30 April 2007

Was there a game on Friday night?

Work commitments prevented me from making the trip North for the 0-0 draw against Derry City on Friday night, so unfortunately I won't be able to bring you my usual report this week. Rather than take a week off though, I'd like to use this opportunity to talk about something that has long troubled me about the game here in Ireland - coverage of the League by the media.

There's an old saying that "the newspaper never refuses ink". That is, it seems, unless it involves the League of Ireland. To put it bluntly, coverage of Irish soccer - particularly by the print media - is nothing short of abysmal.

Quite often I'll flick through the sports sections of Ireland's main newspapers on a Saturday morning and wonder whether League games had actually even taken place the previous night.
Even when the games are covered, the quality is often dubious and appears to have been included in the sports section as something of a token gesture. More often than not, papers seem to choose not to send a reporter to games and simply offer up a re-hash of someone else's report. Not surprisingly therefore, mistakes are also common. One of the more ridiculous I have spotted came after Bohs knocked Bray Wanderers out the League Cup last month. The Irish Daily Mail claimed the following day that the win had "moved Bohs up to third in the table". Perhaps with mistakes this big its just as well that they tuck their coverage so deep into the paper!

I was pretty disappointed to miss the game against Derry (only the second game I have missed all season) and I spent the night desperately checking the internet and teletext to find out what was happening at the Brandywell. Through these two sources I was able to find out that the game had finished scoreless, however, I was eager to find out how the game had gone and how Bohs had played on the night. Even the message boards, which are normally full of opinion after the game, were of no real use to me as most of the regular posters were at the game. The fact that they would not be back in Dublin until the early hours meant that I would have to wait until the next morning to read about the game in the sports pages.

On Saturday, virtually all of the major papers carried the score, however, (as usual) very few offered any real insight into how the game had actually panned out. As they so often do, the likes of the Daily Star and the Daily Mail attempted to cram the entire night's action from across the League into two pages, while the Irish Independent couldn't even muster up more than 50 words on Derry versus Bohs.

The newspapers themselves would no doubt tell me that League of Ireland coverage just wouldn't sell newspapers and, working in the journalism game myself, that argument is something I can undoubtedly appreciate. However, what I do find extremely disappointing is to see just how far down the news agenda the League of Ireland sits. Even more so, when you consider the huge number of column inches given over to the Irish national team and the exploits of Irish players over in Scotland and England.

The only paper to offer any decent coverage of the game was the Irish Mirror. (Not surprising perhaps, seeing as it is one of the league's main sponsors.) Somewhat predictably though, the report was stuck six pages in from the back, behind numerous musings on the goings-on in the English Premiership.

Shunting the League well through the paper is something that the Irish papers seem to be good a though and most days it is a hunt to find even the smallest snippets of Eircom League news.
The lack of media interest in the Irish game is almost as baffling as the lack of support it receives from its own people. Then again, I suppose it all goes hand in hand. Perhaps its just something I'll have to get used to as a League of Ireland fan.

A few weeks back I bumped into a sports reporter with one of the bigger newspapers here so I decided to put the question to him… "why does the local league get so little coverage?". The answer, he said, came down to two things: lack of demand from readers and the poor standard of the League.

As I said earlier, the first point I can accept. As for the second, well, I'll leave you with my reply to said reporter.

At least the quality of football on offer on a Friday night is a damn sight better than the standard of coverage it receives in your paper on a Saturday morning.

Next up is UCD at home on Friday night. Come on Bohs!

22 April 2007

Bohemians 1-1 Galway Utd

It was about this stage last season that my interest in Bohs began to wane. Much like this season, I had set out at the start of the campaign with the aim of getting to as many games as I could. It didn't quite work out though and between April and the end of the season I only made it along to Dalymount about three or four times.

The type of football being played under Gareth Farrelly was enough to make even the most die hard Bohs fan consider whether to keep going to games, so it is perhaps no surprise that a newcomer such as myself chose to stay away.

What a difference a year makes though. These days, Friday night's really can't come round quick enough. The first few weeks of April had been a good time to be a Bohs fan. On the pitch it had began to look like the players in red and black actually knew what they were supposed to be doing - something I'd seen very little evidence of during the Farrelly era - while off it, the new management were also starting to show signs that they were capable of turning the club's fortune around. On the terraces, meanwhile, there also appeared to be a bit of confidence and excitement creeping in.

Bohemians went into the game against Galway last Friday on a good run of form. Three league wins in a row, followed by a decent draw away to league leaders St Pat's, had moved Bohs within five points of the top.

Week-by-week the performances had also been gradually improving, culminating in the hugely impressive showing against St Pat's.

The feeling I had walking in to the ground for the game against Galway United last week was therefore something pretty new to me as a Bohs fan. For probably the first ever time, I arrived at Dalymount not just hoping for a win, but expecting a win.

Had this been last season I would probably have chose to spend the warm sunny evening on the golf course or, even more likely, in a beer garden somewhere. Not these days though. Friday night means Eircom League of Ireland. Friday night means Bohemians. Regular readers of the blog will perhaps be surprised at how quickly I've become attached to Bohs. In fact, if I'm being totally honest, it has surprised even me. A win puts me on cloud nine, a loss means a kick for the dog and a long weekend for the missus.

Having enjoyed the atmosphere in the Jodi Stand during the last home League game, I decided to head back there on Friday night. I headed down to the ground a little earlier this week so I was able to get a better seat. Sections F & G seem to be where all the noise comes from so I grabbed a seat in the middle of those.

