Sunday was my first visit to Pearse Stadium. I’d heard it was a cold place, with a biting wind. And so it was, bitterly cold, but thankfully the hurling gods conspired to give us a beautiful sunny day. The promenade in Salthill was thronged with people desperate for a dose of vitamin D after what has seemed like an eternity of rain and not even Jamie Vardy’s penalty could dampen my positivity as I strolled up to the stadium.
My father loves being early for games and it is something I’ve grown fond of over the years. The four of us gathered behind the goal, drinking our tea. Scandalously, only Lyons was on offer and this should have been the first sign that the pre-season bubble was about to be burst. However, for the moment we were happy to greet familiar faces, watch the teams limber up and encourage my nephew to retrieve a sliotar that been abandoned on the edge of the field.
We shuffled over to the terrace facing the stand so we could stay in the sun and watched the Cork warm-up with interest, desperate for any clues that would expose a brave new world. We were happy with what we saw and when news of Danny Welbeck’s late winner filtered through, I was truly ready for the first step to September glory.
The first twenty minutes of the game were encouraging. There was a goal threat that has been lacking for too many years and it was good to see the return of Lorcán and Christopher Joyce. The loss of Séamus Harnedy to injury seemed to change things, however, and Galway soon took control. It was the same old problems, a lack of physicality, a half-back line that doesn’t dominate, a real struggle to win the ball from our own puck-outs and most worryingly, a lack of confidence.
The players did display a willingness to keep going. It could have developed into a trimming but at least they managed to keep it somewhat respectable. But there was a nagging feeling that Galway never really went for the jugular either. I felt sorry for my nephew. The Cork he’s seeing isn’t the one I grew up watching and the fear of Cork is gone. There was six points in it in the end and there was a bite to the closing stages that suggested that it was a bit closer but we were well beaten. My mood as I left was sombre, I suppose a harsh dose of reality tends to do that.
I headed for Kerry after the game and for once I was happy to miss out on the post-mortem. It should be too early in the year for a defeat to cut this deep but I was in full shut-down mode afterwards. No interest in the radio because they might talk about Cork, zero chance of buying Monday’s Irish Examiner and a Twitter abstinence. I was happy to retreat to a place where there would be no talk of the game at all.
I headed for home on Monday and the talk on the radio of the possibility of Fine Geal coalescing with Fianna Fáil made me wonder if Cork would ever heal the wounds of our own civil-war(s). Then the sight of the majestic, snow-capped MacGillycuddy Reeks reminded me that it was only February. There’s a lot of work to do, there’s a lot that can happen and as I crossed the county-bounds I’d convinced myself that the result wasn’t that important at all.