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Chapter no 3 – Flying balls

Binding 13

Boy Wonder Captivates The Coaching Staff At The Academy – Young Johnny Kavanagh, 17, a native of Blackrock, Dublin, currently residing in Ballylaggin County Cork, sailed through his medical evaluation to secure his position at the prestigious rugby academy in Cork. Nursing a chronic groin injury since the start of last season, the youth has been given the all clear from team doctors. The Tommen College secondary school student is set to win his fifteenth cap for The Academy this weekend, having been named as starting 13 for the esteemed youth team. The natural center has been drawing attention from coaches at International level, including clubs in the U.K and southern hemisphere. When asked to comment on the school boy’s accelerated rise through the ranks, the Ireland’s u20’s head coach, Liam Delaney, had this to say; “We are excited about the level of caliber in the up and coming players throughout the country. The future looks bright for Irish rugby.” When asked specifically about the Cork school boy, Delaney said, “We have

been aware of Kavanagh since his playing days in Dublin and have been in close talks with his coaches and trainers for the last eighteen months. U18’s coaches are impressed. We are keeping a keen eye on his progression and are impressed with the level of intelligence and maturity he naturally exudes on the pitch. He’s certainly one to watch out for when he comes of age.”

 

 

Johnny

I was exhausted.

Seriously, I was so tired I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open and my focus on point. My day from hell was turning into the week from hell, and that was a special feat considering it was Monday.

Falling straight back into school, not to mention training and the gym six nights a week, did that to a guy.

To be honest, I’d been running on empty since last summer, having returned from an international campaign with the u18’s, where I was playing alongside the best in Europe, only to head right into an intense six- week conditioning camp in Dublin.

After that, I had a ten-day break before returning to school and resuming my commitments with my club and The Academy.

I was also hungry, which didn’t bode well for my temper. I didn’t do well with long intervals between meals.

My lifestyle and intense training regime required me to eat at regular, allotted time frames.

Every two hours was ideal for my body when I was consuming a 4,500 calorie a day diet.

Leaving my stomach waiting longer than four hours, and I was a moody, pissy bitch.

It wasn’t like I was particularly looking forward to the mountain of fish and steamed vegetables waiting for me in my lunch box, but I was in a routine, dammit.

Fucking with my regimen was a surefire way of waking the hangry beast inside of me.

We’d been on the pitch less than half an hour and already I’d taken out three of my teammates and had taken a bollocking from our coach in the process.

In my defense, every tackle I made on them was a perfectly legal one, if not a little ruthless.

But that was my point, dammit.

I was too aggravated to take it back a notch on boys who weren’t anywhere near my level of playing.

Boys was the appropriate word in this instance. These were boys.

I played with men.

I often wondered what the point was in playing on the school team. It didn’t do shite for me.

Club level was basic enough but school boy rugby was a fucking waste of my time.

Especially this school.

Today was the first day back after Christmas break, but the school team had been training since September.

Four months.

Four fucking months and we looked more disorganized than ever.

For the millionth time in the past six years, I found myself resenting my parents’ move.

Had we stayed in Dublin, I would be playing on a quality team with quality players and making some actual goddamn progression.

But no, instead I was here, in the middle of bumfuck nowhere, picking up the slack for a less than adept trainer and busting my bollocks to keep our side in sights of the qualifiers.

We won the league cup last year because we had a solid team with the ability to actually play decent fucking rugby.

With the absence of several players from last year’s squad, who were now gone on to college, my agitation and concern for our chances this year was growing by the minute.

I wasn’t the only one who felt like this, either.

There were six or seven exceptional players left in this school who were good enough for the division we were playing in, and that was the problem.

We needed a bench of twenty-three decent players to excel in this league.

Not half a dozen.

My best friend for example, Gerard Gibson – or Gibsie for short, was a prime example of exceptional.

He was, without a shadow of doubt, the best flanker I’d played with or against in this level of rugby and could easily move up the ranks with a little commitment and effort.

Unlike me, though, rugby wasn’t Gibsie’s life.

Giving up parties and girlfriends for a few years was a small price to pay for a professional career in the sport. If he laid off the drink and cigarettes, he’d be phenomenal.

Gibs wasn’t quite so convinced though, choosing to spend quality training time fucking his way through the female population of Ballylaggin with a relish, and drinking until his liver and pancreas cried out in protest instead.

I thought it was a dreadful waste.

Another overthrown pass from Patrick Feely, our newest number 12 and my partner in midfield, caused me to lose my ever-loving shite right there in the middle of the pitch.

Yanking out my mouthguard, I flung it at him, socking him straight in the jaw.

“See that?” I roared. “It’s called hitting the fucking target.”

