It was Nick Hornby who explained it to me. I was a teenager, reading Fever Pitch and so much of my own world suddenly became clear to me through his. I shared his passion for Arsenal alright, but not his sense of place. Simple geography dictated I could never have the same connection to Highbury that he did. But that would be to undermine the purpose of the book anyway. It wasn’t that I felt the exact same as him, it was that I was able to relate to him. The lunacy, the anguish, the pain, the relationships, the depression, the cold, the occasion, even the occasional glory and most importantly and crushingly, the hope. Replace Arsenal with Cork GAA and Nick and I were on the same page.
Nick explained to me that it was the hope that hurt a lot more than the actual losing. And he was right. But we’ll talk more about that when the losing starts mounting up at a worrying rate. For now I just want to enjoy this hope that is consuming me. I’m even willing to ignore, for the time being, that this sense of hope has absolutely no foundation whatsoever. I’ll be in Galway this weekend and I cannot wait to see Kieran Kingston’s Cork project in action. I can’t even wait to see the team announcement appear on my Twitter feed. Because if you can’t hope at this time of the year, when can you?
I know it will begin to erode as soon as I see the first stray puck-out, or the first breaking ball hoovered up by a maroon jersey, or the first tackle broke like in Thurles last summer. But there’s even a hope within a hope that it might grow into something tangible. Seeing Séamus Harnedy in action will help. If Cork can have another few operating at his level then I really might start to believe for a moment or two. A bit of ‘divilment’ wouldn’t go astray, to compliment the undoubted talent. Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s presence on the line should help keep me warm. It’s a shame Eugene Cloonan won’t be next to him. There’s unfinished business there from a long time ago. Of course no matter what happens I won’t read too much into it. The last two weeks have taught me that already.
Sometimes we forget that in some ways the games aren’t important at all. It’s what happens around them. There’ll be a chat with the father when we see the team, a few texts to the brother and the buddies. No chance of a sneaky pint though, to have a real discussion. Playing still gets in the way of supporting. There’ll be the journey up with the father and brother. The General Election is the only other thing that can possibly interrupt us, but only on the way up. There’ll be the panic for parking, a couple of disagreements and in the end an agreement that, no matter what, league is league and championship is championship.
We’ll hope for a win. And there it is again, that dreaded four-letter word. There’s no escaping it, is there?