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It’s Tolka Park but not as you know it


Tolka Park looked and felt different for Friday’s First Division encounter between Shelbourne and AthloneTown. The normal advertising hoardings [Abbey Seals, Bus Eireann, Finian McGrath TD] had been covered up with UEFA ones and the UEFA cover-up even extended to fancy drapes over the dugouts; hopefully the goings on at the FAI in recent times won’t get swept under the carpet by them.

The game was an entertaining contest with Shelbourne deserving to shade it in the end. Athlonewere ahead at half-time thanks to a penalty from Williams but Ian Morris’ half-time talk must have been spot on because goals from Ryan Brennan and Ciaran Kilduff brought the home side level and then put them in front; the win would have been bigger but for a Fitzgerald penalty being saved late on.

The win left Shelbourne nicely positioned in third place, two behind Longford and two ahead of Drogheda. Cabinteely continue to surprise and lead the way – a win away in Longford this weekend was no mean feat and they are now on 26 points.

Tolka is multi-tasking at the moment, alternating between a League of Ireland ground and a UEFA U17 venue [I suppose this will be good preparation for the next couple of seasons where it will have to juggle being both a Shelbourne and a Bohemians ground]. No sooner had the Athlone game ended than preparations were underway for Monday’s quarter-final between Italy and Portugal, a mouth-watering tie for sure and one I’ll be at.

Tolka’s first outing in this year’s UEFA U17 was the 1-1 draw between the Czech Republic and Belgium on 03 May. This was followed by the 5-2 win for Holland over England on 06 May. Plenty of goals there to contribute to the 79 the 24 group games threw up, an impressive 3.29 goals-per-game. After the quarter-final Tolka will still have one more day out, on Thursday 16 May for the play-off between the two best losing quarter-finalists [to get the fifth UEFA team to go the FIFA U17 World Cup].

At various times during Friday’s match John Delaney came to mind. I found it ironic that the U17’s were taking place in Ireland at a time when Delaney’s future was in the balance, given that he had helped us secure the tournament following his elevation to UEFA’s executive committee a few years back.

It was ironic too that Tolka was one of the host venues. A fine historic stadium with a rich history that has been sentenced to death because the FAI wouldn’t spend the necessary to do it up. But then, the League of Ireland was just a ‘problem child’ [I’ll never be able to fully enjoy the AC/DC song again].

There’s a detailed feature on Delaney in the June edition of ‘When Saturday Comes’, one of the better UK soccer magazines. Titled ‘Loan Ranger’ it sets out the reasons why the domestic League here was ignored and viewed as a ‘problem child’; in a nutshell the FAI’s governing council didn’t need the votes of the League’s clubs as there were enough votes to be got from junior and intermediate game to keep them in power.

It would be remiss not to mention the significance of the weekend’s Premier Division games. Dundalk’s win over Bohemians has them back on top of the table, something that didn’t seem possible a few weeks back. Cork had a decent win too and should start to climb the table too – there is only three points between eighth and fifth. Shamrock Rovers were in active because of Tallaght’s use for the UEFA’s; hopefully the stadium’s use for the tournament won’t turn out to be a turning point for the wrong reasons for its tenant club.

Brian Quigley

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