It was impossible not to feel their crushing disappointment, their frustration, their sense of loss. It soared upwards, right into the upper echelons of the Cusack Stand as their vanquishers hopped, skipped and leapt towards the Hogan Stand steps. The steps they’d visualised climbing since they started slogging way back when. They’d given so much throughout their journey. In many ways, they were the story of the summer, the story of the year.
On a balmy evening in early May they gave a taste of what they were capable of as they dismantled Waterford in Páirc Úi Rinn. As the scores flew over, those not in the know in the stands glanced furiously up and down from their programmes as they tried to put names to the numbers. Turnbull, O’Shea, Connery. Names to remember.
Then in Thurles against Tipperary on a Thursday they showed that they had the hunger to go with the hurling. An extra-time epic and more names to remember. O’Callaghan, Downey, Sheehan. They drew breath until, after much debate, Monday and went at it again.
They’d captured the imagination now. 8,000 souls packed into the little Páirc, desperate for a sign, for something, anything to show that Cork were back. They hurled, they fought, they won and more men were made. Hanafin, O’Leary-Hayes, Walsh-Barry.
Now, with a taste for the big time, they really turned it on in front of an adoring mass of 30,000 dreamers on Tom Semple’s field. They played with a sense of freedom, grace and style that seemed to set the clock back a decade or two. The net rattled, the flags flew, the people stood and the players revelled.
Then they went home to those who know them best. The boys who they first sat next to in the changing room, the guys who they loved playing with the most, the buddies who were waiting to play with them, bursting to play with them, the teammates who helped make them what they were, what they are.
The changes they had gone through in adolescence then began to intrude on their hurling world. They were men but they were boys and now they were being pulled between both worlds. As they edged towards those steps they’d dreamed of, the games piled up, the demands increased.
But they were in Croke Park. They loved Thurles, but this was something else entirely. The key man from the Munster Final was injured, the five U-17’s were going to the well for the second time in a week and the energy and freedom of before weren’t quite there. But they won playing within themselves. The latest ‘keeper from the Collins clan came into his own. They did enough. They’d be back for the big show.
But then, strangely, the two-day-turnaround that was disrespectful and unfair after the first Tipp game in July became quietly acceptable when it came to playing with their clubs in August. They played on two night’s sleep on the Tuesday night. Then the adult world came calling for some before the week was out, three games in a week. Sheehan was now joined on the treatment table by Turnbull, the tormentor in chief.
It all seemed fine when they’d both buried goals in the opening ten minutes of the big show. Turnbull defied the heavy strapping on his hamstring while Sheehan moved menacingly despite the strapping on his knee. They all played well, but weren’t as sharp as they’d have wanted to be. And Galway missed nothing.
They were rocked by two goals in the second half. They went down five points. They could have submitted to loss, but they raged against the machine and came back swinging. But Lady Luck ignored them and they fell agonisingly short. Shattered dreams enveloped by a stinging, visceral reality and Dr. Con’s old maxim, that sport really is 90% disappointment, never rang truer.
How long is too long to grieve? A week? A month? Three days? They came home Monday. Some went to college, some went back to school and on Wednesday, after two sleeps in their own beds, three days or so after giving their all, they went again. They were in Mallow, they were down the Mardyke, they were in Carrigaline.
They had to play. It was their buddies. And people talk, people are fickle. Those who are left will go again on Monday. And the adult world is still there, hovering over school, over college, over hurling. Can you really balance it all? All of the madness, all of the matches, all of the teams, all of the players all of the opposing forces.
Now that it’s all nearly over, what will they make of it all? Time will tell. Time can do a lot of things. In time we’ll see them all again, and remember. Time will be kind to them. It will be kind because they were brilliant, fearless, exciting and brave. We should thank them all for helping us fall in love with it all, all over again. They will be remembered.