The reluctant fireman

Football (Soccer)
Cork City v Dundalk (FAI Senior Cup Final)
The Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Sunday 6th November (3.40pm kick off)

A couple of Cork City fans wander into the corner West Stand singing a drunken song. The game is already under way. They spot a couple of Dundalk fans sitting a few seats ahead and make their way towards them. They sit either side of them, through their arms around them and sing a bit louder in case the rival pair cannot hear them. It’s as close to serenading as I’ve seen at a football match.

A flare fizzes towards the goal from the crowd and spurts out the green smoke, the Cork colours slowly enveloping the goalkeeper at this end. No one takes too much notice except a bored-looking fireman who picks up a bucket he has placed behind the goal for just such an occasion and douses the flare into it.

A nation’s Cup Final is often the pinnacle to the season, the last game. But for Dundalk there is still more to come, as they are still in with a fighting chance in the Europa Cup. Ireland’s summer season and the rest of Europe’s winter calendar have ensured  a straddling of seasons so they still need to welcome AZ Alkmaar (to Dublin because their own stadium is not big enough) before a trip to Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel. More could follow if they qualify. This is already their 51st match this season, which started against Cork on 27 February.

Just how that European campaign continues could will determine how long Daryl Horgan, the flying winger remains a Dundalk and League of Ireland player. The money of English football has been circling and it can’t be long before he is off. The number seven, who joined Dundalk from Cork has shone in the spotlight of European competition – even being named in Martin O’Neill’s national squad, a real rarity for a League fo Ireland player in recent years.

But to his credit Horgan, stocky, strong and hard-working, as well as skilful, has batted away rumours of his impending transfer. Even when Newcastle’s name was mentioned he said he was staying put because there was no way he’d be playing European football if he joined a Championship or other lower league English club. But Dundalk’s adventure will come to an end eventually and so will Horgan’s League of Ireland career (at least for a while).

There is another burst of green smoke followed by the plod of the fireman and his bucket. “Silly boys,” he’s probably thinking.

Cork’s own Europa Cup campaign went well enough, reaching the Third Qualifying Road after beating Linfield from the north and Sweden’s BK Häcken on the way. But to the flare boys today is the route to some revenge over a club that beat them to the title and stole the headlines.

The Aviva looks more imposing down in the lower tier, where I am sitting for this game. It’s impressive from the upper sections, make no mistake, but when seated up there you are seeing it as an equal. Down here it towers tall, its characteristic wavy bowl design enhanced in scale.

But the players aren’t admiring the stadium design, they are searching to break the 0-0 deadlock as the tick clocks first towards 90 minutes and the end or normal time, then towards 120 minutes and the end of extra time. But with just second to go before penalties are needed to decide the winners Sean Maguire slides home a winner for the greens.

Another flare shoots from the crowd and the fireman shrugs his shoulders and heads towards his bucket.

Ticket: €10 for a seat in the West Stand Lower plus Ticketmaster’s €2.
Getting there:
Score: Cork City 1 Dundalk 0












Blur of colour

Greyhound racing
Shelbourne Park
Wednesday 19 October (first race 8pm)

My first view of racing at Shelbourne, home of the Irish Derby, is to see the blur of colours burst out of the boxes. Black and white, orange, red, white, black and blue, go on… I’m just in time for the first race of the night and I’m right on top of the traps.

I turn to look around the grandstand of this impressive greyhound track and by time I’ve turned my attention to the action again a couple of the dogs are trailing the leader by about 40 lengths. Don’t they grade* the dogs in Ireland? I know dog racing has a dodgy reputation but this is ridiculous. A quick look at the TV screen to watch the replay, though, shows that there was a bit of crash chaos, but more thankfully all the dogs compete the race and appear to be okay.


I love dog racing and although I’ve never been here before it feels like home from home. The bookies and other track characters could be lifted up and dropped into a track in England but what’s this I spot in the form guide? Race distances  in yards as well as metres from this bastion of Europe, surely not?

Elsewhere I notice that some of the dogs have the same dad as one of my greyhounds. Good old Kinloch Brae, he’s been working hard. The prize money is impressive for greyhounds. Have I stumbled on a bumper prize night? Winner €650 and runner-up €220 for a race including dogs on the way up (or down)? There’s nothing like that in England. But then we are in the heart of racing.

