Toasting a Harps win and a Rovers title win

Published in the official Finn Harps match day programme Issue 4/2021 (Finn Harps v Shamrock Rovers)

There has always been a good relationship between Finn Harps and Shamrock Rovers dating right back to when the Hoops provided the opposition in 1969 for Harps’ first League of Ireland game. As a Shamrock Rovers fan I’ve always enjoyed travelling up to Finn Park and cannot wait to get up to Ballybofey again when restrictions allow – and the new stadium in Stranorlar when finances for opening the venue allow. 

There is always a great welcome for the travelling supporters in Donegal; there is the wonderful soup and from a Hoops perspective in recent years the results have gone Rovers way. You have to go back to November 2008 for the last Harps win over the Hoops with Marc Mukendi and Conor Gethins on the scoresheet in the 2-0 victory in Finn Park.

Cementing the relationship of good will of course is Finn Harps’ role last season in handing Shamrock Rovers the title. Yes, the Hoops went through the COVID-19 shortened season unbeaten, conceding just seven goals and keeping 13 clean sheets in the 18 games but it was a Finn Harps win in November that got Rovers over the line to confirm the league title – even better from a Rovers perspective was that Harps’ crucial win was against Rovers’ rivals Bohemians.

Harps had lost 12 in a row in Dalymount Park but came up trumps that night. I was probably the only Shamrock Rovers supporter who was present to see Rovers win the league. I was in the Phibsborough venue reporting for extratime.com. Come the final whistle I was thankful of the mask I was wearing so I could have some semblance of neutrality as people couldn’t see the wide grin going across my face as Rovers had secured their 18th league title.

Aaron McEneff described the scenario on the night when I spoke with the former Rovers man recently. “I was sitting at home and looking at the Bohs v Finn Harps game on WatchLOI. The Finn Harps ‘keeper had a stormer pulling off great saves. Around the 75 minute mark with Harps 2-0 up and Bohs down to ten men, our players WhatsApp group slowly started to take off. When it got to 85th minute, I had the drinks open. We then went on FaceTime with the lads to celebrate.” The Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley wasn’t even watching that night and was only alerted to what was unfolding thanks to his assistant coach Glenn Cronin messaging him with ten minutes to go.

The 2-0 win for Harps was their first win over Bohs in Dalymount Park this century and was quite a time to do it. Ollie Horgan’s men were battling to avoid relegation and the three points that night, as well as making the Hoops champions, sent one of their relegation rivals Cork City down.

Mark Russell was the hero for Harps (and the Hoops!) scoring a goal either side of the half time break. It left Harps five points behind Shels but with two games in hand and it was a gap Harps would overcome to stay up so that tonight they could welcome once again the Hoops to Ballybofey in Premier Division action.

Alan Mannus: ‘We have a style of play where we want to keep possession’

Published in Hoops Scene Issue 3/2021 (Shamrock Rovers v Longford Town – 17 April 2021)

Looking back on last season’s title winning campaign for Shamrock Rovers, the defensive statistics for the Hoops are worth highlighting. Across the 18 league campaign, the team kept 13 clean sheets and conceded just seven goals – the fewest in the history of the League of Ireland (which includes 22 seasons which were 18 game campaigns or less). In the final 11 matches of the 2020 Premier Division, the Hoops conceded just the one goal.

“It was remarkable,” said Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper Alan Mannus reflecting on the title success built on that defensive strength. “Normally when it is a team like Shamrock Rovers who are competing to win the league, you set yourself a target of 20 clean sheets over a 36 game campaign. 

“It was different last year with the season cut in half (due to COVID-19) but we had 13 clean sheets so if we had played double the games we would have had over 20. I wasn’t that busy in terms of making saves and that shows how good the team was especially the defenders but we defend from the front. Everyone contributes towards that.” 

While Mannus mentions that defending that starts with the strikers, the way the Hoops play it also works the other way – with the attacks starting from the goalkeeper. In Rovers’ recent 2-1 win over Dundalk in the last game played here in Tallaght, it was noticeable how involved Mannus was in beating the press that Lilywhites exerted on Rovers in that game.

Possession and beating the press

“We have a style of play where we want to keep possession. We have worked hard on distribution, particularly in the last few weeks. We are trying to progress with that in training as a goalkeeping team. We are working on not just hitting it to the player but to their chest or feet over an opponent rather than just close to them. I’m trying to learn to do that as a goalkeeper. 

“Previous to being at Rovers, it was usually about hitting it as far as you could into an area where you strikers can challenge for the header. It is very different now where you are trying to pick people out and maintain possession.

“The way Dundalk set up their press, I couldn’t really go to the centre half a lot of the time but that meant there was someone else who was free. We should always have an option if I can’t get to the centre half. They players need to be in certain positions to create space and then I need to recognise that and be good enough to try and get it to that player.

“I think that football is changing and evolving. You can see the way the best teams in the world play. Teams like Man City and Barcelona are playing that way for years and, while we are not comparing ourselves with them, it is about seeing can we progress with what we are doing. 

“We all know the role we have and we have a purpose to either receive the ball or create space for someone else to receive it. That puts a certain responsibility on me for where I need to be after I make a pass.” 

Rovers were made work for the win against Dundalk with Mannus pulling off a number of saves that helped the Hoops to all three points.