One of the most notable things when you walk into Dalymount is the number of flags that are put up around the ground. Dalymount, like many of the old grounds in the lower leagues in Scotland, has one stand which is closed off. Rather than leave this as an empty grey reminder of the days when the Irish public actually took an interest in their own teams the club allow fans to hang their banners and flags on the rusted crush barriers. Not only does this add a splash of colour to the ground, but, in a way, it also adds to the atmosphere. Before the game on Friday a group of young fans also stood on the touchline waving huge black and red flags (see pic above). For a moment it felt as though I was in the San Siro, however, the smell of greasy chips from the burger van and the shocking start made by Bohs soon brought me back to reality.

Bohs saw alot of the ball in the opening stages but were unable to create any real clear cut chances. Long shots from John Paul Kelly and Chris Kingsberry were about as much as they could muster. Just as I had turned up simply expecting a victory, it seemed as though the players had too. However, they were made to pay for their sluggish start just before the half hour mark when Galway won a soft free-kick on the edge of the Bohs 18-yard box. It was their first sight of the Bohs goal, but they certainly made it count, with Alan Murphy drilling the ball under the wall and into the net. My initial hope was that this would serve as a wake up call to Bohs, however, the away side looked more like adding a second than Bohs did of equalising.

After the break things got little better and Bohs were looking more like the team from last season than the one that had outmatched the league leaders the previous week. Simple passes were going astray and there seemed to be a real lack of urgency about Bohs' play. Just as it seemed that the game was slipping away though, Bohs grabbed an equaliser. A cross came in from the left and Owen Heary somehow managed to loop the ball home. Relief more than anything seemed to be the general feeling of the fans around me.

Bohs huffed and puffed in the remaining minutes and had a strong claim for a penalty waved away, however, the game was to end even. Just as I had done last week, I spent the journey home trying to decide whether it had been a case of two points dropped or one gained.

After the game I read someone describe Bohs season so far as Jekyll and Hyde. After Friday night's performance I would be inclined to agree with that assessment. If Bohs are to challenge for honours this season then these are undoubtedly the kind of games that we should be winning. That said though, had this been Gareth Farrelly's side of last season I'm all but convinced that Bohs would have lost this game.

The draw means that Bohs are now unbeaten in the league in five games, however, it also puts a little more pressure on the team to get all three away to Derry City on Friday night.

To see the goals and hear the post-match thoughts of Owen Heary and Sean Connor, click here.

18 April 2007

Bohs beat Bray to set up another Dublin derby

When it was announced pre-season that Shelbourne were to play their football in the First Division this year I think I was probably one of the only Bohs fans that was actually disappointed. Although I'd been to quite a few games at Dalymount in the previous two seasons, I had never managed to make it along to a meeting of Bohs v Shels. I'd heard and read alot about the rivalry and I was dying to experience it for myself. However, with Shels in a state of major transition and looking like they won't be back in the top flight for quite some time, it seemed certain that I'd have to wait quite a while for that dream to come true.

I was therefore delighted a few weeks back when I saw the draw for the second round of the Eircom League Cup. If Bohs were able to see off Bray Wanderers at home in the first round they would then play Shelbourne at Tolka Park.

If that wasn't incentive enough for Bohs against Bray on Tuesday night, then the opportunity to get revenge for the 1-0 League defeat earlier in the season surely would be.

Since that defeat in the middle of March (arguably the only blot on Bohs' season so far), Bohs had taken 10 points from a possible 12 and had started to show signs of real improvement.

I found it interesting to read before the game that Bohs were likely to make several changes for the game. Back in Scotland the League Cup is very much treated as a lower priority by the bigger teams and it was clear that this was also the case here in Ireland. I found this strange as I thought Bohs, who have not won a trophy in several years, would see the League Cup as a great opportunity to win some silverware. I have to admit as a Celtic fan that I have usually been quite dismissive of the League Cup myself over the years. It's always nice to win it, but I've always thought that it was only an important competition if you had no chance of winning anything else. Chances are, if I was back home and Celtic had been playing a lesser team in the CIS Cup on Tuesday night, I wouldn't have bothered going either.

Not for one minute did I even contemplate missing Bohs v Bray though. Even if it was just the League Cup, it sure sounded better than being made to watch Eastenders or a documentary about doing up your house for 20 quid!

When I first started going to Celtic matches, it was usually the likes of League Cup games that my Dad would take me to. The main reason for this was that it was easy to get tickets. Such games were very rarely covered by season books, meaning that many fans chose to stay away rather than fork out even more money. When I walked into Dalymount Park on Tuesday it seemed as though it was exactly the same here. Normally its a struggle to find a seat in the F&G sections of the Jodi, but tonight I was met by an almost empty stand. By this point, the match had already started, and with Bohs on the attack, I grabbed a seat near the front and turned to watch the action.

Connor had indeed rung the changes - six in total. I was happy to see that Darren Mansaram had been given a start as he had performed well as a substitute in the previous few games. Meanwhile, on the bench was Harpal Singh, a player who I'd liked the look of during pre-season. Indeed, I'd known of the former Leeds United winger for a number years as he had been played a key role in my Leeds United side that had won the European Cup and back-to-back Premiership's in Championship Manager 4!

I'll not do too much of a report on the game here as there is already a fine article on the match at Irish Football Online. Bohs started the game well though and, despite the changes, were really taking the game to Bray. Mansaram and Kingsberry both went close early on, while Neil Fenn was showing some excellent touches in attack. Bohs took a deserved lead in the 29th minute when Mansaram finished well from 8 yards. Just 13 minutes later and it was two nil. Kingsberry tricked his way into the box and the ball broke again to Mansaram who turned and rattled the ball home with aplomb. I'd barely sat back down and it was three. A long ball over the top allowed the pacey Kingsberry to run straight through on goal and he confident stroked the ball past the Bray keeper. It was a goal Kingsberry's performance deserved and the 3-0 scoreline at half-time didn't flatter Bohs in the slightest.