Then a gaggle of student arrive, bubbling over with previously enjoyed bubbles. In what is a real working-class sport they seem out of place next to the grumpy old guys in waxed jackets.

I grab my waxed jacket and head upstairs. The tiered restaurant is fairly busy for a Wednesday night and the lamb shanks look good. The restaurant is large and it must be buzzing on a Saturday night. There are some decent deals on a Wednesday (€29.99 for a four-course dinner) and a good number are tucking in.

A Dutch couple, on a short trip to Dublin, and at the dogs for the first time ask for help in the betting terms and the form card. “Trio Allways,” I tell them, “that’s where you’ll make the money,” and proceed to lose every race.

Ticket: €10 entry.
Drink: the bars have a decent selection of beers under €5 a pint.
Getting there: the nearest DART station is Grand Canal Dock.
Score: I didn’t lose too much.

* Dogs are graded in racing in an attempt to make each race competitive, a bit like the handicap system in horse racing.

More ey up lad than what’s the craic

Rugby League
Ireland v Russia (World Cup qualifier)
The Carlisle Grounds, Bray
Saturday 29th October (5pm kick off)

“Get at ’em, hard at ’em,” shouts one of the Irish players as his team retakes its positions. Russia are about to kick off following the first try from Ireland. I can’t make out if the accent is from Wigan or Wakefield or somewhere in-between but it’s decidedly Northern (English).

As the game progresses, and Ireland rack up the points, those Northern accents are pretty much all I hear from the boys in green.

A family walks past me on the way to their seats in the main stand of the neat little Carlisle Grounds, home of Bray Wanderers football team, and recently the home of Irish Rugby League. The woman stops, not caring that she’s blocking the view, and shouts in a Mancunian accent: “hit him Will, hit him, go on hit him.”

I never heard Will Hope’s accent so I can’t tell you where he grew up, but he plays for Oldham in the English Championship, the second tier of Rugby League in England. Considering there are only three countries in the world that are any good at this sport (England, Australia and New Zealand) that makes him pretty decent.

Hope is just one of a bunch of players representing Ireland who play with English teams in the Championship or the Super League (the top-tier). Although neither are featuring in the match the programme also list a player (James Hasson) as representing  Parramatta Eels in Australia and another (Haydn Peacock) as with Carcassonne in France. They were born in England and Australia respectively.

“Ah, it sounds like another Jack Charlton to me,” says the guy at the bar in the Hibernia Inn when I tell him about the accents. I’ve managed to sneak out to this nearby pub at half-time for a pint of Smithwick’s as there is no bar in the ground. The guy’s referring, of course, to the Jack Charlton football era, from 1985-95, when, it was often joked, anyone with a green jumper qualified for Ireland.

What Charlton, did, of course, was use a number of players who were born and brought up in England but who qualified to play for Ireland through parents or grandparents. But despite the accents it did the Ireland soccer team no harm at all, with Charlton presiding over the most successful period in the country’s history.

And, it’s doing the Rugby League boys (called the Wolfhounds by the way) no harm either as they are number six in the world rankings, which incidentally, is the same as their much more well-known Rugby Union counterparts.

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The Field of Dreams in Bray – but maybe not for these Russians…

The qualification rules to play for a country in international sport leave a lot to be desired for many people. In football, the great Alfredo Di Stefano played for the country of his birth Argentina, squeezed in four games for Colombia, then later represented Spain. Mozambican-born Eusebio excited World Cup crowds in 1966 – playing for Portugal. In the 1990s Tiaan Strauss first played for South Africa, then moved to Australia and won the World Cup while representing them. The Japanese rugby team owes much of its recent rise in fortunes to the number of New Zealanders who qualify through residency, while few players from neighbouring islands can resist the lure of the All Blacks – or the Pacific Select XV as a friend calls them – if the call comes. Elsewhere we have (fast) East Africans representing (rich) Middle Eastern nations, an Irishman (Eoin Morgan) captaining England’s cricket team, and brothers (Jerome and Kevin Prince Boateng) representing different countries in football. It certainly puts things into perspective next time someone shouts “we won!” or screams, “we lost!”

