Sunday was FAI Cup final day in Ireland. Sunday was the day our local Dunshaughlin Youths Football Club, of which I am chairman I have to admit, resurrected our annual trip to the biggest match in the domestic soccer calendar.
Okay, so that’s stretching it a little bit. We’ve gone to the FAI Cup final as a club twice before, for the last two deciders at the old Lansdowne Road.
We were soaked and frozen in both 2005, when Drogheda beat Cork, and 2006, when Derry triumphed against St. Patrick’s Athletic.
On both occasions we took just the one coach from Dunshaughlin and managed, somehow, to lose the secretary’s son on our first visit to Dublin 4. He went home with his uncle by the way and just forgot to tell us, so all was well that ended well.
We didn’t bother with the trip in the years when the cup final was in exile, first in the RDS and then in Tallaght. The grounds were smaller and the interest minimal, but the move to the new Aviva Stadium this year got us thinking about a return when the club resumed normal activities at the end of the summer.
It was only a possibility then. It became a reality a few weeks back when the FAI pulled off the marketing coup of the century.
Stung, like the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU), by criticism of the ticket prices for the new Aviva, the FAI decided to launch a counter offensive for their cup final.
Instead of the €40 minimum it will cost to see the Irish soccer team against Norway this Wednesday night, or the €95 the IRFU are charging for Saturday’s clash with New Zealand, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) slashed prices for Sunday.
Adults were charged just a tenner into the battle of the Rovers. Kids tickets were just a fiver. It was too good an offer to turn down.
The Dunshaughlin Youths committee put the idea out there to our members, and over 220 adults and children travelled to Dublin 4 in a convoy of coaches last Sunday afternoon, ranging in age from three to 70.
We had a ball. And we weren’t alone.
Some 36,101 fans escaped to the Aviva for the afternoon, proof positive that if the pricing structure of right for big sports events they will sell, even at a time when the International Monetary Fund is trying to take control of Ireland Inc.
It was a brilliant day out. The kids got the chance to see a live football game in a spanking new stadium, many of them experiencing such an event for the first time.
The adults got a look at the new Aviva and were able to compare notes from the old days when the urine would literally run from the top of the old South Terrace all the way down to pitch level, and God help you if you were in the way.
The facilities at the new Aviva are, to be fair to all concerned, excellent. We saw that much as paying spectators at first hand on Sunday.
We also got a great game of football, even if it failed to produce a goal in normal time or extra time.
Sligo, with Joseph Ndo quite brilliant in the center of their midfield, played a beautiful game and should have won the match in normal time.
League champions Shamrock Rovers played a cat and mouse game and tried to hit the westerners on the break. Both sides had chances, both sides entertained, both sides gave it their all.
In the end it was Sligo who took the cup home thanks to the penalty shoot-out heroics of their goalkeeper Ciaran Kelly who, literally, saved everything the other Rovers could throw at him.
The big winner though was the game of football. The drama at the Aviva sent 36,101 people home happy in this era of doom and gloom and that is to be celebrated.
To hear those kids shout “penalties penalties” in expectation of the shoot-out that followed was great. To watch the excitement build on their faces as Kelly did his thing and the tension mounted was just incredible.
The League of Ireland is never going to be the Premier League. It is never going to match the levels of professionalism across the Irish Sea.
But last Sunday our domestic game served up a real cup final and everyone went home happy with their big day out. That’s a victory for football and a victory for the FAI.
Well done to all concerned and congratulations to Sligo Rovers. They are worthy cup champions, just as Shamrock Rovers are worthy champions of Ireland.
SOCCER: A couple of nice stories surround Ciaran Kelly, the Sligo Rovers goalkeeper and match winning hero in Sunday’s FAI Cup final victory over double chasing Shamrock Rovers at the Aviva Stadium. Kelly stopped four penalties in the shoot-out on Sunday -- he wasn’t beaten -- but didn’t manage so well the day before the match when Sligo practiced their own penalties. How many did he save from 20 spot kicks? Just one and that was from club coach Gerry Carr. Mind you, Kelly has form when it comes to penalties. He once saved for Ballinrobe in a Mayo and District League Division Two final.
GAA: The decision to award television and radio rights for the All-Ireland minor finals has caused some of a stir with native Irish speakers here at home. Traditionally the RTE commentary on the minor finals in hurling and football has always been as Gaeilge, but now traditionalists are worried that the new rights holders -- TV3 and Newstalk -- will look to run English commentaries on the two matches. The GAA are confident that tradition will prevail but have admitted there is nothing to contract to stipulate what language the commentary is in. Watch this space.
SOCCER: Irish soccer historians will be glad to know that Ian Harte is alive and well and playing for Reading in the English Championship. He’s even scoring goals for the Royals. Now 33, Harte has made no secret of the fact that he would love to add to his 64 international caps, but Giovanni Trapattoni shows little sign of opening that door. Harte’s uncle, fellow World Cup star Gary Kelly, is now playing junior soccer in his native Drogheda by the way.
RUGBY: Ireland finally ended a six game losing streak with a victory over Samoa on Saturday, and captain Brian O’Driscoll was a happy man as well he might be. The mighty All-Blacks, 49-3 winners over Scotland last weekend, are next up this Saturday for the team in Green. And that won’t be easy. Not by a long shot.
SOCCER: Shay Given admitted again on Tuesday that he needs to play first team football and soon, and will probably have to leave Manchester City to get it. Thankfully the transfer window opens in a few weeks time. What odds Celtic, Newcastle or Arsenal as his next port of call?
SOCCER: Nice to see the FAI honor living legend Liam Tuohy at their Abbotstown headquarters the other day. The Rasher has been a great servant to the game here as player, manager and coach over the years and deserves his place in their Hall of Fame.
HEROES OF THE WEEK
Sligo Rovers won the FAI Cup final after a penalty shoot-out on Sunday and their win was well deserved on the balance of play. The game drew an incredible 36,000-plus fans to the new Aviva and was a wonderful, wonderful occasion. The real heroes for me, though, were the few hundred loyal Shamrock Rovers fans who stayed behind to clap Sligo Rovers as they paraded the cup in front of them. Their team may have lost, but they understood the true meaning of sport. Well done to one and all.
IDIOT OF THE WEEK
Britain's David Haye retained his version of the world heavyweight title with victory over compatriot Audrey Harrison on Saturday night, but what a waste of money the big fight was. Harrison barely threw a punch for the three rounds he managed to stay in the ring, and those who paid Sky for the right to watch this non-event must have felt short changed. Harrison should have done everyone a favor, himself included, by refusing to take the fight and the money!