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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 12 December, 2018
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An emotional night with a relevance that went beyond the result

Ahead of Tuesday’s second leg, former Cork City chairman John O’Sullivan on the club’s Champions League tie against Legia Warsaw.

MUSIC CAN LIGHTEN or darken your mood.

It can spark memories so evocative that you find yourself reliving emotions, echoing highs and lows from years before. It can transport you to nights out, days away or sitting alone in your room as an upset teenager. It can move you to tears, to anger, to action.

Cork City v Legia Warszawa - UEFA Champions League - First Qualifying Round - First Leg - Turners Cross Cork City players in a huddle ahead of last Tuesday's 1-0 defeat to Legia Warsaw at Turner's Cross. Source: Donall Farmer

Last Tuesday night, as Cork City and Legia Warsaw lined up at Turner’s Cross, as the cheers of the crowd softened, the first familiar notes of the Champions League anthem were heard from the speakers. We’ve all heard it countless times since its composition in 1992, on television leading into live matches, highlights and magazine shows, and on a few occasions live in stadia.

I felt a lump in my throat, the music sparking a range of emotions until the game kicked off. The night had a relevance that went beyond the result. If a match can be symbolic, last Tuesday felt like a pause on a long journey where you take a break at a scenic location and breathe. Not the destination, but it was time to sit and enjoy the view.

I’d gotten to the ground early with my 10-year-old son Donncha. I’d tried a few delay tactics with him on the journey but we arrived at Turner’s Cross before the gates opened, two hours prior to kick-off. We queued up with a large number of nervous and excited City fans, bought the programmes and settled down.

Approaches to the ground had been closed so we were offered the unique sight of City players walking up the middle of the Curragh Road to the game, with a waiting crowd. There were isolated cheers and a few kids looked for autographs and pictures. Every cheer was acknowledged, the request of every child honoured. But it was muted and nervous.

Mark McNulty, our longest-serving player who’d stuck with the club through High Courts and low blows, walked past wearing a protective boot on the leg he’d hurt against Shamrock Rovers. Mark was out. I was gutted. He was one of the first to commit in 2010 when supporters took over, as much a City fan as a City player, and now he’d miss out on the Champions League match.

A view of The Champions League Trophy of tonight's programme Match programmes for sale outside Turner's Cross before Tuesday's game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Damien Delaney walked by — a giant. My son stunned: “He’s even bigger than Benno!” He’d grown from the tall, gangly full-back who had starred for City nearly two decades ago.

I had been sitting in the Derrynane side during one match when Delaney took off on an overlapping run and whipped in a cross that nearly led to a goal. The small crowd applauded his efforts, but our centre-half Declan Daly berated Delaney, telling him he wasn’t “to cross half-way again unless [Daly] saw a note from his mother”. Tonight, Delaney would be barking the orders, his first competitive game since returning home.

RTÉ cameras filming the kids in the queue dragged me out of my memories; the group behind us was Polish, though the kids had Cork accents. They were all in City gear and we got talking to them. They didn’t like Legia but they’d have been there whoever City were playing.

The gates opened and we wandered past friends, nervous but smiling. Though 6,000 people would later fill the ground, there were many who remembered travelling to Salthill Devon in the First Division and who couldn’t keep the smiles off their faces. I shook hands with one.

I thought we’d be like Ramblers, knocking around the First Division… We never imagined this day.

We’d come a long way but, again, this was a stop en route, not the destination.

Damien Delaney Damien Delaney pictured before the game. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Graham Cummins is warming up. Relief! We hadn’t seen him arrive. He’s another one from the First Division days, back home. When we offered him a contract in the early FORAS days, he played it cool, telling us he’d consider it.

One of his mates rang us from the celebration party thrown at his house that night. Once we heard a bottle of champagne had been popped, we knew he’d sign. When we turned down a shitty offer from a Championship club for him in 2011, their manager roared down the phone that we “weren’t even Blue Square Premier level”. That’s one that brings out a smile as Graham warms up for a Champions League game.

Graham is another City fan, like McNulty and Delaney. It means a lot that they’re here. It’s a common theme, players who are part of it. Three rows in front of me was Avondale United’s Eoghan Lougheed. He’d done his bit in 2010, played with us in our first season under supporters’ ownership. He’s in a City shirt, cheering.

Three rows behind me, and the cause of my son’s sore neck, is another player who played his part. Colin Healy, Irish international and the scorer of ‘that goal’ — the bicycle-kick against St Pat’s. I missed the game. Donncha was with his uncle and in the Donie Forde Stand. That he saw it live and I missed it will never be lived down.

I see Eanna Buckley, working at the club for over a decade, who knows the ups and downs better than anyone. He deserves it. This might finally make up for being slagged over the look on his face as Roddy Collins criticised our players a few days after being hired by Tom Coughlan, bottling up the emotions for the good of the club. He can smile now.

Gearoid Morrissey and Jose Kante Legia Warsaw's Jose Kante under pressure from Gearoid Morrissey and Garry Buckley of Cork City. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Before the teams emerge, Mick Ring — the kitman — heads for the bench. Like me, he’s a former chairman and the man who hired John Caulfield. Now he volunteers for the man he hired. He was very nearly a City player. Before our first season, we were told by the FAI we could only hire out of work professionals or unattached amateurs. Fran Gavin asked us did we know any decent 5-a-side players. Mick’s name came up.

The teams are in the tunnel, out they come. The Champions League. Jesus Christ. The first strains of the anthem start up and I’m away in memories, smiling. For all my thoughts around that piece of music, from beside me I hear: “You know it’s a real Cork City game when they play ‘After All’.”

I can’t remember hearing it, but for Donncha, a song written the year I moved to Cork to go to college — a move which was the catalyst for a love affair with Cork City and the League of Ireland — was the tune that caused his young heart to beat faster. It put the smile on his face and started him bouncing.

Donncha was born 15 years after the song was released — his dad had seen The Frank and Walters perform it live maybe 40 times in the interim — but ‘After All’ is his hook, his association and, in years to come, when he hears it on the radio, TV, YouTube or whatever technology comes next, it’ll bring him back to the Cross to nights like this.

Music can transport you to some of your favourite places and times, and sometimes the lyrics of an upbeat love song perfectly capture your mood as you sit back and enjoy the view.

There are times I get distracted girl
By the ways and workings of this world
Yet I think of you as my life’s shrine
And I’m glad that I’m yours
And you’re mine

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