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Paul Durcan, Sport, Poem Summary & Analysis

April 5, 2018

Paul Durcan, Sport, Poem Analysis Part I

I was fearful I would let down
Not only my team but you.
It was Gaelic football.
I was selected as goalkeeper.
There were big country men
On the Mullingar Mental Hospital team,
Men with gapped teeth, red faces,
Oily, frizzy hair, bushy eyebrows.
Their full forward line
Were over six foot tall
Fifteen stone in weight.
All three of them, I was informed,
Cases of schizophrenia.

There was a rumour
That their centre-half forward
Was an alcoholic solicitor
Who, in a lounge bar misunderstanding,
Had castrated his best friend
But that he had no memory of it.
He had meant well - it was said.
His best friend had to emigrate
To Nigeria.

To my surprise,
I did not flinch in the goals.
I made three or four spectacular saves,
Diving full stretch to turn
A certain goal around the corner,
Leaping high to tip another certain goal
Over the bar for a point.
It was my knowing
That you were standing on the sideline
That gave me the necessary motivation -
That will to die
That is as essential to sportsmen as to artists.
More than anybody it was you
I wanted to mesmerise, and after the game -
Grangegorman Mental Hospital
Having defeated Mullingar Mental Hospital
By 14 Goals and 38 points to 3 goals and 10 points -
Sniffing your approval, you shook hands with me.
'Well played, son'.

I may not have been mesmeric
But I had not been mediocre.
In your eyes I had achieved something at last.
On my twenty-first birthday I had played on a winning team
The Grangegorman Mental Hospital team.
Seldom if ever again in your eyes
Was I to rise to these heights.

Further Reading: Paul Durcan, Sport, Annotated Poem Summary


In this poem, Durcan addresses his father, with whom he had a very difficult relationship.

As Durcan himself describes it: “When I was ten, he began to be somewhat problematic. When I think about it there were gratuitous beatings and he was incredibly severe about things like examinations. If I hadn’t got second or third place it was bad news, and sometimes he would take the strap off his trousers and beat me. A man has to be so very complicated if he takes a school report for a ten-year-old that seriously.”

Over the poet’s teenage years the relationship between father and son became increasingly tense and then broke down completely. Finally, when Durcan was nineteen, his father had him committed to a psychiatric hospital.

‘Sport’ recalls a memory from this difficult period spent inside institutions. As he turned twenty-one, the poet was being held in Grangegorman Mental Hospital: ‘I was a patient/In B Wing’.

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