Fantasy Ireland

League of Ireland, Premier Division – Cork City FC v Drogheda United FC
Monday, 20th August 2012, 7.45pm
Turner’s Cross Stadium
Distance 469 miles, Attendance 1392
Holidays at the start of the football season, hmm… it’s a sticking point isn’t it? Seventy year old mother-enforced family holidays with 16 other relations, in one house, at her behest (it’s her birthday don’t you know), at the start of the football season, across two Watford games I would usually attend… well, it‘ll be raised in her annual review.
Plunged into such an abyss, the only option open was to find a local game to sate the footballing gods, a by local, I meant County Cork.

“Why don’t you leave early?” asked my enthusiastic-sister-in-law-in-the-making, overhearing my brother (let’s call him Cliff) and I discussing plans for the coming evening. “You could look around, have something to eat, do some shopping…” she continued (and let’s call her Sue). “You haven’t been to football have you?” I countered knowingly, trying not to smirk. As it turned out – “intent” aside – she had a passable knowledge of the offside rule circa.1997 (demonstrated with condiments) but obviously precious little awareness of the social geography of roads surrounding football grounds. Once that issue was laid to rest, Cliff quizzed me over my latest article in Late Tackle magazine. Suddenly Sue’s voice piped up from the distance “What’s it about?” “Football”, he responded lovingly. “Are you going to read it?” came her bemused reply… (I’m not going to comment further)
Hours later sat in the car, keys at the ready, awaiting the (naturally late) return of both Cliff and my nephew JP, I double checked the route to Turner’s Cross. For the younger viewers maybe I should now introduce the ancient art of map reading. Detailed diagrams illustrating the physical features of a chosen area which help you get about. It’s not hard, really. You can also gain a good sense of direction, and the truly fun part is you can gain firsthand visual knowledge of the route, its terrain, flora and fauna, wildlife, and other sights, sounds and smells that cannot be animated on the device stuck to the windscreen and blocking you vision of the road ahead, innit!
Having navigated – using some common sense – cross country along the R584 and R585, the route is pretty straight forward. East onN22 and N25, then finally turn right and you’ll see the floodlights handily positioned just past Munster’s rugby pitch.

The man across the road was happy to let us park on his road, the girls in the ticket office (shed) were happy for us to sit anywhere, the programme seller a happy for us to have more than we needed, and the lady in the burger stall was more than happy to persuade Cliff to eat a “man’s burger” with curry chips (which as far as I can tell was three crushed-lifeless patties, plastic cheese, dry bun, salad and sauce). JP as it turned out just went for the junior version, whilst I stuck to a tea. From the time we stepped out of the car, the Irish hospitality was truly wonderful. Even the turnstile operator hinting that a televised premier league game might result in a small crowd couldn’t bring the evening down.
Nearing the end of the season, our game featured newly promoted Cork City (currently lying 4th bottom) hosting title-chasing Drogheda United (2nd place). On face-value it we could have done better but the kids – admiring their heroes from the perimeter fence – insisted this was the place to be; “they might even win”. “O’Neil, Sullivan and the keeper” were the players I should be watching out for insisted the young boy oddly with “O’Connor” on his shirt. Still, buoyed by their confidence, we found a perch and settled back for the game. Cliff read snippets from the programme as I studied the fine stadium architecture, the fans, and the birds flying overhead in the beautiful summer’s evening sky.
I’m not suggesting it was a full-proof innovation, or one which scientists couldn’t break through on a whim but, there were five geese. Five geese in two groups; a three, and a two. I turned to the others (stupidly without photographing the scene) and declared matter-of-factly Cork would win 3-2. Waiting for a response, I could hear strains of Geno playing in the background. They looked at me incredulously, it was clear my sanity was in question… but this was a sugared mice moment.
The Commandos 84 were stationed behind the goal to our left, home fans about us and opposite, and a handful of inaudible United fans in the far corner waving a big flag. On the pitch there were three Brennan brothers in the away team; two of which were starting in the “big physical team, aren’t they?” (as the chap in the next seat repeatedly pointed out), but given what we were about to witness this was irrelevant.
In a City-dominated opening period – once I’d stopped wondering if Drogheda’s ground was named after a Bowie album, and about the similarities of their badge to Pompey’s, and about rugby league and the City kit, and how long it would be before a ball was launched out of the stadium – a ball went over the far stand fully dragging my attention back to the play. Five minutes later Cork were rightfully awarded a free-kick, in a central position, about 35 yards out. A wall formed, the whistle went and a low drive was smacked past them, striking the left hand post. It rebounding tamely across the goal, leaving the keeper stranded, hit the other post, bounced out and was tapped in by Vinny Sullivan, the only player to assume any of this might happen. I’m not sure about the other two, but nailing my colours to the mast, I was on my feet cheering on the green City. I knew the geese were right.

