Midleton are playing Glen Rovers in the county final. It’s your first time in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Your cousin Sean was there before, for the semi-final — but he’s 10, and you’re only six.
Your friend Evan is coming too. He’s the best hurler in your class, but you’re faster at running.
You spend the whole morning pucking your sliotar against the wall of the house, scoring goals for Midleton. You can’t wait for half-11, that’s when your Dad said ye’ll be leaving. You run into the house loads of times to check the kitchen clock.
Your Mam gives you fish fingers and waffles before ye go. She makes you bring your old hat because you can’t find your new one with the club crest. You’d love if she was coming too, but she can’t, she has to look after Nana Betty.
The pub is boring before the game, and you and Evan have to stand for ages while your Dad drinks beer and watches some other game on the telly. Then Grandad arrives, and ye all walk to the stadium.
The stand in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is huge and there’s another pitch just in front of it. The U14s from the club played there last summer. You’d love to do that, it’d be class, but Jimmy, your coach, says they don’t let the U8s play there.
There’s millions of steps up to the top of the stand, and your legs get really tired, but you don’t say anything. Grandad has to stop halfway up and take off his face mask for a bit. You and Evan get a Coke, but Dad has to hold them while ye hold the flags and the hurleys until ye sit down. Grandad has tea after the first game. He gives you and Evan some chocolate.
Grandad tells you that Midleton have won seven counties, and today will be the eighth.
“Don’t jinx us,” Dad says. You don’t know what that means.
“You know we won the All-Ireland in 1988, with John Fenton?” Grandad says. “He was our best ever player.”
“Better than Conor Lehane?” you ask.
“Oh, Conor is great,” Grandad says. “But John was even better. Your uncle Willie was good, too.”
You never knew a club could win an All-Ireland; you wonder if they beat Limerick.
The noise is SO loud when the teams walk behind the band on the pitch. The man behind from Glen Rovers is very loud, too.
In the first half, Midleton get a load of points, and are winning by nine. The man behind is giving out about short puck-outs. Then Patrick Horgan gets a goal and the man behind is even louder. Patrick is your favourite player for Cork, but now you hope he doesn’t score any more.
In the second half it’s very close, and Glen Rovers keep scoring points and getting closer. Your leg is jumping the way it does when you get nervous at school, but you can’t stop it.
Then Midleton miss a goal and have a load of wides, and your Dad is shouting: “Blow it up, ref!”, but the ref doesn’t. You think you might cry if Glen Rovers get a goal and draw the match, but then it goes wide.
When the ref blows the final whistle, your Dad hugs your Grandad and then they are both crying. You never saw your Dad cry before, even at Uncle Willie’s funeral a few weeks ago. He grabs you and pulls you into them. He hurts your arm a bit, but he doesn’t mean it.
“We won, Cian — we did it,” he says, crying. You wish he wouldn’t cry.
Getting on the pitch after is class, and you tap some of the players on the back. There’s a huge crowd. Dad takes a photo with you and Evan and Sean O’Leary Hayes.
When you get home you run into the house to tell your Mam all about it. Then you and Evan take turns at scoring goals for Midleton against the wall, like Conor Lehane and Ross O’Regan and Luke O’Farrell do. Evan can hit it really hard, sometimes you can too.
Evan’s Mam comes to pick him up, and you go inside and have dinner. It’s chicken, your favourite. Your Dad is going to the club to celebrate, but before he goes, you ask him if he thinks you’ll play for Midleton in a county final someday. He smiles and rubs your hair and says: “’Course you will, kid.” You like it when he smiles.
You ask your Mam if you can wear your jersey to school tomorrow, Muinteoir Muireann said ye could. She said the cup might be coming to the school too.
“I hope Pa White comes,” you say. “He said hello to me when … what do you call it when we lined up for them again, last week?”
“A guard of honour. Straight to sleep now for you now, buster, you’ll have to be fresh for tomorrow.”
You close your eyes. You think about scoring goals for Midleton, goals for Midleton, goals for Midleton.
You fall asleep. You dream.