we are and who we are required to be.

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