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Joanne O’Riordan: Priceless emotion as Cork’s famine ends

Turner’s Cross was a special place to be as the Premier Division title was finally claimed

Cork City players celebrate their Premier Division success. To see the community’s joy in Turner’s Cross that night would bring a tear to a stone. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Football can be unbelievable sometimes.

For the past few years, my brother, Danny, his friends and I have found ourselves in some bizarre situations. Laughs, tears and memories of a lifetime have been created following the the fate of the spectacular, dramatic and sometimes mind-boggling Cork City.

The attempts to win the league, even a trophy last year, have left fans with memories that are summed up by the MasterCard motto – priceless.

A few months back, during City’s Europa League campaign, I wrote in this column about my secret love affair.

I wrote of thrills, spills, agony, and euphoria of following a League of Ireland club. So, last Tuesday, post Storm Ophelia, I found myself once again standing in the cold waiting in hope. This time, my regular fellow sufferers couldn’t attend due to Ophelia, but with me was my English housemate and my dad, who told me after a game against Dundalk back in 2015, “never again”.

The Cork City title run can be summed up in that one phrase. Driving home from an away game at Limerick, we found ourselves calculating permutations for the whole hour and a half. It’s not that belief was gone, it was just, so mind-bogglingly clumsy of Cork City to put themselves in that situation.

And so, on a Tuesday night where a roof had been ripped off, where John Delaney blessed Leeside with his presence and where Cork City had won that elusive trophy back in 2005 against Derry City, it was at Turner’s Cross where everyone’s prayers were finally answered.

Coming towards the 90th minute, the atmosphere changed from stress to pure elation. My housemate every once and a while would turn to me and mutter something about how her beloved Bradford would always mess up. But she knew this was serious as her conversation soon changed from how unlucky Bradford were in playoffs to how excited she was to see a trophy being claimed.

All the way over in Malmö, my other brother texted me furiously for updates “well, are we champions or what?”

But just like all special moments, the wait is half the fun.

Pitch invading

Whistling brew from the fans and finally, the referee obliged. “Champions of Ireland!! We know what we are!!”

I looked across to find my dad, and sure enough, the guy who swore he wouldn’t go to a League of Ireland game ever again was caught up in the joy and was invading the pitch. Yes, a man of his age with bad knees, was pitch invading. I looked up to my housemate, and she said: “Ah yeah, I’ve never won a trophy, may as well enjoy it!”.

There we stood, in that same pitch where we have all seen the good, the bad and the ugly, and all of a sudden, we were high-fiving, ugly crying and hugging. Strangers hugging strangers, people never there before all caught up in one moment.

Then captain Johnny Dunleavy appeared, obliging every happy child with a photo, a high-five or a hug. He didn’t forget names either, thanking everyone one by one for their support.

Then stalwart Mark McNulty emerged. A total of 147 record-breaking appearances, but not once would you hear him talk about himself. This is Cork City, his team and he was living the dream. Again, young or old, McNulty was celebrating with everyone. He didn’t forget those who were there all along either.

What about Alan Bennett, red-eyed as the tears welled up?

Cork City’s Ryan Delaney and Alan Bennett celebrate winning the league with supporters. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

A symbol of the belief, a symbol that the victors never once stopped believing even when everyone held their breath with apprehension? Alan Bennett roared, and so did the Shed. So one man would not be forgotten amid the chaos, Alan Bennett paid tribute to late Derry City player, Ryan McBride.

As one fan remarked afterwards “the man wins a trophy, and he is still thinking of others . . . and he’s ours”.

But, that’s Cork City, and that’s the League of Ireland.

I’m not going to get on my moral high horse and tell you to support your local club. Every team finds a person just like a person finds a team. But to see the community’s joy in Turner’s Cross that night would bring a tear to a stone.

Some would say a 12-year wait for the title is too long for a club of Cork’s size, but the wave of emotion on the field that night was something you cannot put into words.

The roars faded away and the players, so quickly calm and analytical behind the scenes, took their leave. But these memories, they will take forever to dwindle. As the crowd dispersed and we all revelled in the euphoria of a memorable night, my housemate turned to me afterwards and said “football, unbelievable!”.