Certain venues are capable of instantly transporting one back to the past and, for us, Coachford certainly comes under that heading.
Actually, I should be clearer, lest there be any offence taken – the new ground just outside the village, the home of Aghabullogue GAA Club, is a fine place to cover a game, with the journalists taken care of with seats between the two dugouts. It is the older pitch, part of the community centre across the road from the new set-up, that is the evocative setting for me.
Saturday evening brought us to Coachford for the SFC meeting of Newcestown and Mallow and the timing too helped to conjure the memories as, when going there as a child, it always seemed to be Saturday evening games as Kilbrittain fought valiantly to escape the clutches of the intermediate hurling championship, which was then the second-tier.
Games against Mallow – a quarter-final in 1989 and semi-final 1993, going on to lose to Valley Rovers and Youghal respectively in the finals – or city opposition often brought the black and amber army across Rooves Bridge and into Coachford.
It’s likelier the attendance was larger than for equivalent games now, but in my memory, these games attracted massive crowds.
Kilbrittain did eventually make it to senior as they won the IHC in 1995, though the stay at the top-tier wasn’t as long as one would have liked, a strong campaign the first year up setting too high a bar to match, promotion gained too late for a talented group of players. Nevertheless, they made it there, fuelled by the final defeats of 1988, 1989 and 1993.
These reminiscences are fresh in the mind in the wake of a recent chat with writer and sports-lover Tadhg Coakley, who made the point that the losses tend to be remembered for longer. It was quite an admission for somebody who won an All-Ireland minor medal with Cork and a raft of Fitzgibbon Cups with UCC, but his three county final defeats with Mallow couldn’t be shaken.
Roy Keane has said similar while Stuart Pearce never wanted praise from a manager as he feared it would blunt his edge. While it can be the case for players to feel like that though, are supporters of a similar mindset or do the vast majority take joy in what was won and forget the rest? We fear the former is the case.
Put it this way – how many people lament Cork losing the 2009 All-Ireland football final to Kerry more so than they celebrate the 2010 victory over Down? Leaving aside the fact that every successful Cork football team has to put up with the charge that they “should have won more”, the early 1-3 to 0-1 lead in 2009 serves as an extra strike in the prosecution’s case against the failure to overcome the Kingdom in Croke Park.
Likewise, the All-Ireland hurling wins of 2004 and 2005 are excellent achievements in singularity and even better together, but how much of a detraction does the average fan feel because the quest for three-in-a-row fell with a final loss to Kilkenny in 2006?
Right now, any Cork hurling fan would take such a scenario but, at the time, we never think in such a rational way, that the way things are is fine and we’re happy with our lot. We want to gorge on success now and never think about tomorrow. And yet, if every fan was clear-headed and logical, reducing their emotions, so much would be lost.
Certainly, the Newcestown support in Coachford on Saturday didn’t hold back when the final whistle signalled a 0-15 to 0-14 win. Not too long ago, they were fearing the possibility of being on the outside of both premier senior grades in 2020, but now they are guaranteed a place in the top football tier and they have a quarter-final to look forward to.
It’s their first last-eight appearance since 2011, for their opponents Ilen Rovers it will a first quarter-final since 2008. It’s great going by both clubs, but will either side be thinking, “A quarter-final is grand, sure it’s better than we’ve had in recent years?”
No, instead it’s the dream of a semi-final. And rightly so.