Intervarsities – so different and unique

I’m sitting on the bus, two seats to myself. I glance across the aisle, one of my close friends asleep and like me, sitting alone. An outsider might make the mistake thinking this bus is filled with mostly strangers, people keeping to themselves, resting and listening to music. There is some conversation and laughter towards the rear but compared to four days earlier it is almost subdued.

The bus atmosphere belies the new friendships formed and the old ones strengthened over the past few days. The reason for the atmosphere comes from the intensity that has existed over this weekend, late nights, early mornings consumed by activity and inactivity in equal measure but rarely offering a single moment to relax. I would nearly go as far as saying it’s a unique experience, but it’s not. I have experienced it before.

This is my fourth year in university, my final year of this degree and throughout my time In have been active in sports, playing with the university tennis team. This year I found a new one, joining and participating in the fencing club. This year marks participation in my fourth and my fifth intervarsities. With each of these I have found this experience, which is not quite unique, but it has been experience unique to Intervarsities.

It’s been three weeks since the fencing Intervarsities finished, now I happen to have a chance to reflect on it, to reflect on them all. Three days after the tennis Intervarsities in Dublin, bumping into Stephanie on campus we had a quick exchange of –
“How are you?” she responded “I still haven’t recovered” I replied, “Neither have I”.
The intensity of four days takes it out of you, or well at least it has for me, leaving me in a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. Each of the years with tennis, I have returned home in a state where I don’t know whether to burst out in hysterical laughter or to breakdown in to tears. I don’t know whether I’m extremely happy or completely miserable.

You spend five days non stop surrounded by the same people, you share rooms with them, you eat with them, dance with them, play with them, drink with them, every moment for five days you are with them (well it took encouragement to get any of them to sing with me ;D ). You form bonds without realising it. The non-stop nature of it, the sleep deprivation, drunkenness and pain, it’s both wonderful and terrible. At the end when it’s over there a feeling of longing and loneliness when you finally depart each other, but at the same moment a feeling of relief. I’ve never had the experience of such a wide range of emotions and thoughts to compare to this, except at intervarsities, each time a surreal and different yet also similar experience.

Each time has been very different to each other for me, but each also has had some common vein which remains the same. The nature of these competitions means that there will likely be a number of people you won’t know; in first year I was one of those them, having been injured for a good part of the year I had yet to make proper connections with the people there. By the end of it I knew everyone and everyone me, having had some form of conversation with everyone. In second year I had a quite similar experience, somehow falling in between the older of members near the end of the college years and the large influx of brand new members, but yet again intervarsities proved a opportunity to get to know all of these people.

There have definitely been some moments that will lay strong in the memory from my earlier years. One of the standout ones was from first year when DCU hosted. I’m not the most extroverted of people, so often times night clubs aren’t my favourite place to be, mix in with that not having any real close friends and that was me in Dublin. One of the nights we ended up in D2 nightclub, I had no idea of Dublin at all, haven’t gotten taxis in with a group I had little idea of where I actually was. I made the brilliant move to leave and try find my way back to wherever the hostel was, lucky for me as I was just exiting I bumped into Conor, my then team captain and one of the closer friends I had made over the year through our numerous competitive matches playing in winter league. He dragged me back in, and with that occurred a rather embarrassing videoing of my fabulous dancing, which at this stage is hopefully long lost, although since then I do think my dancing has improved…..

Another standout moment was from second year where, for some mad reason I was selected as the team captain of the second team, and with it came the veil of some responsibility, which culminated in spending an the best part of an hour stressing over trying to get one of my teams players, Kieran (ofc), back to the hostel. “Yeah alright Ois, I’m with some Aussie Chick, I’m their hostel I’m grand”. 15 minutes pass “Yeah okay I’ll come back, It’s grand I’ll be back later don’t worry”. Another 10 minutes, ” oh come on, I’m so close just give me some time”. Another 10 minutes “Okay I’ll be back in 15 minutes”, at this stage Kieran’s accent has become noticeably more Australian, as many of our accents are prone to change when with those of another nationality, I’ve found my accents is particularly vulnerable when around Northern Irish. Eventually Kieran does return with dismay and sorrow a smear of lipstick across his cheek and a new fullblown Australian accent, I actually felt rather bad to ruin his night, but it was best to make sure he’s safe.. Of course after another night, a large number of long island ice-teas dancing and more, myself and Kieran ended up shit-talking for what seemed like hours in the common room, our semi-final in a matter of hours (Excellent captain material I made), particularly funny was the moment some random Spanish lad walked past who apparently looked identical to me (he really didn’t)..