The crowd at Bray is a few hundred strong, which is decent enough for a sport few people in Ireland know anything about and being played in a small coastal town. But it’s a good choice of venue and there are great views across the sea on the 35-minute train ride from Dublin, with the train hugging the coast and passing through a lot of  small places which seem to have little else but a harbour, a yacht club and a few houses. Maybe they’d have attracted a few more in from the capital if there weren’t bigger rugby (union) games being played the same day? I suspect the numbers at the match are made up of people connected to the sport, the families of players and a few vaguely interested locals. I meet a family from Doncaster who are on a weekend break and have wandered in to see what’s going on. The afternoon has got that sort of feel to it.

A two-for-one online ticket offer has probably helped to boost the attendance. After all, there’s few other sporting events where you get two adult tickets for a tenner. Although not everyone is interested in a bargain it seems. I have a spare voucher so I wait near the ticket booth, hoping to save someone the price of a pint. But suspicions win the day among the people I offer it to and I can’t even give it away. “I don’t want anything,” I tell them. “You can have it.” But, alas, they all seem determined to pay full price and avoid human contact. I give up and go in because I can hear the first national anthem striking up and can smell the curry chips wafting out from the van inside the ground.

Russia score the first try, somewhat to the surprise of even their own players, who only half celebrate. Maybe they know what is to come. The previously mentioned Will Hope scores the first try and the much more experienced Irish side run in 13 tries in total to win 70-16 and qualify for the World Cup Finals next year. Alan McMahon (2), Casey Dunne and James Kelly, who play for the locally based sides Galway Tribesmen, Longhorns and Dublin City Exiles respectively, all score. I go into the clubhouse to buy an Ireland shirt but they are sold out. They only brought 12, I am told, but even so I suspect that’s more than they usually sell on a chilly Saturday.

The win over Russia (ranked 16th in the world) concluded a busy period for the Wolfhounds. Games against Malta (ranked 18th) and Jamaica (ranked 27th) gave a run out for more local players in Bray, while there was also a trip to Valencia for a World Cup qualifier against Spain (ranked 21st).

Back in the Hibernia Inn with the family from Doncaster after the game, and we are discussing the game. But it’s noticeable that most of the people in the pub are more interested in the Liverpool football match on the TV. I feel like telling them that following a match just a few hundred metres away from where they sitting Ireland have just qualified for the World Cup Finals and will be off to Australia and Papua New Guinea next year. But somehow I suspect they’d only be interested if the players had Scouse accents and wore red.


Ticket: general access for €5 (thanks to an online 2 for 1 offer).
Drink: pint of Smithwick’s (€4.30) from the Hibernia Inn.
Food: curry chips (€4) from the van in the ground.
Getting there: Bray Station is on the DART line heading south from Dublin.
Score: Ireland 70 Russia 16.

 • The Rugby League World Cup takes place in Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea  from 27 October to 2 December 2017.


Oh I do like to be beside a stadium

Leinster v Ospreys (Pro 12)
RDS Arena, Dublin
Friday 23 September (7.35pm)

House prices are booming in Dublin. One of those news reports said so. In the report the price rises were broken down into regions around the city so the people in the fast-rising areas could be all smug while the people in the poorer areas just shrug and say, “Oh well, we don’t own the house anyway.”

What the reporter didn’t say was that anyone looking for a property in Ballsbridge and surrounds should not be adverse to the odd sports stadium being on their doorstep.

Having passed the Shelbourne Park greyhound stadium I jump off the train at Lansdowne Road, where there is the impressive Aviva Stadium. The bigger rugby games are played here (Leinster v Muster in a couple of weeks for instance) but tonight it’s a short walk to the RDS Arena. And to add to the area’s sporting grounds we have more rugby venues nearby: the Donnybrook Stadium (home to Bective Rangers and Old Wesley),  Merrion Road (home of rugby club Wanderers Football Club), and the ground for Old Belvedere Rugby Club, as well as Merrion Cricket Club (handily featured elsewhere on this blog),  and just down the road the Elm Park Golf and Sports Club.

