The All-Ireland club championships are a joy to behold. I heard yesterday that Ballysaggart have 45 paid-up members. For them to find themselves in the field of dreams that is Croke Park is the stuff of, well, dreams, and while it almost had a nightmarish end as they had to conjure up a late goal to avoid being left with thoughts of what might have been having let a nine-point half-time lead slip, they did themselves and the county proud with a tale of Hans Christian Anderson proportions. And it might have a happy ending yet…
Not for me though. I’m not from Ballysaggart. I’ve never been to Ballysaggart. I’ve could kinda give you directions – there’s a sign post on the road from Lismore to Ballyduff, just as you pass the golf club – but that’s the limit of my acquaintance with the place. Despite this, I was a nervous wreck following the game on Twitter and WLR. Quite apart from the pleasure to be had in seeing a Waterford team, any Waterford team, winning an All-Ireland title, I had followed their progress ever since they had tidily dispatched Tramore in the county final and want to see it through to the end.
That’s the explanation for why I was so concerned for Ballysaggart’s fate. It doesn’t make it any less deranged though. Economists like to assume that consumers make rational choices, i.e. they’ll choose the option that gives them the most satisfaction at the least expense. Following a sports team from home costs you nothing but it can still exact a ridiculous mental toll. In all the years I’ve followed Waterford, there have been only two occasions where the final game of the season ended in glory – the Under-21’s in 1992 and the Minors last year. Every other time you’d end up deflated as they came up short, no matter how well things had gone up until then. That’s the fate of almost every supporter as only a handful of teams can end the season on such a high, which makes following a team completely irrational. If it were a narcotic, government would be expected to regulate it to the point of quasi-illegality.
At least following GAA teams involves relatively concentrated highs and lows. The feeling is nothing compared to the sustained misery that is following a soccer team. Take the case of my addiction to Liverpool. Twelve days ago we – let’s just accept the collective pronoun applies in my case and leave questions of whether an Irishman can ever truly say ‘we’ when it comes to an English team to another day – experienced a spectacular high as the Reds walloped Everton in the Merseyside derby – I prefer the more accurate term ‘Liverpool derby’ but it’s an argument best left to another day. The high lasted all of five days as Liverpool stumbled badly against West Brom. Wind on six more days to yesterday and this time Liverpool were puttin’ on the Ritz against Arsenal, four goals to the good after just twenty minutes. It was great, but already the euphoria is tempered by the knowledge that there is another away games against another team in the relegation zone coming up against Fulham on Wednesday night. Should Liverpool screw up there, it’ll feel as if the mauling of Arsenal had never happened. It’s just not right to be leaving your sense of happiness open to something as capricious.
In case anyone insists on questioning the whole ‘we’ business, it’s very easy to transfer the feeling across to Waterford United. Just over three years ago, as I started out following the Blues in earnest, they pulled off a spectacular come-from-behind win over Shelbourne to secure a home tie in the playoffs. People who were there spoke of an atmosphere in the away end that would put the Kop or a terrace at a Munster final to shame. That’s lovely, except three nights later the Blues were beaten by Monaghan United. It was shattering, and the sense of ‘we’ being for real can only make it feel worse.
I genuinely think I would be happier if I could be rid of this turbulent way of life, and while I’m too long in the tooth to change tack I wonder whether to inflict such neuroses on my son. In the midst of the ecstasy and the agony yesterday lay the Irish rugby team. I think I’ve gotten the balance right with them. I was delighted to see Chris Henry and co barrel over the line aganst the Taffs, but when they came agonisingly short against New Zealand recently, the sense of dismay faded with the hour. And the thought that the most balanced relationship is with the ruggers buggers is the most depressing one of the lot.