The atmosphere, as you can imagine, was fairly flat. However, on a few occasions the fans in the back corner of the Jodi did do their best to rouse the natives with chants of "the Boh-s" and "Black Army, Red Army". At half-time i went in search of the toilet and stumbled into what I quickly realised was the members bar. I'd read a fair bit about this place on the message board, so it was good to see what it actually looked like. I only had a quick look around but some of the framed pictures and shirts on the walls were pretty cool. There was one in particular which stood out, a painting of captain Kevin Hunt lifting what I assumed to be the league trophy. It made we wonder whether I'd ever get to see such a sight in person. Who knows, maybe in November!

The second half was a fairly low-key affair, although both sides continued to make chances. Rather than lie down, Bray looked to attack and bar for some good saves from young Lee Boyle in the Bohs goal, they could have pulled at least one back. Bohs themselves could, and probably should, have added to their tally too. Substitute Singh should have had at least two himself.
The hard work had been done in the first period though and Bohs were coasting into the second round. Bray grabbed a consolation in stoppage time, but it was a case of too little too late.

On my way back to the car I started to look forward to the Shelbourne game and my first trip to Tolka Park on the 8th of May. I'm pretty sure the Bohs fans will be back out in force for that one. Games against your biggest rivals are one of the things that football fans look forward to most. A season without at least one game against Shels just wouldn't have been right.
Next up on Friday night is a home game against bottom-of-the-table Galway United in the Eircom League. A chance for Bohs to move up the table and, who knows, maybe a step closer to Kevin Hunt lifting a trophy at the end of the season. A man can dream!
For highlights from the game against Bray go here... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfodhBJxlFM

14 April 2007

St Patrick's Athletic 0 - 0 Bohemians

So often since I started following Bohs, the walk home from Dalymount after a game has been a depressing one. However, after the win against Sligo the previous Friday - Bohs third victory on the trot - I very nearly skipped all the way up the Navan Road! That good feeling had lasted for most of the week too and the next game with unbeaten league leaders St Patrick's Athletic couldn't come quick enough.

Those three wins in eight days had moved Bohs to within five points of the top and offered a little more hope that we may yet challenge for honours this season. The game against St Pat's would certainly test those notions further .

Despite my best intentions, I'd yet to see Pat's in action this season, however, from what I had heard and read about them, they were playing some great stuff and their results spoke for themselves. Between the Setanta Cup and the Eircom League, Pat's had won nine, drew one and lost none. They had also rattled in an impressive 24 goals along the way and conceded just two.

The trip was undoubtedly a daunting one, but nevertheless I still set off for Richmond Park full of optimism. This was to be my second Dublin derby in as many weeks and I was interested to see how the atmosphere and rivalry compared to that from the Shamrock Rovers game.

With the game being in Dublin I had originally planned to take the car, however, I got the feeling from reading a few posts on the Bohs message board that the stadium wasn't in the best of areas and maybe I'd be better leaving it at home . I decided to take the Luas instead. I'd found out from the St Pat's website that it stopped around ten minutes walk from the stadium. I have to say though, the directions to the stadium given on the site were fairly poor. Although it detailed what public transport stopped close by, there was no map or any information about how to get to the ground once I got off. At a time when clubs are desperately trying to attract new faces to the League, it is surely vital that simple information such as this is updated.

Luckily when I got off at Inchicore I spotted a man wearing a St Pat's scarf so I was able to follow him to the ground. Once i started walking I was quite glad I had left the car at home as the surrounding area did indeed look pretty rough and there were a few faces milling about that looked like they would have loved to get their hands on my hub-caps and, more importantly, that Lionel Ritchie CD in my glove box!

Over the years I've been to quite a few grounds around the UK. Some of them have been old, many of them have been new, but Richmond Park is certainly the most unique.

From the outside you really wouldn't think there was a stadium there at all (see pic left). Usually you can follow the floodlights to find a ground, but at Pat's even these are hidden by a row of old houses, which you have to walk between to get in. I'd read beforehand that the tickets at Richmond Park were more expensive than the E15 charged at most other Eircom League grounds, however, when i got there though I was happy to find that the entrance fee was only E15 and that this also included a programme. For someone who always buys a programme this was great value.

Once inside the culture shock continued. Richmond Park is made up of one fairly new, but small main stand (see pic below), while an old uncovered stretch of terracing runs the length of the pitch on the opposite side. Behind one of the goals there is an old metal shed, which has now been closed off, while at the other spectators are forced to stand quite far back at the top of a grass mound.
The main stand was already full when I got there so I was told to make my way round to the opposite side where an impressive number of Bohs fans were located. It wasn't until I got round to that side that I realised just how run down the stadium is. To get into the stand fans have to make their way through a gap of merely a few feet due to a river which runs directly behind. The terrace itself runs right to the edge of the pitch which means that you are right on top of the players. I was pretty sure this would make for an excellent atmosphere and it didn't take long for me to be proved correct.

Before the game there was a rapturous minutes applause for a fan of St Pat's who had died the previous week. It was probably at this point that I was able to see how different this Dublin derby was to the one against Shamrock Rovers. The applause from both sets of fans was impeccable and quite moving. Mid-way through the Bohs fans located in the main stand unfurled a large banner with the initials of the fan written on it. It really was a nice touch and reflected very well on both sets of fans. I couldn't help wondering though how this would have went down at a Bohs versus Rovers derby.

