It was momentous, unprecedented. Derry had won the All-Ireland football final for the first time, and the Sam Maguire cup was on its way north again. These were heady times for Ulster football. During the weeks leading up to the day of the match, the Hatfield Bar on the Lower Ormeau had been buzzing in anticipation. The bar was decked out with the red and white colours of Derry: flags, balloons, streamers, and posters were hung in every available space. The match was watched on the big screen upstairs by a sweaty press of half-drunk, newly-minted Derry fans. Raucous celebrations, match analysis, and tall tales lasted well into the night.
A few days later the trophy was brought into the bar. The Sam is a hefty piece of silverware, well over a foot in diameter. It holds a lot of cider. It was displayed in the Pool Room at the end of the bar, on top of the covered pool table. Early in the evening there was a long queue to get in and drink from the cup. I was sitting having a pint with some friends anyway, and decided to wait till the crowd thinned out a little before I attempted the heavy lift. From where I was sitting, in the corner of the bar opposite the door, I could see on the CCTV monitor that Nigel was desperately trying to get in. He was kicking the door, banging with his fists, shouting. The spectacle drew a small crowd of laughing regulars. Entry to the bar was controlled remotely: security was tighter back then.
Nigel was a scrawny, pale, youth, with lank brown hair and an attitude problem. He’d been temporarily barred for some drunken slabbering the week before, and was about to miss his chance of a lifetime. Knowing this, Malachy, the barman, must have eventually relented and let him in. I was in the Pool Room when he arrived; he was next to drink from the Sam after me. Right O’Rourke, I was told by one of the growlers, one lift only. Don’t spill any. It was heavy alright, and difficult to control, but I managed to have a decent swig from it without slopping any cider down my front. The crowd appreciated this; I was clapped on the back. Honour intact, I left it back on the table and stepped aside to see how Nigel would get on. Bubbles fizzed uncomfortably in my stomach.
Skinny as he was, and even with a half-smoked cigarette in his right hand, he raised the chalice no bother, and took a lengthy draught. The assembly encouraged him: Gwan Nigel, ya boy ye! Yeoooooo! Get it into ye! He must have drunk over a pint by the time he carefully set down the cup. It might even have been a record for the night. He belched extensively, then took a big draw on his fag, flicked the ashy butt into the half-full trophy, and legged it out the door. Malachy couldn’t catch him. Outside he stuck up two fingers at the camera for extra badness, then disappeared into the shadows of the entry. It was a brilliantly-executed surprise attack.
Flushed with success, he came back to the scene of the crime several times later on, to wind up the barman; kicking the door and acrobatting for the camera as before. We watched the monitor with great amusement: we could see what Nigel couldn’t. The final time Malachy was prepared, and Nigel got a kick in the arse and fully barred for his trouble. I never did find out his real name.