Posts Tagged ‘Dublin’

All Ireland Champions on the European Stage

September 22, 2011 4 comments

It had been many a year since my Dublin team got their hands on an All-Ireland trophy but this year they did. Admittedly the route to the final was short for the team with just four games played to get there but it did include a win over a team from Ulster which tends to be the norm to win this competition. When the referee blew the final whistle at the conclusion of the final, there were great celebrations before the trophy presentation back in May of this year. Captain Dan Murray got his hands on the Setanta Sports Cup crowning Shamrock Rovers All Ireland Champions in the Tallaght Stadium.

Last week of course there was a similar tale to Rovers’ win as the Dublin GAA team captured the All Ireland Senior Football Championship. There was immense excitement in the capital but it wasn’t a game I watched. Strange you may think for somebody from Dublin especially one who played gaelic football with a south Dublin GAA club from age 11 to 17 and who went to Dublin matches both in the League and Championship. But I stopped going to gaelic matches back in 2006 when the GAA decided to take on Shamrock Rovers and South Dublin County Council (SDCC) over access to Tallaght Stadium.

The story of stadium in Tallaght is a saga. Shamrock Rovers had been unable to finance the completion of the stadium with construction halted in 2001. SDCC looked to complete the stadium in 2005 with the Dublin County GAA board making submissions to the council for the pich to be increased in size to accommodate senior gaelic games. Under pressure from the GAA, the local Councillors voted in late 2005 to amend the Council Manager’s report to include provision for GAA sports in the stadium subject to funding. However, the Department of Sport made it clear they would not allocate money to modify the stadium as significant changes would need to be made to existing structure to suit gaelic games, leading to a reduced capacity (4,500) and a one sided stadium. Six Dublin GAA clubs wrote to the Councillors to request for that decision on the enlarged stadium to be maintained but this was rejected in 2006 with the council voting to revert back to the original football sized venue that had always been envisaged.

In the previous year, Shamrock Rovers had effectively gone bust with the club being put into examinership. The Rovers fans group, the 400 Club, were able to take over the running of the club thanks to the generosity of its members. Fans, like myself, dipped into their life savings to pay membership for a number of years up front to try and save the club. It was only on the decision of the High Court that Rovers were saved but the club was not finished with playing high stakes games with its survival to be decided in the courts.

In February 2006 as SDCC were voting to push ahead with the original soccer sized venue, I was still supporting the Dubs. As well as going to games in Parnell and Croke Parks, I headed away to watch games including being present at the infamous Battle of Omagh when Tyrone and Dublin finished with 13 men each. In May of that year, Thomas Davis sought a Judicial Review of the council’s decision dealing a crushing blow to the new owners, the fans of Shamrock Rovers. It meant at best a couple of year delay in the entering the stadium and at worst meant no home at all which could have spelled the death knell for the club.

It was clear that it was not just the local GAA clubs seeking to prevent the youth of Tallaght from being raised “on a diet of association football” (as Thomas Davis stated in their High Court submission). Thomas Davis spoke elsewhere about being “the last man standing” in the bout with Rovers and the GAA. With the GAA opening up Croke Park for football and rugby on a temporary basis, their Central Council placed “on record, the strongly held disappointment that this goodwill gesture has not been reciprocated in the approach of the FAI and Minister…John O’Donoghue, to the Tallaght Stadium”. In the Director General’s Annual Report to the 2007 GAA congress there was criticism that public funds were to being used to complete Tallaght “for professional sports with the GAA being excluded at a lesser extent than we expected”. The GAA president expressed his disappointment that the stadium was not being made “big enough to accommodate GAA matches”. Thomas Davis used the 2007 general election remind their members that candidates who did not agree with the GAA club were “pinning their colours squarely against the GAA”.

This situation left many Shamrock Rovers fans that had a keen interest in the GAA, like myself, in a difficult position. Some Rovers fans continued to follow Dublin and continue to do so to this day. I took the decision to stop following Dublin as I couldn’t bring myself to support a sport that was threatening the very existence of the football club that I not only loved but was a part owner of. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but it was one I was glad I made and a decision that was right for me and is still the case. In the intervening years, I stopped watching GAA on TV or reading about it in the papers, taking more of an interest in Leinster and investing more time at Rovers. Dublin no longer was my team. To be honest I don’t miss it because I get so much from being a part of Shamrock Rovers.

Thankfully the GAA lost their Hight Court case and Rovers were able to play their first game in the stadium in March 2009.
Shamrock Rovers has been lauded in recent times as a model club. The club provides jobs for over 30 individuals including players, back room staff and front of house staff. With a turnover over in excess of €2m, the club is a contributor to Irish economy especially in the Tallaght area where 4,000 fans on average attend games from March through to October. There is also a strong volunteer element at the club – the GAA don’t have a monopoly on the great Irish sporting volunteer. Turnstyle operators, website team, marketing, communications, ticket sellers, programme sellers and writers are some of the roles that fans fill providing their own time and services free of charge because they believe in what the club, our club, is doing.

This belief has been rewarded over the past couple of seasons especially with Rovers success on and off the field. Real Madrid, Juventus and the league trophy have all come to Tallaght Stadium over the past two or so years. In the year that Dublin finally won another All Ireland title, Shamrock Rovers are bringing European football to Tallaght and taking League of Ireland football into unchartered territory with the team competing in the group stages of the Europa League with Rovers increasing the stadium capacity at their own expense to nearly 9,000. Thanks to that sense of belonging I get, that sense of pride, that sense of connection I have with my club, there is really only one Dublin team for me and that is Shamrock Rovers.

Keep on Hooping!