JOHN RIORDAN: Never forget the heroes who made 1,000 games possible

Missing out on last night’s 1,000th Cork City league game was all the more painful because my first ever Cork City league game was also a win over Galway United at Turner’s Cross.

That was an entirely different sort of occasion. 

A mild Sunday afternoon, back in the days of the 2pm kick-off and one which was heralding many more to come.

There was a good crowd around the perimeter of the pitch, not many of them particularly perturbed by the various cracked steps, rocks and weed growths that belied the new era being ushered in by the Taylor Report across the water.

And of course The Shed was full, nostalgia and novelty being its calling card.

It was an even more dangerous pile of bricks and mortar than anything thrown up elsewhere at the Cross, its only health and safety consideration being the terrace’s stubbornly diminutive stature.

The healthy gate receipts that afternoon were badly needed. Many of the supporters in attendance — obviously longer standing loyalists than my teenage self — were in survival mode.

The strange joy of emerging from another near-death experience in Cork football must have felt like consuming ecstatic gulps of air.

The Shed was the be-all and end-all for us newbies.

The 2-0 win was enjoyable, of course, but Galway were also in dire straits, heading for relegation. The manic celebration of English centre back Dave Hill (and fast evolving cult hero) was entirely fitting though and it was catnip for those of us for whom Sunday’s Premier League ritual just didn’t quite cut it.

I’m trying to cast my mind back and all I can really say is that my mindset was a dull mix of naiveté and realism: on the one hand, it never would have occurred to me that Cork City would never go the way of Cork Athletic and Celtic and Hibs. Those were the bad old days and we were here to stay.

But on the other hand, it was impossible to imagine there would ever be a league championship to celebrate. Still though, that grim outlook didn’t seem to turn me off.

Writing in yesterday’s paper, Alan Smith covered every single base, acknowledging his own relationship with the club, one that goes back further than mine. I was delighted he led off with that unbelievable night in Tolka Park in October 2011.

But I have to take one issue with him; never a dull moment? There were plenty. So many, in fact, that I truly believed that mid-table mediocrity would be our eternal fate.

There was of course that magical FAI Cup win in 1998 which arrived at the tail end of two ceaselessly dull 90-minute messes of moments. But it didn’t matter because Derek Coughlan headed the winner at our end of the ground and our still patched together club was able to bring a trophy down Pana, just like all those other teams did in those other codes.

By this stage, the club was stumbling towards 500 league games and that’s where the real Sisyphean ordeal was playing out. Most football fans, deflect a chronic lack of belief with self-aggrandising chants.

The reason most fans should never run a club is because their outlook is short to medium term at best. Most of us couldn’t look beyond the next away game in Dublin. A late winner at Pat’s and Bohs and the celebrations would be enough to see us through to next season. That’s the true lunacy of football fandom.

That cup winning season, myself and two friends drove up and down to Dalymount for one of these 1,000 league games. It was a bright Friday evening and although there were a few dozen City fans in that beautiful old relic of a stand whose end was nigh, the three of us took our seats in the perfectly barren terracing on the opposite side.

Gerald Dobbs was one of the goalscorers in a 2-0 win. On the way back, the other two slept so I was forced to roll down the car window periodically just to avoid joining them in slumber and certain death.

Maybe people scoff at 1,000 league games because the yardstick of longevity around our way is Fergie managing more than 1,000 league games over the course of less seasons.

But those of us who think the extent of our commitment is summed up by standing through 0-0 draws at UCD and surviving late night car journeys probably don’t realise the daily grind that it truly takes to get a club to 1,000 league games.

I hope all those unsung Cork City heroes were in the thoughts of everyone who showed up last night because the next 1,000 will be all the more stable because of them. And maybe even enjoyable.

njohnwriordan@gmail.com  Twitter: JohnWRiordan


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