The loneliness of the travelling Cork footballers
IT MUSTN’T be a lovely experience being a Cork footballer, despite the three in a row of National leagues and an All-Ireland two years ago, not to mention the two recent Munster titles and a team that has contested most of the last ten All-Ireland semi-finals.
Any other team with that sort of success rate would generate a bandwagon of hats, flags and rosettes that would do justice to Dublin city any August.
But no. Once again, less that 500 die-hards made the journey to the capital to see the footballers yet again lift the League title. I’d say there’s about ten times that number of Cork folk resident in the capital which begs the question did anyone from Cork travel at all?
During the trophy presentation, I watched Conor Counihan closely as he looked around at the completely empty stadium, cold and windswept and I was wondering was he pondering was it worth the hassle putting in such effort for so little appreciation?
One of the main reasons teams keep going is the thought of how much it means to the supporters and nothing makes you run that little bit faster, or jump that little bit higher than the thought that out there are people who are doing it all with you in their heart and that it means so much to those who follow you all round the country.
The fact that this sort of support just does not exist in Cork makes the efforts of their county team even more admirable. In the semi-final, they broke the record for poor support with about 250 souls making the journey, but last Sunday was even worse because it was a national final, the second most important final in the country for senior inter-county footballers.
It was a bitterly cold day in Croke Park and the Kildare and Tyrone fans got out of the place as quickly as they could, so we were left with the 4,000 Mayo fans and the handful of rebels in a stadium that holds 84,000.
Call this sacrilege, but during the match I checked my Sky App on the mobile to follow a bit of the Spurs Blackburn match and there was White Hart Lane packed to the rafters for an ordinary bog standard league match, as was Celtic Park for the old Firm clash earlier and while that’s different, it’s not massively so because Cork is the largest county in Ireland and with a decent sized city and a population of almost 500,000. Only a hundredth of those would be 5,000 and ten times more than showed up on Sunday. Why do they not go?
Part of the reason is the fact that hurling people just do not rate Gaelic football and Cork city is a hurling stronghold. Hurling people are funny about football and feel that if they allow themselves to become enchanted by its charms, that they will be seen a poofy, or not a true Cork man.
A second reason is that there are so many clubs in the county that fixtures just cannot be called off, so in the semi final, there was a full set of club fixtures put on against the county match, therefore this precluded all club players, their supporters and anyone else who would like a game of football from travelling.
However, we are constantly being told that there is a significant band of supporters who follow the Cork county teams and do not follow the club scene in Cork and this was cast up when the clubs voted to keep various managers that the players were protesting over. This is when Main St. Cork city became thronged with the multitudes who told us they were Cork county supporters and had no club allegiance at all.
I remember most of us being puzzled at such a rare breed existing in only one county, but they seem to have gone into hiding since because they haven’t certainly been seen around Croke Park on the big days when their county needs them.
And this is not confined to the men. Although the ladies team won five in a row of All Ireland titles, the great masses were not impressed enough to even come to the final.
This, despite the fact that this Cork ladies’ team is arguably the best group of players ever to play the game with outstanding players such as Angela Walsh, Bríd Corkery, Nollaig Cleary, Norita Kelly and other Rebelettes of renown in the side.
Croke Park is just not suited to Cork unless it is an All-Ireland final. As soon as they go beyond group stages of anything, there should be a special case made for their horrendous support and fixtures involving them should be well down the country and away from headquarters.
We may harp and crow about how fantastic a venue it is, but there is nowhere colder, more windswept and lacking than that same stadium when a big county has decided not to travel for an important match.
Sunday’s match would have done just as well somewhere half way like Offaly, or Limerick, or even toss for a venue. Neutrals just don’t show any interest in these finals and no county is going to put off fixtures just because of the national league final.
This one is a real gum tickler for the GAA. It is disappointing because the current Cork team play an entertaining brand of football and have real strength of character. Under Conor Counihan they have become a much more settled team and now Aidan Walsh is cemented in at full forward, they are beginning to look a much more complete team that might be well ready to challenge for top honours.
In fact, they must be favourites for the All-Ireland this year. And perhaps their support might just come out of hibernation and bring some much needed noise and colour to Croke Park.