The football year opened brightly, very brightly actually. It wasn’t only that they beat Mayo, it was the way that they did it. There seemed to be a change in the style of play. It was direct, quick, open, even exciting. And, while the last couple of league campaigns have proven to be false dawns, it’s always pleasant to start the year positively. The trip to Ballyshannon was a step back, but still, Ballyshannon is a hard place to go to. But then there was Sunday.
There’s a lot written about Cork football. A lot of it is drivel, but following them does leave you exasperated, frequently. People often question why you even bother. But there has been plenty of good times and, when I was younger, the footballers were on top in Cork. But the lows the footballers put you through do tend to be more shocking, more existential. The nature of hurling means that there will probably never be a ‘Fermanagh’ moment, or a ‘Martin Daly’ one, or even a rivalry that’s as complicated as the one we have with Kerry. With the footballers you often think you’ve seen it all, yet they continually muster up new ways to torture you.
And Sunday was torture, make no mistake about it. Of all the different scenarios running through my head as I entered Páirc Uí Rinn, an 18-point drubbing wasn’t one of them. It was inconceivable. I’d seen Roscommon on TG4 against both Monaghan and Kerry and I knew that they were good. I also knew that if they could win in Killarney that they could do the same in Cork. Defeat was possible. But, even as the first twenty minutes unfolded, there was nothing to make me think that Cork were about to implode. Yes, they were sluggish – but that was nothing new.
What destroyed Cork in the first half was their chronic inability to win possession from their own kick-outs. At least 1-7 of Roscommon’s scores came from Cork’s re-starts. A blind statistician could have seen it. And while Ian Maguire fought hard to change it, he couldn’t, not on his own. What made it worse was how easily Roscommon managed to secure possession from their own ones. Cork did have chances and when Peter Kelleher levelled it you were just waiting for Cork to kick on but they were just blown away. Blown away by Roscommon.
As the massacre unfolded, it struck me how I was just watching the same Cork performance over and over again, ad nauseam. An addiction to always running with the ball, turning back as soon as contact comes, taking that extra solo, that extra bounce, passing sideways across the field, slowing it down, static and generally just waiting for somebody else to do it. But, to be fair, you do revert to habit when everything goes belly-up. I’d hazard a guess that none of those Cork players on Sunday had ever experienced anything like it. I hope, for their own sake, that they never have to again. The passage of time since Sunday has made me file the second-half performance under ‘shell-shocked’ as opposed to anything more damning.
The fourth goal marked the transition from despair to numbness. The Roscommon fans around us were elated – even they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. They were keen to chat without being patronising. My father and I engaged them, hearing without really listening. However, there was only so much idle chit-chat we could take and we both slipped away quietly. There was no need to say goodbye, we just went our separate ways, lost in our own grief. As I trudged past Temple Hill, Man Utd. scored their third goal. What a great weekend. Roll on Croke Park.