The feeling around the ground seemed to be one of huge excitement and the noise being created by the Bohs fans in the main stand was very impressive. I really wished that I had got their earlier and was in the middle of it though. The atmosphere from the stands seemed to carry on to the pitch too and the game started in a frantic fashion. Bohs, in their new white away kit, began impressively. For much of the first half they dominated possession and pressed Pat's back into their own half. Clear cut chances were few and far between, but Kevin Hunt really should have given Bohs the lead midway through the first half. The ball broke to the in-rushing Hunt on the edge of the box but he blazed over when he really should have at least hit the target. Pat's went close with a header at the other end before Bohs Glen Crowe struck a post with a sweet turn and shot on the stroke of half-time.

The second half saw much of the same. From what I was able to see (due to dodging bottles and coins being thrown) Bohs continued to create the better chances and bar from some good goalkeeping would have taken all three points. Dessie Byrne and Glen Crowe both went close midway through the half, while the hugely impressive Neil Fenn almost nicked it it at the end. It wasn't to be though and the game ended goalless.

Walking out it was hard to decide whether it was a point gained or two points dropped. Beforehand I would probably have taken the point, but on the journey home I couldn't help but feel Bohs had deserved all three. I guess we'll only know the answer to that in November, however, Bohs had yet again shown a clear improvement and offered further hope that a successful season lies ahead. The game itself had been as good a scoreless draw as you could hope to see and was arguably the best performance I have seen Bohs deliver during my time in Ireland.

During the season I expect to experience several League of Ireland firsts as I make my way around the games. I certainly had one on Friday night... I now hate my first Eircom League referee. Step forward Mr Ian Stokes! He made some terrible decisions during the night and going by the grumbles from the Bohs faithful, this wasn't the first time either.

Although this Dublin derby had been void of much of the tension of the Shamrock Rovers match, the atmosphere create during the entire 90-minutes was excellent. The noise coming from the Bohs fans located in the main stand was especially impressive and I'm determined to get in there when Bohs return to Richmond Park later in the season.

Next up in the League for Bohs is what should be a home banker against Galway United on Friday night. A win in that one and it will be 13 points from the last 15 for Bohs!

Before that though comes Tuesday night's League cup tie with Bray Wanderers at Dalymount and a chance to get revenge for last month's 1-0 league defeat.

For highlights of the game and post match interviews head over to... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dD3cpvIe5Jo

6 April 2007

Bohs win again as I sample the Jodi atmosphere

For the game against Sligo Rovers on Friday night i decided to head into the Jodi stand and closer to where all the singing and atmosphere had came from in the Shamrock Rovers game.

I had sat in this stand for a few games in the past, however I'd always tended to sit near the middle. I was hoping to get a different perspective on the game and see how the hardcore support acted during the 90-minutes. I'd also heard that this was where most of the "schooligans" stood during the games and, I have to admit, i was intrigued to get a closer look at what they were like (not too close though!).

Following the Shamrock Rovers game the previous Tuesday, I'd been looking forward to this game all week. Although the performance in that game had been pretty ordinary, it seemed to have given everyone connected to the club a huge lift and raised hopes that a successful season lay ahead.

I got to the ground around ten minutes before kick-off and was surprised to find that there was a large snaking queue outside the turnstiles. I don't think I'd ever had to stand in line to get into Dalymount before. Perhaps the closure of all the pubs for Good Friday had enticed the folks of Dublin out for the evening. There also seemed to be a good few fans through from Sligo though so hopefully we were in for another great atmosphere.

Once inside the ground i had arranged to meet up with another Bohs fan who i had got speaking to during the Rovers match. He had arrived a little earlier than me and grabbed a couple of seats in Block F, so i sat down next to him turned to watch the game, which was already two or three minutes old.

I had been to see one of the encounters between the two sides last season in which a disappointing Bohs were well-beaten by two goals to nil. Hopefully, it would be a different story tonight.

Bohs started the game well and it was clear that the positivity from Tuesday night had also spread to the players. Glen Crowe almost put us into an early lead midway through the first half, but his dipping shot from the outside of his foot came back off the bar. I missed Glen Crowe's first two spells at Bohemians, in which he'd became something of a Dalymount legend, however he has certainly caught my eye so far this season.

One other player i have enjoyed watching since i started going to Bohs is John Paul Kelly. At times he has underperformed, however, on his day, "Joxer", as he is known to the fans, is the type of player that can turn a game on its head and keeps you coming back every week. At a time when so many of Ireland's young stars are attracted to the bright lights and pound signs of British football, Kelly is the kind of player that Bohemians, and indeed the League of Ireland, would do well to keep a hold of.

It was the ex-Liverpool youth academy player who grabbed the first, and ultimately only, goal of the game shortly before half-time. Young Chris Kingsbury sent in a driven cross from the right and the in-rushing Kelly nodded home with aplomb from 8 yards. It was no less than Bohs deserved.

One of the things I enjoy most about the games at Dalymount is what goes on during the interval. With a tombola-style half-time draw and small games involving young kids from the local area, Bohemians presents itself as a friendly and community based club. Each week there is also an older man who runs onto the pitch and takes penalties into the goals in-front of the Des Kelly stand. A conversion is always met with a roar of approval from the home fans and some outlandish celebrations from the man himself.

The football in the second half ultimately produced no further goals, but it was still an entertaining and enjoyable affair. Sligo tested with a few long shots at one end, while Bohs striker Neil Fenn will have had nightmares about his open goal header from just a few feet out which came back off the post. The final whistle was met with a mixture of relief and contentment by the Dalymount faithful. Again, it had been far from a vintage performance, but the three points were in the bag and there had again been signs of improvement.

