Those first trips down — ‘82 and ‘85 — I travelled without pressure. No big calls to make. That was the oul fella. Or maybe the uncle, if he’d landed first from Dublin. Go by Limerick and the cursing wouldn’t start until Charleville.
Or chance Cashel and forget what Fermoy was like the last time.
They’re both gone. So my own boss. These days, I’d stroll over by Blackrock, but for some kind of makeshift reconstruction, I park in town and make the long walk down.
Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Ah sure, it’s grand. But it’d be a lie if I tried to summon as much nostalgia for the concrete as the company.
Maybe it’s a testimony to the place, as a theatre, that disappointments here linger as long as any. Or maybe it’s just because there was a good few of them.
That’s how the relationship got started. JBM, Fenton, Tony Sull, Mulcahy, Cashman. Plundering. Whatever they win, Cork will never seem as dashing.
More woe in ‘92 when Bonnar was burst and Brian Corcoran burst out of his cocoon. Fully formed and majestic. Owen O’Neill sticking two goals in ‘96. Lots of it.
Even the wins poked through clouds. Waterford’s ‘stout resistance’ in ‘89. We’d have been as well off at home with the Sunday Matinee, to see Cowboys. That’s what a fella said, anyway.
But say what you like about the place, you could see enough, wherever you were. You had the air of it anyway.
We knew full well Nicky’s kick went over in ‘91, though we didn’t find out until The Sunday Game that his ducks had drowned. Whatever way it was built, too, it was able to show everyone in the ground Leahy’s miss in ‘97 in slow motion.
Sometimes you saw too much. Anthony Crosse walking into a terrible belt in ‘95. A pure accident but I can still see it and hear the sog.
Some of the bad vibes were cleansed in 2001, when everyone in blue and gold seemed to make that long walk with a bit more certainty.
Not much of that sense of purpose now. No sign, for starters, of the match bleeding into the city. You had to go down to find it, for the waft of chips and the first offer of colours. Once, that road stretched maddeningly away from you. Yesterday it was a grand stroll. Dribs and drabs of enthusiasm. No buying or selling.
The fractured pavements were still claiming victims. Back then, you might pay the price for looking too far ahead and dreaming. Yesterday, you could be caught with your head stuck in a phone.
The first glimpse of the northside through the fabricated roofs is always a treat. Better again through the trees. Just before the Rowing Club, a guard was hovering where the boats used to spill out impatient crossers from Tivoli. He was there in those days too, trying to keep some control on precarious, stuffed vessels.
“All we did was wait for them and pray. Somehow we lost no-one.”
Still no great feel for it. No urgency. Maybe in a few of the young lads. The quick stride wasn’t just to keep up. The odd imaginary solo on their good foot. A hero waiting for them inside.
There it was, the concrete bowl. As I say, it’s grand. Some might suggest the locals are a bit too proud of its roundyness. But what harm. Today, no crush, no queue, no panic. All wrong.
Into the Blackrock Terrace. Inside, those storied bowels and kidneys of the arena were coping handily. No pungent aromas yet. Still, the rebirth was as sweet as ever. Out to that breathtaking backdrop, as colourful as life, spoiled only a little by the gaps at the City End.
To make up for it, the top of the Marquee poked over the Uncovered Stand to remind you we were in the midst of a sophisticated people.
A glance up the terrace. A red sea. Deceptive. Loads of room. No harm. On the big days, the Cork lads are always zealous protectors of personal space. Where you going, boy?
An early fluster of intent. But what is it about that ‘Rebels’ yell from the football crowd that never seems as insistent? Experience, I suppose. Only the ref lifts them early, when Fionn Fitzgerald pulls one clean off the sod and gets away with it. You can still see everything plain as day.
With Declan O’Sullivan pulling strings and Geaney and O’Donoghue doing damage, the grumbling starts and the advice isn’t long following. “Stay with your effing man.”
It takes a save by Ken O’Halloran to clear the arena’s throat for the first time and we get one taste of the way a great roar can roll around the bowl like thunder.
As Sylvie Linnane used to say; listen to the thunder and pay no heed. Kerry tag on a few more. A Cork pass goes astray. No place can hold a groan like it either. A great puff of exasperation.
The sound of Kerry, meanwhile, is as you’d expect. Murmurs of acknowledgment that things are right. You have to have a lot done to loosen their lungs. In the second half, a Sheehan kick does. So does O’Mahony departing and Darran arriving.
The exodus started with 13 to go. The father never left early. “What panic is on them?” But I had writing to do.
Going out, a young Rebel had disappointment on his bowed head, but he was straining to look back at the same time, too young to be stripped of all hope.
He’ll have better days too. In a better place.
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