“In the second half I was quite busy and you’d expect that against a team like Dundalk. Any team that has players up front like Pat Hoban and Michael Duffy, they are going to cause you problems. I thought Liam (Scales), Sean (Hoare) and Lee (Grace) were excellent in front of me as a back three – they defended really well. 

“I was pleased with that save when I pushed in onto the bar even if it was offside. We were working on that thing in training during the week with Jose [Ferrer – Rovers’ goalkeeping coach] with a header that bounces around you. The main thing against Dundalk was we won and I was pleased that I was able to contribute.”

Behind closed doors

The atmosphere in Tallaght Stadium for that behind-closed-doors win over the Lilywhites was very different from a little over 12 months ago when over 7,500 fans packed into the same venue to see a Rovers 3-2 win. “You do miss the crowd especially when you walk towards the goal and the supporters are behind the goal, you hear your name being sung and we clap one another. It is different but I’m quite used to having no supporters now.

“Some players can get an edge off the adrenaline of a big crowd. I’ve always tried to be quite relaxed on the pitch. I don’t want to be pumping adrenaline too much. I want to be calm. That’s the way I want to try and play.”

The Hoops haven’t been able to have their usual gym regime with COVID-19 regulations meaning only outdoor facilities can be used. Mannus has built up his own home gym over the years and it has come into its own during lockdown. The goalkeeper feels the strength and conditioning work he has done over his career has been massively beneficial to him.

“We have an outdoor set up at Roadstone which we call ‘the rig’ and Darren Dillon does a great job organising that work for us. I also have a set up at home that I’ve had for a while. Outside of goalkeeping training, that has been the most important thing for me. There is a saying that the best ability is availability. If I look back over my time, one of the biggest things for me is that I’ve been available to play where as other goalkeepers have picked up knocks. I’ve had a few injuries along the way but I’ve missed less time over 20 years than most goalkeepers and for me it is has been through that strength training and the gym work.

“Other goalkeepers might have been better than me but they got injured and allowed me get by them in the pecking order and that is down to the training I was doing. I’ve put the time in over the years and that has helped me.” 

Gavin Bazunu

When Mannus re-joined Rovers during the 2018 season he worked closely with Gavin Bazunu who last month made his senior international debut for the Republic of Ireland. “Me and Gavin still text each other and I congratulated him when he was called up to the squad. I was delighted to see how well he has gone on to do and nothing has happened by chance for Gavin.

“The very first training session when I came back to the club, he came over to me and said ‘if you see anything that can help me, please tell me’. He was only 16 then and hadn’t played for the first team and that was really impressive to me. With a younger ‘keeper,  there are two parts as to how good they are. There is the technicality of their game and then the mental side – not just on the pitch but attitude and desire and determination to be the best. 

“Gavin had good levels of both but his desire and determination was the main thing for me. He has been excellent. He should be in the senior squad in future and not the under-21.”

We want to retain the cup that we worked so hard to win – Roberto Lopes

December 4, 2020 Leave a comment

Interview from Hoops Scene No. 11 (2020) – Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers, FAI Cup semi-final, Sunday 29 November 2020

Everything about this year has been quite different including the fact that with a shortened SSE Airtricity League season due to COVID-19 the league finished up before the quarter-final stage of the extra.ie FAI Cup.  With Shamrock Rovers 2-0 down at half time away to Finn Harps in their quarter-final last week, those looking in on WATCHLOI might have felt that the Hoops had only another 45 minutes of football to go in 2020. On a miserably cold and wet night on a sticky pitch in Ballybofey, it wasn’t looking too good for Rovers. 

However the Hoops weren’t happy with letting their unbeaten run in the league and cup that goes back to August 2019 come to end. Awarded a remarkable three penalties in five minutes – with Aaron McEneff missing the first and scoring the next two – coupled with Graham Burke’s winner saw the Hoops through to tonight’s semi-final.

 “We went a goal down after 15 minutes and you are thinking this is going to be hard work,” said Roberto Lopes when he spoke with Hoops Scene this week. “Then for them to get a second one so quickly, your thoughts are we have a mountain to climb on that pitch, in the form they are in and how hard they work for one another but there was no panic. 

“The important thing was to be calm and trust what we do. We just needed to increase the energy and the tempo. We got that reaction in the second half – we got more in their face and we turned the screw and the pressure told in the end. We got our reward.

“We know that if we lose a game now, it is the season finished. It became real that Friday night in Harps – you live to fight another day or the season either ends. For me, I can’t imagine finishing the season and there are other teams still playing games. You want to be there at the end.” 

Lopes recalled that his captain Ronan Finn told his teammates that were well prepared to take on Harps in such difficult weather conditions. “Finner said it before the game that we had the best preparation of this quarter-final which was playing them two weeks before. The conditions that night were maybe worse then as there was a threat of the game being called off.

“We had to change slightly the way we played, but the principals were still there in how we attack, create chances and be patient and the opportunities will come. Having that experience of playing up there a couple of weeks ago and knowing what it was going to be like really prepared us for the game.”

The Hoops became the first League of Ireland club to go through a league campaign without a defeat since the 1920s and Rovers are focussed on retaining the FAI Cup which would also mean the club going through the full domestic season without a defeat. 

