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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 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.’


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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”


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.


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.



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.”


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.”
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.

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.


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.


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)

Pico Lopes & the Blue Sharks

October 27, 2019 Leave a comment

It started with a message on LinkedIn. Well two messages on LinkedIn
as Roberto ‘Pico’ Lopes thought the first one was spam! Thankfully the
Shamrock Rovers defender followed up and by doing so it led to him
making his international debut for Cape Verde earlier this month
against Togo and a game a few days later against Olympique Marseille.

“This time last year I was contacted on LinkedIn with a message that I
thought was spam as it was in Portuguese,” said Lopes when he chatted
to Hoops Scene this week about his call up for the ‘Blue Sharks’
recent matches and training camp in France.

“I got another message more recently and when I translated it I saw
they were talking about getting new players into the Cape Verde squad
and asking me was I interested in declaring. I said I’d love to make
myself available. I spoke with the vice president of their football
federation. I needed to provide my own birth cert and my Dad’s birth
cert and it went from there.”


The Cape Verde manager, and former Portuguese striker, Rui Aguas
brought his squad together in the south of France earlier this month
ahead of the start of African Nations Cup qualifying in mid-November.
Lopes was one of a number of new players brought into the squad and he
would be one of five players to make his international debut in the
match against Togo.

“With all the new players it made it easier on the first night when we
had sing an initiation song. I was going to do something by Drake but
they said it had to be in Creole. I don’t speak the language so I had
to go and do my research. I went on Spotify and the first Cape Verdean
song I found was an old popular folk song that everyone knew so once I
started all the lads joined in. It really helped me settle in!”

What also helped the settling in process was making a winning start to
his international career. Lopes lined out with players plying their
trade right across Europe – player with clubs like AEL Limassol
(Cyprus), Excelsior (Netherlands), Atay Spor (Turkey) and, as would be
expected for a former Portuguese territory, a number of clubs from
Portugal. Cape Verde, a ten island archipelago 350 miles off north
west Africa, gained its independence from Portugal back in 1975.

Trailing 1-0 at half time, Porto striker Ze Luis made the difference
in the second half. “Ze Luis came on and he is a beast of a man along
with all the silky skills of a top player. He gave us more bite up
top. We got two goals for the win and I was really buzzing after it.”

Later in the week Lopes got the chance to play against an Olympique
Marseille side managed by Andre Villa Boas. Cape Verde got a very
creditable 1-1 draw against a team that included internationals such
as Dimitri Payet (France), Dario Benedetto (Argentina) and Duje
Caleta-Car (Croatia). “I played in the second half against Marseille
and it was fantastic to play against some of those players.”

The excellent facilities at Rovers’ Academy set up at Roadstone pailed
in comparison to Marseilles’ La Commanderie training ground according
to Lopes. “They blew my mind. Being in the south of France helped with
the sunny weather! It was on the side of a mountain with six and seven
top quality pitches and lots of impressive buildings.

“I was able to take the two jerseys with me after the matches and they
souvenirs for my Da. It was nice to take something home as I never
thought this was going to happen for me.”

With that second game played at the weekend behind closed doors, his
family didn’t travel across but Lopes is hopeful that he could be
involved in the upcoming African Nations Cup qualifiers. If that is
the case he is hoping his family will travel out to Cape Verde and he
could spend some time after the matches in the League of Ireland
off-season with his grandfather and his family.

“Hopefully if I’m involved in the next squad, my family might join me
on holiday to where my Dad is from and visit my Grandad. I’ve been to
Cape Verde just twice before. My Granddad is in his 90s so if we go
down there I’ll go across to the island where he lives after and spend
some time with him.

“The first game is away to Cameroon and then it is home to Mozambique
so if I was involved in November I’d get a chance to go to Cameroon
too which would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. Once
you’ve got a taste for it, you want more so I’ll be putting my head
down and working hard for Rovers in the last few games.”

His international call up meant that he missed his first Rovers game
of the season in the 1-0 win over Finn Harps but he was back for last
week’s 3-0 win over UCD. You had to feel a bit sorry for the Students
who were facing relegation straight in the face on the night.

Ireland international Joey O’Brien gave the Hoops a 1-0 lead, and with
Lee Grace, along with Danny Lafferty and Alan Mannus (both Northern
Ireland internationals) they were keeping Rovers’ 24th clean sheet in
the 44 first team games so far this season.

In the second half Stephen Bradley brought on two current
internationals in Lopes and Irish player Graham Burke, although the
Students could be thankful though that the sixth international in the
Hoops squad Jack Byrne was sitting amongst the Rovers supporters in
the stand in Belfield due to suspension!

Lopes was delighted with the clean sheet, their 20th in the league
campaign which matches the 20 clean sheet haul from last season. That
compares with eight in the 2017 season and that shows the progression
for Lopes the club has made in the last few years summed up with
Rovers’ upcoming first appearance in the FAI Cup final since 2010.

“It has been a lot of hard work and building confidence in the way we
play. We have that bit of steel, getting more clean sheets and closing
the gap on Dundalk. We are competing for things as we should be and we
have chance to win something this year in the Aviva against Dundalk.

