Category Archives: Rugby

The (non-alcoholic) football hangover

You know the feeling: your head is groggy, it’s hard to leave the comfort of your bed and face the world and you just can’t shake that black cloud sitting over your head all day.

No, not a hangover from a pint too many – but the feeling to be overcome when your team has a particularly bad day at the office and you’re left to cope with the fallout. Welcome to the world of being a football supporter!

Whether it’s conceding a late equaliser, watching your team capitulate without a fight or realising that your hope is just that (hope, rather than reality) – little else can affect the emotions and well being of a football fan more.

If you believe and support a cause to the degree that you spend thousands of euro each year traipsing around the country, then the delight of success and disappointment of failure are, unfortunately, entwined in the experience.

I still remember the disappointment of having Alan Bennett leave Cork City FC in 2007. A key part of the League-winning City side in 2005, other players had moved on before him. But Alan was the quiet hero – the type of player that fans only really appreciated when he wasn’t playing – and the fact that he too could move on to better things was a moment of stark clarity.

City had claimed a title with a fantastic team, yes, but with that same success came agents, overseas managers and the reality that players will always go if they have the chance. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with that but as a supporter, it’s a hard thing to come to terms with at times because we never ‘move on’. There is nothing better out there than our own club.

In sharp contrast was the night in 2011 when, surrounding by family, long-time friends and many, many Cork City fans I’ve known for years, I witnessed Cork City reclaim a place in the Premier Division in spectacularly dramatic fashion. Graham Cummins’ 94th minute winner against Shelbourne at Tolka Park and the hours that followed will always be very special. It was the culmination of months and months of work by many people – and the emotions were many: pure joy, relief, pride, a sense of togetherness and achievement, unity… the list could go on and on.

The rollercoaster ride also continues relentlessly each and every season. In facing huge challenges and obstacles (such as Coventry City’s proposed moved away from Coventry for instance), supporters become united behind one goal or objective. When a situation is less critical, fans are pre-occupied with other matters, usually diverse and numerous in nature but no less important at that time and place.

Last night Cork City FC overcame the defending League of Ireland champions Sligo Rovers 3-1 at Turner’s Cross. There were many things to admire – the team’s fight and spirit, the performance of debut boy Ciarán Kilduff, the continuing return to form of Daryl Horgan, the fact the club won a game on TV (!).

The humour of supporters leaving the ground was equally telling. There was a bounce in everyone’s step, the mood was upbeat with talk of ‘pushing on’ from here. Go back a few weeks to the Setanta Sports Cup semi-final draw with Shamrock Rovers at Turner’s Cross though, and there was a sharp, sharp contrast to be seen.

City played well for most of the game and, justifiably, looked to be on their way to an All-Ireland Cup final in Tallaght. Cue a last minute equaliser and the sudden and devastating (well, it felt that way at the time) realisation that not only had we been caught late on (again), but we were also out of the competition altogether, having been the better of the teams over the two legs. I was a grump for days after that – and non-sports people just don’t have any understanding as to why a particular result either way can have such an effect.

Each football fan will have their own moments of heaven and heartbreak. Speaking to a Malmo fan recently and he recalled the time his team narrowly missed out on European qualification. He rang home to hear his son in tears and his wife saying: ‘See what you have done’.

The people around us – friends, family and fellow fans – are usually a central element, but one thing is for certain: you cannot have passion without emotions and you cannot have football without supporters. They are the Heart of the Game and they are always behind their team – throughout the celebrations AND hangovers…

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Desire. Heart. Hunger.

Desire. Heart. Hunger.

The finest teams have it. Success cannot come without it.

Anyone who watched Ulster’s win over Munster in the Heineken Cup recently will have been in no doubt which team wanted victory more.

It wasn’t that Munster didn’t have the talent or experience to claim yet another win – they have both in abundance – but their opponents left nothing behind them on the pitch. They fought for every tackle and every ruck ball as if their very lives depended it – a mentality often seen from the men in red. To continue the clichés, Munster were out-Munstered.

Ulster started the game with intent and their momentum – deservedly – carried them through. We did see signs of vintage Munster in the second half, but the difference between wanting to win and being utterly desperate for victory were apparent, and are completely unpredictable.

We often hear ‘The better team won’ line trotted out as an excuse by losing managers. Defeat is something that is accepted by supporters if their team genuinely has been out classed. If, however, fans perceive a lack of effort, desire, heart or hunger on players’ behalf, that’s when tension starts to build in the stands.

Before André Villas-Boas left Chelsea, the club’s players turned in a series of dismal performances and results. A change of manager and they are now preparing for an FA Cup final and still have a chance of securing European football for next season.

So where does the balance between approaching something as a cool, calm and trained professional meet with the passion that inevitably accompanies sport? …

Irish rugby stars pay tribute as John Hayes plays for the final time

A little something I wrote just before the New Year… Any fans of The Bull out there?? With the 2012 6 Nations getting underway this weekend, only time will reveal just how important John Hayes was for Irish rugby.

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IT WAS THE glance backwards that betrayed the truth behind the real John Hayes.

This was his moment in the limelight, the minute or two that tens of thousands of Munster supporters within the walls of Thomond Park – and further afield – would get to show their appreciation for over a decade’s worth of hard work and consistent determination.

Yet as the man they lovingly called ‘The Bull’ ran from the players’ tunnel, he turned his head backwards, searching for his team-mates and willing them to appear quickly so that the fuss would end and the game could start.

They didn’t of course, wanting their team-mate to get every possible plaudit – aware that he hasn’t always been given such time in the past…

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