“The drive for this team is to remain unbeaten and we need to win this cup or else we will be beaten. We want to retain the cup that we worked so hard to win. The fans waited so long for Rovers to win the cup and for most of the players like myself it was the first time to win it. There is a massive motivation to win the cup and cap a great year off with a double.”

The statistics are quite remarkable for Rovers this year. In the 18 game league campaign the Hoops conceded just seven goals – the fewest ever in League of Ireland history. They kept 13 clean sheets and in the final 11 league games of the season, they conceded only one goal. 

“Defenders earn their crust on clean sheets and how well you defend. It isn’t just about getting your body in front of the ball, giving no chances up but when you have the ball can you keep it long enough so your opponents don’t get it. Can you be brave and play out from the back and through midfield without giving the opponent an opportunity to attack. That is a big part of defending – when you have the ball.

“We have such a fantastic goalkeeper in Alan (Mannus) – he gives us that confidence. 

Joey (O’Brien) is top class. We know what Lee (Grace) is capable of. In his first season at the club, there is nothing that fazes Liam Scales – he has fitted right in and been brilliant. You go through the team and we defend from the front. It is so important what Aaron Greene does for the team. The ability to win the ball high up and in midfield like we’ve done this year, it really does take the pressure off us defenders. Keeping that mentality throughout the team we will concede fewer goals.”

Lopes has played a crucial part in those clean sheets but his late goals have been invaluable too – all scored from set pieces. With Rovers trailing 2-1 to Dundalk in February, Lopes popped up with the equaliser on 71 minutes before Jack Byrne got the winner in front of over 7,500 fans in Tallaght – the last time supporters have watched a game in the stadium. Lopes got the winner nine minutes from time in the Brandywell as Rovers came from 1-0 down to win in August. In the Europa League later that month, it was the defenders’ flicked goal on 78 minutes that forced the game to extra-time before Rovers won the most remarkable penalty shootout (with Lopes scoring his side’s seventh spotkick).

“It is very important to chip in with goals throughout the team. When you have the quality of delivery with Jack Byrne, Aaron McEneff or Sean Kavanagh at set pieces you need to be scoring off them. We have great opportunities from set pieces and we work really hard on them. Goals win games and if we can chip in with a few goals between us that can make a difference. It is a team effort.”

Lopes was a half-time substitute in the 3-2 win over Finn Harps having just returned from being part of the Cape Verde squad in home and away Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Rwanda – both of which finished scoreless.

“It was a fantastic trip,” said Lopes. “It was professionally done. We were COVID tested four times in eight days when I was there plus the test before I left Ireland. They were really on top of it. You had a room to yourself and it was mask and hand sanitiser like here. 

“We were disappointed that we didn’t get three points in both games. There are some great quality players in the squad who are playing across the world. We are trying to qualify for the Cup of Nations – we will probably have to beat Mozambique and get something off Cameroon in the games next March. I’d love to be a part of the team who can qualify.”

It was a long journey home for Lopes with a flight from Rwanda to Uganda then a nine hour flight to Amsterdam where he had a further six hour layover before landing in Dublin the day before the game against Harps.

It has also been a journey for Lopes to win his first League of Ireland title. He was one of Stephen Bradley’s first signing for the Hoops moving across the Liffey from Bohemians. He is a player that Rovers fans mark out as one who has improved the most since his arrival in Tallaght. Playing in one of the club’s strongest ever teams, the 28-year-old defender is one of those in contention to win the club’s player of the year award.

It has also been a journey for Lopes to win his first League of Ireland title. He was one of Stephen Bradley’s first signing for the Hoops moving across the Liffey from Bohemians. He is a player that Rovers fans mark out as one who has improved the most since his arrival in Tallaght. Playing in one of the club’s strongest ever teams, the 28-year-old defender is one of those in contention to win the club’s player of the year award.

“One of the reasons I signed for Shamrock Rovers was to improve as a player. I knew my strengths coming here and I knew my weaknesses. One of the big things I said coming here is that I can learn the game. I can become a better footballer. 

“The fact that people said I couldn’t pass water when I signed here and say now that I look like a footballer, I see that as a massive complement to me. It is testament to the manager and all the coaching staff who have brought me to this level. I’ve worked really hard to learn. They have given me the tools to become the player that I have. I am still not there yet and I can improve

“Winning the league wasn’t just something we’ve been trying to achieve this season but something we have worked towards over the last number of years. It was a fantastic experience and that is my first time ever winning the league. I’ve been trying to do it over the last ten years so it was a really special moment for me. We enjoyed the night of the trophy presentation and we made sure we celebrated as it is important to do that and acknowledge what we had done.” 

A hardcopy and digital version of this programme is available to purchase from Shamrock Rovers here.

Watching LOI online and in the flesh

November 20, 2020 Leave a comment

Published in the Finn Harps match day programme – Issue 9 2020 – Finn Harps v Shamrock Rovers (1 November)

It is a Finn Harps v Shamrock Rovers game with a difference. COVID-19 restrictions mean there will be no home fans in Finn Park singing “Finn Harps, Finn Harps we are really here to stay”.

There is usually a sizeable travelling support for this fixture, with Rovers fans always made feel very welcome in Ballybofey but you won’t be hearing Hoops supporters serenading the newly crowned champions with (for reasons that are beyond me!) David Essex’s ‘Hold me close’.