One disappointing thing about the game was the lack of audible singing from the away support which had been tucked away in the opposite corner of the Jodi Stand. I could see by looking over in their direction that they were fairly animated, however, the noise from the Bohs fans at our end simply drowned it out. At the Rovers game, the away fans had been located in the Connaught Street stand on the opposite side which made for a fantastic atmosphere. One of the great things about going to games is the banter that goes on between the two sets of fans. It would also have been good to hear what kind of reception they gave to their former boss, Sean Connor, and also the few players who had followed him from Sligo to Bohemians during the winter.

Still though, I'd thoroughly enjoyed my time in the Jodi and it was great to be in amongst the singing. Some of the songs getting sung were brilliant, particularly the one about Darren Mansaram to the tune of Black Betty... "whoa black Darren Mansaram". There were a good few anti-Shamrock Rovers fans too which sounded great. Although i have to admit i couldn't quite make out many of the words! I got a laugh a few times at a chant spelling out the name Bohs. A loud, dolcid voice from the bottom of the stand bellows each letter of the name - B-O-H-S - which the rest of the fans then repeat (Apparently the guy who starts the chant is the same fan who takes the half-time penalty). This is followed by the rousing call of "THE BOH-S, THE BOH-S, THE BOH-S" from the whole stand. Every time you here the first "B" getting belted out by the lone voice you know what's coming and it really seems to keep the atmosphere going. If I had the voice I'd say this one would work a treat at Queen of the South games back home.

I'm happy to report that didn't hear or see too much from the little hooligans in the corner. It was interesting and re-assuring to read in the match programme that the club was aware of theses "fans" and that action is being taken behind the scenes. Hopefully over the coming weeks and months this element of the support can be squeezed out and the real fans can continue to enjoy supporting their club with pride. The authorities in Ireland have a big enough job on their hands trying to get new faces through the gates as it as without these kind of people driving real fans away from the games.

So, a great week to be a Bohs fan. A maximum nine points in eight days had pushed the team up to fourth in the table and the feeling amongst the fans walking out of Dalymount seemed to be one of joy and perhaps a little bit of excitement. Sean Connor has targeted a top-four finish this season and the team is looking increasingly capable of achieving that.

Next week sees Bohs travel across the city to take on top-of-the-table St Patrick's Athletic who remain unbeaten so far this season. I've been meaning to get along to Richmond Road for a while now so I'm delighted that this will finally happen on Friday.

Meanwhile, when the next home comes around in two weeks time against Galway United, I'll be heading back to the Jodi to try and learn a few more words to those anti-Rovers songs.

For highlights from the game and a post-match interview with coach Alan Caffrey...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_V287HHbwbs

4 April 2007

"Yer Hame Team is yer ain Team"

As I was walking round to the Bohemians versus Shamrock Rovers at Dalymount Park the other night, an old football saying from back home came to mind: "yer hame team is yer ain team". Just as I was walking the through the housing scheme to the back of the Des Kelly stand I bumped into a man in his mid-30's. He obviously spotted the red and black Bohemians scarf in my hand as he looked at me and shook his head in what appeared to be dismay. "You'd be better off goin' home and watching the Liverpool match on the telly," he said to me. I simply gave him a nod and ventured on.

One of the most disappointing things about the game here in Ireland is the lack of support it gets from the public. For a sport, and more importantly football, mad country the number of people who actually go along to games is nothing short of a disgrace. The number of people living in Ireland who tuned in to RTE's coverage of the Liverpool versus PSV Eindhoven game on Tuesday would no doubt have totalled several hundred thousand. The total number of people who turn up to watch the Eircom League on a Friday probably wouldn't even account for one tenth of that figure. It just doesn't add up. Take a walk through departures at Dublin airport on a Saturday morning and there are 'fans' sporting the scarves of virtually every club in the two top tiers in England. Take a look in the queue for flights to Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow and there's a good chance half those flights will be full of football fans off to support a team they have a tenuous link to at best.

Whenever I've mentioned to people at work or even friends here in Dublin that I go to Bohs games, the reaction is usually either a laugh or a look of bewilderment. "Why the feck would you want to go and watch that?" is a common response!

It's a hard question to answer using words. However, if they had been at Dalymount Park on Tuesday night I'm certain that words would not have been necessary.

Bohemians versus Shamrock Rovers is as big as they come in Irish football. To the supporters of either side, this is their Celtic versus Rangers. To them, Man Utd versus Liverpool was never in it. The rivalry between the two sets of fans is poisonous. The love between the two sets of players is non-existent. The atmosphere at games is the stuff of legend. The fact that the Bohs / Rovers league derby had been missing last season only added to this one. (Rovers were in the first division, having been relegated during the previous season.)

The game on the night was far from a classic, while the standard of football, at times, left much to be desired. To the three thousand Bohemians fans there though, it really couldn't have been much better.

Rovers started the better and took a deserved lead on 28 minutes when some weak defending from Bohs allowed striker Tadhg Purcell to head home from around 8 yards. The 1500 or so Rovers fans (see pic) to my left were delirious. They thought this was going to be their night.

The home side continued to struggle to get a hold of the game and the half time whistle was greeted by a chilling chorus of boos from the main stand.

However, half time seemed to be exactly what Bohemians and manager Sean Connor needed and the improvement in the second half was clearly evident. If anyone was starting to question the ability of Connor to handle the job, he certainly went a long way to answering them over the next 45 minutes. The introduction of winger Fergal Harkin at the break and then striker Darren Mansaram with just 25 minutes to go was ultimately what won them the game. Mansaram's presence in attack unsettled the Rovers defence, while Harkin's direct running seemed to give the whole team a much needed lift. Just when looked like the game was slipping away, Mansaram caused confusion on the edge of the box and his deflected ball through was finished coolly by the in-rushing Glen Crowe. His first goal at Dalymount since his return was greeted by an explosion of noise from the Bohs fans and the sheer relief, joy and emotion was incredible.

