The demarcation lines are not as clear as the river would suggest and split loyalties are sure to be encountered at every turn. For example, my own childhood was spent in the flat southern area of Glasheen.
However, a not too distant relative of mine, Sean O’Callaghan, wrote ‘The Boys of Fair Hill’ in honour of a seemingly splendid set of northside youths.
Unfortunately this boast failed to prevent former Cork City midfielder and proud northsider Patsy Freyne from denigrating my ‘southside softness’ at any given moment during training sessions from 1999 to 2003. Whilst Freyne did not mean any malice, there may be some truth behind the assumption underlying his taunt — northside footballers are not soft.
To be ‘soft’ in soccer can cover a myriad of meanings, all of which are negative. At underage level, one can be labelled soft for having a higher inclination to pull out of ‘50-50’ tackles or for merely not wanting to engage in bare knuckle boxing after the match. However, for the purposes of the League of Ireland and particularly in the context of Cork City FC, to be labelled ‘soft’ meant you did not yet have the steeliness to win trophies.
It is difficult to find successful Cork City FC sides without at least one steely ‘norrie’ in the side. Think back to the League win in 92/93 and Declan Daly and Fergus O’Donoghue, to the Cup-winning squad of 1998 which included Daly, Freyne and Philip Long, to the league win in 2005 with George O’Callaghan and Roy O’Donovan and to the 2007 FAI Cup win and Leon McSweeney.
But there was a common flair too, characteristic of Freyne, O’Donovan and O’Callaghan in particular.
Tonight, all going well, the impressive Garry Buckley has a chance to join that select group. Buckley, a product of northside underage club Leeds AFC and of an excellent City U19 side, spent his first year at League or Ireland level playing at centre-back. This year John Caulfield has pushed him into an attacking central midfield role. His long-legged pace and aggression, together with clever feet and a canny finishing knack, have made him the ideal foil for the miraculous heading ability of Mark O’Sullivan. So much so, that Buckley has scored an impressive nine league goals this season.
Even more impressive has been his growing maturity. Earlier in the season Buckley was sent off in a League Cup match against Shamrock Rovers. This ill-discipline threatened to cost the team valuable points, but Buckley has acted like a more mature player since, a player who sees his work rate and responsibility to the team as his primary concerns.
The current City central midfield trio of Colin Healy, from Ballincollig, Gearoid Morrissey, Mahon, and Buckley represent a geographic triangle surrounding the city. It is this midfield that has stoked the flames of the Cork City engine room this season.
The midfield of leaders Dundalk is considered by many observers to be the best in the country, with Richie Towell their leader and talisman. However there are signs that the City midfield have improved to the extent Dundalk will certainly not have it all their own way at Oriel Park tonight.
And if things do go City’s way and Buckley does get to bring his League medal back to the northside, you can be sure they will be singing the ‘Boys of Fair Hill’ on both sides of the lovely Lee this weekend.