Home > Four Continent Football, Random Rovers thoughts, Travel > Four Continent Football: Part 4 – Europe (Shamrock Rovers’ first game in Tallaght)

Four Continent Football: Part 4 – Europe (Shamrock Rovers’ first game in Tallaght)

Four Continent Football: Part 4 – Europe (Shamrock Rovers’ first game in Tallaght)

It seemed over a two decade period that Shamrock Rovers had played home games in the four corners of the world even if that wasn’t actually the case. This time three years ago everyone at the club was building up for probably the biggest home game ever – our first proper home match since the eviction from Milltown back in 1986.

I’ve reminised recently about attending football matches across four continents including Asia, South America and Africa but in this final blogpost of Four Continent Football, we are in Europe and I’m bringing it back home for Shamrock Rovers’ first game in Tallaght.

Since leaving Milltown, it was only really in the time period at the RDS (1990 to 1996) that it felt like they were home games for Rovers. In the years since Milltown, home matches were played in various grounds rented off our rivals including playing in Tolka Park, Dalymount Park, Richmond Park and, probably most embarrasingly, Turners Cross. That night in Cork when the Hoops ran out to play a home game over 250km from Dublin not actually wearing hoops but their away strip, was one of the very many low points that has surrounded the club during my time as a supporter.

The build-up to certain big games can seem like years but the build up to Rovers’ first game in Tallaght was that, it was over a decade in the making. Planning Permission had been granted in 1997, the sod had been turned with the builders coming on the site in 2000, they came off site the following year, and finally come back on the site in May 2008. In that period Rovers went bust, had the fans take over the club and got relegated. South Dublin County Council had taken ownership of the site and a lengthy court case had ensued when the GAA tried unsuccesfully to get their grubby little hands on the keys to access the stadium.

When the 2009 fixtures came out, we could finally see in black and white Rovers were finally scheduled to play in Tallaght. There was symmtery to the fixture with Sligo Rovers providing the opposition for the first game in Tallaght, just as they had done for the final game in Milltown. The first game in the RDS back in 1990 was awful and half of the 20,000 crowd didn’t come back for the next game. I was somewhat worried that the game would be an anti-climax but it wasn’t. It was everything I’d hoped for and more. There were goals, there was drama and there was a Shamrock Rovers win. We’ve kept coming back for more ever since.

That day so many people came up to me in work and wished me and the club well. It was one of those days where it was very hard to concentrate on anything but the match. At around 4 o’clock my boss told me to head off. He knew what it meant for me. Everyone knew what it meant. I got countless e-mail and texts from friends telling me to enjoy the game and enjoy it I would. When I got into stadium, people were hugging each other. This was the moment we had dreamed about for so long and now it was a reality. People were walking around trying to take it all in with a permanent smile on their faces and a ball hadn’t even been kicked at that stage.

As well as being Rovers’ first game in Tallaght, it was Michael O’Neill’s first home game in charge of Rovers. It was a much changed Rovers side with a new strike partnership of Dessie Baker and Gary Twigg. The fans were wondering who this Twigg player was that O’Neill had paid out a transfer fee for to bring from the Scottish Second Division and could he combine with Baker, a player most thought was past it.

It was telling last December when Michael O’Neill took leave of Shamrock Rovers that he spoke about that night. He was asked about what he would remember most from this tenure in Tallaght. He didn’t pick winning one of the three major trophies claimed during his time managing Rovers or one of those amazing nights against a heavyweight of European football like Real Madrid, Juventus, Partizan Belgrade or Spurs. “The most enjoyable night was my first night here at Tallaght, when we beat Sligo,” recalled O’Neill of opening night in the new stadium. “To see the look on the supporters faces after being 20 years on the road and just to see what it meant for them was fantastic.”
The passion and noise generated as the teams came out was almost overwhelming and many a tear was shed on the night. 22 years of pent up frustration at the loss of Milltown and a home of our own, spilled out in a wall of noise when the teams emerged. I certainly let out a primiordal roar anyway!

It was a horrible night weather wise in Tallaght but in every other way it was perfect. If we were wondering would Twigg do the business in Tallaght, we weren’t wondering much longer after the opening period of the game. First Twigg had a goal dissallowed. Then after 18 minutes we saw what we now know as classic Gary Twigg. He got a sniff of the ball in the box and scored. It seemed that as soon as he swiviled and got his shot away over his shoulder, the ball was in the back of the net and he was celebrating in front of the Ultras.

On opening night, there was only one stand constructed in the stadium and it was filled to 3,500 capacity and probably a bit more! In front of the live TV cameras, Shamrock Rovers searched out a second goal early in the second half and got it. Ollie Cahill made a great run down the left and found Dessie Baker whose finish put the Hoops 2-0 in front. The Baker-Twigg strikeforce would continue to do damage during the rest of the season with Rovers finishing runner’s up in the league at the end of the year.

This wasn’t an exhibition game though and Sligo did not come just to make up the numbers. The home side had to earn their win and there was some nervous moments toward the end of the game following Gavin Peer’s 82nd minute goal for Sligo. The Hoops never make it easy but had to go an earn that win on opening night. The celebrations at the final whistle continued long into the night. The win, our first home win in over two decades, was a long time coming. We were home.
KOH!

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