It’s nice that Cork City fans thought so much of their dear departed club that they worked so hard to keep the name in the title of the club that rose phoenix-like from the ashes. Really, it is.
Okay, no it’s not. It’s not as if the original Cork City had a lineage dating back to Newgrange. No fewer than seven clubs have borne the Cork name in the League of Ireland so what was one more Cork Rangers / Rovers / Rebels between friends? The determination to keep the idea of Cork City alive when it left such a light imprint on both the city of Cork and Irish soccer is more than a little masturbatory, a reflection of the twaddle that has Manchester United fans donning the colours of Newton Heath as a statement of how ‘real’ they are. Clubs in soccer are groups of people. The group called Cork City fell apart for very good reasons. Saddling the new entity with such a dopey name doesn’t fill one with hope that it’ll fare any better.
Okay, obligatory cut at de Rebels out of de way, boy. Speaking as a noob on these matters, this is the only match that the Blues will play in the League that fits the admittedly elastic definition of ‘derby’, so it’s great to have a Cork team in situ. The crowd they brought to the RSC was a trifle disappointing. But then again the home crowd, while bigger than usual, wasn’t anything to write home about. Passing along the ring road I was surprised to see the Cork fans being vigorously frisked as they went into the ground. Seemed a little over the top but the jobsworth types doing security have to do something, right?
It was a perfect evening for just about any outdoor activity you care to imagine outside of winter sports, which perversely meant that lots of people would have decided to prop up the tables in their local beer garden. As stated previously, if you want to go you’ll go. Stuff like kick off times and the weather are secondary considerations. The early fencing looked good for Waterford, George O’Callaghan swinging a free-kick way out on the left into the side netting and Timmy Purcell creating an opening on the left only to over cook his pass to the right. Cork weren’t doing much – and then they did something and the folly of trying to spot patterns in the first five minutes was stripped bare. A simple run through the inside left channel left the Cork player in space in the penalty area. His pull back was met by the striker and the shot, while decently saved by Konopka, would definitely have been a goal had the Cork player only put his foot through it. There was some mild panic in the defence for the corner and the real pattern in the game was being set – utter Cork domination.
There was a stomach-churning timidity to the Blues, a marked contrast to the effervescence shown in the games I’d been to earlier on in the season. The thinness of the squad can’t have helped. In the absence of Kevin Murray, Stephen Henderson is reduced to playing Liam Kearney at left back (you can see the logic but it seems strange to remove your best attacking option) and losing Paul McCarthy early on further weakened the defence. Up front, Willie John Kiely’s injury means we only have two fit strikers, Sullivan and the out-of-form Grincell. The contrast between the resources available to the ostensible new boys in the League is further rammed home by the presence of Graham Cummins on the Cork team. He was superb, routinely winning the ball and either playing in team mates or terrorising the defence into conceding frees and throw-ins. Sullivan was being asked to do the same role and did manage to carve out an opening for O’Callaghan who sidefooted wide, but he couldn’t the same oomph to the role that Cummins could. Oh, to have him still wearing blue.
The sense of panic was exemplified when Konopka came to clear a through ball and pushed it straight to a Cork midfielder. The race was on and Konopka lost as the ball crossed the line – the end line as the Cork midfielder sent it wide. Waterford were utterly on the ropes, so a parallel Cork blogger will be writing that it was utterly predictable that the Blues would take the lead. Waterford got a free on the right and it was obvious that O’Callaghan would try a sly one again. His inswinger swung high and wide but Seamus Long chased it and headed it back into the box where it bounced off one Cork defender before being deftly headed into his own net by Uros Hojan. With bloopers like that, could this be one of those days?
The gods of sporting clichés hadn’t finished though. You know that one about ex-players coming back to the club. Cummins won a free which was lofted into the box and met brilliantly by Cummins and just squeezed in off the far post. It would be interesting to see the video to discover whether he took the free as well. Back to square one then, although not before someone in the Cork contingent had set off a flare in the new stand. So all the frisking before the match made sense. Next time, full cavity searches.
While the hiatus between the goals had taken the wind out of Cork’s sails, the Blues were grateful to get in level at half time. It had been a torrid half, only illuminated by the good humour of the Waterford fans. I’ve had my (ahem) issues with the Ultras, but there were lots of impressive vignettes from them during the game. They outsang the Cork fans with some creative chants and best of all were delightfully cynical about the antics of Vinny Sullivan. Booked for a dive, the guffaws from Block E were and comments that followed (“Vinny Sullivan has never dived in his life!”) showed a refreshing change from the usual our-way-or-the-highway mentality of sports fans.
The beginning of the second half was flat, grist to the mill of my theory that semi-professional teams struggle to get back up to speed after the break, but it wasn’t long before the pattern of the first half was resumed, i.e. the Cummins show. Cork could consider themselves unfortunate to not take the lead when they had a goal ruled out for offside. Cummins performed an acrobatic flick with his back to goal which was brilliantly saved by Konopka only for it to be tapped in by another Cork player. Offside was given and only the player himself seemed to complain, but I wasn’t too comfortable with the decision either. Excellent as Cummins’ original shot had been, and it was a really good save to boot, there hadn’t been a lot of power in it and it seemed plausible that the eventual ‘scorer’ had been onside when the shot went in then looked offside when he followed up. Waterford had reason to be grateful again not long afterwards when a rampaging run from Cummins saw him put another teammate in with a clear sight of goal only for the shot to be sidefooted wide. The attempt at subtlety made more sense than the earlier effort which could have been blasted because he had such a big sight of goal but it was a poor effort either way and Waterford seemed to be running out of blessings.
At the other end, Waterford huffed and puffed to little effect, Kevin ‘Muddy’ Waters’ limitations being painfully obvious when being right under your nose and sharing the same vector as Liam Kearney. O’Callaghan had another free kick from distance which was easily saved and both Sullivan and Gary Dunphy carved out shots on goal with good mazy dribbles, but they never troubled the Cork goalie. A 21 man brawl near the Waterford penalty area was the cue for a frenetic last few minutes, Konopka having to advance off his line to snuff out a Cork through ball, then there was an extraordinary moment right as the match ticked into injury time. Cummins was near the endline and his angled cross eluded the goalie and took a trajectory that seemed to be carrying it into the net. Seamus Long flung his hand at it and I was convinced it was via this that it struck the bar and looped to safety. Few other people agreed with my assessment, but at the very least Long attempted to keep it out with his hand and either was supremely agile to withdraw it when he realised it was not going in or was very lucky that he couldn’t get close enough. There was enough time for Konopka to come for a ball that was never his, arcing as it was into the penalty area at around chest height, and shave a few more seconds off a few Waterford lives before the ref blew the whistle.
It was a good point in the end. The Blues are performing well below what’s required to keep in touch at the moment. They’ve got none of the swagger that I saw in earlier games. Whether that’s as a result of a temporary dip in confidence generated by results like the calamitous loss to 10-man Longford (a bogey team we’ve also drawn in the FAI Cup) or due to the loss of key personnel in such a thin squad remains to be seen. Salthill Devon can’t come soon enough.