I don’t think I will ever forget the scene at the end of extra time in Tallaght on Friday night.
The despair, the anger, the confusion, the fear of what happens next. The blank looks on the faces of the players as the fans sent a mixture of abuse and applause their way, all while the Waterford contingent celebrated the best night of their life in the background.
If you’ve never traveled halfway around the world and stood in the freezing cold for three hours to watch your club get relegated, I wouldn’t recommend it.
There’s not much to say about the actual match itself, which was one of missed chances – none bigger than Joe O’Brien Whitmarsh’s swing and miss in the 80th minute after a horrible bobble in the six-yard box prevented him from tapping the ball into an empty net. If he scores there we surely win in normal time and are still playing Premier Division football. One last cruel twist of fate in a season full of them.
But as easy as it is to feel hard done by the result and everything that’s transpired over the past nine months, from injuries to maddening refereeing decisions, the truth is we got what we deserved. Both on the night – Waterford could have been three ahead within the first half hour – and over the course of the season. The owner failed to deliver on his promises (Europe? Hah.) and the appointments off the pitch were as uninspiring as the players on it. Only the fans did their part with any sort of consistency, yet we’ll be the ones punished the most.
I’m writing this in Cork a few days later and using “we” knowing that I can’t feel the emotions as deeply as those who live here. Those who were born and raised with City, who faithfully spend their Friday evenings at Turners Cross and shell out their hard earned money to follow them away year after year.
I was sitting at my grandfather’s kitchen table in Boston, having just gone over our family tree, when I truly committed to following City. It was a decision born out of a desire to connect with my roots, but it was a decision all the same. I spend my Friday afternoons watching on the computer. (Quick aside: perhaps the worst aspect of relegation is having to watch those First Division streams again, Christ almighty.) I complain and celebrate into the void on social media, or to my girlfriend, who listens lovingly but cares only in as much as the results affect me.
It’s not the full experience, but City is still my club.
The first time I saw City play in person was last season when we won the league and earned promotion with a 0-0 draw against Wexford at Turners Cross. A pitch invasion followed, as did a trophy presentation, a fireworks display and pints at The Corner Flag. It was one of the best nights of my life. There were no such scenes on Friday, at least not for City fans.
As I walked out of the stadium in silence with Decky, he apologized for not being much of a conversationalist, though in his defense, neither am I. In any case, there wasn’t anything to say at that point. All that was left to do was go home. To Cork, to America.
It’s ironic that many of the same players I watched lift the trophy last year were the same ones staring back at us on Friday in Tallaght. The next time I come to see City, whenever that may be, few, if any, will still be there. And that's probably for the best.
But the fans will be, as they always are, on either side of the Atlantic.
“After all, I really love you…”