It’s not easy being a corner back in football...
It’s like this: If you make a mistake in Midfield, no one notices. If you make a mistake in the full back line, you lose the match and it’s your fault.
Beat your man to the ball, but don’t let him get in behind you. Get out in front to the ball, but don’t get caught out by a ball over the top.
Corner backs live on a razor wire between playing mighty and being the cause of losing the match. Maybe that’s why we do it. The pure adrenaline of the High Stakes Poker that it is. You’re the last line of defence. Your judgement of the game has to be spot on. You need to see what’s going to happen before it happens. Where the ball will go before it is kicked. You could be Usain Bolt lining out on a cold Sunday morning in February in a Division 4 league match, but all the speed in the world won’t help if your judgement is off.
You can play it safe, and he’ll win every ball out in front of you all day. Probably keep handing it off to the full or the wing to pop it over. There’s no embarrassment. No disaster. He won’t get behind you. You might get the odd one due to a bad ball in. In poker, it would be called a safe play. But you’ll know yourself that you could have played with a bit more edge, that you had some room for manoeuvre, and that you are passing up the chance to get the feeling you get when you come storming out of defence with the ball when you’re one up with two to go and they’re making a go for it. Like leading a charge out from a castle that’s under siege. Pure epic.
Forwards thrive on confidence. You can see it in them. It’s why the first two balls in any match are the most important. If you beat him to those two, he starts doubting himself, thinks he’ll have a bad day, stops making hard runs. If that happens, it’s a sure thing he will have a bad day at the office.
Often we are a breed not blessed with skill. Nor are we the most intelligent of footballers either. We enjoy simple things. Blocks. Dispossessions. Beating a man to the ball. Those little flicks of the hand to knock the ball away as some Prima Donna is trying to solo past you. Surrounding a forward to squeeze the life blood out of him. There is not often a huge amount of glory but it feels good.
It can go wrong. You beat him to two balls out in front, and you have him where you want him. He starts whinging about the quality of ball coming in. It’s a mark of weakness, and the thought crosses your mind that you have this one wrapped up. There’s a third one coming in and you’re a quarter of a yard ahead of him in full sprint as the wing back starts to kick it, exactly where you want to be to make it three out of three. Then you subconsciously notice that you can’t hear the sound of his boots behind you, and you can no longer see his shadow in front of you. Then the dreaded high aerial flight path of the ball which you have already calculated will come in about 10 yards behind your current position, somewhere around the 21 yard line. Your heart jumps. Your eyes bulge. This is the “OH F**K” moment. You wish you had one of those floating skateboards from ‘Back to the Future’. Even if you did, it still won’t stop the overlap with the full forward. Full Back has to come to meet him. Ball centres. Net rattles. Forwards shout. F**k.
Corner Backs live in terror of getting caught out. Afterwards, team mates look at you, and then look at the ground, muttering something inaudible. They don’t have the heart to tell you what they think.
You lost a big hand. F**k it.
Nothing for it. Head up, back on the pitch.
Get out the cards again, deal out the chips. Let’s play some high stakes poker.
Currow corner forward, John Buckley posing danger for the John Mitchells' defence as corner back, John Horgan tries to stem the threat during a County Kerry Intermediate Championship game. Credit: PICTURE: JOHN REIDY