“One of the big reasons that I wanted to sign here was to develop as a
player. You look at the staff here with the gaffer (Stephen Bradley),
Stephen McPhail, Glenn Cronin and Damien Duff, when he was here, is
they are all top quality pros. I knew I’d be able to develop as a
player here and you’ve seen that across the team and the style of play
we have.

“It is the two best teams going for the cup. If you want to win things
you have to beat the best teams and Dundalk have shown what a top team
they have been over the last number of years.

“We have taken points off them and we have beaten them in big games in
recent years. We are looking forward to it. It has been so long since
a Rovers team has won the cup and a while since we have been in a
final. You can feel that energy around the place. I cannot wait to
step out on the pitch in the Aviva.”

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

Away Days

August 15, 2019 Leave a comment

Published in Hoops Scene, Shamrock Rovers match programme versus Finn Harps (9 August 2019)

When I’m asked just how much a Shamrock Rovers fan I am, I usually respond that I’m a season ticket holder. The questioner might ask do I travel to away matches? Why yes I do is the answer and we are talking North (Derry and Rovaniemi), South (Cork and Thessaloniki), West (Galway and Reykjavik) and East (Bray and Nicosia).

I remember my first Shamrock Rovers away match, a trip to the northside to Tolka Park at the end of the 1993/94 season. It was the night Alan Dodd’s lob was the opener in a 3-0 win over Shelbourne, a victory that all but sealed the league title for Rovers that season. My first trip to Dalymount Park was for the part of the Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers FAI Cup trilogy in 1994 when Stephen Geoghegan celebrated his equaliser climbing up onto the fence at Dalymount Park.

As I got older, I began to attend games outside of Dublin and a crucial game for sucking me into being an away day fan was the midweek FAI Cup replay against Cork City in January 2000. With no floodlights at the Munster FA venue at the time, it was an early afternoon kick off.

This was back in the day before the Rovers Chat group on Facebook and maybe even before the SRFC Ultras Forum when we just had a fans email distribution list. Either way, a Rovers fan made a booking with Iarnrod Eireann and opened it up for random Hoops to sign up to and avail of the group booking discount. I think my work colleagues thought I was mad to take the day off work to travel down to Cork on a Wednesday for the game. I arrived at Heuston Station on my own that day not really quite knowing what to expect about the day’s outing.

By the time I got back to Dublin after Rovers latest cup heartache, although I didn’t know it then, I had made friends for life. Going to Cork that day I got chatting on the carriage to a number of Hoops who I didn’t know at the time and to be honest that conversation hasn’t stopped since. A number of those lads are part of the group of fans I still go and watch the games with now 19 years later!

That is the thing about traveling away. Time spent in the supporters club bus, on the away terrace or in the car form firm friendships and the football away day becomes so much more than about the 90 minutes of action out on the pitch.


Travelling for a European away trip takes it all to another level. Last week’s visit to Cyprus was my 17thEuropean trip. There have been highs (did I ever tell you about that time in Belgrade?), there have been lows (what ever happened to that Rovers manager who presided over our embarrassingly early European elimination in Lithuania in 2012?) and everything in between.

My first Euro away was to the Czech Republic when Rovers took on Slovan Liberec in 2003. The most amusing thing from that trip was seeing Bohemians player Kevin Hunt turning up in Dublin Airport for a weekend in Prague that his partner had booked unaware that they’d be sharing the flight with Shamrock Rovers players, officials and supporters heading to their Intertoto Cup game. To be fair, Hunt took it very well but I suppose what else could he do!

It will be hard to ever beat the 2011 European campaign with its six Euro away trips. I remember in Tallinn being a bundle of nerves ahead of kick off of the 2011 Champions League qualifier against Flora. The Hoops carried a 1-0 lead with them to Estonia and the second leg – thanks to Alan Mannus’ first leg penalty save in Tallaght – and we knew that getting through would mean a minimum two more ties. The nerves were due to the finally poised tie but also due to the fact that one of the Irish national newspaper had asked me to pen a match report for the game and I’d never written one before that point!

The Hoops escaped with a scoreless draw – the newspaper got their 700 word report – and Rovers were off on a European adventure that I would follow for the next five months via Copenhagen, Belgrade, London, Thessalonica and through to Kazan in the snow in December.

The high point of that Europa League campaign was probably Stephen Rice putting Rovers in the lead in White Hart Lane but I also remember fondly the trip to Greece to play PAOK as peak-Shamrock Rovers for that Michael O’Neill squad. We were unlucky to only lost 2-1 in the Stadio Toumba and as supporters we celebrated in the pub after the game the fact that we were about to retain the title the following week. “We are going to win two in a row, and we are going win three and we are going to win four and we are going to win five in row,” we sung but it didn’t quite turn out like that!

PAOK Away – 2011 Europa League Group stages

On a couple of occasions I’ve signed up to travel when the club have run a charter. The most bizarre trip ever was the one to play ROPS Rovanaimi on the Arctic Circle in Finland. It was a fairly small group of supporters who went on that one and we literally travelled on the team bus from the stadium to the airport after!

