I’ve been running out of vocabulary to describe Bray’s results in recent weeks. The home win over Galway was good. Beating Dundalk away was better. Hammering Shamrock Rovers was possibly the best. As last Friday’s match against Cork loomed, the question was what word could describe a Bray win, if it came to pass – what could be better than best?
I wasn’t free to travel to Cork so I decided to walk the ten minutes from my house to Tolka Park and cheer on Shelbourne against Cobh Ramblers. My son Blaise came with me. I left my phone at home, deliberately. I didn’t want to know the result from Turner’s Cross until it was over. They only announce other First Division scores in Tolka so I’d get home without knowing the result, all being well.
Bringing a six year old to a game, when you don’t have the distraction or preoccupation of your phone at hand, means you have to give your full attention to their random and non-linear thought processes. We passed Blaise’s school on the way to Tolka and he wanted to know what the ‘1894’ on the gate meant. On learning that it was the year the school was started, he wanted to know how long ago that was. 123 years wasn’t a sufficient answer. Was that before 1916? In the end the best way to get it across to him was to explain that nobody in the whole world who was alive in 1894 was still alive now.
Entering Tolka he noticed some souvenir stuff in the shop from the club’s 120th anniversary in 2015 of their 1895 foundation, and so more questions about years and was anyone still alive from the first Shelbourne side. It was a good opportunity to explain that players and fans come and go but clubs live on.
I always feel like a cat when I enter a League of Ireland stadium other than the Carlisle Grounds, straying onto someone else’s territory, needing to establish a bit of it for yourself for the next ninety minutes. Mind you I’ve been to Tolka often enough recently for it to feel like a second home. I had cats on the mind on Friday. A stray cat has picked our house as its home – the children have been feeding her and have christened her Henrietta so I guess she gets to stay. And imagining Wanderers on the road to Cork for their game I thought of the Cat Stevens song ‘On The Road To Find Out’ – we’d find out that day if Bray could do what nobody else has this season and upset the table-toppers.
The road from Cork to Cobh is 15 miles long. I found that out when I ran it about a decade ago – the ‘Cork to Cobh’ race was always an important milestone in preparing for the Dublin marathon. While Bray were on the road to Cork and Cobh were on the road to Dublin, Shels player David O’Leary was also on the road from Cork to Dublin according to the programme notes – the former Waterford player, who has recently joined Shels, travels up for both training and matches. That’s dedication.
The game got underway. Shelbourne had some good first-half chances which were spurned. I said to Blaise they might regret ballooning efforts over the bar like that. He was more concerned with the ball that ballooned onto the roof of the main stand. Although the roof is curved the McAllister Volkswagen hoardings trapped it. Blaise decided that there was a cat up there that would paw the ball back over. The ball didn’t come back because the cat was away at the moment. Perhaps it was even the one that had arrived at our house. I didn’t like to break up his fanciful idea by telling him that in reality the grounds man probably put a ladder up the day after the match.
At half-time and without a phone to distract me I had to resort to looking around the stand. We were in the new one over the tunnel. Some guttering is run along the inside of the stand rather than the outside, and reminded me of a trip on the paddle-steamer Waverley, where you could actually watch internally the ship’s propulsion, see the pistons and cranks and paddle wheels, like having no skin and being able to see your veins. Weird thoughts indeed. Perhaps I should have brought my phone after all, or gone into the bar for a pint.
Cobh were ascendant after the break, and Karl Caulfield’s goal on 50 minutes proved enough to get the three points and send Cobh to the top of the table. When I got home and saw that Bray had lost narrowly to Cork it meant that Cork sides were on top of both tables. If Cobh stayed there then next season would see plenty of trips along the Cork to Cobh road for Premier Division games.
The details of the 2-1 win for Cork digested, I decided that brave was a good word to describe Bray’s performance. We’d gone and had a go. Dundalk’s surprise defeat meant that we were still joint-second, and that’s really the challenge now – to aim for second place. Roll on next Friday and the visit of St Pats to the Carlisle.