On the pitch, I always rated my ability to change direction quickly as a key attribute.

Seán O’Carroll wasn’t so fleet of foot – he was a born full-back who was, to put it mildly, as awkward as a harrow but he had such a sharp tongue that anyone involved in a verbal joust with him was always on the back foot.

I’ll never forget the night out where he approached a very good-looking girl and opened with the classic: “Did it hurt?”

She was wise to this line and responded: “What, when I fell out of heaven, you loser?” But she wasn’t expecting the riposte.

“No, when your mother dropped you on your head, ya bloody dope,” he hissed before turning on his heel and leaving her open-mouthed.

This was a defence mechanism on his part (one refined over many years) and I can still recall the exact moment that inspired the construction of the coat of armour. It was the early 1990s.

We were just out of minor and a gang of us were misspending a wet Sunday in the pool room of Nóirín Byrne’s, taking turns at putting songs on the jukebox while we played.

When I put on Englishman in New York, Seán was at the table and very earnestly proclaimed: “Jaysus lads, wouldn’t it have been an awful loss to music if Sting had never left the guards?”

After a quick pause as we looked at each other to make sure we’d heard what we did, the rest of us burst out laughing and Seán stormed out steaming like a kettle.

Thereafter, he made sure to be ready to get his retaliation in first. Sometimes, it was a good thing, like when renowned bullshitter Billy Gallagher (star of a previous column) claimed that his nephew had smuggled a penguin out of the zoo and kept him in the bath for a few days before the ruse was discovered.

“Billy,” he said, “when the Liar of The Year organisers rang you up and asked if you were able to come to the ceremony to collect you award, you told them you were busy that night even though you’d nothing on.”

Eventually, it became tiresome, and a low point was the day he was buying kindling and briquettes in Harnett’s service station. The girl at the counter innocently and diligently asked if he had any fuel – as in liquid form, for his car. “Any fuel, girleen? Do you think I’m going to build my new shed out of this stuff or something?”

A young curate, he had always seemed quite shy and reserved, but we didn’t know that he was capable of a barb or two himself

An intervention of sorts finally arrived from a most unlikely source. Seán’s large build meant that he was an ideal rugby second row and he spent his winters playing for the club in neighbouring Glanduff. One year in our early 20s I trained with them for the sport of it and enjoyed the post-session debriefs over pints, as well as the fluting around with scrummage machines.

It usually meant Tuesday nights thumbing home and, on one of those evenings, Fr Cotter picked us up. A young curate, he had always seemed quite shy and reserved, but we didn’t know that he was capable of a barb or two himself.

After loading up on the black stuff, Seán desperately needed to expel some air and, as we approached Dan Joe Foley’s farm on the border between the two parishes, he hit upon the ideal cover story – or so he thought.

Leaving out a silent ripper, he waved the air and said to Fr Cotter: “It must be the silage,” nodding towards Foley’s. While I stifled a laugh in the back seat, the priest smiled and replied: “Do you eat much of it, Seán?”

Beaten, by a man of God no less, Seán felt it was a sign that he had to cut down on the cutting remarks – as long as I promised not to tell anyone. Weirdly, they all found out – Fr Cotter must be a fierce gossip altogether.

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