“Sorry, Cap,” the center muttered, red-faced, addressing me by the on- pitch nickname I’d earned since becoming captain of the school team in fourth year and earning my first international cap the same year. “I’ll do better.”

I regretted my actions immediately.

Patrick was a decent lad and very good friend of mine.

Aside from Gibsie, Hughie Biggs and Patrick were my closest friends. Gibs, Feely, and Hughie had already been in a tight circle at Scoil Eoin,

an all-boys primary school, when I was injected into their class for the final year of primary.

Bonding over our shared love of rugby, we’d all remained good friends throughout secondary school, although we had paired off in the sense of best friends – with Hughie aligning himself with Patrick, and me with the gobshite himself.

Patrick was a quiet lad. He didn’t deserve my wrath, and the poor guy definitely didn’t deserve to have my spit-laced mouthguard launched at his head.

Dropping my head, I jogged over to him and clapped his shoulder, muttering my apologies.

See, this was exactly why I needed to be fed. And maybe given an icepack for my dick.

Fill me up with enough meat and veg and I’d be a different person. A tolerant person.

Polite even.

But my sole focus was currently on not passing out from hunger and pain, therefore I had no time for niceties.

We had a cup qualifier match later this week and unlike me, these lads had spent their free time being, well, teenagers.

Christmas break was a prime example.

I’d spent my time working like a maniac to get back to the pitch, having been out on injury, while these guys had spent their break eating and drinking the shite out of life.

I had no problem losing a match if we were genuinely the poorer side.

What I could not accept was losing due to lack of preparation and poor discipline.

School boys league or not.

That wasn’t fucking good enough in my book.

I was perturbed beyond all rationality when a girl strolled across the pitch – fucking strolled right through the training grounds.

Irritated, I glared at her, feeling a rage inside of me that bordered on manic.

This was how fucking bad this team was.

The other students didn’t even care that we were training.

Several of the lads shouted at her, but that only seemed to rile me up further.

I didn’t understand why they were shouting at her. This was their fault.

The fools ranting and shouting were the ones that needed to either up their game or put their rugby dreams to bed.

Instead of concentrating on the game, they were focusing on the girl. Fucking eejits.

“Great display of captaincy, Kavanagh,” Ronan McGarry, another one of our latest recruitments, and a piss poor excuse for a scrumhalf, taunted as he jogged backwards past me. “Overrated much?” the younger guy taunted.

“Keep fucking running,” I warned him while I debated how much trouble I would get in if I broke his legs. I really didn’t like that guy.

“Maybe you should take your own advice,” Ronan taunted. “Dublin scum.”

Deciding I didn’t care about punishments, I reclaimed the ball and threw it at his head.

Accurate and precise, the ball socked McGarry in the desired region – his nose.

“Settle down, hotshot!” Coach barked, jogging over to check on Ronan who was cupping his face.

I snorted at the sight.

I hit him with a ball, not my fist. Pussy.

“This is a team sport,” Coach seethed, glaring at me. “Not the Johnny show.”

“Oh, it is?” I shot back, snarling, unable to stop myself from taking the bait. Mr. Mulcahy, the school’s senior rugby coach, didn’t like me much and the feeling was completely mutual.

“Yeah,” Coach bellowed. “It damn well is.”

Jogging over to where the ball had landed, I swiped it up and stalked over to him and McGarry, unwilling to let it go. “Then you might want to remind these fuckers,” I snarled, gesturing around to my teammates, “because I seem to be the only eejit that showed up to training today!”

“You’re skating on thin ice, boy,” he seethed. “Don’t push it.”

Unable to stop myself from pushing it, I hissed, “This team’s a fucking joke.”

“Hit the showers, Kavanagh,” Coach ordered, face turning a dangerous shade of purple, as he slammed a finger in my chest. “You’re out!”

“I’m out?” I shot back, taunting him. “Out of what exactly?” I wasn’t out of shit.

Coach couldn’t drop me.

He could ban me from training. He could suspend me.

Give me detention.

It didn’t make a blind shit of difference because come match day, I would be on that pitch.

“You’ll do nothing,” I sneered, letting my temper get the better of me. “Don’t push me, Johnny,” Coach warned. “One call to your fancy little

coaches up the country and you’ll be in more shit than you can dig yourself out of.”

Ronan, who was standing beside coach, grinned darkly, clearly delighted at the prospect of me getting into trouble.

Furious at the threat but knowing I was beaten, I let rip at the ball in my hands, drop kicking it with an unsated fury thrumming through my veins and no care for direction.

The minute the ball whizzed off the foot of my boot, the anger inside of me dissipated in a rush, ejecting itself from my body in defeat.

Dammit.