However there will be plenty of football fans across Donegal, Dublin and beyond tuning in online via WATCHLOI for today’s fixture. The streaming service has been so vital for supporters since the resumption of the League of Ireland behind closed doors.

I’ll be watching this game online tonight deciding not to make the trip to Donegal but as a reporter with extratime.com I’ve been one of the lucky people to be able to attend games – and have watched matches in each of the league grounds in Dublin since August.

The added benefit of having WATCHLOI is that it streams about 90 seconds behind the live action, it has been very handy to have the stream available for action replays to make sure your match report is accurate!

The setup and organisation in each stadium I’ve visited has been very professional ensuring the safety of those in attendance and the match officials, management and players. A COVID-19 form completed ahead of match day, a temperature check on arrival, hand sanitiser available and social distanced seating in the stadium – and of course masks being worn. 

Most grounds now have an overflow press area as the press box simply isn’t large enough to accommodate the reporters and the required social distancing. In Tallaght Stadium, a new press area opposite the main stand was put in for the AC Milan Europa League qualifier to facilitate the large press core for that game from Ireland and Italy. Stickers with the reporters names were marked out on the desks. The Hoops have kept the area for the rest of this season and I’ve taken to sitting at Giovanni D’Elia’s desk in Tallaght for the past few weeks!

When St. Patrick’s Athletic played Harps behind-closed-doors in the FAI Cup in August, a number of Saints supporters made the trip to Finn Park to watch the game through the stadium perimeter fence – maybe there will be a few Rovers fans who might do similar although with heightened COVID-19 travel restrictions it might not be for the best.

One of the most memorial moments of this season for me involved fans watching another behind-closed-doors game that month. It was on a damp night in Tallaght when Rovers played Finnish side Ilves Tampere in a Europa League qualifier. In extra-time, from the pressbox you could hear the odd shout from behind the goal at The Square end of the ground. Then some more and before long out of the darkness about a dozen or so fans could be seen standing on top of the stadium perimeter wall – at one stage a few flares were lit  with smoke and song drifting into the stadium.

Those fans got to see the most dramatic of penalty shootouts. Jack Byrne missed Rovers’ first spot kick but then the Hoops scored the next dozen with Alan Mannus blasting one home before saving the 25th peno of the night. It set Joey O’Brien up to score his second penalty in the shootout for the win before the players trotted down to celebrate with the Rovers supporters – the ‘Ilves dozen’ – peering in over the perimeter wall.   

Categories: Uncategorized

Waterford for the league, Rovers for the cup

November 17, 2020 Leave a comment

From the Finn Harps v Waterford match programme – Issue 10 2020 (Monday 9 November)

Looking back five decades it was a time when Waterford were the dominant side in the League of Ireland. It was a period when the Blues won an incredible six titles in an eight seasons. This year is the 50th anniversary of Waterford completing a league three-in-a-row becoming only the second club at that time to manage that feat – equalling Cork United’s from 1940/41. Only Dundalk (2014-2016) and Shamrock Rovers (with a four-in-a-row in the 1980s) have since managed that feat since.  

Those league titles earned Waterford passage into the European Cup where they played clubs such as Vorwaerts Berlin, Galatasaray, Glentoran, AC Omonia along with a couple of European heavyweights. In 1968 they were drawn against the reigning European champions Manchester United. There were 48,000 in attendance to watch the first leg in Lansdowne road as Best, Law and Charlton took on the Blues. Law bagged a hat-trick with Johnny Matthews scoring for Waterford who would lose the second leg 7-1. In 1970 the Blues faced Celtic with Jock Stein’s side demolishing Waterford 7-0 in the first leg and 3-2 back in Glasgow after the Blues led in the second leg 2-0.

Domestically at this time while Waterford were dominating the league, Shamrock Rovers, who finished runners up in the league three years in a row from 1968/69, had effectively taken ownership of the FAI Cup. The Hoops were in the process of winning six-in-a-row playing an incredible 32 cup ties without defeat. 

The 1968 FAI Cup final saw Waterford face Rovers with the Blues favourites having won the league, Shield and the Top Four competition that season. Speaking to some of the Shamrock Rovers players who went head-to-head with Waterford in that cup final and in the league during that time, it is clear how high much esteem they hold for that Blues side.

“Not many people remember that era now but Waterford had a very talented team and played a great brand of football,” said Damien Richardson. “They were terrific. We had great respect for the Waterford team.”

Paddy Mulligan describes Waterford as “a wonderfully gifted team. We couldn’t win the league as they were winning leagues all round while we were winning the cup. That was a smashing Waterford team with Alfie Hale, Jimmy McGeough and John O’Neill.” 

The ’68 final in Dalymount had the second highest final attendance ever with 39,128 spectators squeezed into the ground. “I remember walking out from the dressing room and being absolutely astonished how full Dalymount was,” recalled Richardson. “It was mind-boggling to see it – what a crowd.”

Mick Leech scored twice for Rovers with Mick Lawlor getting the other goal and Leech is remembered for patting the Waterford ‘keeper Peter Thomas after he slotted away Rovers last goal with a minute remaining in the match.

