Forza Corcaigh: Italian family cheer on the Rebels in the All-Ireland

The Rinaldis pledged their allegiance to the Rebels after a visit to west Cork in 2009

Forza Corcaigh – that's the chant that will go up on Sunday from adopted Corkman Riccardo Rinaldi and his family at their home in Mantua in northern Italy as they cheer on the Rebels against Limerick in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park.

Mantua – or Mantova – as it is known to the locals, is to use Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh's memorable phrase about Seán Óg Ó hAilpín's ancestral homelands of Fiji and Fermanagh, not exactly well known as "a hurling stronghold" but that won't bother Mr Rinaldi, his wife Cristina and his son Roberto (20).

The Rinaldis pledged their allegiance to the Rebels after a visit to west Cork in 2009 when they caught Cork footballers in action on TV.

When they got home to Italy, they contacted the Cork County Board and ended up getting tickets for that year’s All-Ireland against Kerry.

A friendship was forged with then Cork County Board chairman Ger Lane and his successor Tracey Kennedy, and although they were disappointed to see Cork lose to Kerry in that year's decider, the Rinaldis returned a year later to catch Cork beat Down to win the Sam Maguire.

Mr Rinaldi said it took them a little longer to understand and fall in love with hurling but they were back in Croke Park for the 2013 All-Ireland decider, when the Rebels took on the Banner only for Clare to snatch a draw in the dying seconds before going on to win the replay.

"I found football easier to understand at first but now I am very familiar with hurling even though I still have to pick up some of the subtleties of the game but you know, I can follow it unless when it's on TG4, I can pick up a few words like 'reiteoir' and 'sliotar' and 'cul' and 'cuilin' but not more than that."

A soccer fan who has been following Fiorentina since boyhood, Mr Rinaldi now admits that he prefers hurling and Gaelic football – something he confirmed to Ms Kennedy when she texted him to congratulate him on Italy winning the European Championships in July.

Passion

“I texted back to Tracey and told her that I would trade Italia winning the Euros for Cork winning the All-Ireland – I have followed Fiorentina since I was seven, even though it is 200km away, but the more I go on, the more I get disenchanted with professional sports,” he said.

“The good thing about hurling . . . is you could meet the players in the street the next day and they are still your friends – I’ve met several players and managers over the years . . . they are all very friendly, they are not on another planet looking down at you.”

A chemical engineer, Mr Rinaldi admits that he is not a typical Italian and when talking about Cork, he now says “we”. Few if any of his friends are spared his passion for the Rebels as he keeps them informed of the latest fortunes of the Cork hurlers and footballers.

“I think everybody here, my former school and college mates and my colleagues at work, they all know I follow these two strange sports played only in Ireland – I think there isn’t anyone here in Mantova who hasn’t been bored to death by my stories of Cork football and hurling,” he joked.

“They don’t understand hurling but then I show them the very famous video of Diarmuid O’Sullivan with a big hit on the Limerick player and the point he scored afterwards and I say, ‘This is hurling – is there any sport better than this?’ and even the most sceptical guys say, ‘You might have a point’.”

So what of Sunday – does he give the Rebels any chance?

“I would say it’s 60/40 for Limerick – I know every pundit says that Limerick are big-time favourites but I would not agree – we have a serious chance, we are starting as the underdog but we started as the underdog against Kilkenny and looked what happened, so I think this team is really coming good.

“You know they say that sometimes it takes losing an All-Ireland to win one so I would try to look positive even if they don’t make it this year, this team has good potential but I’m confident – like all Cork people , we would be delighted and quietly celebrate with a good bottle of wine. Forza Corcaigh!”