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The last bus to Tolka Park

Brian Quigley

With Bray away up in Derry [well, Buncrana!] on Friday night I brought my son Blaise to Tolka Park to see the Shelbourne versus Wexford FC clash. The first thing we noticed as we did a scout around the ground was that there didn’t seem to be many [or even any] Wexford FC fans in attendance. This troubled Blaise. In his six-year old mind away fans were part of the furniture at any game. Not having any was like not having a referee or corner flags or dugouts. The last time we came to Tolka there was a big contingent up from Waterford. Wexford is closer, so what was the story?

Perhaps they missed the last bus from Wexford. Or perhaps not – as we settled in the high stand over the tunnel, I saw advertisement hoardings around the pitch for Bus Eireann. Bus Eireann were on strike, and had managed to cripple a lot of the other public transport services that day too.

There was at least one Wexford fan there – I noticed the unmistakable figure of Mick Wallace taking up position to view the game. Perhaps we could ask him to sort out the strike. Or perhaps not, sure hadn’t the Transport Minister himself said that it was nothing to do with him. What chance would Mick have, when the Minister didn’t want to stick his oar in?

Mick is a true football fan. I’ve seen him at countless matches over the years. It was nice to have a TD in attendance. There was another one there – I saw local TD Finian McGrath, but only as an image on an advertising hoarding next to the Bus Eireann ones. Perhaps the actual Finian was around somewhere too for all I knew.

The game kicked off. Shelbourne were dominant and playing good football. Wexford had to swap out goalkeepers early on, when Doyle went off injured and Chambers came on. Shelbourne’s dominance was rewarded when Prendergast scored. There were a couple of chances before that that should have gone in. 1-0 at half time was flattering to Wexford.

At the interval we checked the other scores. Bray were 2 up against Derry. A great achievement, and a game that can’t have been easy for the Derry players. The death of Ryan McBride must have hit them hard, as it did all involved in League of Ireland.

After reading a few pages of my book [Last Bus To Woodstock, the first of the Inspector Morse novels by Colin Dexter – he died recently and I’m re-reading as a mark of respect] while Blaise drew a picture of the press / camera area in the roof of the Riverside stand [he said it looked like the pop-up headlight on a Porsche!] we wandered over to the merchandise shop. Blaise fancied a replica Shelbourne jersey to add to his collection. I sorted him out, sure he’ll get a bit of wear out of it as we come here often enough.

When we took our seats again I decided that if I ever end up owning Shelbourne FC [about as likely as getting a Bus Eireann bus at the moment] the first thing I’ll invest in is getting the windows in the stand over the tunnel cleaned. Presumably the idea of the glass paneling is that you can still see the far corner of the pitch. But the windows are so dirty there was little chance of seeing through them. A Bus Eireann bus could go by and you wouldn’t notice. Sorry to complain, but I think it needs sorting [the windows, not Bus Eireann, well both actually!]

Shels continued where they had left off. They were putting together some good moves. The football was of a good standard, and when Rooney scored a second [Blaise decided he was Wayne’s brother or maybe cousin!] I thought the floodgates might open. Instead Wexford rallied a bit, and eventually got a penalty. Delany saved it, much to the delight of Blaise – any penalty he has seen at games he’s attended so far in his life have been converted.

At the final whistle we clapped Shelbourne off. They moved into the top half of the table on the night with the win, and on the strength of this showing a promotion challenge should be on. It would be great if Tolka could be home to two Premier Division sides next season.

The news from Buncrana was that Derry had got back to 2-2 but Bray had sneaked a win with a last minute goal from Tim Clancy. The news from Dalymount was that Bohs had lost heavily to Pats in the local derby, one of the goals from Conan Byrne was apparently a Beckham-style effort from inside his own half. When we saw it the next morning Blaise said it was a ‘worldy’. Who am I to disagree?!

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