“We went 3-0 up and he was lying on the ground,” said Leech. “I’d great respect for him as a ‘keeper and I just tapped him on the head and said ‘hard luck Tommo, maybe next year’. In some ways I’m sorry I ever did it because people got the wrong impression and thought I was taking the piss out of him. That was never the case.”

It would take a decade for Rovers to win their next cup and a further two years for Waterford who defeated St. Patrick’s Athletic 1-0 in the 1978 final. It was Peter Thomas’ only winners medal and it went with the five League of Ireland titles he won in remarkable successful period for Waterford.

Elections in Ireland to change with establishment of Electoral Commission

July 4, 2020 1 comment

Tucked away on page 120 of the programme for government is the section on electoral reform which makes for interesting reading for political nerds but does have wide ranging implications for future elections in Ireland.

How we apply to vote, how we actually vote and who are TDs are will all be effected by decisions made by the proposed Electoral Commission. The three party government states in the programme that it ‘will ensure that this Commission is in place by the end of 2021’ so it is not something that is going to be kicked too far down the road.

Election Posters
The use of the much maligned but very important election poster comes up whenever elections come around when posters adorn every lamppost across Irish towns and cities. The task of examining the use of posters will fall to the new Electoral Commission who will examine their use in both elections and referendums and will do so within 12 months of establishment of the Commission.

They will ‘consult on placing limitations on the number of posters that can be used or fixing certain locations for their use. The Government will legislate for its recommendations in advance of the 2024 Local Elections.’

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By-Elections

At present if a TD dies or resigns, a by-election has to take place to find their replacement and the Dáil must move the writ within six months of the requirement for a replacement. However, the new Electoral Commission is to examine the possibility of replacing by-elections with an alternate list system. Such a method is currently used to replace members of the European Parliament.

Currently any MEP vacancy is filled from a replacement list – this is a list compiled ahead of the election by each registered political party or independent candidate. The person who is at the top of the replacement list fills the vacancy when it arises.

Postal Votes

The issue of postal voting is in the news in relation to the upcoming US election. In Ireland the eligibility for voting via this method is very limited. The electoral commission is to examine the current use of postal voting with a view to expanding its provision.

At present in Ireland those eligible to get a postal vote are:
• Irish diplomats posted abroad, their spouse or civil partner who is living abroad with them
• Gardaí and full time members of the Irish Defence Forces

In addition if voters cannot go to a polling station, then can apply for a postal vote. This is for those who:
• have a physical illness or disability
• are studying full time at an educational institution in Ireland, which is away from the home address where you are registered
• cannot vote at local polling station because of their occupation, service or employment
• are in prison.

Election Register
Currently the election registers are controlled by each local authority. The plan is for the Electoral Commission to update and maintain a single national electoral register database and they will also look to move the registration option online.

Parental leave
At present there is no parental leave for elected members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The commission is to ‘develop supports and alternatives for members of the Oireachtas to take parental leave.’

Equality and Diversity
Away from the section on the Electoral Commission, the programme for government also notes that the new government will ‘introduce practical measures that will encourage more women to stand in local elections in 2024’.

They will also require ‘local authorities to be more flexible with meeting times and to use remote working technologies and flexible work practices to support councillors with parental or caring responsibilities, including childcare, and reduced travel times and absences from work.’

The plan is also to ‘examine further mechanisms informed by best practice internationally to encourage political parties to select more women for the 2024 local elections.’

Leaving The Liberties Lockdown

We head out of lockdown on Monday, with the revised three phase exit strategy providing a certain symmetry for what was effectively a three stage entry process back in March. It has been a long and strange time over these past few months for everyone.

Maybe I should have kept a diary to document it all. Instead I tweeted random thoughts and took plenty of photos of cats and street art for Instagram – hey whatever gets you through – so I had a flick through those posts as a prompt to pen a few thoughts on what lockdown here in The Liberties was like for me.

Phase 3 begins on Monday – 105 days after the first stage of lockdown. We knew things were serious back on 12 March when at 7am in the morning in Washington DC (11am in Dublin) then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was giving a speech to the Irish public starting with “I need to speak to you about the Coronavirus”. Looking up from my desk in the office at that time, people were going about their daily work oblivious that this would be their last few days in the office for over three months.

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I make Leo Varadkar’s speech five days later – his unprecedented St. Patrick’s Day address – the second phase of entering lockdown. The whole thing got serious when even I was sitting on my couch that night getting a bit emotional about it all. “This is the calm before the storm, before the surge. And when it comes, and it will come, never will so many ask so much of so few.” Gulp.

A week and a bit later and it was our final phase of entry – into full lockdown. By then there was over 2,000 cases and sadly 22 deaths. Friday 27 March it was announced that “with effect from midnight tonight…everybody must stay at home in all circumstances” except for a number of situations including brief individual physical exercise within 2km of your home – no more running in the Phoenix Park for me.

This all had me so addled that at the end of that speech I did my first bit of panic shopping as I stuck my runners on, went out to the local shop just before it closed and embarrassingly this was what I brought home – that and some chips as I thought the chippers would be closed at midnight – thankfully it never came to that.

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I was lucky enough to be able to continue to work from home during this time and have that routine of a typical working day to keep me in check. I switched my usual morning commute time for daily yoga! Certainly it was a stress reliever and a help for my lower back which hasn’t enjoyed the kitchen table chair I’ve been sitting on every day!