The draw would probably have kept the natives happy, but you just got the feeling that Bohs had finished quite yet. With just two minutes left on the clock, what had seemed unthinkable just minuted earlier became glorious reality. The ball found its way to full back Dessie Byrne on the left. having cut inside he then delivered an inch-perfect ball on to the head of defender Jason McGuinness who's looping header soared over the head of the Rovers keeper and into the net. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff and the home fans went delirious. A sea of black and red poured down the aisles and up to the barriers where they celebrated with the huddle of players. It really was a sight to behold.

Bohs managed to hold on in the remaining minutes and the victory was theirs. From the post-match celebrations you would have been forgiven for thinking that Bohs had just won the league! Then again, that probably only goes to show just how much this game means.

99% of the folks in Dublin are still probably none the wiser that the game even took place. However, for the 4,000 odd fans that were there, it was one that will live long in the memory.

Apparently Liverpool won three nil by the way.
(For highlights of the game head over to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gU3kc91OK6s or for highlights, match reaction and footage of those crazy goal celebration check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jcVwgGJukr8)

3 April 2007

30/03/07 - Bohs grab first League win in Waterford

Work commitments meant I was unable to make it down to Waterford on Friday night. I was obviously disappointed to miss my first game of the season, however, i was delighted to find out via teletext that they had picked up the three points. From what i've read and heard from those who who were at the game, I didn't miss much of a game anyway. Indeed, most reports have likened the performance to the one in Bray. Two other bits of disappointing news from the game were that Bohs captain Kevin Hunt was sent off for two yellow cards and will now miss the Shamrock Rovers game on Tuesday night, while reports on both the Bohs.com message board and on foot.ie claim that the "schooligans" were again up to no good in Waterford.

For highlights of the game and post-match interviews head over to... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2ExO5AQeB8

Meanwhile, for a full report on the game head over to... http://www.irishfootballonline.com/clubs.php?club=Bohemians&newsid=6218

17/03/07 - Reality check as Bohs go down in Bray

One of the best things about following your team is undoubtedly going to away matches. Over the years Celtic Park became something of a bore. During my last few years in Scotland I tended to favour attending away games rather than going to Celtic Park. Don't get me wrong, the big games were great and the atmosphere at Champions League and Old Firm games in Celtic Park is hard to beat. However, give me singing my heart out in the away end at Easter Road or Tannadice any day over sitting with 60,000 other fans who turn up late and expect to be four up at half time so they can be back in their cars and on the way home before the game is even over.

Before this season i had never been to an away Bohemians game. My trip to Kildare for a pre-season friendly had whetted my appetite and i was looking forward to the Bray game for days beforehand.

Having finished work at six, i took the Dart down to Bray and was happy to find that the stadium (The Carlisle Grounds) was just round the corner from the train station. I followed a few other Bohs fans up to the ground and was able to buy my ticket from a portakabin beside the main gate. Kick-off was only about 10 minutes away so i decided to head in and get a good spot. Once through the turnstiles I picked up a programme and made my way in for the start of the game.

The stadium itself was something of a blast from the past. On the far side of the pitch was a fairly new, but temporary looking stand. If i'm being honest it looked like somehting you'd see at a village fair or farm show (see the pic left). This seemed to be where the Bray fans were located so i headed to my right where a fairly large group of Bohs fans had congregated in an old uncovered concrete stand. Behind the goal to my left goal was a grass bank which seemed to have a mix of home and away fans, while the area behind the other goal was simply wasteland.

During the game I got chatting to a few other fans and i was able to ask them a few questions about the history of Bohs and the upcoming local derby with Shamrock Rovers. They were also telling me about the growing number of young 'hooligans' who had recently attached themselves to the club and who were in Bray looking to cause a bit of trouble. In all my years going to games back home this is something I had never really came across and I was somewhat unsettled and disappointed by what they were telling me. Anyone i spoke to in Bray was very friendly and helpful and the club seemed to have a real family feel to it. It seemed a shame that these kids, who it seemed had very little interest in the actual game, were intent on ruining the night for everyone. But more on that later...

By the time the game kicked off I was already feeling the cold. Someone had warned me on the Bohs message board to expect a cold night down in Bray. He wasn't wrong either and the biting wind coming off the Irish sea was certainly being felt. Hopefully a few goals from the men in red and black would warm me up though.

I only had to wait half an hour for the first goal. Unfortunately though, it was for Bray Wanderers. Poor defending from Bohs allowed striker Paul Dunphy clean in on goal and he finished well from a tight angle. (It wasn't until i read my programme at later that i discovered Dunphy had been released by Sean Connor during the close-season.)
At half-time i took a trip down to the club shop which was located in a small portakabin nears the entrance to the ground. The shop didn't have too much in it but I enjoyed having a flick through some of the old programmes on sale. I also had a chat with the guy who runs the shop and he told me that the Carlisle Grounds were used in the filming of the Bloody Sunday scene in the movie Micheal Collins. The things you learn...

Anyway, history lesson over, I headed back out to have a browse of the match programme and waited for the players to come back out.
If the first half was bad, things only got worse in the second period. Bohs continued to dominate possession, however, a combination of poor passing and swirling winds prevented them from creating anything of note. Indeed, Bohs looked like the could have played all night and still not scored. Although still far too early in the season to make an assessment of the team Connor has assembled, this performance didn't seem too far removed from those witnessed under Gareth Farrelly.

