After grabbing a programme in the dressing room, I head out onto pitch where players are assembled talking about various things. At this point none of the players know who’s playing and who‘s not so there are nerves aplenty. Everyone is having sneeky looks to find the gaffer to see who he’s pulling aside to talk to.
He pulls aside Kearney, it’s hard to tell from Liam’s reaction whether he’s playing or not. He approaches me, Derek Coughlan and Woodsy and gives Woodsy the curly finger. It is clear from the way Rico came over that Woodsy is out. It’s a hard call, Woodsy’s been doing really well lately after getting back into the team. Woodsy returns and tells us he’s playing right back instead of me but then admits, ”Only messing, I’m out“. He doesn’t sulk. Coly (Colin O’ Brien) later gets curly finger also while we’re there, and while he is clearly disappointed you can tell he’s trying very hard not to show it for sake of lads, 2 great professionals, Woodsy and Coly, they know that the team is the priority on nights like this.
The rest of the lads are finding out the team now as whispers go around. Same back four, Roy on right, Kearney on left, Flynny starting up front. Lads wander into dressing room, nervous anticipation as we sit down awaiting gaffers speech. Gaffer makes speech, calls out team, trust yourself, do it simple. I feel ready after speech, sitting next to Benno and Muzza, we remind each other that a clean sheet is the priority amongst the defenders union.
We’re out on the pitch now for our warm up. Assistant manager Dave Hill calls me and Roy O’Donovan aside and tells us that when we come out later, try and take in the cheer of the crowd with a deep breadth and let it flow from there. That’s what worked for him. We both listen especially as Hilly was a top player, even playing in the Premiership.
We then play a five-a-side game. ‘All in’ then ‘two touch.’ Hilly tells us it needs to start here, generally when we’re good in this part, we bring that form out with us 20 mins later, when game begins. Players are good, moving the ball around well.
We finish with a Shooting drill into the Shed end. I tend to injure myself in shooting drills and prefer to practice passing the ball around to get my touch right. Muzza and Benno are going through their heading drills. Myself and Derek Coughlan pair off and practice hitting longer passes. We’re both absolutely brutal, we can’t seem to pass the ball to each other. We agree it’s the ball that we are using that is dodgy.
We’re back in the dressing room, after warm up. It crosses my mind for a second that we could be champions coming in here after. I let the thought go, and try to focus on what’s going on in the dressing room. I need to put on my jersey and my shin guards using green tape to keep them tied up. I also need to keep sipping water.
Rico goes through the set pieces, the same as every week. The lads will already know most of this, but it serves as a valuable reminder and can sometimes reveal problems due to change of personnel. I’m protecting the space in front of our near post for corners against, my job is to prevent flick ons, so I must keep my body in a sidewards position to be aware of runners from behind. Rico reminds me for the hundredth time this season that it’s an important job and needs to be done right.
Players walking around saying best of luck, same as ever, but the wish of best of luck seems to come with more of a huggish effort than a handshake tonight, indicating what’s at stake. A few calls go out, ‘They’re not winning it here in Cork,’ and ‘Come on boys, we will be league winner when we come back.’ Roy shouts ‘Get the three points.’
3 points to win the league, one game, one match. I’m thinking about the first ball, the first tackle. The buzzer sounds in the dressing room from the referees room and the war shouts increase but nobody is frantic. It all seems under control, almost automatic. As if we’re preparing for auto pilot. If there is doubt I can’t see it in anyone’s face.
Coming Out onto the Pitch
One of the linesmen is checking boots and for jewellery as we come out. We’re in the tunnel now but the crowd can’t see us yet. The TV cameras are out in front of us pointing straight in at us. The Derry players arrive next to us in the tunnel. They seem much bigger than us. We wait here for longer than usual, the ref is waiting for TV clearance. It seems to last forever for ever, I ca’nt wait to get out. Derek Coughlan is shouting down the tunnel, ‘Come on Hogs, come on boys, come on Cork.’ I think it helps to intimidate opposition when 6 foot 4 Derek is shouting like this. Finally movement up ahead, Muzza leads us out. The crowd and the atmpsphere is unreal.
We line up for the cameras, handy standing next to Kearney, makes me look taller, I tell him so, he doesn’t react. TV camera passes your face, player by player, shake hands with Derry boys, remember Rico saying let them look yee in the eyes boys so they know that their getting nothing here tonight. Some of their players don’t look at you, some do, and wish good luck, some don’t say anything, have to shake hands the refs, try to be as warm as possible to them… then we’re away and sprinting towards shed with crowd exploding into noise
The Match 7.45
Georgy decides to give me the ball from kick off, I try to launch it into the corner, but it doesn’t come off as expected. I’m thinking ‘Next ball, next ball.’ I don’t remember too much after that, only that when goal comes, I run to Roy O Donovan for providing a great cross. From my angle, Flynny’s header is beautiful, straight into the corner. Right we’re on top now, it’s going to be very difficult for Derry from here on in…