Friday saw me take in my first SSE Airtricity League First Division game of the season, as I took the short trip to Tolka Park to watch Shelbourne versus Longford Town. I was meant to come a few weeks before on March 02 to see Shels host Drogheda, but The Beast from the East and Storm Emma put paid to that. Just as well maybe, given the way Drogheda are banging in the goals. Might be better to play them when they’ve settled down a bit!
At the same time as I took my short trip to Tolka, Bray had taken the much longer trip to Derry, and I was anxiously keeping an eye on the score. I’ve only ever made the trip to the Brandywell once, about 20 years ago, with five others. The six of us constituted the entirety of the away support, and a photograph of us in the terraces watching the match eventually made its way into the local paper back home under the caption ‘’A section of Bray’s support at the recent away game against Derry City’’. Let me put the record straight two decades on – that wasn’t a section, it was the entire collection!”
There were supporters aplenty at Tolka Park [attendance just under 700], and they were in fine voice, welcoming Shelbourne onto the pitch from the high stand over the tunnel with chants and flares. My son Blaise, who’d accompanied me to the game, remarked that it was ‘’Just like that Juventus match on the television”!
The referee situation troubled Blaise before the start of the game. I was busy reading the programme and didn’t realise what he meant by ‘’Dad, why are there so many referees?’’ until I looked up and realised that Longford, in yellow, were wearing the colour he’s used to seeing the officials wearing. I explained, and pointed out the referee in the dark shirt.
The game didn’t have to wait long for its first goals. Within the first quarter hour Dave O’Sullivan had slotted home a spot kick for the home side, only to be met with an instant reply from Town’s Sam Verdon. The score remained one each at half time despite pressure from both sides. Blaise was well impressed with some of the saves Dean Delany pulled off in the Shelbourne goal, especially the one he tipped over to his right while running and jumping backwards; ability, agility and athleticism rolled into one from the club’s 2017 Player of the Year.
News at half time from Derry wasn’t good. Bray were losing. The music at half-time was good though, as it always is at Tolka. We were treated over the PA system to, amongst others, Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’, a song that made me think of the snow more than romance, and The Jam’s ‘Going Underground’, a song that made me smile because my children refer to the bar and family room in the main stand at Tolka as the ‘underground’ rooms.
The second half yielded three more goals. O’Sullivan scored again for Shelbourne on 72 minutes, and the Reds tried to hang on for their first win of the season at the third attempt. When Verdon equalized for Longford on 87 minutes it looked like a point each would be the outcome, but there was high drama in injury time as O’Sullivan converted a late penalty for his hat-trick and the Shelbourne winner. He earned himself the match ball, while Vernon earned himself a red card for encroaching on the penalty [Dylan McGlade had already been sent off for Longford, who finished the game with nine men].
News from Derry was bad at full time. Bray had gone down 5-1, leaving them rooted to the foot of the table. News from the other First Division games had seen Wexford lose 8-1 at home to Drogheda, an incredible result for the Louth team, who if they continue like this will become the Manchester City of the First Division.
After Friday’s games I did some maths and worked out that there had been 49 goals in the 13 First Division games up to that point, almost 4 goals per game. Entertaining football like this should be on television. Friday had seen my debut writing in the Shelbourne programme and I used my column to put a case for having a highlights show for the First Division, similar to what the Premier Division has with Soccer Republic. Good ideas are one thing, but getting RTE to agree might be a tough day’s work.
All in all Friday’s game was entertaining and enjoyable. Final word on it would have to be to congratulate Shelbourne on the tribute to Izzy Dezu before kick-off. New seasons are a new adventure at all clubs but unfortunately there are often those who have been lost in the close season that sadly won’t get to share in them. Gone but not forgotten.