I was being difficult. I knew better.

Coach threatening me with The Academy was a low blow, but I knew I deserved it.

I was losing my shit on his pitch, with his team, too emotional and over- worked to pull myself together.

Never in a million years would I ever feel so much as a hint of remorse for hitting McGarry with the ball, that fucker deserved a lot worse, but Feely and the rest of the lads were a different matter altogether.

I was supposed to be this team’s captain and I was acting like a tool.

It wasn’t good enough, and I was disappointed in myself for my outburst.

I knew what was wrong with me.

I had spread myself too thin these past few months and had come back too soon from injury.

I had been cleared by my doctors to return to training this week, but a blind man could tell I was off my game and it was pissing me the hell off.

The prospect of juggling school, training, club commitments, and The Academy while nursing an injury, was a strain on both my mind and my body, and I was struggling to find the pristine discipline I usually displayed.

Either way, it wasn’t an excuse.

I would apologize to Patrick after I’d eaten, and the rest of the lads, too. Coach, noticing the change in my temperament, nodded stiffly.

“Good,” he said in a calmer tone than earlier. “Now, go clean up and for fuck’s sake rest up for one damn day. You’re only a kid, Kavanagh, and you look like shit.”

The man didn’t like me much and we clashed on a daily basis like an old married couple, but I never doubted his intentions.

He cared about his players and not just our ability to play rugby. He encouraged us to succeed in all aspects of school life and was constantly chanting about the importance of exam years.

He was also probably right about me looking like shite; I certainly felt like it.

“It’s an important year for you,” he reminded me. “Fifth year is more crucial to your leaving cert than sixth year and I need you to keep your marks up – oh shit!”

“What?” I demanded, startled.

Following Coaches horrified gaze, I turned around and locked eyes on the crumpled ball on the edge of the pitch.

“Oh shite,” I muttered when my mind made sense of what I was seeing. The girl.

The fucking girl who’d been prancing around the pitch was laid out on her back on the grass.

A ball lay on the grass beside her. Not just any ball.

My bleeding ball!

Horrified, my feet were moving before my brain could catch up. I ran towards her, heart hammering against my ribcage every step of the way.

“Hey – are you okay?” I called out, closing the space between us.

A soft, female groan came from her lips as she attempted to get to her feet.

She was trying to stand up and failing miserably, clearly startled.

Unsure of what to do, I reached down to help her up, but she quickly slapped my hands away.

“Don’t touch me,” she cried out, tone a little slurred, and the jolting caused her to fall onto her knees.

“Okay!” I automatically took a step back and held my hands up. “I’m so sorry.”

Achingly slowly, she climbed to her feet, swaying from side to side, confusion etched on her face, eyes unfocused.

Clutching the side of her muddy skirt with one hand, and balancing the rugby ball in the other, she looked around, eyes wild.

Her attention landed on the ball in her hands and then shifted back to my face.

A glazed over sort of fury blazed in her eyes as she half staggered, half stalked towards me.

Her hair was a total mess, tumbling loosely down her small shoulders, with pieces of mud and grass caked to the tendrils.

When she reached me, she slapped the ball against my chest and hissed, “Is this your ball?”

I was so struck down by the sight of this tiny, mud-covered girl that I just nodded like a fucking eejit.

Jesus Christ, who was this girl?

Clearing my throat, I took the ball from her and said, “Uh, yeah. It’s my ball.”

She was tiny, seriously fucking small, barely reaching my chest in height.

“You owe me a skirt,” she growled, still clutching the fabric by her hip. “And a pair of tights,” she added, glancing down at the huge ladder in her skin-colored tights.

Her gaze roamed over her body then landed on my face, eyes narrowed. “Okay,” I replied with a nod, because in all honesty what the hell else

was I supposed to say?

“And an apology,” the girl added before collapsing on the ground.

She landed heavily on her ass and grunted out a small cry from the contact.

“Oh, shite,” I muttered. Tossing the ball away, I moved to help her. “I didn’t mean to –”

“Stop!” Again, she batted my hands away. “Ouch,” she moaned, cringing when she spoke. Reaching up, she clutched her face with both hands and breathed heavily. “My head.”

“Are you okay?” I demanded, unsure of what the fuck to do. Should I pick her up against her wishes?

It didn’t seem like a good idea.

But I couldn’t exactly leave her here.

“Johnny!” Coach was bellowing. “Is she alright? Did you hurt her?”

“She’s grand,” I called back, wincing when a hiccupping sound tore from her chest. “You’re grand, aren’t you?”

This girl was going to get me into trouble. I was in enough trouble as it stood.

I was on the outs with Coach.

Almost decapitating the girl wasn’t going to look good for me.

