Football/Soccer

Cliftonville fan Caoimhe O'Connell continues rich Reds tradition

Cliftonville fan Caoimhe O’Connell. Picture: Matt Bohill
Padraig O Meiscill

CLIFTONVILLE fans have long been fond of the Elvis Presley number `I Can't Help Falling in Love with You'.

With the lyrics suitably doctored to express devotion for the Reds, ‘Wise men say…' has floated down off the terraces at Solitude in good times and bad.

Few fans better capture this passionate, sometimes thankless, commitment to the club off north Belfast's Cliftonville Road than Caoimhe O'Connell.

Caoimhe was nine when Irish News photographer Michael McGrogan took her picture outside Solitude on the day Cliftonville won the Irish League title for the first time in living memory in April 1998.

Bedecked in several red-and-white scarfs with another one held above the red hat swamping her head, Caoimhe's beaming face is just about visible behind all these keepsakes and the numerous shamrock badges sewn onto them.

“I walked out with my Granda and Gary Arthurs and the photographer asked for a photo and everyone started lumping scarves and the hat on me. The headline read, ‘Guess who I support',” Caoimhe recalls.

“I've been going to matches from I was six.

“My Granda's from the New Lodge, my daddy as well, they both used to go to the matches, but they've both passed on now, so I go myself and bring my cousins.”

Wee Daniel O'Connell was the grandfather who “would've taken me every single Saturday from I was about six,” along with other longstanding, long-suffering Cliftonville fans like Gary Arthurs.

“My daddy passed away when I was very young, a wee baby, so my Granda took me from I was old enough to go. He passed away there about six years ago. I take my wee cousins now and that's the fourth generation of us coming through,” she adds.

Caoimhe, who now works in Irish medium education during the day, teaches Irish to adults in the evening and keeps her Saturdays free for her first love, describes the afternoon in '98 when the Gibson Cup was secured for Solitude as “the best day of my childhood by a country mile. No day compares to that.”

And when there have been tougher times, Caoimhe has found solace among her fellow supporters.

“When Cliftonville got into the Champions League in Hungary [against Debrecen in 2014], we were attacked when we were over there,” she says.

“I never made the game because I was in a Hungarian hospital, but I met my boyfriend through that.

“He was showing concern that somebody had been injured and that's kind of how we met and that was three and-a-half years ago and now we're living together.

“We try to get to every single game, so the story continues.”

Now, with the Irish Cup final against Coleraine on the agenda, there's a chance to add another successful chapter to that eventful story, but Caoimhe is taking nothing for granted.

“I almost get emotional talking about it because, since my Granda passing and my daddy, I know that they would've been there in '79 [the last time Cliftonville won the Irish Cup],” she adds.

“I wouldn't be religious, but they're floating about there somewhere keeping an eye on the game.

“I tell you what, see if we were to win I don't think I'd be able to hold back the tears.

“I don't want to scud it, but I've got everything crossed, including my eyes.”

As Elvis and the Red ‘men' once crooned, though, some things are just meant to be.

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Football/Soccer