There is also a Tesco and the Lithuanian Embassy close, which is handy if you want to get some shopping and sort out your Baltic paperwork after a game. All in all it’s a surprise there is any room left for houses in Dublin 4.

Ospreys are top of the Guinness Pro12 table at the kick off but Leinster tear into them in the first 20 minutes with pure intensity and pace. Josh van der Flier picks up a try and with Ireland’s star kicker Jonny Sexton converts this to add points to his earlier penalty to leave the Welsh side trailing by double digits. Frustration builds and the big, bearded Moldovan Dmitri Arhip, not a man you’d pick a fight with, high challenges Isa Ncewa and is sin binned.

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The grandstand, with Bedouin tent-style roofing, was rebuilt in 2006 when Leinster moved to the RDS Arena. The South Stand, as seen from the 1927 Anglesea Stand, is for fans who like a bit of fresh air with their evening rugby.

“Gron Leinster, gron,” growls the old man behind me. And he gets his way as continued pressure leads to a penalty try in the corner of the pitch farthest from me. Luckily the big screen keeps rolling during the game (unlike at football matches) so all is good on the viewing front. Super Jonny adds another try to ensure the Guinness goes down well at half-time.

I like the RDS Arena. The oval grassy area, used for equestrian events, provides a nice open feel at the rear of the Angelsea Stand that not even the best newly built stadiums can match. The openess creates a relaxed atmosphere as fans mill around the food and drink stands, situated on the walkways along the edge of the equestrian area, eating, drinking and discussing the game. A lot of them are still there when Van der Flier adds more points to the Leinster total a few minutes into the second half.

The old guy is still growling “Gron Leinster, gron,” when I get back inside the stadium. But his magic has deserted him and Ospreys grab a try and super Jonny gets a yellow card as Leinster lose focus. The Swansea-based side hit two more late tries which just intensifies his growling, although it does make the last few minutes of the match moderately more exciting if the higher pitch of his “grons” are anything to go by.

Ticket: Anglesea terrace €22 (including the €2 Ticketmaster fee).
Drink: Smithwick’s red ale (€5.10 a pint) in Crowes pub on Merrion Road and a Guinness (€5.40 a pint) in the ground.
Getting there: DART to either Lansdowne Road or Sandymount.
Score: Leinster 31 Ospreys 19.

A team of Robbie Keanes

Football (Soccer)
Ireland v Oman (International friendly)
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
31 August 2016 (7.45pm)

“We all dream of a team of Robbie Keanes, a team of Robbie Keanes…”

The roughly sung tune of the Yellow Submarine reverberates around the carriage as the DART heads towards Connolly Station in the centre of Dublin.

Keane has just played his last game for Ireland, ending a career of 18 years and 146 caps, and spanning four World Cup and five Euro Championship campaigns. It’s fair to say he is one of the country’s greatest footballers, although I note that in Ray Houghton’s All Time Ireland XI in the programme, the striker that the boys in my train carriage are eulogising, doesn’t make the team at all, let alone all of it. John Aldridge and Niall Quinn get the nod ahead of him upfront. I admire the integrity of the editor; I’d have been tempted to squeeze him in as a sub on this day. But who cares about Ray Houghton’s opinion right now because tonight everyone thinks Robbie is the golden boy.

It was a weird football match. It was most certainly a, “I was there” occasion. At least until the 56th minute when Keane was substituted amid much hugging and cheering. After that it became, “I wish I wasn’t there” when, with Ray Houghton’s Ignored One no longer there to entertain us, the sheer awfulness of the opposition became clear for all to see.

Oman. Apart from the keeper Ali Al Habsi, who made his name with some very athletic displays for Wigan in the Premier League (he’s now with Reading), I defy you to name a player from that nation. And apart from mentioning the Middle East (the three boys in row H, who have just finished a geography exam, were the only ones in the stadium who could actually pinpoint exactly where) I defy you to name a single fact about the country itself.

Well, I’ll give you one. They are awful at football at this level. Quite why anyone in the Irish FA thought this would be a good warm-up for Monday’s European Championship qualifier against Serbia is anyone’s guess. Quite why anyone thought this was a good warm-up for anything is anyone’s guess. But there is more. Ireland played Oman in a friendly two years ago. As they say, fool me once…

The three guys in front of me leave in the 70th minute after a particularly dire patch and a steady stream of people follow them so that Keane’s farewell speech, along with obligatory child chewing the microphone, is seen by a good few thousand less than came in through the turnstiles at the start.

