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The tale of two away games

It was a sporting away game double header for me last week. First up on Friday night was a trip up the M1 to Hunky Dorys Park for the Drogheda United v Shamrock Rovers Airtricity League of Ireland fixture. Saturday evening I ventured down the M7 to Thomond Park for the Munster v Leinster Magners League clash.

Friday’s football fixture was top versus bottom with Champions Shamrock Rovers taking on Drogheda United. Rovers have brought bumper away crowds to their first two away games of the season (in Sligo and Derry) and Friday was no exception with several hundred making the journey. An hour before kick off, there was a healthy crowd of 100 or so away fans waiting not so patiently for Drogheda to open up their ticket sales office. After 30 minutes of queuing, we got our €10 terrace tickets and entered the ground. The queue for food was nearly as long inside as the ticket queue outside. The players could be watched by those queuing for burgers through the back of the Drogheda dug out. Maybe the plexiglass distorted the view but John Lester in the Drogheda midfield did look like he had a few too many burgers or crisps himself. Hunky Dorys Park itself also stretches the boundaries of what is allowed under the FAI licensing. Certainly the away section is old school with its terrace and corrugated iron roof and sides.

Manager Michael O’Neill made his first change to Rovers’ starting line up which had been unchanged for the opening four league games. The injured Chris Turner was replaced with fans favourite, and last year’s Shamrock Rovers Player of the Year, Stephen Rice. It looked like Rice was chomping at the bit as he bossed central midfield. He didn’t give the Drogheda players a moment to settle as he disrupted their play, gave the simple ball to his team mates and as usual was very vocal in encouraging the players around him in the famous green and white hoops. It was tough but fair tackling by Ricer, a player who seems to be the most fouled man in the league but always gets up and just gets on with it. “It is part of being a midfielder,” Ricer told me in an match programme interview earlier in the season. “I don’t really think about it. I have never had a red card in my career. Once the tackles are fair and someone plays the ball that is what the game is about. If you took that out of the game it wouldn’t be the same.”

There was a strong breeze blowing from the south that Rovers played into in the first half. The game was exciting but we did still manage to count nine Drogheda footballs exiting the ground over the north wall during the 90 minutes due to the wind. By half time, Scotsman Gary Twigg had put the Hoops 1-0 up. Ciarán Kilduff, making a starting debut for Rovers, doubled the lead. This was his first league goal for Rovers, having netted in both Rovers’ Setanta Cup games against Lisburn Distillery, and his delight in scoring was apparent as he turned in a Billy Dennehy header which had hit the post from a shot from Gary McCabe that had hit the crossbar!

As any Rovers fan knows, no player shows more delight in scoring than Twigg who got his second and Rovers’ third just short of an hour. I managed to get a video clip of the goal and the celebration in front of the Rovers away section. I got this up on You Tube and it has had so many hits I got an email from You Tube stating that:

Your video Gary Twigg goal for Shamrock Rovers v Drogheda United (April 2011) might be eligible for the YouTube Partnership Program, which allows you to make money from playbacks of your video.

I think RTÉ probably have the rights so I’ll ease off on the money making videos.

Billy Dennehy wrapped up the win with a fine team goal involving Rice, McCabe, Twigg and Pat Sullivan before he hit an unstoppable shot into the net. McCabe, who had an excellent game, ended up on his rear end when trying to score a free kick to be greeted with the chant of “We’re Shamrock Rovers, we do what we want” which in this case meant we slice the ball out for a throw in! After full time, Rovers fans had the opportunity to leave the ground bizarrely by being directed across the penalty area by the Drogheda stewards, happy in the knowledge we were travelling home with three points and were sitting three points clear at the top of the table.

Saturday it was a change of codes from football to rugby but not before talking at lunchtime with Shamrock Rovers player Ronan Finn for next week’s programme. Finn was full of chat and had interesting things to say about his career to date including the fallout from Fingal’s failure. While Friday I used the Port Tunnel to get to Drogheda, Saturday it was the first time for me through the Limerick Shannon tunnel that allows easy access to the redeveloped Thomond Park which is a bit more impressive than Hunky Dorys Park! We grabbed some food in a local hotel ahead of the game where they were playing the more recent Munster v New Zealand game on the TV. Bit strange to be playing a defeat on the TV but I suppose it would be the equivalent of Rovers playing a recording of last year’s Europa League games against Juventus.

Leinster had got an allocation of 6,500 tickets that went on sale to season ticket holders but only 2,500 were sold with the remainder returned to Munster where they were snapped up by the home fans. Unlike at Rovers, there was no segregation with our €22 south terrace tickets meaning we were standing amongst the red army.

They give it a good buildup to the game in Thomond Park so there was the Munster Rugby supporters choir banging out “Stand up and fight” which got the home fans singing along. Their mascot Murty, who is an inflatable fan with number 16 on the back, was trying to get the crowd going but he is no Hooperman. It was a tight game with Leinster leading at the break 20 to 9 thanks to some nice footwork and kick through by Isa Nacewa allowing Shane Horgan, playing in his 200th game for the province, to score.

Leinster were attempting to make it six wins in a row against Munster after completing the drive for five at the game in Lansdowne Road before Christmas. Munster never need much encouragement to up their game against Leinster but they were determined to say no to six in a row. Each side had yellow cards to contend with but Munster’s was across half time with Johne Murphy off. Significantly Leinster’s yellow was late in the game for talismanic Irish captain Brian O’Driscoll (fresh from receiving Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council’s First Civic honour earlier in the week!).

Ireland’s Number 10s went toe to toe with each man in fine kicking form. Jonny Sexton scored 6 from 7 kicks but crucially O’Gara got 8 from 9 including the clincher with only about two minutest left on the clock.

When the final whistle blew the Munster fans all around us celebrated and I was almost disappointed with their comments to us Leinster fans. They agreed it was great entertainment, either team could have won it and then they wished us well next week against Leicester! That is way to sporting for my liking. We left with a little consolation that we had shut Munster out for the sixth game running on the try score but crucially the main scoreboard read Munster 24 Leinster 23.

Next week for me it will be a home double header. Shamrock Rovers v Bray Wanderers is on Friday night and that is followed on Saturday by Leinster taking on Leicester at the Palindrome in the Heineken Cup Quarter Final. Keep ‘em coming.

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