The inevitability of Saturday night did nothing to numb the pain of being beaten for the third time in a row by Waterford. Yes, Waterford. This was just inconceivable in my youth. The old narrative read that the sight of the Cork jersey would be enough in itself to beat them. Of course, this narrative has been ripped, torn and cut to shreds over the past decade. The problem is that nobody told us that they were going to do it. And we didn’t think they would, or could.
I only got to see the highlights in the end, but it seemed to be exactly what I thought it would be; hard to watch. Cork just couldn’t match Waterford’s intensity – or whatever you want to call it. They are a team playing to a fixed pattern and everyone of them know exactly what they’re doing and where they should be at every given moment. It’s impossible to expect Cork, under new management, to be at that level, yet. But at the same time it isn’t as if this came out of the blue. Kilkenny have being doing ‘manic intensity’ for ten years now and we’re still like the kids looking over the wall at a party we’re not invited to. Intensity is now the absolute minimum. Why don’t we all get that?
As Cork struggled, I was back west, clung to my Twitter feed, simultaneously hoping the next tweet would signify a comeback yet dreading that it would keep me suspended in reality. I was great company. The return of Mark Ellis was counterbalanced by the latest Colm Spillane injury, but still, you take any morsel of positivity that you can get. The flurry of red and yellow cards towards the end was a strangely welcome sight. As was Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s raw hatred of losing. You can read what you want into those morsels of faith. Croke Park is now a must win game and you find more things out in games like that than you do in a thousand gym sessions.
What was really nagging at me after the game though, was the past. Ten years ago my sporting life was just perfect. My club was senior – something that was unthinkable when I was growing up – the Cork hurlers were careering towards three-in-a-row, Billy Morgan was building a football team and Arsenal, while no longer invincible, were heading for Paris. Of course, the lows make the highs all the more enjoyable, but it doesn’t make the suffering any easier.
I’d finally managed to put the game out of my mind as we withdrew to the lobby of the hotel. A couple of drinks is always enough to distract the mind, but you must be careful too, a couple too many and the abyss is staring deep into your soul. Next, my turn came to buy so I slipped into the bar. There was a bit of music and a nice crowd. Then, just as I thought I was well and truly over it, a flock of Tipperary women requested ‘Slievenamon’, and while a Tipp man will tell you they’re suffering too, they’re still much further down the road than we are. The wry smile on my lips hid my inner turmoil as I lifted my glass and longed for Cork’s distant, but recent past.