Real heroes don’t wear capes – Dean Cain (Superman)
Heros come in all shapes and sizes, Firemen, Ambulance Staff, Police Officers, Nurses, Doctors, Ordinary Joe Soaps going about their daily lives, Ladies in Lisbon named Martha who just want to help, the list goes on and on, for some, rightly or wrongly, it also includes footballers.
Heroism is hard to define, in a footballing context, it’s even harder. It may be easier to talk about legacy then heroism. Noel O Mahoney, Dave Barry, Patsy Freyne, George O Callaghan, John O Flynn, Patrick Dolan, as well as many others, have all left a legacy at this club, that ensures when the stories of greatness are told, their names are mentioned.
Leaving Cork City for a rival Dublin club is one way to tarnish a legacy. Pat Morley still claims that his tyres were slashed, and post wasn’t delivered to his house for a year after his move to $hels (his postman was a city fan by all accounts). Liam Kearney had fake bank notes thrown at him in Turners Cross after he made the same move, but then nobody really cared that Greg O’Halloran also followed that route.
Others maintain a legacy despite some ticks in the against column, Dan Murray left for Shamrock Rovers, but it was against the backdrop of Tommy No Bobs as Chairman and irregular payment dates for wages so its largely forgiven. Danny Murphy “The Cockney Rebel” also played for Shams but ended up there via Scotland so again it is placed to one side. John Caulfield is not alone one of Cork City’s greatest ever goal scorers but one of the league’s all-time greats. A man who won a Premier Division title with the club as a player in 1993 and a double in 2017 as manager, one whose legacy should be beyond approach. Yet for some fans its not, for some his role in the overspending debacle of 2018 and our subsequent relegation in 2020, which many link directly back to that overspending, has to a degree tarnished for some, what should be an unfettered legacy.
Alan Bennett and Damien Richardson to name but two have walked away as untarnished hero’s, Rico’s famous “Ridden Rock Solid” diatribe still remains as the leading vocalisation of how a whole city not just a club viewed those residing within FAI HQ, and to be fair, it’s probably as applicable today as it was back then. But what isn’t as applicable is the lack of hero status and legacy that exists amongst today’s squad in comparison to squads that have gone before.
The last true hero of the fan base was probably Seani Maguire is 2017, who many still claim (Steven Beattie not amongst them) led us single handedly to the title. He then deservedly took his immense ability across the water and not to Dublin or back to some run down, squalid, incest admiring, one horse town like Dundalk. Ruairi Keating came close last season but its hard to have heroes in a relegation season, in fact worldwide, its largely unheard off. That’s not to speak ill of Ruairi in any way and he will always be welcomed back at Turners Cross, one of the few down through the years, who having left for Dublin, would be guaranteed such a return, but as I said already its almost impossible to have such heroes in relegation seasons.
If ever a fan base needed a hero or two, it’s this Cork City one. It has been a tumultuous ride ever since we won that double in 2017 and it feels like anyone who can even kick a ball straight this season will be locked onto as the great hope around which we can build a promotion push. There are obvious candidates in the likes of Jack Doherty and Greg Bolger, maybe less obvious in the likes of Evan McLaughlin, Nathan Wood, Charlie Lyons and dare I say it, Tim Clancy. The lads who were here last season are stained with the stench of relegation and that’s a stench that means in time they may and will be appreciated, loved, and supported but hero status is out of reach for most, especially in what we hope will be a one season turn around.
Then we come to three names whom I am genuinely slow to mention but whom we simply cannot ignore. Two lads who signed pro deals at sixteen and one who is still too young to sign a pro deal. Step forward Cathal O Sullivan, Matt Murray and Jayden Umeh. Its rare that an academy produces one incredible talent for their senior team, that one produces three at the same time is almost unheard of in this country, and yet here we are. Its well known now that Liam Buckleys recruitment last summer was at best subpar, at worst it was criminal in its ineptitude. But long term his best signing of that summer window will prove to be a sixteen-year-old kid, who was coming off the back of an ACL injury, Cathal O Sullivan.
Tim Clancy has already name checked all three numerous times in preseason. Its clear he intends to play them regularly and he warned at the league launch that maybe one of the issues the fan base have, is that they don’t understand how good these young players actually are. If Tim Clancy and more importantly Liam Kearney believe these players are ready, then that should be good enough for us fans. My fears over the off season have never revolved around these players ability but around what circumstances will they find themselves exposed to.
If Jayden Umeh has say, six goals in his first ten appearances because he has come off the bench with 30 mins left in games that we are leading comfortably. That is very different to having one goal in those ten games, because he was thrown on with fifteen minutes left, to try and get a us a goal, to rescue a win or draw in Athlone or Longford.
This fan base isn’t one set up for patience and understanding this season, the first stray pass against Kerry will bring howls of derision from all four corners of Turners Cross, it is inevitably what is going to happen and that’s something that the players and management team are just going to have to deal with.
My biggest fear this season is that the most Neale Fenn like player we have had since Neale Fenn, begins his Cork City career like Neale Fenn began his and he ends up struggling for six months. Fenn joined in a blaze of glory and with Dr Pat ramping up the accolades it was probably inevitable that he started poorly, and this fan base wasn’t slow about telling him. The only time I have genuinely felt real sorrow for a Cork City player was one night in Waterford where Fenn was taken off during the second half, it was wet and cold, the pitch was a bog, and we were losing. Having left Waterford to join us, he was obviously getting it from their fans, but it didn’t compare to what he was getting from his own supporters. As he exited the pitch at the bottom right-hand corner (as you look from the now away section) and walked past us to make his way back to the bench, people climbed up the pylons to ensure he could hear the abuse and more importantly could see exactly who was delivering it. As he walked past me all I saw was a broken man who looked like he would rather be anywhere else in the world then walking past us City fans in the RSC. Yet the following season he was the fulcrum in, what is in my opinion, our best ever side, that deservedly won the premier division title.
The problem is we don’t have six months to give Jack Doherty, or any other player for that matter to find their feet. This is a must win now season and that inevitably adds to the pressure that the players will be under. Some will embrace it and prosper; some will inevitably crumble, and some are only sixteen. No matter what way it goes for them, that is the most important thing that we all must remember, they are only kids, they will make mistakes, they will have poor games or poor moments in games, when they do, do we really want to be that fan base who castigates and derides them? Or do we want to be one who puts our collective arms around them and says, you make your mistakes while you learn on the job, and we will still sing your name from the stands while you do so?
The likelihood of a genuine hero emerging this season and building a legacy, is very small, the most likely outcome is that we will have a group of committed players who are better than those around them which will allow us to win the league. But as I said earlier, this fan base is without one since Seani left and is desperate for one to emerge. If one does then fantastic as it means things are going well, if one dosent then that’s ok too.
If a hero or God forbid, heroes, do emerge and a legacy is built, then embrace it with open arms and enjoy it, because as we all know only too well, we have no idea how or when that legacy will end.
But if a true footballing hero dosent emerge, then remember that dosent mean that we only have a squad of footballing villains.