Cork are playing Limerick. It’s your first time in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Your cousin Sean was there before, and for the Clare match too, but he’s seven and you’re only six.
Your friend Conor is coming too. He’s the best hurler in your class but you’re faster at running.
You spend the whole day pucking your sliotar against the wall of the house, scoring goals for Cork. You can’t wait for half-past four, that’s when your dad said ye’ll be leaving. You run into the house loads of times to check the kitchen clock.
Your mam gives you fish fingers and waffles before ye go, your favourite. You’d love if she was coming too, but she can’t.
Your dad parks the car in some rugby pitch and Conor asks how will they play rugby with all the cars. Your dad says they don’t play rugby in summer. You ask why. Because the ground is too hard, he says. You don’t understand, but you don’t want to ask him to explain.
There’s loads of cars everywhere and people too. The pub is boring before the game and you and Conor have to stand for ages while your dad drinks beer and watches some other game on the telly.
The stand in Páirc Uí Chaoimh is huge and there’s another pitch just in front of it. The under 14s from the club played there last summer. You’d love to do that, it’d be class, but they don’t let under 8s play there. You and Conor puck a ball to each other while your dad smokes before going inside.
There’s millions of steps up to the top of the stand and your legs get really tired, but you don’t say anything. Conor’s face is red and he asks your dad for a drink. Ye both get Coke but dad has to hold them while ye hold the flags and the hurleys.
The noise is SO loud when the teams come out and they walk behind a band on the pitch. You look back at the girl from Limerick who is sitting behind you and she has her fingers in her ears and her eyes closed.
When Limerick have a man sent off, your dad leans into you and says: ‘We have them now, Cian,’ and he winks. But Limerick keep scoring and dad starts shouting at the Cork players about the short puck outs.
After half-time he is shouting a way more and giving out to the ref too for all the frees that Cork should have got. You don’t like it when he shouts. Patrick Horgan, your hero, scores a goal and everybody jumps up and you wave your flag and everybody is shouting ‘Cork, Cork, Cork, Cork,’ and it’s class.
But then Limerick get more scores and it looks like they are going to win because they’re ahead now and when you ask your dad, he says there’s only five minutes left. Your leg is jumping the way it does when you get nervous at school but you can’t stop it. You think you might cry when Limerick get another point but you don’t. The man from Limerick behind is really loud.
Then Cork get some points and we’re winning and your dad is shouting ‘Blow it up, ref,’ but the ref doesn’t blow it up and Limerick get another point and it’s a draw.
You are kind of happy Cork didn’t lose, and you’re kind of happy the match is over, but your dad is giving out to the man beside him. Then he shakes hands with the man from Limerick, who talks with a funny accent, and you hold out your hand to the girl, who is looking straight at you.
She takes your hand and shakes it and then she blushes and you think you are blushing too. Then Conor shakes hands with her. When ye turn back around, Conor gives you a puck with his elbow and you puck him back harder.
There’s thousands of people going out at the same time and then up a hill when everybody is close together. Your dad warns ye both to stay just in front of him, but Conor drops his sliotar and it rolls back down the road and Conor runs after it between all the people. Your dad shouts at him and gives out to him when he catches up again and he takes the sliotars off the both of us. But he gives them back again when ye are waiting in the queue to get out of the rugby pitches and ye puck around where there’s no cars.
When you get home you run into the house to tell your mam all about it, but she’s not there. She’s gone out with Trish, dad says. So you and Conor take turns at scoring goals for Cork against the wall, like Patrick Horgan did.
You wish you had a small brother or a sister who could be the Limerick back that Patrick Horgan ran around, but you don’t. So ye just both run in a bit and hit the ball against the wall, into the Limerick goal, as hard as ye can. Conor can hit it really hard and sometimes you do too.
Conor’s mam comes to pick him up when it’s getting dark and you go inside. Your dad is watching golf on the telly and drinking a bottle of beer. You ask him to make you a ham sandwich and if you can stay up late.
He says no, you’ll have to be in bed when your mam comes home or he’ll be in trouble. You ask him if Cork will beat Waterford and if you can go with him to it. He says Cork will win, for sure, but he’ll have to see about going, it’s a long drive. You ask him if he thinks you’ll play for Cork some day and he smiles and rubs your hair and says of course you will. You like it when he smiles.
He makes the sandwich but he doesn’t cut off the crusts like your mam does. You eat the sandwich but not the crusts. You drink some milk. You throw the crusts into the bin.
When you go back in, your dad is asleep and you’re tired too. There is golf on the telly, and it’s SO boring. You wonder how your dad can sleep and hold onto the bottle of beer at the same time.
You close your eyes on the couch, hoping your mam will be home soon, so you can tell her about the match. You think about scoring goals for Cork, goals for Cork, goals for Cork.
Picture: Evening Echo