The warmest round of applause on Leeside ever for a Kilkenny team? Considering the context, the sincerity of the welcome was no surprise.
Cork faced Kilkenny in a benefit game for the Kieran O’Connor fund this evening and for once, the scoreline was the least important aspect of a clash between blood and bandage and black and amber.
Since O’Connor’s friends and teammates mobilised to help the Aghada man, who is now in his third bout with cancer, they have raised hundreds of thousands of euro to aid him.
The support has centred on Cork, naturally enough for a man who won an All-Ireland senior football medal in red and white in 2010, but the generosity seen in Armagh and Kerry in recent weeks was echoed tonight by the Cats.
Cork manager John Meyler was loud in his praise for participants and organisers alike: “It emphasises the whole family aspect of the GAA, the way it all comes together when someone is in need, or who needs urgent help. The hurlers, the footballers, the county board, everyone has come together to help out with that.
“For the O’Connor family this is an hour of crisis, clearly, and it’s not something we’d have an idea of, how they’re dealing with it - we don’t know what they’re going through at the moment so this is something the GAA family can do to help and support them. Anything we can do we will in order to support them.
“Kilkenny are great ambassadors for hurling and there’s great credit due to them, their team and county board, for facilitating the match.
“It’s a very worthwhile cause, obviously, but agreeing to play a game on a Wednesday night means arranging for lads to take a day or half a day off work, so it’s a fantastic gesture from them. And from the Cork County Board as well, in arranging the game in the first place.”
His opposite number concurred with Meyler.
“It’s the occasion that’s what it’s about, obviously,” said Brian Cody. “That’s the reason for the match, obviously. Everyone knows about that, about Kieran’s situation.
“John (Meyler) approached me after our last game in Nowlan Park and asked if we could play a match, and straightaway we said, ‘of course we will, yeah’.
“The whole GAA family rallies around in a situation like this, and that’s what’s been happening in Cork for the last few weeks, as we know - and around the country as well, because of the respect people everywhere have for Kieran, for a man who’s done so much for his club and for Cork.
“He and his family are having a tough time at the moment, so we’re more than happy to help out.”
The game itself? An exercise in confirmation rather than revelation. TJ Reid’s striking is unimpaired by a winter on club duty. Patrick Horgan’s eye remains equally keen. A slashing run and fine finish by Robbie O’Flynn produced a goal to warm locals in attendance.
The message of the evening wasn’t one of preparing for the championship and such. It was solidarity with a family having a tough time, as Brian Cody said. The cliche is the GAA as family, but like every cliche the kernel is true. The proof of it was in toight’s turnout, and the message articulated by the Friends of Kieran to the man himself: you keep up the fight in there and we’ll keep up the fight out there.
Scorers for Cork: P. Horgan (0-9, 8 frees); R. O’Flynn (1-1); D. Fitzgibbon, C. Lehane (0-3 each); S. Kingston, S. Harnedy, J. Coughlan (0-2 each); L. Meade, B. Cooper, J. O’Connor, D. Dalton, C. Cahalane (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid (0-10, 4 frees); W. Walsh (0-4); J. Maher, G. Aylward (0-2 each); R. Hogan, A. Murphy, K. Kelly, N. Brassil, L. Blanchfield (0-1 each).
CORK: A. Nash, S. O’Donoghue, D. Cahalane, E. Cadogan, C. Joyce, T. O’Mahony, G. Millerick, D. Fitzgibbon, B. Cooper, D. Kearney, R. O’Flynn, L. Meade, P. Horgan, C. Lehane, S. Harnedy.
Subs: S. Kingston for Meade (HT); A. Walsh for Harnedy (39); C. Cahalane for Cooper (42); W. Kearney for O’Donoghue (55); J. Coughlan for Horgan (55); J. O’Connor for Lehane (60); M. O’Halloran for Millerick (62); D. Dooley for D. Kearney (64); D. Dalton for O’Flynn (65); R. O’Flynn for A. Walsh (inj., 65).
KILKENNY: E. Murphy, P. Murphy, P. Deegan, T. Walsh, P. Walsh, C. Delaney, C. Fogarty, W. Walsh, J. Maher, A. Mullen, TJ Reid, G. Aylward, R. Hogan, L. Blanchfield, N. Brassil.
Subs: J. Clear for Fogarty, C. Wallace for P. Murphy, J. Hodlen for Deegan, A. Murphy for Aylward (all HT); K. Kelly for Hogan (49); D.Brennan for E. Murphy (60); C. fogarty Brassil (64); P. Murphy for Cleere (66).
Referee: F. Horgan (Tipperary)