Blaise found it unusual that Shelbourne were playing on a Monday night. He’s used to Friday’s in Tolka. It was a school night and he likes to get to bed early. Bohemians versus Cork was on television in the FAI Cup semi-final replay and I could tell he was tempted to settle in for that.
I had to think fast and sell the Shelbourne game to him. It’s a play-off, I said. Not just an ordinary play-off, but a play-off for a play-off for the play-off. It sounded a bit silly to me, like that Human League song ‘’Rock Me Again and Again and Again and Again and Again and Again [six times]’’ or the way Plymouth Argyle fans used to sing ‘’David the Kemp the Kemp the Kemp’’ to the tune of ‘’Lily the Pink’’ whenever the striker scored. But Blaise bought it, got his Shelbourne scarf and came with me.
I got a bad feeling when I entered the ground. The programme was late arriving, and the tannoy, which usually plays a great set-list of music, wasn’t working properly. Bad luck comes in three’s. Could Shels be about to lose out, even though they brought a 1-0 advantage into the game?
By half-time you got the feeling that this was definitely not going to be a lucky night for Shelbourne. They were down to 9 men – Reece McEnteer and James English having been shown red – and were a goal down after Sean Brennan had scored for Drogheda. Technically, that meant things were still level on aggregate, but surely there was no way Shelbourne could hold out against the onslaught that was undoubtedly on the way?
Things got worse when Drogheda went ahead on aggregate through Chris Lyons early on in the second half. If anything, the goal was scored against the run of play though, and Shelbourne went on to dominate the rest of the half. A Trojan effort from a great set of players in front of an appreciative four-figure home crowd. Adam Evans’ beautifully-taken goal levelled things up on aggregate and meant a scarcely-believable extra-time was on the cards, if Shelbournecould hold out for the last 15 minutes.
Hold out they did. In fact they almost won it with some late chances. As the sides prepared for extra-time Blaise was feeling the cold so I warmed him up by showing him the footage of Ian Morris’ 40-yard screamer for Bohs, which had already made its way up onto the internet.
The referee continued to brandish his cards in Shelbourne’s direction in extra time. Prendergast and Fitzgerald saw yellow, meaning Shels were holding on with almost half of their 9 men on yellow [Delany and Moore had picked up yellows in the last 10 minutes of normal time]. Blaise was worried that more players would see red and that Shelnournewouldn’t have enough men to take 5 penalties if they could hold on for that. He was also worried that the pizza – delivered as usual as the 90-minute mark approached – would be cold again the players eventually got to eat it. I assured him they had a microwave.
So penalties it was to round off a thrilling evening. David O’Sullivan had been brought on at the end of extra-time, presumably to take a penalty, in a substitution that reminded me of Tim Krul being brought on for Holland in the 2014 World Cup as a shootout loomed. [I think the penalty he converted might have been the only touch of the ball in the game for the First Division’s 2018 golden-boot winner].
Lyons and Brennan both added to their goals from earlier for Drogheda with successfully-taken penalties but Shelbourne’s scorer on the night, Adam Evans, was one of 2 Shels players to miss their spot kicks and the Reds were out.
On the way home Blaise had thought of another problem. It’s actually one I have until next year to find a work-around to. ‘’Dad, so now that Shelbourne are staying in Division One and Bray have been relegated to the same league, who will we be cheering for when they play each other?!” I didn’t know what to say, except those immortal words of Father Jack’s, which went over Blaise’s head … ‘’That would be an ecumenical matter, son’’