On the way to the game I get off the train at Grand Canal Dock, one stop before Lansdowne Road, not only because there are a couple of pubs I want to try en route but also because it’s next to Google’s operation in Ireland. It’s only a day after the European Commission has declared that Apple, another multinational operating in Ireland, must pay back-taxes of €13 billion to the Irish government (just think what you could do with that!) because European state aid rules have been broken. I’m expecting to see some action. But there are no helicopters circling for the next multinational prey, and there are no lorries delivering huge quantities of shredders. It’s all rather disappointing. I had discovered the company’s location using Google Maps and my iPhone, the great corporate warrior that I am.

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The national anthems are always a stirring moment. Especially when a sponsor unveils a giant shirt. The game was quite exciting (honest) but it sort of lost its purpose for a lot of fans once Robbie Keane was substituted. We can see you sneaking out…

Although Oman are awful to the point of being little more than training cones for the Irish players to run around, they do have one redeeming ‘quality’ right from the start: Robbie Keane will be able to score against them and add to his tally of 67 goals, therefore joining the great Gerd Müller as the leading international scorer in football history.

Robbie Brady scores a cracker of a free-kick in the 13th minute but no one in the stadium wants anything else but a Robbie Keane goal. Except perhaps manager Martin O’Neill, and he is probably willing it as well so he can substitute him and get on with his preparations for Monday.

Keane has his chances and the “oohs” and “ahhs” hum round the Aviva Stadium each time he gets so much as a sniff. The guy next to me turns and raises his eyebrows as if to acknowledge that this is the only reason we are here on this unusually warm evening in Dublin. On more than a one occasion an Irish player who is in a better position in front of goal gets out of the way or passes to Keane. It’s starting to resemble playground football where you want your best friend to score.

But, to much relief, he does score. And, what a goal. It has echoes of Pele’s first goal against Sweden in the 1958 World Cup Final. I tried copying it often enough in my garden when I was growing up. The ball lands at your feet, a bit too close to your body for comfort, but you flick it over the defender’s head making him look like a mug. But before he has realised what has happened you shimmy around him and slot the ball in on the half volley. A goal worthy of number 68 Mr Keane.

So that’s it. Robbie Keane is now up there with Gerd Müller with the most goals scored for his country. Although I should point out that Müller (whose goals I also tried to recreate in my garden) got his 68 goals in just 62 appearances for West Germany and there was no opposition like Gibraltar and Andorra to get easy goals against in those days. And certainly no friendlies against Oman.

But who cares. Tonight, in one Dublin train carriage at least, we are all dreaming of a team of Robbie Keanes. Whatever Ray Houghton thinks.

Ticket: seat high up on the halfway line (€22, which includes €2 service fee with Ticketmaster).
Beer: Five Lamps, a craft beer from Dublin in Slattery’s (€6 for a pint). Guinness in the stadium (€5.50 for a pint).
Food: a large hot dog in the stadium (€5.50).
Getting there: the DART runs to Grand Canal Dock and Lansdowne Road.
Score: Ireland 4 Oman 0.


Sunsets. Ah, that’s why all these multinationals move to Dublin.

A touch of glass

Merrion CC v Waringstown CC (National Senior Cup Final)
Clontarf Cricket Club, Dublin
27 August 2016 (11.30am)

Clontarf is nice place. Just a short trip outside of Dublin city centre, it has a decent sprinkling of clothing shops, smart restaurants, coffee shops and one of my favourite pubs, the Yacht. But because it’s next to the sea it’s a magnet, as all places with water are, for joggers, cyclists and people walking their dogs. All in all Clontarf has got a genteel, relaxed feel to it. It’s the ideal choice to host cricket’s National Senior Cup Final. Especially as I live here.