With live sport also in lockdown what the hell was I going to do with my time. Initially I started with chronicling all my Shamrock Rovers match programmes going back to the 1990s, then I moved onto the jerseys and then I started working my way through the Rovers squad doing video interviews for the club’s social media channels!

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The videos of course allowed me to showcase my bookcases – and I also added some new books to the shelves. All told I reckon I read 16 books during lockdown. My lockdown recommendations are:

Football: Stillness & Speed, Football Hackers, Forever Young
Apocalypse now: Station Eleven, Zone One, Notes from the Apocalypse
Fiction: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Devil in the White City, Normal People

Ah yes, Normal People. What a great distraction the TV version was. Wonderfully shot, acted and soundtracked and who didn’t fall in love with Marianne or become fixated with Connell’s chain.

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As we exit lockdown, there will be things I will miss and I know that can sound a bit selfish when you think of the reasons why we went into lockdown. Such as the evening walks through the near deserted streets around The Liberties but I’m hoping to keep these strolls going post-lockdown (see previous blog post here). I will miss that time walking to the soundtrack of David O’Doherty’s hilarious Isolation podcast from Achill Island on the Second Captains podcast platform.

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There were a few weeks when the DPD driver was the person I spoke to most face-to-face as I availed of some online shopping – one of these deliveries was a hair clippers and two haircuts later I will be glad to get back to a real barbers sometime in the future.

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I got back into the habit I had long gotten out of and started watching the main evening news on RTÉ each night. And live sport on TV was replaced by live CNN in the evening with Wolf Blitzer and the Situation Room chronicling America’s woes. As the US numbers get worse with 125,000 deaths and counting, the numbers in Ireland got better and better, with thankfully no deaths recorded on some days in late June.

The outgoing government, which I had very little time for, I think deserve great credit for the excellent job of handling the crisis and they hand over to a new government just as we leave lockdown. Let’s wish them the best and not worry about what is in or out of their programme for government. Let’s not worry about a second wave, question when can we go on holidays abroad or give out about the increased traffic on the roads.

Let’s think of all those who have worked so hard over the last 100+ days to get us into the position that we can leave lockdown. Think of those who we have lost and those friends and family that have helped us get through this. Remember to wear your mask, wash your hands and be thankful of the good days that are to come.

Exploring 2km from home and some family history

On Tuesday 5 May I’ll be released from my #2kmfromhome zone into the #5kmfromhome zone. I’ve been content to stick within the 2km zone since the rules came in, as we all know they are for a very good reason. I’ve enjoyed exploring the good – including some family history – and I suppose the bad of the area I live in during the lockdown as I reflect on the last number of weeks.

I feel lucky living in The Liberties being close to Dublin’s city centre with plenty of history, street art and sunsets over the canal to take photos of during exercise taken all within 2km from my home. It is nice to see neighbours – while social distancing – out chatting as they sit on their stoops or on a kitchen chair at their front door. There are plenty of signs and pictures in the windows supporting the frontline workers.

However, the lack of green space in the city centre has become even more apparent since the restrictions came in and I couldn’t use my usual running route through the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, and beyond 2km to the War Memorial Gardens and on into the Phoenix Park. The closing of the Royal Hospital annoyed me until it was pointed out that the OPW were facilitating the area close to James’ Hospital for a morgue to deal with the covid-19 crisis.

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So my recent running routes a couple of times a week have been north to Grangegorman or along the canal to the south. Running east into the city centre in the evenings hasn’t been too enjoyable due to the bizarre atmosphere on the deserted Dublin Streets. Many shops are boarded up or their stock removed from the premises. Those on the streets are typically Gardai, Deliveroo “staff” and people whose homes are those streets.

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The fact there are so many homeless people isn’t a COVID19 issue, but reflects the Ireland that we live in and how successive governments haven’t managed to solve this issue and the overall housing crisis. The global pandemic has wrought so much grief but has given us things that we should always have had – a single tier health service, proper rent control and finally a contraflow bike lane on Nassau Street. It didn’t need a global pandemic for us to get these things or to reaffirm that Air BnB properties were sucking the life out of the rental market in the city.

My favourite place for an evening run or walk is through the Tenters with its picturesque housing built in in the late 1910s and early 1920s. The houses were built by the Dublin Corporation in response to a housing crisis in the city at the time. Following the collapse of tenement buildings on Church Street – a tragic event which saw seven people killed and hundreds left homeless – the subsequent public inquiry highlighted the horrific housing conditions in Dublin at the time.

There is a stone marking the entrance to the area erected that reflects the history of this part of Dublin where the Huguenots, escaping religious persecution in France, settled in and set up an industrial zone for weaving.

“This area is known as the tenters, because linen cloth was stretched out on tenterhooks to bleach in the sun. When the linen trade failed, the fields were used for market gardens.”

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The fields are long gone, replaced by a lovely mix of houses including some picturesque red brick, two up-two down houses along Danore Road and Hamilton Street. I’ve taken to running down the latter road in particular as it was where my great grandfather lived. Padraig Breathnach worked for Elliots as a weaver in an industry that employed as many as 5,000 people in the early 1800s but when higher taxes were imposed from London the industry declined. By the 1900s there few looms working in the area and my great grandfather became known as last silk weaver in The Liberties working on a loom downstairs in his house on Hamilton street.

