The first time I got to touch the Sam Maguire was in October 1990 when he and Liam MacCarthy came to visit Blackrock Hurling Club.
That was the year I realised there was more than enough humour in arrogance to sustain Corkonians through the lean days of the subsequent decade, long before the onset of the goading simplicity that sold so many People’s Republic of Cork t-shirts.
The hurling title was safely locked away after that mad game against Galway, leaving the footballers to maul their way through a far grittier decider against Meath.
The homecoming for the double on Leeside was unfathomably joyous and the bishop stood up on that temporary stage at the end of the South Mall telling the spoiled thousands on the packed street that there were two types of people in Ireland: those from Cork and those who wish they were from Cork.
I was only 11 and my wide-eyed disbelief remains frozen and preserved even though his populist banter was probably as well-worn a cliché back then as it certainly is now.
My memory of the triumphantly uttered line and the frenzied roar of approval is crystal clear.
How could life get any better? Tomás Mul, Jim Cashman, Ger Cunningham and Tony Sull were all back out to celebrate with the footballers: Larry, Shea, Jimmy Kerrigan, Conor Counihan and the rest. Teddy Mac was the luckiest man in the world.
A couple of weeks later, my brother Eddie and I got a flavour of how they must have felt when the two gleaming chunks of silver came to Church Road.
We still have the photo and I still recall the small pang of jealousy I felt when the younger, smaller Riordan held Liam MacCarthy for the camera while I was left to struggle under the weight of the football chalice.
Liam MacCarthy was always a more interesting cup for me.
I have hazier memories of it being propped up on our mantelpiece during the winter of 1986-87 when Blackrock’s Tom Cashman was Cork captain and lent my father the cup for a few days of hushed reverence.
The cups have become much more accessible now and even though a depressingly large portion of the population can realistically expect to live a full life without ever touching either of them as a happy fan, Sam and Liam travel far enough these days to lessen the mystique a notch — enough to keep us within reach ofgreatness but not to the point where we don’t know where we stand.
Dublin’s players and management were in New York this past weekend and enjoyed a busy few days lugging their precious cargo around for exiles to pose with and marvel at. They meeted and greeted with fans over a few pints on Saturday and Sunday nights but they also, admirably, headed out to the new home of the ever growing juvenile GAA club, Shannon Gaels of Queens, on Sunday afternoon.
These trips are a necessary evil. People here are desperate for just a few minutes with the cup — especially if they’re Dubs. It ends up seeing more nightlife than anyone should be subjected to and I’ve been hearing some unfortunate yarns from over the years that I’m sadly unable to verify. Part of me doesn’t want to.
It does make me wonder, however, whether or not Croker sends a replica Sam out here with the winning panels every year.
It would make the most sense given the logistics involved and how we humans are not best equipped when it comes to taking good care of nice things. (It reminds me of the time an FAI official tried to send the FAI Cup back with me on the Cork train after a press conference in Dublin. Insurance didn’t cover the Blue Riband trophy of domestic football being left in the care of a biased City fan so I missed out on a tense couple of hours spent staring at the black case in the baggage compartment.) There’s no doubt that many of the GAA players tasked with doing the rounds on foreign soil enjoy a drink.
If you had to pose in front of every smartphone in the room, you’d be driven to drink too. If any of us are too cynical or too superstitious to enjoy sharing a room with Sam or Liam for a half hour, it’s not the fault of the players who have taken the time to travel all this way. After all, it was them and not us who put their lives on hold in order to blur the lines between conditioning and mental breakdown while chasing September glory.
This is their payoff and more power to them.
* Twitter: JohnWRiordan
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