“Why’d you do that?” she whispered, clutching her small face in her even smaller hands. “You hurt me.”

“I’m sorry,” I repeated. I felt oddly helpless and it was a feeling I didn’t like. “I didn’t mean to.”

She sniffled then, blue eyes watering, and something inside of me snapped.

Ah, shite.

Horrified, I threw my hands up and blurted out, “I’m so sorry,” before crouching down and scooping her up from the grass. “Christ,” I muttered, helpless, as I set her on her feet. “Don’t cry.”

“It’s my first day,” she sniffled, swaying on her feet. “My fresh start and I’m covered in shit.”

She was covered in shit.

“My Dad’s going to kill me,” she continued to choke out, clutching her torn skirt. “My uniform’s ruined.”

A pained, hissing sound tore from her throat then and the hand she was using to hold her skirt shot to her temple, causing the scrap of fabric to fall away from her body.

My eyes widened of their own accord, an unfortunate reaction of seeing a female’s underwear.

Wolf whistles and cheering erupted from the lads.

“Oh god,” she cried out, scrambling clumsily to retrieve her skirt. “Go on, gorgeous!”

“Give us a twirl!”

“Fuck off, you assholes!” I roared at my teammates, stepping in front of the girl to block their view.

I could hear the lads cracking up behind me, laughing and talking shite, but I couldn’t concentrate on a word they were saying because the sound of my heart hammering in my chest was deafening me.

“Here,” reaching for the hem of my jersey, I pulled it over my head and ordered, “Put that on.”

“It’s filthy,” she sobbed, but didn’t stop me when I pulled it down over her head.

She slipped her hands into the sleeves and I felt an immense amount of relief when the hem fell to her knees, covering her up.

Christ, she really was a tiny little thing.

Was she even old enough to attend secondary school? She didn’t look it.

Right now, she looked very, very young and…sad? “Kavanagh, is the girl alright?” Coach demanded. “She’s grand!” I repeated, my words a harsh bark.

“Take her to the office,” he instructed. “Make sure Majella checks her over.”

Majella was the school’s first respondent. She worked in the lunch hall and was the go-to woman when a student sustained an injury.

“Right, sir,” I called back, flustered, quickly swooping down to snatch up her skirt and school bag.

I stepped closer and she flinched away from me.

“I’m only trying to help you,” I stated in as gentle a tone I could muster, holding my hands up, as if to show her I meant no harm. “I’ll take you to the office.”

She looked at bit dazed and I worried I might have given her a concussion.

Knowing my luck, that’s exactly what I’d done. Fucking hell.

Flinging the bag over my shoulder, I tucked her skirt into the waistband of my shorts, placed a hand on her back, and tried to coax her up the hilly bank separating the pitch from the school grounds.

She wobbled on her feet like a baby foal, and I had to resist the sudden urge I had to wrap my arm around her shoulders.

A couple of minutes later, that was exactly what I had to do anyway because she kept losing her footing.

Panic surged through me. I broke the fucking girl.

I broke her head.

I was going to get a suspension for losing my temper and a warrant put out for my arrest.

I was a cunt.

“I’m sorry,” I continued to tell her, glaring daggers at every nosey bastard who decided to stop and gawk at us as we walked at a snail’s pace.

She was in my jersey and it fell around her like a dress.

I was freezing my tits off beside her in nothing but a pair of training shorts, socks, and studded football boots.

Oh, and the pink fucking school bag slung on my back.

They could look all they wanted; my only concern was getting this girl’s head checked out.

“I’m seriously fucking sorry.”

“Stop saying sorry,” she moaned, clutching her head.

“Right, sorry,” I muttered, feeling her lean her weight on me. “But I am sorry. Just so you’re clear.”

“Nothing’s clear,” she croaked out, stiffening against my touch. “The ground’s spinning.”

“Ah Christ, don’t say that,” I strangled out, tightening my arm around her rigid frame. “Please don’t fucking say that.”

“Why’d you do that?” she whimpered, so frail and small and covered in shite.

“I’m an asshole,” I informed her, shifting her pink school back onto my back as I tucked her in closer. “I fuck up a lot.”

“Did you do it on purpose?”

“What?” Her words threw me enough to cause me to halt. “No.” Twisting my body so I could look down at her face, I frowned and said, “I wouldn’t never do that to you.”

“You promise?”

“Yeah,” I grunted, hitching her up with my arm and melding her body to my side. “I promise.”

It was January. It was wet.

It was cold.

And for some strange, disconcerting reason, I was burning the fuck up on the inside.

My words, for whatever reason, seemed to ease the tension inside this girl because she released a huge sigh, loosened her rigid frame, and allowed me to take her entire weight.

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