Cobus Piennar is bowling for Waringstown. Now there’s a South African name if ever there was one. He’s pretty good, as you’d expect from someone who’s played a number of game’s of provincial cricket in his home country. The only other guy in the bar is also a South African. He’s just emigrated with his family to Ireland from Johannesburg. Having lived there myself for many years we swap stories of how expensive the beer is, how small the steaks are in the restaurants and wonder how anyone can call this summer and keep a straight face. It’s sunny outside but someone seems to have turned the heat off and all it’s doing is shining light on the handful spectators who are sitting on the park benches around the edge of the outfield. A sun with no heat.

The Clontarf clubhouse has been designed well, with large windows providing great views of the game, so I perch myself at a table and check out the scorecard between balls. There are a few Ireland national team players on show. John Anderson, who was in the team for the recent Pakistan one-dayers at Malahide, is batting for Merrion and building his innings nicely. He was born in Durban. I wonder if he still moans about the beer prices and dreams of a proper steak in the Bull Run in Sandton.


Avant garde shelters and lights. No wonder hordes of walkers and joggers flock to Clontarf.

The newly emigrated Saffer is watching Liverpool on the TV. Another group settle in to watch the football too. Sharper accents cut through the air; they are down to support Waringstown, the team from the north. Well, at least when the Liverpool game is over.

John Anderson gets his fifty. Liverpool are one up. I get a Guinness.

This is a nice club. The barman gives me a run down of the opening times, and I make a (vague) mental note. Open on weekends from lunchtime and every weekday at five expect Tuesdays and Thursdays when it’s seven, he tell me. Or was it the other way around? Either way, he’s a jolly chap and I like him. He tells me a few South Africans get in here. “I’ve noticed,” I tell him.

Anderson is approaching his century and Merrion’s run rate is building momentum. The size of the crowd is also building and with the sun continuing to fool them most are outside. The downside of this is that the people pretending to enjoy the sun start to lean against the windows and block the perfect view from inside. Maybe they think those of us with our noses pressed to the window on the clubhouse side of the glass are inspecting the work of the window cleaners. But as this is cricket it is all very polite and nobody raps on the window. Instead, those of inside just bob from left to right and up and down to follow the action. Then ask each other what happened.

The Waringstown innings seems to rattle by, a time warp that that coincides with a load of rugby fans filling up the bar when the club’s game ends. The change in atmosphere seems to speed the rest of the afternoon up, although only a handful of the new crowd seem to take even a passing interest in the cricket final.

The Northern Irish team, based just 23 miles from Belfast, have won the National Senior Cup four times times, including last year, when they beat Merrion. But in this year’s re-run they lose wickets at steady intervals. There is a sense of it slipping away from them when national team member Greg Thompson’s wicket falls and the celebration of the Merrion players shows just how important it is.

Despite a few late big hits it’s soon all over and the Merrion skipper Dom Joyce (ex-Irish international and brother of Ed, who has represented both Ireland and England) is giving his victory speech with a (his I assume) baby in his arms. I just know he’ll celebrate with a beer and a steak.

Ticket: general ground admission (€6).
Drink: Guinness in the clubhouse (€4.60 a pint).
Food: Marathon chocolate bar (€1.20).
Getting there: Buses 29a, 31, 31a, 31b, 32 and 130 run from the city centre to Clontarf. The nearest DART station is Killester Station.
Score: Merrion (252-9) beat Warringstown (196) by 51 runs.


Clontarf Cricket Club. A beautiful green outfield, park benches by the boundary rope and even a hint of sun.

Football? Which paint colour?

Football (Soccer)
Dundalk v Legia Warsaw
Champions League Qualifier (first leg)
Aviva Stadium, Dublin
17 August 2016

The landlord in the Ha’penny Bridge Inn doesn’t like football (or soccer as he calls it). According to him he’s never watched it.

“It’s like watching paint dry.”

Of course, I want to ask him how he knows it’s like watching paint dry if he’s never watched it but I suspect he might throw his hot soup over me. Anyway, when I was a painter and decorator I used to enjoy watching paint dry because it meant I could get the next coat on quicker.

I stare at my Guinness. Eventually he lifts his head and asks, “Is it a big game then?”

“Probably one of the biggest ever for an Irish club,” I tell him. “After all, it’s not every day they move a Dundalk game to Lansdowne Road. They’re expecting over 20,000.”

