SO not the final bow in front of the Shed City fans were hoping for Sean Maguire and Kevin O’Connor, as City succumbed to their first competitive defeat in almost nine months, a scrappy and frustrating 1-0 defeat to an AEK Larnaca side who re-enacted scenes from platoon in the final few minutes, dropping like flies from a cramp epidemic that swept across the team as they clung on for a vital victory.
A single goal defeat not a disaster, and the away goal meaning little as a City equaliser over there would immediately cancel it out, that’s what the Rebel Army will be targeting, knowing if they can gain a fraction of the luck that evaded them last night, they’re in with a great shout.
The cocktail of nerves and anticipation began around noon and oscillated for the rest of the evening, part of me was happy to have the occasion while the other desperately wanted a positive result. While last week's second leg against Levadia was an opportunity to relax and enjoy a packed house after a comfortable away win, there was a palpable increase in tension around the stands this time around.
Turner's Cross was a hive of activity early on, having left a half-hour early we were still struggling for parking just past six, and an hour later the Shed began their first chorus as the players emerged for their warm-up. No more cathartic experience when your stomach is full of butterflies than to scream off the top of your lungs, and with 10 minutes to kick-off the entire ground was standing up for the Cork City.
With eir showing the game live the night afforded us a rare opportunity to place ourselves back at the beating heart of Turner's Cross in the Shed End, and the many faces that defined our upbringing slightly right-of-centre from the tunnel.
A particularly poignant night given the two men playing their last game at Turner's Cross in a green shirt, at least for the time being. No more needs to be said about Maguire’s contribution to this side, but to say Kevin O’Connor has been the best left-back the Leesiders have had since Danny Murphy in his pomp is to make no overstatement.
No space for sentimentality however, there was a game to win, especially given the testing conditions City are likely to face in a country that regularly tops 40 degrees this time of year.
The first-half was by far City's toughest task thus far this season; Larnaca tactically and technically above what the Leesiders have faced this season in the League of Ireland, dominating possession and looking dangerous just before half-time as a tiring City began to look confused about their positions.
The oomph was definitely taken out of the crowd, having to see their side chase shadows for the most part; they did shout whenever they could though - including a bizarre 10-minute anti-Preston/Daryl Horgan procession.
That was upped tenfold in the second period though, a fired up Turner's Cross standing once more as the hosts begin to swing the way once more despite several decisions going against them from French referee François Letexier, as well as several unfortunate deflections on a night that seemed written in the stars against John Caulfield’s side.
Particularly when a mis-hit cross was swung in and bounced perfectly into the path of Joan Truyols who scuffed it into the corner of the net, McNulty left absolutely helpless. The undeterred crowd went again as City finally began to play in a frantic finale.
And they deserved that levelling finale, an extremely brave Rebel Army battling on, doing everything possible but putting the ball in the back of the net. As the corner count rose so too the decibels, screams for two tenuous penalties turned down to the absolute indignation of the crowd, suffering at the hands of an inconsistent referee.
But anyone blaming Monsieur Letexier for last night's result is kidding themselves, City probably did enough to deserve the draw in the end, but diced with danger on several occasions clearing off the line more than once as well as several good saves once more from McNulty.
Bray away next, coincidentally the stage where John Caulfield’s men lost their last games at the end of October 2016, changes aplenty one imagines, with a draw packed with star names tomorrow, a win in Cyprus could potentially be City’s biggest ever.