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I’m told he used to travel from the area over to Grangegorman to gather the silk from the mulberry bushes for his weaving so it seems I’ve been following in my great grandfather’s footsteps over the last few weeks as I’ve ventured from the Liberties across the Liffey and into Grangegorman and back.

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The Kings of the FAI Cup – 50 years on from the Shamrock Rovers six-in-a-row

October 29, 2019 Leave a comment

Published in Hoops Scene 6/2019

2019 is the 50th anniversary of the Hoops winning six successive FAI Cup and Macdara Ferris looks back at that crowning achievement by speaking with four members of the 1969 FAI Cup winning team – Damien Richardson, Frank O’Neill, Paddy Mulligan and Mick Leech.

50 years ago Shamrock Rovers completed their sensational FAI Cup six-in-a-row by defeating Cork Celtic in the FAI Cup Final replay at Dalymount Park.

“The cup was very very special for Shamrock Rovers,” said Damien Richardson when he recalled those six-in-a-row days. “As pro footballers the bonus for winning the cup was 50 quid if I remember correctly so that was important to us!

“We were single-minded about it. We wanted to win the cup final. I was injured for the first game on the Sunday. We didn’t play well and on the day we were lucky.”

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Cork Celtic had taken a 27th minute lead before the Hoops were handed a lifeline with a penalty kick soon after. However Celtic ‘keeper Tommy Taylor saved Frank O’Neill’s spot kick and it looked like Rovers’ record run was coming to an especially as the Hoops trailed going into the final ten minutes of the match.

“You need luck to win six in a row and I missed a penalty in that final,” said Frank O’Neill who was a central part to the Rovers cup success that decade. Not only did he pick up a medal in each of those wins, he was also part of the Rovers team that had won the cup in 1962.

If the luck wasn’t with O’Neill from 12 yards, it came to the Hoops through a goal line clearance and an equaliser nine minutes from time when a former Rovers captain turned the ball into his own net to hand the Hoops an equaliser and a replay.

“Christy Cananvan had cleared one off the line which would have put Cork two up and we would have been dead and buried,” recalled Paddy Mulligan. “We came back. We had that resilience and never say die attitude.

“John Keogh was credited with the late goal that came from a corner kick from the left at the Phibsborough end of Dalymount Park. Frank O’Neill took it and I had made the run and got on the end of the cross but John Keogh then got the top of his head to it and he was credited with the goal. John had soldiered with us for so long and he was unfortunate to head it on into his own net. I thought at the time it should have been my goal as it was heading into the goal anyway!”

‘Rovers live to fight on – Celtic’s brave bid thwarted’ read the headline in the Irish Press the next day. Having come so close to losing in the first match, the Hoops made no mistake second time around and dominated the replay. Mick Leech scored twice in the first half and Damien Richardson, who had missed the first game due to injury, wrapped up the victory with the final goal in the 4-1 win.

“I was fit for the replay and I played upfront with Mick Leech,” said Richardson. “I had good game that night and between myself and Mick we caused them a lot of problems.

“I flicked one on to Mick who went on to get the opening goal. Once we scored that was the game almost decided because in Cork Celtic’s mind Rovers never lost a replay. It was almost as if the Celtic players went ‘ah that’s it’ after we got the first goal.”

For O’Neill, it was the culmination of an incredible period in the FAI Cup at Shamrock Rovers. “We won it seven years out of eight. The cup run just went on and on,” said O’Neill.

“In 1964 we won it after the replay. We won it the next year and the next year and once again. After that there was the five in a row to equal the previous record that was also held by Shamrock Rovers from back in the 1930s. And then the six in a row but we never talked about it. It was just another cup final that you went out, played in and won.”
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It was Shamrock Rovers’ 32nd consecutive game in the FAI Cup where they had avoided defeat and the win saw them lift the trophy for the 20th time. In a twist of fate, the six-in-a-row began and ended with the Hoops defeating Cork Celtic in a replay after the initial final finished 1-1 after 90 minutes.

There would be no seventh successive FAI Cup win though and while there would be a three-in-row of league and cup doubles in the 1980s for the Hoops, it seems the FAI Cup has brought nothing but misery for Rovers since leaving Milltown!

“To think that the next time they won it was 1978 when Giles was there is incredible,” said Leech. “That was a 10 years spell before they won it and then it was the 1980s before the next FAI Cup win. I can’t believe that the last time Rovers won the cup was in the 1980s when they were playing in Milltown. That was over 30 years ago. For it to go that way is incredible but maybe there is better days ahead.”

‘Rovers get record’ read the headline in the Irish Independent after that 1969 FAI Cup Final replay win. ‘Shamrock Rovers have done it! At Dalymount Park the Hoops established a record that will probably never be equalled.’ That sentence still remains true today 50 years on from that amazing crowning glory of the six-in-row.

Will we go all the way?

