It's Not Always About The Football

“This season – its going to be some fucking slog”

– Scotty.

As listeners to the pod know, Scotty and I, disagree on at least 75% of all issues concerning Cork City FC. Formations, players, managers, owners, on field, off field, full agreement is as rare as investment in our Women’s teams.  However, in the midst of all the blood boiling and disagreement that invigorates our TOTAP WhatsApp chat, his propensity to drop one line which catches you straight between the eyes, has never diminished nor left him.  “Its going to be some fucking slog”, was his latest offering which got me thinking.

He wasn’t of course referring to the club nor to the team, all of whom know exactly what is expected of them. He was referring to the fan base, the people who aren’t going to Galway twice this season but to Athlone instead. Those who won’t be able to roar insults at players from Pats, Shels or Shams, but whom instead must try to muster up enough apathy about Kerry, Longford and UCD to want to insult their players in the first place. Geographically Cobh, Treaty, even Wexford and Athlone make it more appealing then numerous trips to the pale but its still the First Division, there is no hiding from it, and we are here because we deserve to be here.

When the season begins, we will find that the First Division has been our home for three of the last four seasons. The double winners in 2017, will have spent three of four seasons between 2020 and 2024 in the graveyard.  Of course, it’s going to be a slog for supporters, last time out in 2022 we had Waterford and a JC led Galway to contend with, we had a fight to win, an applecart to upset, we were third favourites, dismissed by pundits as potential also rans (Alan Cawley I’m looking at you). We as a fanbase had a cause to buy into, a fight to fight, a message to deliver to the rest of the country.

A great night in Waterford, where Ruairi Keatings 95th minute penalty to win that game confirmed to us all what we knew all along, we were going to win the league. Or that night in Galway where Ruairi was sent off and we (players and fans) bled for the shirt as one and emerged with a one nil win, which told us as early as that May night, what we all knew anyway, we were going to win the league.

The problem is that this season, no one is writing us off, bookies have us 1/3 to win a part-time league with said leagues only full-time team. There are no Galway’s or Waterford’s, no rivalries, no big games bar Cobh and let’s be honest, those four games are much bigger for Cobh then they are for us (Yes, I know that smacks of arrogance, it meant to). 2022 was my favourite season following this club and I was there in 2005 and in 2017. There was something unique about it, a club legend in charge in Colin Healy, winning a league that no one gave us a hope of winning, effectively doing it in Waterford in the 95th minute, unique locations, unique clubs which we were never going to experience again, so soak it all in, make sure you enjoy it because once this trip through the graveyard is done, you will never see it again…

Yet here we are, once again preparing for another trip through the midlands and down the east coast. Is it any wonder that fans are finding it hard to get motivated? The problem for the club here and it is one I believe Tim Clancy has accepted and embraced, is that this season Cork City FC cannot win, it can only lose. Win the league and everyone says well that’s what we expected, there will be no tales of plucky underdogs or surprises being sprang, but fail to win  game's nevermind the league, and the knives will come from all directions. Have no doubt as you read this, that Cork City failing to win the league is a much bigger story then Cork City winning the league. Journo's in certain quarters will already be hoping they get to prepare their quills to write stories about what has gone wrong at Cork City, those stories are far more interesting and attract far more eyes than stories stating City lead the first division by nine points at the halfway stage. If City start the season poorly then requests from Dublin for zoom access to Tim’s weekly press conference will far outweigh the number of requests should we start well.

My favourite City game of the last ten years or so is a nil nil draw away in Wexford in 2021. It was a dire game in which Alec Byrne was sent off late in the first half. Colin Healy let Richie Holland run the game from the sideline as he was hoping a different voice might somehow inspire the troops, it didn’t work. A turgid game but my favourite none the less because the football was a secondary concern, it was the first away game we were allowed go to post covid restrictions being loosened. It was the middle of July, a Friday night in Wexford dressed in t-shirt and shorts, it was genuinely the closest I have ever come to a, “the first day of the rest of your life” experience. Just leaning over the metal barrier around the pitch, having a laugh with people you hadn’t seen in a year or more. That feeling of being able to live again, to laugh with others, to enjoy the company of friends even if the football wasn’t great.

Looking back now that night was a microcosm of what TOTAP would become. One of the City fans with a big North Korean flag as a secret (as he believed it) nod to the commies on the board, which of course was the inspiration for TOTAP's Commie Watch. I had “words” with a player post-game when from my point of view the players refused to acknowledge the fans who had travelled, fans (namely Sreenan) had made their thoughts on the performance known as the game went on and I guess not all the players agreed with his assessment… Colin Healy arrived over to see what was going on and the players following him, marched over to acknowledge the fans hence Colin never actually being told about the “issue”. Instead, he launched into a passionate defence of his team, something he was to do many times over in interviews with me as Colin would always strive to protect his players in public, even if that was not the way it would go in private. Stephen Beattie was asked about it on the following nights Big Red Bench and as I remember, he said nice things about the lads involved and dismissed it as absolutely nothing. He was right, it was nothing and was treated as such, we treated it the same way on the following weeks pod, and it went away as quickly as it raised its head.

How one would long for the way things used to be. 

So in the first away trip since TOTAP began, we had the inspiration for Commie Watch, Decky falling out with players while they were still on the pitch, Sreenan giving a running commentary to an assistant referee (who may still not be over it but who did turn around and laugh with us at one stage), Jonathon Hill and Mark Scanlon of the FAI just walking around the pitch (if I only knew then what I know now, I would have stopped them for a question and answer session). Johnny McDonnell (ex LOI manager), standing next to us, genuinely trying to figure out if some of the stuff being said and some of the antics going on were a reason to have us committed to some sort of institution or were in fact some of the funniest things he had seen at a LOI ground. (I believe he leaned heavily towards option A).

The point of the meandering monologue is this, even if its hard to get yourself motivated for another trip around the graveyard, its not always about football, it’s about friendship, laughs, nights out, its about everything that goes on around the football, not just the football.

Your season ticket doesn’t just mean you have to go to Longford and Kerry in the cross, it means you get to go for pints with the lads, a night out with your Dad, precious hours just you and the kids, whatever it may be, if you have always done it and you lose it, you may never get it back.

If that happens then you will ultimately miss it, maybe forever.

Going is worth way more then not going, even if everyone knows

“This season – it’s going to be some fucking slog”