WHEN your team battles back against all the odds and goes desperately close to achieving the seemingly impossible only to fall just short. That hurts.
You have told yourself before the match that it won’t happen, it can’t happen, no chance. You told yourself not to get your hopes up because it will just end in disappointment.
Then suddenly, it’s happening. Forget everything you said before the game, the miracle is happening.
Cork City went to Luxembourg last Thursday trailing by two goals to nil following a disastrous night at Turner’s Cross the week before. Not many gave them a genuine chance of turning the tie on its head going into the second leg.
Then Garry Buckley fires a screamer into the far top left corner inside the opening three minutes and then at the beginning of the second half Conor McCarthy heads in against the far post. 2-2 on aggregate, it’s on, this unlikely comeback is well and truly on.
But in the end, by the time the full-time whistle is blown, comes the feeling of desolation and the reason why you didn’t want to get your hopes up.
Issa Bah emerged from the substitute’s bench and pulled a goal back for his side in the 68th minute.
All hope was only lost when Kevin O’Connor tried to follow his lead but unfortunately curled the last kick of the game over the crossbar.
Full time and although Cork City won the battle it was Progrés Niederkorn that ultimately won the war 3-2.
The Cork City fans that travelled, similar to the fans that were watching Progrés Niederkorn’s live stream on Facebook, were left gutted with the outcome but they should be proud of the second leg performance.
John Cotter said afterwards that he was proud of his side’s display in the second leg and he should be also. Regardless of the opposition, going away from home in Europe and winning is never an easy thing to do.
Progrés Niederkorn is not the greatest of sides or the biggest of names but they are capable of producing good football. Just ask Glasgow Rangers, who lost 2-0 over there back in 2017.
When you’re 2-0 down from the first leg and low on confidence following a run of eight games without a single victory it becomes an even more difficult game to win.
When you have only scored three goals in your last ten matches in all competitions it can be hard to muster up the belief that you can suddenly score twice in 90 minutes. But they did and they deserved to.
City started with an intensity that hasn’t been seen in a long time and they got their rewards with Buckley’s stunner. Hopefully, that can help him rediscover some sort of good form as well.
They remained committed to the cause throughout the game but it just wasn’t enough and the players looked as gutted as any of the fans about that.
It is that hope that kills you but you need that hope. Strangely, the players, the staff and the fans alike may have felt less gutted on Friday morning had City slumped to a similar result to the first leg.
The players battled for the club and they battled for the fans and they battled their way back into contention despite being written off. It may have ended in disappointment, huge disappointment but the performance has offered huge encouragement heading into the rest of the campaign.
The template going forward should be the second leg performance, definitely not the first leg. That is undoubtedly where the tie was lost.
The results at Turner’s Cross this season have been a growing concern for a while now but this European campaign has only exacerbated it.
At the time of writing, Cork City have the worst home record in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division with just two wins in their 11 games down the Cross.
They have lost four games, they have conceded 13 goals and they have scored on just eight occasions. That record gets even worse if you include the President’s Cup defeat to Dundalk but it does improve if you were to include the E.A Sports Cup and Munster Senior Cup. That’s up to you.
But for a club that prides itself on the facilities at their hallowed turf, prides itself on its attendances, on the famous and intimidating atmosphere bellowing out from the Shed End, that record is remarkably bad.
The sound of the Niederkorn players celebrating and singing in the away dressing room could be heard from the press box a matter of minutes after full time. It was as if they couldn’t believe that they actually came to Turner’s Cross and won so easily. Their manager Roland Vrabec only added to that notion when he constantly spoke about what a proud night it was for the club to have won in Ireland for the first time. They played for a draw and won 2-0.
That was certainly the worst defeat on home soil but the losses to Waterford, Shamrock Rovers, Dundalk and Derry rival it, as do the draws with Sligo Rovers and Finn Harps.
The club needs to bring the fear factor back to Turner’s Cross and what better time to do it than against Shamrock Rovers on Sunday afternoon.
If they play like they did in Luxembourg then they can win that game and restore confidence at home.