October 28, 2019 Leave a comment

We are one with the Hoops, with the Hoops we’re in love
Hold our head high as the underdogs
We are not fairweather but foulweather fans
Like brothers in arms, in the streets and the stands

There’s magic in the ground and the green score board
The same one I stared at as a kid keeping score
In a world full of greed I could never want more
Someday we’ll go all the way

And if you ain’t been I am sorry for you
And when the day comes with that last winning goal
And I’m crying and covered in beer
I’ll look to the sky and know I was right
To think someday we’ll go all the way

Yeah, someday we’ll go all the way
Oh, someday we’ll go all the way

With apologies to Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, I’ve reworked his song about his beloved Chicago Cubs. This track was released in 2008 when the Cubs had gone 100 years without winning the biggest prize in baseball – the World Series.

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Now that’s a proper sporting famine that can put Shamrock Rovers’ FAI Cup one in the ha’penny place. However after the semi-final drama in Dalymount Park last month, Rovers are Aviva bound in a few weeks and are just one game away from ending a 32 year wait to win the FAI Cup.

The Hoops are the ‘cup specialists’ and maybe we should embrace it. That tag was bloody hard won over nearly a century. The Hoops played in the very first FAI Cup final in 1922 and secured their first of a record 24 FAI Cups 94 years ago. We are one of only two clubs to have played in every FAI Cup competition and Rovers hold the record for appearances in semi-finals (47) and finals (34 including next month’s game) and

In terms of victories there was a five-in-row from 1929 to 1933, back-to-back wins in both the 40s and 50s and in the 1960s Rovers essentially owned the FAI Cup. Just three times in that decade were green and white ribbons not adorning the trophy for Rovers and this year is the 50th anniversary of securing a sensational six-in-a-row..

There was just one cup secured in the 1970s before a purple patch that coincided with the final years in Milltown. Rovers dominated the League of Ireland in the mid-1980s. They made four consecutive FAI Cup finals, winning three of them in a period when the Hoops won four league titles. After winning their last FAI Cup in 1987, the Hoops departed Milltown and the decision by the Kilcoyne family to leave Glenmalure Park is a big reason for the subsequent Rovers cup famine.

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Having moved around countless ‘home’ grounds in Dublin and getting into severe financial difficulties trying to complete Tallaght Stadium, it meant the Hoops had difficulty fielding competitive teams capable of challenging for league titles and cup successes in the intervening years.

The Hoops only major trophy in their time between leaving Milltown and getting to Tallaght was during their tenure at the RDS when they won the 1993/94 league title. That was the one period when the Hoops had the stability of a home ground that was effectively their own rather than renting venues off their rivals.

Rovers have gotten to just three FAI Cup finals since the 1980s. A shock 1-0 defeat to Galway United in 1991, a loss in Tolka Park against Derry City in 2002 and the 2010 final lost on penalties to Sligo Rovers.

Damien Richardson, who won the cup with the Hoops in 1968 and 1969 and managed the Hoops between 1999 and 2002, had this to say about Rovers’ cup tradition and subsequent cup famine when he spoke to this author last year.

“When it came to cup football Shamrock Rovers had an aura about them. Milltown came alive for cup week even if it was the first round. Everyone senses were heightened.”

Looking back on his time as a manager he said “it was a different Shamrock Rovers. It was difficult time for the club. It is something that I find incongruous when you look at the tradition of Shamrock Rovers in the cup. I would love Shamrock Rovers to win the cup as I think it would be more important than winning the league because of the cup tradition.”

Rovers last made the final in 2010, on the back of Rovers winning their first league title since 1994. The Hoops, under manager Michael O’Neill, had been involved in a titanic tussle with Bohs that season with the Hoops securing the title thanks to a 2-2 draw in Bray, beating Bohs by a better goal difference of two.

Current Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley saw red in the FAI Cup final that followed. It was scoreless after extra-time before Sligo Rovers prevailed on penalties as Rovers failed to score any of their spot kicks.

That 2010 final now looks like a missed opportunity although that wasn’t the view at the time. Hoops supporters thought an opportunity to win the cup would come their way soon again but it hasn’t worked out that way. Since 2011, the Hoops have reached five semi-finals (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019) but only this year’s one ended in victory.

However something is building at Rovers under Stephen Bradley. It has been slow progress at times for some impatient supporters but the Hoops Head Coach has changed the playing style and completely overhauled the Hoops squad over his three years in charge.

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He has brought players in to suit his preferred passing game and he secured second place in the league five games from the end of the league campaign. That is the best result for Rovers since they won the title eight years ago and it certainly looks like they can take on Dundalk in a tighter title tilt next year. But first up there is the cup final between the pair. Dundalk looking for a treble and Rovers looking to win the cup for the first time in over three decades.

Noel Larkin was part of the last Rovers team to lift the trophy. He has an indelible image from the day showing how much the cup meant to supporters and to his own family.

On the 25th anniversary of that cup win Larkin recalled “when I went over to my Dad after collecting my medal, the tears of pride and joy were streaming down his face. That to me is the memory I have of winning the cup that day. It means so much, to so many people, not just the players.”

You’d suspect should Rovers manage to end the cup famine and go all the way to get a fabled 25th cup win, there will be plenty of tears shed. The Chicago Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016 so why can’t this be the year that Rovers go all the way in the FAI Cup.

The late winner in Galway, the victory in the dramatic semi-final Dublin Derby at Dalymount Park means maybe, just maybe, this can be Rovers’ year. Of course, it is the hope – or is it the Hoops – that say that will kill you!

Published in Hoops Scene 19/2019 (Shamrock Rovers v Cork City – 25 October)
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