That was Stephen Bradley’s first match in charge of the Rovers in Europe with last week’s his 11th as Hoops Head Coach and his team came as close as possible in the tie against Apollon that the cup action this week was nearly European rather than the FAI Cup but it just wasn’t to be. For the second consecutive season, Rovers took quality opposition to extra time away from home in the second leg of a Europa League qualifiers before being unlucky not to get over the line. There is only optimism for next year’s European campaign already. Get the dates in your diary for Europe next July – it is always worth making it an away day.

Postcard from Lords – A special test match

Old Father Time watches on. He has seen it all played out on the field below but the drama of this week’s test match in Lords could almost have sent him spinning even if there was only a light wind blowing out across St. John’s Wood giving some relief from the 30 degree temperatures.

At early lunchtime on Wednesday, below that famous weather vain, the scoreboard read England all out for 85 – the first time they had been bowled out in the first innings of a test match at Lords before lunch. England, the One Day Cricket World Champions who were crowned at this very venue just ten days previously, had been skittled out by an Ireland side playing only their third test match.

The Old Father Time weather vain above the scoreboard at the Tavern Stand.

Ireland celebrate bowling England out for 85

I never played cricket as a kid– save for mowing the grass out the back garden to the lowest level and playing a bit of tennis ball cricket. Yet, the game was a part of my sporting childhood. Those long summer days when cricket was played out across five days on the telly, taking up its part in the TV sporting summer that included Wimbledon and the Tour de France.

And while we had Irish heroes to cheer on at the Tour, cricket was very much an English game and as such, unlike any other sport, I’ve always been an England cricket fan rooting for various iterations of England teams that contained David Gower, Mike Atherton and Alistair Cook across the decades.

I first visited Lords as a young teenager during a trip to stay with my Aunt who lived in London. In between the travelling to all the usual tourist sights such as Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge, my Aunt took me to Wembley – where she sweet talked the Irish security guard on the gate to allow me walk up the famous tunnel of the old stadium – and also she brought me to the home of cricket.

We spent a day watching Desmond Haynes hit an unbeaten 222 for Middlesex against Sussex at Lords. I’ve been back a few times since to watch England play test match cricket but last Wednesday was something special.

Middlesex v Sussex – August 1990


I never thought I’d get the opportunity to cheer on an Irish side in a test action against England. Now was a chance for Irish players to walk through the Long Room on the way out to the field and take on England. There is such history about the place with cricket first played here in the 1814 season, test matches since 1884 and the pavilion built in 1890.

I just hoped that Ireland would be competitive on day one and boy were they. There is a unique sound about test match cricket at Lords. The humming of conversation that rings out around the ground, occasionally punctuated by bottles of bubbly being uncorked or the sound of bat on ball followed by polite clapping.

Although on this morning there was also the sound of giddy Irish people – myself included – celebrating the constant fall of English wickets. It was incredible. A few days after Olé Olé and the Fields of Athenry rang around Portrush for Shane Lowry, here at the home of cricket those familiar tunes began to filter out from the Edrich and Mound stands.

England one down, then two down, oh wait another wicket, what is that 42-4. There were ironic cheers around the ground as England made 50 but by then they had lost seven wickets. Tim Murtagh, bowling on what was effectively his Middlesex home turf, ran in from the nursery end to tear the English apart. He would have his name up on the famous Lords Honours board by the end of the day with his five wicket haul conceding a mere 13 runs.

I was nominally sitting at the back of the Grand Stand but this was genuinely edge of the seat stuff as I leant forward each time Murtagh or Big Boyd Rankin ran in. When the wickets fell, it was straight up out of the seat with a football style goal celebration.

Sitting either side of me were a pair of middle aged Englishmen both with their elderly fathers watching the game. They were disgusted with their team’s performance but genuinely delighted with how Ireland were playing and were sporting enough to be amused by the amazed the reaction of the sizeable Irish crowd around them without being patronising.

We chatted about the joy of their team winning the World Cup earlier in the month and about the Ashes series to come. Their hopes for winning against Australia seemed to shrink as the morning went on.

I was listening in to BBC’s Test Match Special and Jonathan Agnew and Alistair Cook were scathing about the England batting performance. Meanwhile Niall O’Brien was enjoying how his brother and former teammates were doing out on the pitch. Lunch was scheduled for 1.15pm but by then England were all out.

I enjoyed the early lunch by nipping into the museum – reputedly the oldest sporting museum in the world – and seeking out the little Ashes urn that is kept here at the back of the Pavilion.


After lunch, Ireland put in a very creditable batting performance getting initially to 132 for the loss of just two wickets before England got on top. Balbirnie got to his 50 before he went as Ireland lost five wickets for just 15 runs.

By the time Ireland made 200 they were nine wickets down and it was time to head for the exits. I walked up St. John’s Wood Road towards Paddington to catch the train to Heathrow with a grin fixed to my face. Yes, it would turn out that England would win the test on Friday but boy had Ireland given them a game. The Boys in Green in their Test Match cricket whites had truly arrived on the world’s cricketing stage.

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