Joanne O’Riordan: I love Barça but Cork City are my little secret
John Delaney’s problematic children have become my problematic favourites
I am a football romantic. I worship at the church of Cruyffism. I enjoy (to quote John Giles) tippy-tappy football. I like watching midfielders dictate the pace of a game. Thus, when I started watching Barcelona I thought I was in heaven. I was always keen on monitoring the pass lines, and I always enjoyed when Xavi Hernandez defied the laws of physics and invented a passing lane with a sweep of his right leg. I enjoyed possession football so much I always thought the easiest way to win a game was to use a Pirlo philosophy – the ball is ours, and we must keep it.
The idea of being careless with possession and winning a game in a scrappy manner was non-existent to me. It was dumb. Why kick in hope when you can hold the ball and keep the opposition chasing shadows? Why allow the opposition a chance when you can just pass and pass and pass again? It was bonkers to me that you could win a game by other means
A few years ago, my brother asked me would I like to go to a Cork City game. After scratching my head and humming and hawing, I agreed on the basis of getting food after. He informed me the atmosphere is fantastic during derbies and he’d rate the league as being as good as the average teams in the English Championship.
Cork City vortex
What struck me first was the die-hard dedication of the few fans that were there. This was a time in League of Ireland football that John Delaney had labelled it a “problem child”. This was a time when few cared, but the few that cared really did care.
Gradually, I was sucked into a Cork City vortex. I justified my decisions to carry on going on a few things. One, I enjoyed supporting local. Two, I liked the wheelchair section in Turners Cross. I felt like Mourinho looking down on the players and analysing every move, every tackle and every first touch. Thirdly, I found the supporters entertaining.
As a Millstreet girl, I follow GAA and soccer is secondary and only a game that the city play. While analysing how the city kids lived, I felt like Louis Theroux casting my eyes on every interaction that took place. After all, I attended the game for “research purposes”.
Soon, I started cheering for goals. I justified this by saying I would stick it out if I did not high five my brother after every goal. Then I started humming the tunes. I was an addict in denial. This euphoric ecstasy was different. The 2,000 plus who attend created an atmosphere in Turners Cross as addictive as the temple of the Camp Nou.
I was swept up in a new romance. One that was unpredictable and filled with ups and downs. The predictability and fun in hammering eight goals past lower league La Liga teams was replaced with moments of fear, hope and optimism. This was a time when Cork City was creating a new identity for itself: we are here, loud and proud, and we are going to march on. The only other things that could stop us was the FAI or, as I now view them, the poachers from the championship who are taking my children, one by one.
As time went on, I slowly began to care about Cork City more. My life was convenient, I watched Cork City on Friday and the boys in Blaugrana at the weekend.
But, disaster struck. My love affair was about to be exposed. I skipped a Barcelona game for a Cork City game. Yes, it was only pre-season for Barcelona, and yes, it was the ‘B’ team, but I decided to go to my local game. Bad enough I skipped the Barcelona game, I even turned off the notifications in case I would get distracted by the pre-season friendly.
I justified my support of Cork City on a few reasons; my new team are a more geographically convenient, lower-league side. In my mind, this proved I was not violating a “real” football fan’s number one commandment; “Thou shan’t support a second team.” John Delaney’s problematic children became my problematic favourites. I was like a foster mother looking after the delinquent child who everyone else had turned their back on.
Of course, I still love Barcelona. They were the first team to bring me to tears after they won only their second Champions League in Paris in 2006. They were the ones who made me believe that football can be beautifully played and it is possible to fall in love with the game. However, with Cork City I remember feeling united in passion, watching my beloved team begin to punch above their own weight ... successfully. I know it could end badly, as do all secret relationships. But right now, I’m hooked. The possibilities are endless, and expectations can always be exceeded with Cork City.
In the future, unless disaster strikes and Cork City dramatically lose the league, my true allegiance will be tested if Barcelona and Cork City are drawn in a Champions League round. For now, Cork City will be my dirty little secret.