I made my way out of the ground shortly after the final whistle, and i have to admit i was more than a little wary about what the lads had told me earlier about the "schooligans" as they called them. Sure enough when i got out into the street I could see tens of young kids trying to cause trouble with a group of away fans. I simply put my head down and headed for my train back to Dublin.

All-in-all a hugely disappointing night. By the time I got back home just after midnight, any optimism i had of Bohs mounting a challenge in the league this season had all but evaporated.

To make things worse, there was now a two-week break until the next game. A reality check indeed.

09/03/07 - No goals as Bohs get 2007 campaign underway

The long winter wait was finally over and the Eircom League campaign got underway in earnest on March 9th, with Bohs facing a tricky home tie against title favourites Drogheda United. The visitors themselves had been very busy over the winter months and manager Paul Doolin has assembled an impressive squad. With the amount of money he has spent and the players at his disposal, he will be expected to lead Drogs to success on all fronts this season.

The game was shown live on RTE and everyone involved with the two clubs and the league itself would have been hoping for a classic encounter to attract more fans to the league. Such a game never materialised and the game ended goalless. Drogheda undoubtedly should have won it and Bohs displayed a little too much of the previous season's deficiencies to provide any real hope for Bohs fans that 2007 was to be a great year for the club. Still, it was only the first game and Sean Connor's new team will undoubtedly take time to gel. No cause for panic, but then no case for any real optimism either. The jury is still out!

Here is a copy of the report I did of this game for the soon to be launched extratime.ie website.

Hopefully over the course of the season I will be reporting on most of the games from Dalymount Park for extratime, so look out for links and more information on this soon.

Anyway, here's the report...

Bohemians vs Drogheda Utd

Dalymount Park

Bohemians and Drogheda United played out a disappointing scoreless draw at Dalymount Park tonight as the 2007 Eircom Premier League season got underway.

Drogheda should have grabbed all three points just after half time when Glen Fitzpatrick ran clean through on goal only to fire a weak effort straight at Bohs Keeper Brian Murphy.

The away side also had two strong penalty shouts turned down during the second period as they pressed for a winner.

Bohemians best chance came on 76 minutes when substitute Darren Mansaram narrowly failed to connect with a dipping Dessie Byrne cross from six yards.

The game marked Sean Connor's first competitive match in charge at Dalymount as he looks to bring the glory days back to the Phibsboro club. The former Sligo boss included no less than six of his summer signings in the Bohemians starting line-up, with Dean Pooley filling in for Thomas Heary in midfield after the former Huddersfield man was ruled out of the game with flu. Glenn Crowe partnered fellow new signing Neil Fenn in attack with other new recruits Brian Murphy, Liam Burns and Owen Heary also making their competitive debuts.

Meanwhile, Paul Doolin's Drogheda were looking to bounce back from last week's defeat to Linfield in the opening game of the Setanta Cup. The Boynesiders made two changes from the side that started that game, with Brian Kelly coming in for the suspended Jason Gavin and Declan O'Brien coming in for Sami Ristila in attack.

It was Drogheda who carved out the first chance of a poor first half when Cahill fired narrowly wide from 20 yards after 18 minutes. Cahill then turned provider just before the half hour mark. The former Shelbourne midfielder's free-kick from the right found the head of Shane Robinson, but his weak header was comfortably saved by Murphy.

Billed as a game between two possible title contenders, both sides struggled to get their foot on the ball in the early stages with neither goalkeeper really tested. Then, on the stroke of half time, Drogheda should have taken the lead when Shane Robinson found himself unmarked at the back post, but he screwed his effort wide from just six yards.

Just three minutes into the second half and Drogheda spurned the best chance of the game. The impressive Cahill sent Fitzpatrick clean through on goal but could only hit a weak shot straight into the hands of Murphy from 18 yards.

As the second half wore on both teams became increasingly cautious with goal-scoring opportunities at a premium. The visitors had two penalty claims turned away late on when Dessie Byrne twice went in heavy on Shane Robinson.

Bohs best chance of the half came in the dying minutes when Mansaram narrowly failed to connect with a superb flighted ball into the box from Byrne.

Drogheda themselves almost snatched all three points in the dying seconds, when O'Brien forced a fine save from Murphy with a powerful 25-yard drive.

It would have been no less than Drogheda deserved, and Bohs will undoubtedly be the happier side with the point. Likewise, on the evidence of this game, it is Drogheda who look the more likely to challenge for the title.

Both teams are back in action next Friday night, with Bohemians away to Bray Wanderers and Drogheda taking on UCD at United Park.

Bohemians: Murphy, O. Heary, Burns, McGuinness, Byrne, Kelly, Hunt, Pooley (Rice 85), Harkin (Rossiter 60), Crowe, Fenn (Mansaram 70)

Drogheda Utd: Connor, Lynch, Shelley, Webb, Gartland, S. Byrne, Robinson, Keegan, Fitzpatrick (Grant 70), Cahill, O'Brien

Referee: Ian Stokes (Dublin)

(Thanks to Dotsy from The Bohs.com forum for the picture)

03/02/07 - Banana Bohs win Kildare warm-up

My first chance to see Sean Connor's new-look Bohemians came on Saturday, 17th February. I'd read on the official site that they were playing a friendly against first division side Kildare County at Station Road in Newbridge (around an hour or so south west of Dublin).

