Paul Durcan, Sport, Poem Analysis Part II

Author: Dan Keating/12 April 2018/Categories: Leaving Cert, English

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Against Mullingar Mental Hospital

Paul Durcan, Sport, Poem Analysis Part II

Following on from our text version and outline of Paul Durcan’s ‘Sport’, here is our expert analysis.


There were not many fields
In which you had hopes for me (play on ‘fields’ – careers/disciplines to succeed in for the narrator vs. a playing field)
But sport was one of them.
(suggests that the father believed in the narrator’s sporting ability)
On my twenty-first birthday
I was selected to play
For Grangegorman Mental Hospital
In an away game
Against Mullingar Mental Hospital.
I was a patient
In B Wing. (narrator is keen to stress to the reader exactly where he was when he was 21)
You drove all the way down,
Fifty miles,
To Mullingar to stand
On the sidelines and observe me.
(father made a major effort just to watch his son compete)

Related: Paul Durcan, Nessa, Poem Analysis Part I

I was fearful I would let down
Not only my team but you.
(the narrator was more concerned at the thought of disappointing his father than letting down the team of 14 fellow players he was playing with)
It was Gaelic football.
I was selected as goalkeeper.
There were big country men
On the Mullingar Mental Hospital team,
(facts of the game, almost like a local sports report)
Men with gapped teeth, red faces,
Oily, frizzy hair, bushy eyebrows. (narrator is keen to stress the ‘hardy’ nature of the opposition)
Their full forward line
Were over six foot tall
Fifteen stone in weight.
All three of them, I was informed,
Cases of schizophrenia.
(the opposition the narrator faced ‘as goalkeeper’)

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.
(further elaboration on the challenge faced by the narrator)
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.
(the narrator outplayed his own expectations)
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.
(imagery of the narrator’s athletic feats)
It was my knowing
That you were standing on the sideline
That gave me the necessary motivation -
That will to die
(the narrator was desperate to make his father proud of him)
That is as essential to sportsmen as to artists. (suggestion that this is also how Durcan felt about his writing)
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 – (a very high score, seems an exaggeration; the score was irrelevant to the narrator, and is in the context of this poem)
Sniffing your approval, you shook hands with me.
'Well played, son'. (his father was proud of him)

I may not have been mesmeric
But I had not been mediocre.
In your eyes I had achieved something at last.
(the narrator had finally succeeded in ‘something’ in his father’s ‘eyes’)
On my twenty-first birthday I had played on a winning team
The Grangegorman Mental Hospital team.
(further repetition of the team name implies that this wasn’t a particularly big deal, but that it was to the narrator and his father all the same)
Seldom if ever again in your eyes
Was I to rise to these heights. (this was probably the peak of their relationship)

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