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A season long challenge

For all my years of following Shamrock Rovers, I’d never made it, or indeed wanted to make it, through a season attending every competitive Rovers game. It isn’t really a badge of honour to say you were at every game during the season. Is it? Rovers is important, yeah, but surely there are other things to be getting on with during the year than trying to get to each and every game?

In years gone by I’ve generally missed matches by heading away the odd Bank Holiday or taking a few weeks off during the summer months to get away. But in 2013 with no immediate holidays planned, no “event junkie” trip to a football championship on the radar or sadly no European football for the Hoops, the season stretched out in front of me and in the back of mind was this challenge ready to be taken up; get to every single Shamrock Rovers game.

The closest the Hoops came to European action last year was in the early stages of the season. In the Setanta Sports Cup Rovers headed north of the border for the 300 plus mile round trip to Coleraine. We were made feel very welcome as they had thrown open their social club for the night ahead of the First Round second leg match. The Hoops and Bannsiders fans chatted about the tie that was finely poised after Coleraine’s 1-0 win in Tallaght a week early in Rovers’ (and my own) first game of the season.

When Ciarán Kilduff’s injury time winning goal went in, Rovers were through but it took a while for some of the Rovers fans to get out of the ground. I travelled on the Hoops SC bus for this game, a bus that was stuck in the mud at the back of the carpark. Rovers fans tried in vain to push the bus out so the helpful home stewards and members of the PSNI organised a tow. As this was happening we were serenaded by some locals youths looking at us through the gate from outside the ground singing God Save the Queen towards our southern registered bus!

Mid-week away trips aren’t the easiest to get to but if the supporters club buses aren’t an option, nothing beats a road trip with friends. The Celtic Tiger has left us with strong motorway connections to nearly all League of Ireland grounds. I was the driver for most trips but the passengers play an important role in providing chat on the return home to ward off any tiredness, as the game is discussed in detail.

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With Limerick’s promotion to the Premier Division last season, Rovers had a new ground to visit with two away trips to Thomond Park. Here is where I was able to play a trump card in my attempt to attend every game. With the company I work for I’m required to spend a bit of time in our offices outside of Dublin, so why not organise those visits to Limerick and Cork around Rovers away games? That got me another four games ticked off on my quest.

In mid-April there was a monster 1000km double trip in 72 hours to see Rovers lose away in Derry quickly followed by the Setanta Sports Cup semi-final second leg in Cork. It looked like Rovers were heading out of the competition in injury time. It was going to be a long drive home having watched two Rovers defeats at opposite ends of the country in 72 hours until Billy Dennehy lined up a free kick deep in stoppage time. His goal and celebrations in Turner’s Cross in front of the travelling away support has over 7,000 hits on You Tube and a soundtrack of me screaming in the background! The final of the Setanta Cup was a short journey to Tallaght and by mid-May Rovers had their first trophy of the season and I’d been at all 20 games so far for the Hoops.

Sickness, car troubles and pesky work meetings on Friday afternoons all have to be avoided during the season to keep a challenge like this on track. Family and friends have to get used to the refrain “sorry I can’t, Rovers are playing then.” You dread the events that might be sprung upon you, for weddings and a funeral can put pay to a consecutive game sequence. As for other sacrifices, well My Bloody Valentine might have been playing Electric Picnic on the last Friday night of August but I was back in bloody Tolka Park to see Rovers take on Shelbourne, before making the journey to Stradbally early the next morning.

The success in the cups for Rovers last season went a long way to helping get over the disappointment of the league campaign but it added a lot of extra games for the Hoops. 19 games in fact but who is counting except me! As the season drifted into August and our title challenge had drifted away, my own challenge began to get more real. In Leinster Senior Cup semi-final Rovers travelled from one side of the Dublin mountains to the other and in Jackson Park near Stepaside, they dispatched Wayside Celtic to book a place in the final.

I had one major hurdle to overcome in the last month of the season. On the second Friday in October, I watched Ireland get beaten comprehensively in Cologne in the Brazil 2014 qualifier against Germany. The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn to get the train to Dusseldorf and flight home. On arrival in Dublin, I got straight in my car, with my passport still in my pocket, and headed to Derry. Safe to say I was pretty tired by the time I arrived back in Dublin in the small hours of Sunday morning having watched Rovers draw 0-0 in the Bogside.

In the final couple of weeks I became paranoid about getting knocked off my bike on my journey to work. I wasn’t worrying about an injury that would be painful but something that would stop me getting to a game, as I was so close now to a full set of matches. I could feel it. I could taste it.

By the time, Rovers lifted the Leinster Senior Cup in Richmond Park in the penultimate game of the season I’d attended more competitive Rovers matches in 2013 than our manager. Okay, Trevor Croly had a good excuse as he was over in Malmo looking at the Swedish club’s set up allowing Colin Hawkins to manage the team to this latest cup success. The fruits of that visit can be seen in the installation of Rovers’ First Division team with Hawkins at the helm for the Hoops in the second tier of the League of Ireland.

One more match was required to make it 52 games out of 52 for the season. It was a pity that the final game of the year for Rovers wasn’t a trophy deciding match. Ultimately it ended in disappointment, as a league defeat to Sligo Rovers meant no European football for Rovers in Tallaght in 2014. So what was what was going through my mind at the end of that final game of Shamrock Rovers’ 2013 season? “I did it. Every game. What was I thinking? Never again!”

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And so it has proved to be as my sequence soon came to an end early this season. By the time I made it to the 2014 league opener at the start of March, it was to be my final game of an 18 month long competitive Rovers game sequence dating back to August 2012. A run of 72 matches if you will let me include Rovers’ First Division team’s outing in Cobh, where six of us stood in the away terrace in St. Colman’s Park. That was my last mad dash of the streak having snuck out of the Aviva stadium a few minutes before the end of the game against Italy, to drive down to see a small bit of Rovers history played out as the B team played their first competitive game.

But last weekend the streak came to an end and I’m quite happy about that. It was a wedding that got in the way, and of some Rovers fans as well. Who’d arrange a wedding on a day of a game anyway? Congratulations to Eoghan and Sorcha all the same! But when a text came through to me during the wedding speeches that the floodlights had gone out in Athlone and the game might be abandoned, I did think, well maybe I could make it to 100 games. Instead I am back at game zero but hey who is counting?

Published in Hoops Scene 2014 Issue 3

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