If ever a piece of footage encapsulates what supporting a football team means to those who stick it out through the interminable rollercoaster, it is that wonderful clip on YouTube filmed from the away end at Tolka Park in October 2011 just as Graham Cummins is about to score his 94th-minute title winning goal.
Three and a bit years on, the footage of those exultant yelps and screams from the rickety but packed stand housing Cork City’s supporters when Cummins heads the ball home from Derek O’Brien’s cross still produces a spine-tingling sensation.
It was one of those days when every little detail remains freshly ingrained in your mind years later. A summation of the occasional ecstasy you experience when investing so much in not just a team but your team.
Crying tears of joy on the pitch afterwards, hugging friends and strangers alike, was justification for all the miles on the road, all the money spent and most of all the heartache we, as a group, had to endure over the previous four years. The club is part of who we are, it’s a key part of our fabric and, on the day of its 1,000th league game, it seems a fitting time to reflect on the peaks and troughs.
There have, after all, been some incidents over the past 30 years that would have looked out of place in that old Sky comedy-drama, Dream Team. From the famous draw with Bayern Munich to away games in front of a couple of hundred people, our club’s story is deeply romantic. It has never been dull and even the many dark moments, each elucidating the madness of supporting a club that is always capable of springing a moment of dread upon you, have contributed to forming a distinctive identity.
It may sound masochistic but many of my own fondest memories come from that bleak spell in the first division. The renewed sense of worth and the increased camaraderie among the hard core group who could not let go when the club was on its knees was special to witness.
There was more of a united front. A stronger sense than ever of us against the world. We are City. And we are going to return to our rightful place.
From getting lost with no phone signal down dark Galway boreens when attempting to navigate our way to Salthill Devon’s vacuous mountain-top field in Drom to writing a match report minus any shelter as it snowed at Mervue, it was rarely easy or comfortable following them on the road.
But even if there were many moments where you questioned your sanity, it has always been impossible to let go. ‘What really is the point?’ I’ve asked myself on numerous Friday nights driving down the M8 after a poor result or performance. Yet you keep coming back for more. You cannot let it be – especially when it is ingrained in you from such a young age.
I phoned my dad yesterday to talk about my first game – it was against Dundalk in 1993. I was three-years-old and before setting foot in school, I was already being exposed to the magic of John Caulfield, Declan Daly and Dave Barry.
We still regularly bring up various memories we have experienced together when supporting the team – making a bus journey to Longford on a Sunday night for a 0-0 draw in 2005 still makes us laugh a decade on.
The feeling of local pride even as an eight-year-old when thousands of us disembarked rammed and rowdy trains at Heuston before the 1998 Cup final at Dalymount Park has stuck with me right up until now. So thanks, dad, for introducing me to something I will forever cherish, no matter how hard it has sometimes been.
Then again if it was simple, such a powerful bond would never have been brokered. Even back in the 90s, when Turner’s Cross was nothing but a field with a wall around the perimeter of the pitch, there was something magical.
We have suffered time and time again as supporters but we keep coming back. Our love for the club transcends relationships and key life moments. It’s been a constant in my life despite many rocky moments and all the pain and worries the club has given us have been worthwhile for the feeling of attachment that comes with it.
People say football is just a game but try arguing that with someone who has travelled to Ballybofey midweek to witness a scoreless draw. Try telling someone who uses the bulk of their annual leave on supporting their team that none of it matters. It does. And without Cork City, many of us would be lesser people.
Here’s to the next 1,000 games.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved