I watched the Clare Cork match on Sunday (May 22, 2018) in an unlikely place, in the town of Cherokee, North Carolina, near the Tennessee border. We’re on holiday down South and we’ve come to walk in the Smoky Mountains and drive up The Blue Ridge Parkway.

And, sitting here in this Welcome Centre, so far from home and Páirc Uí Chaoimh, I’m struggling with that familiar feeling of guilt when I’m not around to cheer Cork on. As if my presence in the Páirc today would make one iota of difference today among 25,000 others, but that’s just how it is. I’m struggling too with GAAGO’s intermittent signal, and I’m thinking of Irish emigrants all over the world, for many of whom this is a regular summer Sunday experience.

I imagine Cillian, a young Clareman in Melbourne, Australia.

Cillian McMahon, a young Clare man is in the James Joyce Bar on Elizabeth Street in Melbourne, Australia. The Cork v Clare Munster Championship First Round match on May 20th, 2018, is about to begin.

Cillian thought the bar would be fuller for the match but most people seem to have opted for watching it at home, online. Plus, it’s five in the morning. His buddy, Tom, a Dub, has nodded off, he can never pace himself. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to do an all-nighter but the buzz was mighty earlier and he’d earned the Monday off after working three 12 hour shifts during the week. He wanted to enjoy the craic and the high after bating the Rebels down in their home patch.

The lads from Cork to his right are doing his head in, singing The Banks now, full of it. Delighted with themselves; we’ll see how smart they’ll be at full time. He wishes there were more Clare people in the pub, but apart from the older couple from Corofin he was chatting to earlier, his is the only saffron and blue jersey he can see.

He’s getting texts and Snapchats from all his buddies in Cork at the game, they’re fair lashing into the drink. His dad didn’t go, and Cillian is feeling guilty about that, too. They always went to games together, but Cillian used to do the driving and his dad doesn’t feel up to it anymore. Seamie and Lar from the club offered to bring him, but no go.

When he was on to his mam and dad on Skype the other night he’d tried to convince his dad to go with the lads but his father just said ‘Ah sure, let’s see, I might.’ But Cillian knew he wouldn’t and it has been eating at him ever since. His dad looked haggard or something on the iPad screen; unshaven too, not a bit like him. It’s only been five months, what’s that all about?

Cillian reflects that if he could have only settled into the school a bit better he might not have left so soon. But teaching wasn’t what he had imagined, even after the DIP and he couldn’t seem to click with the principal – everything he did was wrong. The break-up with Deirdre was rough and he hated seeing her around Ennis with her friends and then with the guy he didn’t get a good look at that night in December. He heard yerman was from Galway, a final year Med student. Perfect.

Cillian liked the working on the building, he really did. You could get through the hours easy enough, it was only a bit of pulling and dragging and whatever the foreman wanted and sure he was grand for an Aussie, he was sound really, and the Saturday nights were mighty altogether, and the Sundays too.

The first half was poor enough, all the Clare wides, we must have had ten or so. But sure we’d get going in the second half, Tony and Cathal and Shane would burn it up, even if Cork were down in their own patch.

Cillian thinks of 2013. Christ, but it was something else. Domhnall getting the point at the end on the drawn game and the relief, his dad saying: ‘Mighty, mighty,’ all the way home, ‘Lord, God, Cillian wasn’t it mighty, all the same, what a day we had.’

And even better the second day and Shane flying in the first half and Darach coming on and wrapping it up and lord God it was only sweet and his dad crying and hugging him and saying ‘Jesus, Cillian, sweet Jesus, we did it.’ And the drive home like a dream, and they flying back to O’Donnells and a rake of pints and mammy having to come up and drag them home and she laughing, ‘the state of ye, what are ye like?’ and him and his dad laughing like it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard in their lives, and then she laughing with them, her two men, wasted.

He thought about that epic day at half-time, scrolling through his phone, and he ordered another pint even though he was fading fast. That barmaid was some hot, though. One of the Cork lads, in fairness, came over to chat to him and he was sound enough, he was from Erin’s Own and he was proud out of Robbie O’Flynn – he played under age with him.

Then, after half time, Robbie got a bad knock, and was conked out and Cillian looked over and saw the Erin’s Own lad with his head in his hands. After that, things just happened one after the other. When Lehane scores a goal on 50, Cillian feels a wrench in his stomach, a twist, but plenty of time left for the Banner to bounce back with all the extra time after the injury. His knee is hopping now, as if it belongs to someone else, as it sometimes does during matches these days. He used to be much cooler, maybe it’s because he’s so far away.

The Cork crowd go quiet when Tony goals on 61 and Cillian shouts ‘Up The Banner, hon Kelly, ya boy ya!’ as loud as he can, shoving it up to them, but Tom doesn’t even wake up, the state of him, how can he sleep through this? Cillian texts his dad: we have them now and he really believes it, he does. But then Harnedy and Lehane and Ellis point and Cork are 3 up again and it isn’t looking good.

When Harnedy goals with a couple of minutes to go, Cillian gets up and walks straight out the back of the pub onto Elizabeth St, leaving half his pint behind him. He shouldn’t have left Tom like that but he couldn’t stick having to explain things to him and drag him home. Or getting slagged by the Cork crowd. It’s cold outside, almost dawn, he should have brought his hoodie and the early morning traffic is in full flow. He walks down toward the tram stop near those high-rise buildings.

How weird is that, on an early morning Melbourne street and everyone heading off to work as if nothing happened; nothing, except to him, Clare beaten in the first round of the championship. He won’t Skype his dad until tomorrow, he couldn’t face it now. He thinks about going into work but he’s only barely awake. He’ll sleep instead and go for lunch in that nice spot where the girl from Donegal works. His phone buzzes.

The wides killed us, his dad texts.

They did, he replies at the tram stop. Cork got scores at just the right times. 3 more to go tho.

His tram arrives. He slumps into a seat. The sun pulls itself up over a building and glints through a tree’s young leaves. He closes his eyes and thinks of ’13, driving home with his dad, gasping for the pints in O’Donnell’s.

Waterford next Sunday in Cusack Park. The lads will cut through them like a hot knife through butter. You may be sure of it. Up the Banner!

Cillian nods off.

The bell of a Melbourne tram rings out as it approaches his stop.

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