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What It's Like To Support Cork In The Shite Years

What It's Like To Support Cork In The Shite Years
By Paul Ring Updated

A few moons ago, I went on a voyage that thousands of college students embark upon every summer; The J1. The destination was Hyannisport, a relatively short hop from Boston and a town known for holding the Kennedy holiday compound and generally being a great place where a student could earn some coin in the summer.

Upon landing in the town, we immediately felt the warm embrace of familiarity. There were signs directing us to possible employment, intermittent tri-colours peeking out and waving amidst the ocean of Stars and Stripes and Irish pubs assuring us they would be showing the hurling.

The time difference made watching a Munster Championship match in the morning a truly novel experience and on the morning of the game, I proudly displayed a ‘People’s Republic of Cork’ t-shirt, innocently ascribing a sense of rebellion and place to this one faintly ridiculous saying. Upon reaching the pub, I realised to my horror that the other Cork citizens that had crossed the Atlantic were wearing the same, or similar shirts. With one piece of clothing, we both assured ourselves that we’re Cork like and reaffirmed our stereotypes as what I’d imagine to be: insufferable shites to everyone else.

Waterford would down Cork that day and I always imagined that the rest of the country was happy when Cork lost. There was a certain sense of comfort from thinking that we would never be ignored, that people enjoyed seeing the Death Star breached every now and then. It made shrugging off defeats easier, sure we’d always be back.

I recall another T-shirt vendor coming close to capturing a county’s mood way back in 2002. It was an occasion so important that my mother decided I could skip school to attend. Roy was in town, the great persecuted Roy, the emblem of this county would be signing copies of his now near iconic autobiography. I was number 349 of a 350 person queue and an enterprising businessman was selling T-shirts along the way of Roy and Micheal Collins with big bright lettering across saying ‘Two great Cork leaders shot in the back’.

He did a brisk trade. Saipan and Keane only strengthened Cork’s sense of being different. We can’t imagine Keane coming from anywhere else and we loved that half the country hated him. Roy is ours and he can do no wrong, the umbrella of the county comes over him. His relentless pursuit of perfection was something we wanted stamped on the county. Sure, you’re not from here, you don’t get it.
Even at the height of the Cork hurlers strike, a strike whose effects still linger to this day, there was a feeling of this is a Cork thing, you wouldn’t understand.

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Ronan O’Gara is another blessed son of the county. It wasn’t just that he was immensely talented, he also had that intangible quality of Corkness. A bit chippy, opinionated and cocky. Pure Cork, boy. When Johnny Sexton ran over and screamed into O’Gara’s face during Leinster’s 2008 Henieken Cup semi-final win, it was an assault on Cork. No-one does that to ROG. We do the barking, we do the preening. We’re Cork.

But that has faded this decade. As Roy and ROG moved off to TV and coaching and the hurling side disintegrated to near embarrassment, we’re left moored in a river of uncertainty. Modesty doesn’t suit us but a lot of teams have put manners on us recently.

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For better or worse, as much as Keane and ROG bled Corkness, as much as the Shed at Turners Cross has its own county within a county, Cork is defined by hurling. It always will be. The footballers are shamefully treated at times but there’s a reason for that. Cork is Ring and Six foot two, eyes of blue. Cork is de Banks streaming down from the town end, it’s Deano and Corcoran and players emerging like mushrooms. Donal Óg once wrote of Cloyne but he could have been speaking about so much of the county when he said:

“Hurling runs the town. The town runs on hurling. It is our love and our celebration and our identity and our source of community. That’s what we talk about. Hurling. That’s what we daydream about, hurling. That’s what we do. We hurl.”

But Cork’s hurling banners have been lowered for a long time now. This past summer, the minors, under 21’s and senior teams departed the Championship with barely a whimper. The white elephant of the Parc Ui Chaomh redevelopment stalks any conversation about Cork’s future, but that redevelopment had nothing to do with going out to Wexford. Yes, there are massive structural issues when it comes to underage coaching in Cork but taken in isolation, that Cork side should have been good enough to beat Wexford. I mean, it was bloody Wexford like.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6Pw942t_OI

Looking back, that improbable Domhnall O'Donovan leveller in the 2013 All Ireland Final signaled the definitive sea change in what Corkness is all about. Against all the odds, it looked like JBM had led us to the most improbable of titles, but that leveler realigned the pure logic of hurling and Cork have been tumbling down the mountain ever since.

The shameful sweeper shite against Tipp even robbed us of our uniqueness. 'Here we were, trying to be clever like the Waterford lads with their sweeper, as if we’d ever need to copy anyone.' If we’re to fall, we fall like Cork.

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What it’s done to Cork hurling support is infected us with meekness. We’re Theon post Ramsey. Timid, pitiful creatures trying to remember the good times. The rest of the country are past caring, there’s even whispers of pity now which is the biggest insult of all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9gkbCJUjXg

The arrogance that comes with winning has quickly faded and with no standard bearer like Roy or ROG, we are drifting through a fog of uncertainty. But that Corkness is still there bubbling under the surface, it will only take one bright summer for it to emerge. Through the losses and the hurt, we’re still Cork boy, we’ll always be Cork boy.

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