He says he didn’t even know the game was on. And why should he? He’s got a nice pub right by the river at the entrance to Temple Bar. What’s another 20,000 people when you can fill your pub up with the flow of tourists the city normally gets anyway?

I head off to Temple Bar pub. If I’m going to be ripped off for my beer I might as well do it where they at least pretend to know the difference between football and paint. Anyway, if there’s one thing a football match deserves, it’s a couple of pre-match pints. Even if kick-off is seven hours away.

Dundalk start well. I’m impressed. They knock it about with composure as if they are made for this Champions League stuff. No Irish team has ever made the group stages of Europe’s big money competition and I must admit I don’t fancy their chances against Legia Warsaw, the seasoned Polish team ranked 182 places above them. But they start with confidence, as they should, having impressively knocked out the Belarusian’s BATE Borisov – ranked 200 places above them – in the previous round.

The rain is persistent and I’m wet through. People are still finding their seats 20 minutes into the first half. Crowds like this (it is 30,000 apparently) don’t happen to League of Ireland sides too often and it’s clearly confused the timekeeping of most spectators.

I suspect a lot of them are still in the Sandymount Hotel, an ideal watering hole near the ground. They serve the beer in plastic glasses mind.

Plastic glasses and rain. Add in the pointless, waste-of-time body searches en route to the ground (flares were later let off inside), the small group of young lads in ill-fitting jeans, who are so twitchy from the Bolivian marching powder that a strong coffee would bring them down, and the faint whiff of weed in the air and it’s fair to conclude that this is a proper football match. Watching paint dry indeed.

From what I saw there was no boredom among the large crowd. The only problem was that none of us football tourists knew any of the Dundalk songs, so apart from the odd “come on Dundalk”, there was not much noise coming from the stands. The hardcore Lilywhite fans (in a reversal of national colours Dundalk were in white and Legia Warsaw in green) in the lower South Stand were doing there best but it was the Polish fans crammed together in the opposite end of the ground who were having the party. Flares were left off (I mentioned the pointless searches, right?), giant flags were let loose, and shirts were taken off en masse and helicoptered around heads.

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A naming rights deal means the 51,700 all-seater stadium will be called the Aviva Stadium at least until 2019. Away fans do love to cluster together, even when given the worst part of the stadium for viewing. Giant flags ensure no-one can see anyway.

All the time they sang more songs the rest of us didn’t know, although the tunes were at least recognisable, such is the global nature of football chants. My favourite Polish song that I didn’t know was chanted to the tune Seven Nation Army (originally by White Stripes) because I could easily insert their team name into my head thanks to it having the perfect number of syllables for the riff: “Oh Leg-i-a War-saw, oh Leg-i-a War-saw”…

Sadly Dundalk concede a penalty to a harsh decision in the 56th minute, but apart from a few minutes of chaos in the defence following this they continue to look pretty composed. Unfortunately they rarely look like offering a threat themselves, and this gets worse as the game goes on with the impressive Daryl Horgan starting to get sucked deeper in search of the ball. I’m surprised the number seven is not playing in England, and even involved in the national set-up.

But, as an excellent piece in the programme by Dundalk fan Kenneth Sloane points out, it’s been a long time since a League of Ireland player has played for Ireland. In fact the last one to play in a competitive fixture was Pat Byrne when he was with Shamrock Rovers, although Glen Crowe made two appearances in friendlies in 2002 and 2003. Current Dundalk ‘keeper Gary Rogers has recently been involved in manager Martin O’Neill’s squad as back-up.

Sloane’s piece also  expresses a hope that Dundalk’s performance will impress people enough that they will want to watch more League of Ireland matches. Well, despite them conceding another goal late on the answer is yes it does.

Ticket: seat in the corner pretty high up (€17, which included €2 service fee from Ticketmaster).
Drink: Guinness in the Sandymount Hotel (€5 a pint).
Getting there: DART to Lansdowne Road.
Score: Dundalk 0, Legia Warsaw 2


The Aviva Stadium looking from Beatty’s Avenue across the River Dodder. It might be called an avenue but it’s no more than towpath, not ideal as those with red route tickets scuttle one way as others with purple route tickets squeeze the other, all wishing they had left the pub earlier. No, we’ll never listen.