As the name of the ground suggests, the stadium is located beside the town's railway station which has regular trains to and from Dublin. However, I decided to take the car down so that I could get back home quicker after the final whistle. I got there about 15 minutes before kick-off and was able to park inside the gates at the side of the pitch. Station Road is a fairly small stadium but I was still quite impressed. There wasn't much to it, but what was there was fairly modern and well looked after. I walked round and found a seat in the main stand amongst the other Bohs fans who had made their way down from Dublin. I'd say around 200-250 had made the trip, probably eager, like me, to see how the team was looking after a winter of much upheaval. When the teams ran out it was apparent that Sean Connor had not just made radical changed to the playing staff though, as Bohs had ditched their famous black and red shirts in favour of an incredibly bright illuminous yellow!

Several of the new signings were on show, including striker Darren Mansaram (signed from Sligo Rovers), goalkeeper Brian Murphy (signed from Waterford) and winger Chris Kingsberry (signed from Linfield). Also up front for Bohs was Glen Crowe who had moved back to the club from Shelbourne during the close season. From what I had read and heard from other Bohs fans, Crow was something of a legend in his first spell with Bohs and had scored goals for fun. Needless to say then, I was keen to see what he was like.

Bohs started the game well and wingers Chris Kingsberry and John Paul Kelly (Joxer) looked particularly lively down the flanks. I didn't have to wait long to witness my first Glen Crowe goal as he turned in a John Paul Kelly cross to put Bohs into a deserved lead. Apart from his goal though Crowe was far from impressive. He was more than able to hold the ball up for others, but his movement off the ball was virtually non-existent and he didn't look like he'd been pulling himself away from the dinner table too often over the winter months!

Despite creating several more chances in the remainder of the half, Bohs were unable to add to Crowe's opener and the teams went in at the break at 0-1. This gave me a chance to sample the Kildare County hospitality underneath the main stand. E2 euro for a small cup of soup seemed a little steep (especially to a Scotsman!) but it was enough to keep the hands warm for the start of the second half.

As is so often the case with friendlies, the second period brought a multitude of changes to either side. This allowed me to see a few more of our new signings in action though, and former Leeds United winger Harpal Singh looked particularly impressive on the left side. As the half wore on Kildare came more and more into the game and they really should have scored at least once. However, poor finishing and perhaps a lack of belief stopped them from capitalising on some lax Bohs defending. They were made to pay in the dying minutes of the game too when Singh's flighted ball into the box came off the head of a Kildare defender and into the net.

The scoreline flattered Bohs a little and Kildare would no doubt have felt aggrieved that they couldn't have snatched at least a draw.

The drive back allowed me time to reflect on what I'd saw, and while Bohs looked far from the finished article, they had shown enough to suggest that we were in for a more successful season that last year.

I was able to catch the second goal on my camera, which you can see here...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKfTjaJM4zM

Meanwhile, more extensive highlights can be seen here...http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ERmCsWeTis

2 April 2007

Me, myself and Bohs... how it came to be

Before moving to Ireland in 2005 I knew very little about football in Ireland. A vague recollection of Aberdeen being embarrassed by an Irish team (Bohemians) in the Uefa Cup around four or five years earlier was about as much as my memory could muster.

Once I had moved over though, I was determined to get to a few games. Getting along to games was one of the things I missed most after moving, so adopting an Irish team was something I was keen to do. Living close to Phibsboro and having a girlfriend who'd lived in the area all her life, Bohemians was the only real option.

I made my first visit to Dalymount Park on September 2nd, 2005. I'd noticed in the newspaper that Bohs were playing Shamrock Rovers that evening so I decided to head down and get my first taste of Eircom League of Ireland action. At the time I had absolutely no idea of the rivalry or indeed the history between the two clubs, however, walking home a couple of hours later, I had a far better idea of what it was all about!

However, when the teams ran out i wondered whether my choice of team had been a wise one. Having been a Celtic fan since i was barely out of nappies, it didn't feel right that i wasn't supporting the team in green and white hoops - Shamrock Rovers.

It was a cracking game. Bohemians took an early lead through a little bald guy up front (I later came to know he was called Tony Grant), before Rovers equalised shortly before half-time. An entertaining first half was enough to persuade me to nip to the club shop and buy a scarf, but it was an incident packed second period that would make me a fan.

Despite the relatively small crowd (compared to what I was used to at Celtic Park), the atmosphere was electric. The tackles were flying in too and not long after the break Rovers were reduced to ten-men when their defender almost took the legs off the Bohs right back Stephen Rice. (Two years on and having gotten to know the players and the game a little better I realise that this might have been no bad thing!!)

My first game as a Bohs fans was to end in disappointment though, as Rovers would go on to score two late goals and snatch all three points.

However, apart from the result, i thoroughly enjoyed my night and had seen more than enough to know that I would be back.

Over the remainder of that season i managed to make it back to two or three more games, although by the time the campaign ended i was yet to witness a Bohemians victory.

At the beginning of the 2006 season I attended most homes games, however, like many other Bohs fans, i became somewhat bewildered by the direction the club was going in under Gareth Farrelly. Like my visits to Dalymount Park, Bohs form over the course of the campaign was somewhat patchy and they would ultimately finish in a lowly ninth position. Farrelly himself was shown the door shortly before the end of the season, much to the relief of despondent Bohs fans.
During the close season which followed, the club underwent much change. A new manager, Sean Connor, was brought in from Sligo Rovers and he wasted no time in making the squad his own, bringing in no less than 11 new faces before the end of February. As the new manager swept in to Dalymount, so too did a little hope into the Bohs faithful. By this point I had signed myself up to an excellent Bohs message board (http://thebohs.com/) and my interest in the club was growing.

And so, as the 2007 campaign approached it appeared certain that an interesting season lay ahead for Bohs and I was determined to see as much of it as I possibly could.