Two minutes on, as a long range effort was tipped over by the Drogheda keeper, we were struggling to tell which the higher placed team was. The shot was the end product of even more wonderful Cork play. Up front Sullivan and free-running Keigan Parker were everywhere; chasing every ball, and Shane Murphy was bossing the midfield, whilst Danny Murphy kept “us” calm at the back. In goal, Mark McNulty, was thankfully fairly redundant. The pace was furious from both sides but Cork just seemed to want the game more. Highlights of the action saw cries of handball in the away area, after a fantastic break from Parker and Ian Turner, but the ref gave nothing. One of the Brennan’s (Sean) hit the cross bar after being gifted the opportunity by the home side. Then just before the break, against the run of play, Eric Foley levelled the game from a very generous free-kick. In the dying moments from a perfect Parker cross Sullivan headed straight into the keeper arms, and a second ball cleared the stand. It had been a great half with generous refereeing which saw one linesman curiously sprint for the tunnel as the whistle went, without waiting for his colleagues. But, most importantly, the geese were still on course to be correct.
The first half as it turned out was nothing compared to the second. Before Drogheda kicked-off we’d moved – Non-League style – up the other end of the stand and positioned ourselves directed behind The Drogs bench. We could see the pacing Mick Cooke as Cork relentlessly attacked, and as each was thwarted – by means foul and fair – the tension built along with the disputes between Tommy Dunne and the 4th official. Eight minutes in a well placed Murphy free-kick was headed home by Kevin Murray. The geese were still in with a shout. Shortly after, with The Drogs trying to haul themselves back into the game, a shot was tipped over the City goal by McNulty. Defensive mix-ups from the home team and poor officiating saw arguments begin, resulting in Parker receiving his third card (for arguing) in only three games for City.
Twenty minutes in – when we were thinking the game at least had a score line to match the game – the game was controversially turned on its head. A very offside Brennan MkII (Gavin) advanced on goal. McNulty came out, narrowing the angles, and challenged the striker. The ball went one way, the striker did the dying swan, the ref grabbing his red card blew for a penalty, the fans went mad, Tommy Dunne went madder and the fourth official shouted back, and in front of us one Drogs supporters admitted his team were “getting all the luck” this evening.

As the mayhem subsided sub keeper, Kevin Burns trotted towards goal line, playing with the carefully positioned ball en route (to the despair of the waiting penalty taker). He then stood, flapped and generally tried in vain to prevent the inevitable.
At 2-2 and down to ten men you could have forgiven Cork for trying to hold out for a draw but (at the behest of the geese) instead they pushed forward. Three minutes on Duggan won the ball in the centre circle, and strode forward towards an onrushing defender. The Drogheda man lunged in two footed, studs showing, hitting Duggan hard but failing to prevent him laying the ball off to Davin O’Neill who sped off down the wing, made room and shot past Gabriel Sava who couldn’t prevent the ball from going in. The celebrations were wonderful and angry in equal measure.
There were injured players on the pitch, and many more screaming for justice both on and off the pitch. I’ve no idea what the away fans wanted but the prone Drogs player clearly deserved a straight red card; his challenge was reckless to say the least. When the mayhem MkII subsided the spineless referee only raised a yellow as the stretcher removed the injured defender. I’d rather have seen him give nothing. It was tragically motivated by sympathy rather than the rules, but like Gazza in ’91, the culprit got away with a dangerous challenge because they were injured.
Nine minutes of action packed injury time (or whatever it’s called now) finished the game with Cork holding on for the win. At the final whistle I was breathless.
I was on a footballing high. This game had had everything. Five goals, a sending off, a sympathetic yellow, proper challenges, players fans and benches appealing for everything, Lebanese and North Korean flags in the crowd, and wonderfully fantastic end-to-end action from start to finish. And 1392 of us saw it…
I truly pity those who succumbed to the media poppycock and chose to stay home and watch the dour premier league twaddle. This was an incredible game; every one of you missed out. Forget the lessons cartography and punctuality I want so many to learn, ignore the evenings spent discussing collective nouns (family joke), if you want to convince anyone to watch live football then this was the game to take them to. This was the match that fantasies are made of.
This entry was posted in 2012-2013, League of Ireland and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Fantasy Ireland

  1. Damon says:

    Oh no! You missed Ipswich beating Watford! 😉

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