I’m sitting in a Costa in Douglas on Sunday morning waiting for Cummins Sports to open and it hits me. The match approaches with all its baggage: anxiety, stress, the need to win, to be validated again by sport. All the old feelings. I can hardly drink my Cortado, my knee starts hopping. Fuck’s sake, calm down, it’s only the bloody first-round. The sunshine is harsh and bitter when I step outside, I forgot my sunglasses.

*

I’m walking down Boreenmanna Road towards Páirc Uí Chaoimh. The sunshine is mellow and beaming, I’m wearing my sunglasses. A Tipperary family has spread a rug on some grass by the road and they’re having tea and sandwiches. Three generations. Granny and grand-daughter are chatting. The scene warms me further. I want to say something approbatory but I can’t think of anything to say. That’s okay too. I smile at the girl as I pass and she ignores me – well, I am the enemy.

*

I’m buying Ribena from some entrepreneurial children outside Elderwood. 50 cents, a good deal. I ask them how’s business. Not great, the boy says, pointing to the sparse money bowl. The girl offers me the 50 cent change from my Euro coin. I’m a big tipper so I throw it back into the money bowl. Hopefully, it will bring us good luck. I say Up Cork to them as I’m leaving, but they don’t react. I try not to read too much into that.

*

I’m in The Venue Bar meeting a friend, DQ, and some of his family. It gets very crowded very quickly. The atmosphere is congenial, expectant, as it usually is. We’re chatting, catching up, it’s the only time I get to meet him. We don’t talk about The Premier League, he’s United the same as me. A choice between City and Liverpool is a bitter cup and it’s best to pretend it’s not happening. Let’s take comfort in this anticipatory, summer pint, we seem to say to each other. What do you think? he says. Hard to know, I say. I’m not confident with that back-line after the league. He nods.

*

I’m walking up the steps of the Upper South Stand. I meet an old friend and team mate from Mallow and we chat. He congratulates me on my book, he says he read it twice. I’m grateful and humbled, as I usually am. A bit uneasy. He’s a real hurling man, steeped in parish and club, unlike myself. But the genuine affection and praise is something to give thanks for and so I do. We shake hands and part and I think about lost times we spent together.

*

I’m watching Seamus Callinan sweep through the Cork back line and score a goal. I wince at his potential for killing.

*

I’m watching Bubbles O’Dywer score yet another point. He’s moving like pure beauty.

*

I’m shouting at the ref for not booking one of the Mahers for a foot trip on Conor Lehane.

*

I try to tell myself all this is splendour, that we’re rich for being here, whatever the performance of the Cork players. I find that I can.

*

I’m in The Silver Key drowning sorrows with friends. There’s a slightly dishevelled air about the Cork fans, an uncomfortable dread of next week’s game against Limerick. Not a bit like us. I chat to a couple of Corkmen in the queue to the toilet. I’m sorry now I bought a ticket for next Sunday, one of them says. You never know, I say, we never expected to beat Tipp in 2017 in Thurles. The Tipperary people are having food before the journey home. They are relishing their meals more than I am relishing my pint. I chat to one man who says he can’t believe we didn’t play a sweeper with that back line. I nod but don’t agree. I don’t want to give him the soot of it. They replay the game on the TVs around the pub and my friends and I watch with gimlet eyes. We are relieved when it’s over and we can change the subject.

*

I’m walking through the dusk down the Ballinlough Road. There are blackbirds and thrushes and robins singing in the big trees. The road is quiet, the pub has emptied early. The Cork people are not in the mood to drink. Feathers of clouds hang high in the darkening sky. There’s a waxing gibbous moon to the south. The lights in Montenotte and St. Lukes are coming on in the distance. Hopper-like intimate scenes in the living rooms I pass. I get some texts and WhatsApp message about the game. I ignore them. I’m looking forward to chicken and chips, from the chipper. I feel I’ve deserved it. I buy my food and descend down Dunmore Lawn. Nearly home. A lone blackbird is singing, still. He’s the last one I can hear. He sings and he sings and he sings.