After these first two years I have taken on some responsibility, working on the committee as equipment manager in third year and then taking on the Men’s captaincy this year, which has impacted somewhat on how the competitions have went for me. As a committee role when we hosted intervarsities, it resulted in even less sleep than before, being at the club to help with organisation first thing each morning and making the fantastic decision to stay out till three each night over-emphasized the feeling of exhaustion which has come with these events for me. Being at home in Cork actually made for a different experience, not as much a feeling of togetherness as many of the players from our club would go to and from lectures and wouldn’t hang around the entire time, which at other tournaments was something that was forced upon us. The committee did provide that level of commitment however (committee – commitment… – heh ), being availble to talk or commiserate whenever we needed.

The captaincy this year did add a whole other element to this, and this was real responsibility – people relied on you to not totally and utterly fuck up, we somehow just about managed that. There was that moment of panic when we entered the hostel, which was down a side alley, not a great start, and then had rather aged and grimey looking interior. In comparison to my previous stays it did seem uninviting. Then at reception they first seemed to not recognise our booking, and after didn’t actually have the 36 people we had booked and only had us down for 34, which just about worked out, luckily for us.

After that things generally went without too much issue, somehow everyone played and attended their matches (well nearly everyone……… ), somehow we didn’t lose anyone in Dublin, I earlier in the year did nearly cause 15 of us to miss an Aircoach back to Cork, but there was no chance of that happening this time as a private coach eliminated the need for it. We even managed to checkout pretty much on time which is a near miracle after four exhausting days of tennis, early mornings, late nights, drinking, clubbing and strolling around Dublin.

The ones your in charge of always going to be the most tiring, the most stressful, it wasn’t as easy to make friends in the same way as earlier years, although this year was different in the case that I knew everyone pretty well, haven’t spoken and arranged for them all to come along, though it was nice to help integrate new player’s to the group.

Returning home on the bus that Sunday was a rather melancholic experience, this year I had a better understanding of what I was feeling, knowing this might be my last time going on one of these events with the tennis club, wondering will I get a chance to relive these moments. The bewilderment, excitement and tiredness culminating into a small feeling of despondency. Looking back having had a bit more time to reflect, this event even with the stress it caused is something I would never undo, having helped to organised, working with Andrea and the rest of the committee, it’s something I’ll look back on with fondness. Of course I’ll probably have plenty of reminders through the years of myself and Kieran sharing our duet of “My Heart Will Go On”.

Of course this year I also started fencing somehow finding time, I can’t quite explain sufficiently to most my logic behind how I started it but I got hooked after a few sessions which explains why I’ve continued it! With my involvement I somehow earned a place on the intervarsities sabre teams. Now a new sport a very different format, I didn’t know what to expect, will it be similar to tennis? Will it be different.

To explain the differences: Tennis interevarsites are a four day competition, playing ties against several different teams across the four days. With each night comes a meal and a night out as well, so there’s a heavy mix of playing and socialising.
Fencing is a two day event, with each sword type only performing one day, and a ball being held on the night between the two. By the sounds of things Fencing wouldn’t be quite as hard..

Fencing ended up matching tennis in terms of how it left me after, even if the reasons for that differ. Watching and cheering on club mates, getting drenched in the rain, getting 3 hours sleep because of a rather hilarious mishap when walking home (thanks Niki…), drinking enough wine to fill a barrel, feeling the effects of said wine – quick aside oh wow, I sure do enjoy some wine somtetimes, it even helps with rhymes! – and then fencing a little and also cheering on my own teammates as we won sabre! Fencing managed to fit a similar experience into two days that tennis does in five.

In some ways fencing intervarsities made getting to know people slightly more difficult, when supporting team members were focused so it was hard to talk individually with them and as a supporter I walked around a lot supporting each of the different teams and offering encouragement where I could. Actually competing involved spending most of the time with your own team, focussing on your next opponents, or your current ones, cheering at each won point, extra loudly after each bout. The cheering of your opponents at the end of each match-up was a new one to me, which at first seemed odd, but by the end enjoyable, especially as we went undefeated for the day. It was hard to talk with others though, many were exhausted from competing themselves, I was feeling the mental and physical tiredness which I had with tennis at this stage too, so perhaps it was more so that I was just having trouble myself.

The fencing ball did offer the opportunities that the day did not, everyone looking well dressed and all in the mood to have fun. Apparently using a napkin as a telescope indicated I was too far gone, even though this is likely something I would do anyway, but even so, the ban was great, the rituals were odd, but not too awful, at least a sock didn’t actually ruin that pint for me! As always dancing was fun as was chatting, stealing phones and much much more!

Intervarsities have offered me something which is just so different to what else I have experienced that I had to write about them. Wonderful and in parts awful, both energising and exhausting in equal measure, they are probably the things which have been some of the best highlights of my time in college, leaving memories, friends and feelings that will stick with me for the rest of my life. There is so much more that I could say, so much more I would love to have done, and even the possibility that I will yet have more ahead of me even if I am finished with university, though that’s not quite certain either.

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