A Sunday in September

Heffo looked at the scoreboard and the clock next to it showed the final whistle was approaching. In his periphery, Heffo could see the referee checking his watch against the clock on the scoreboard. Heffo knew that the moment he had hoped for, longed for all year, was nearly upon him. The referee blew the final whistle. Heffo’s team lost by the narrowest of margins. As his opponents began to celebrate, Heffo could finally have his moment. It was the moment that he had waited for all year, all of the emotions and feelings that he had been suppressing from the first training session up until this moment. Kneeling down, Heffo began to cry.

For as long as he could remember, Heffo had never known an Irishman to cry for anything other than sport. One of his earliest sporting memories was a county final where local men built like pillars burst into tears as they lost. Up to that moment, Heffo had never seen a grown man cry for joy or from pain. It seemed as though life events came and went with mild reactions as standard. Everything from the birth of their children to the funerals of their loved ones, Heffo only ever saw men – at their most vulnerable – gritting their teeth and not allowing a tear to fall. Yet on any sports field, men were not only permitted to cry, it was expected. Losing any sporting contest should make a man weep and, as Heffo came to realise, a loss in a final offered the greatest justification for man tears.

Everywhere else in his life, Heffo was not allowed to be sad. Heffo’s family would tell him to cheer up if he was feeling down. His mates would joke about Heffo’s sad clown face if he was unhappy. All his life, Heffo was told that big boys don’t cry even though sometimes all he wanted to do was cry, even just a little. All Heffo ever got to do was cry secret tears in private, alone in his room or in the bathroom where he could wash his sad face away afterwards. In the end, Heffo became so deeply frustrated by having to contain all of his emotions that he saw no other alternative. He joined the local club. All season long, Heffo devoted his every shred of energy into the team. Through every training session, in every drill and exercise, Heffo put in his absolute all.There were times when Heffo was not good enough, times when he was dropped to the bench. Naturally, this made him sad but Heffo used these feelings, channeling them into training even harder until he finally cemented his place in the team. It all paid off as Heffo inspired his team to the final. While his teammates chose to focus on the possibility of winning, Heffo aimed for the true prize of a devastating loss. When the final whistle blew, the margin of defeat was one score. It was Heffo’s ideal scenario.

For starters, Heffo sobbed as the tears began to well up. This soon gave way to fully flowing tears, which in turn led to sobbing convulsions and pained, agonising wails. By this point, Heffo’s face was a blubbering mess, bright red cheeks and burning pink eyes. Oh, the freedom! How the tears flowed down his cheeks! What a thrill it was to display his emotions in public, completely free from judgement and all because of sport. Heffo cried for all the times he had to remain cold and solid. When his mates would only call him Heffo even though his name was Shane Heffernan. When his boss criticised the quality of his work. When his last relationship ended and the lads brought him out drinking even though all he wanted to do was sob at home on the couch. These were Heffo’s genuine feelings but they were restricted by the assumption that men do not cry. Well here he was, ugly crying on the halfway line. These were tears of unbridled sadness and Heffo felt a tremendous sense of release. No matter what it looked like to anyone who happened to be watching, Heffo felt better than he had felt in months. And to think, all his team had to do was lose!

In that moment, Heffo felt for his opponents who had to go on celebrating. They had to be held aloft, smiling for all to see. “You should be smiling,” they would be told, “you just won, you are the champions!” Inside, those poor men carried heartaches and grief like anyone else but they simply could not show that to the outside world. Heffo wanted to cry about that too. When he finally arose, Heffo was greeted by his opposite number approaching to shake hands. “Hard luck to you,” his opponent said, clearly pretending to be satisfied with winning in spite of forfeiting all rights to cry. “But look,” Heffo’s opponent offered, “The thing about this game is that there’s always next year…”

Heffo froze. He had been so set on getting to this final that he forgot it would be his only excuse to cry in public for a year. But there was next year. Before today, Heffo could only dream of crying in public in his lifetime. Now he could fully appreciate that there was at least one annual opportunity to weep openly, two if they could get somewhere in the league as well. Maybe he could join another team in another sport and lose with them too. In that moment, Heffo resolved to be back with his team next year, losing again, a tearful two in a row. After all, that was the great thing about sport, Heffo decided. There’s always next year.