Paul Ryan, Alan McCrabbe and Tomás Brady celebrate after beating Kilkenny.
A little over a year ago those of us of a soccer persuasion got very excited when the new Tallaght Stadium played host to a big Dublin derby between residents Shamrock Rovers and their visitors from Bohemians.

The ground was packed to capacity that night as the old rivals did battle in the biggest soccer match to hit South Dublin since Rovers were so disgracefully removed from Milltown all those years previously.

The game was seen as a landmark victory for the league and for Irish soccer as all of 8,000 people paid through the turnstiles and we all went home happy -- as far as I can remember anyway.

A few days later the reality of Irish football’s triumph that night came to light, in my mind anyway, when I realized the difference between the soccer match in Tallaght and a rugby game down the road in the RDS, once a temporary home to Rovers as football fans will know.

Leinster were in action in the Magners League -- I can’t recall against whom -- at the same time as Rovers were hosting Bohs.

Nobody spoke of the rugby match that night as a triumph for the sport -- despite the fact that it attracted 14,000 people to the Ballsbridge venue.

The difference in crowd figures just shows how far Leinster rugby has come as a brand in the last 10 years, the same Leinster rugby team that attracted just over 50,000 people to the Aviva Stadium on Saturday afternoon for the European win over Toulouse.

Rovers can still get decent crowds to Tallaght -- about 4,000 is the norm for their league games this season -- but by and large attendances are down in domestic soccer.

Indeed, twice in the last week I have been at games where only a thousand fans have turned up -- at Richmond Park and Dalymount.

The biggest sporting crowd of the weekend, as you would expect, was at the Aviva, but the second biggest crowd witnessed the biggest story of the weekend when just over 42,000 people paid in for a Croke Park double header.

The opening match at GAA headquarters saw Cavan’s All-Ireland final heartache continue in the under-21 football decider defeat to Galway.

That game was followed by the National Hurling League final between Kilkenny and Dublin, a game which Dublin won and deservedly so.

The former Clare manager Ger Loughnane, a man who knows a thing or two about breakthrough wins, described Dublin’s win as one of the greatest days ever for Irish sport in his Star column.

He was, I suspect, playing to his audience, and I wouldn’t quite talk about Dublin’s win in a league final so glowingly.

Come the end of May and their championship date with Offaly, the Dublin hurlers may find the earth a bit closer than they currently think after Sunday’s first league title in 72 years.

What’s interesting, though, is the fact that the Dublin hurlers attracted a bigger crowd to Croke Park than their footballers for their final against Cork the previous Sunday.

Just over 36,000 fans watched the footballers lose to the Rebels, some 6,000 less than the crowd for the hurling and football double bill last weekend.

If the Dublin hurlers can build on their success on Sunday then Loughnane might be right and it will be remembered as an historic day.

To do that, they will have to turn league promise into championship reality and make a real go of it in Leinster this year.

That will keep the crowds back on their trail and who knows, like the Leinster rugby team their overnight success may well endure.

If not, like League of Ireland soccer, they may well be celebrating 8,000 crowds years from now. That’s the real challenge for the Dublin hurlers now.

Kiddie Corps Comes of Age
THERE’S an old saying that you know you’re getting old when the policemen start to look like kids, and it’s probably as applicable in New York as it is in Dublin.

As I get older, it does indeed become more relevant -- not that I ever do anything that brings me into contact with a police officer you understand.

I’m 47 now which would have seemed like a really old age when I was a kid but is young enough for me, and whenever I’m asked about my ageing years I always tell a Bob Hope story.

At least I think it was Bob Hope who, when asked about the possibility of hitting 100 said, “Who wants to live to be 100? Anyone who’s 99.”

Apologies to Bob Hope if I have misquoted him, but you get my drift.

Age became a factor in my life again on Monday night when I sat in the press box at Dalymount Park and the

Bohemians substitutes ran across the pitch to take their place on the bench ahead of their Airtricity League game against Bray.

They were so young they looked like kids on a school outing.  Such is the financial crisis at Bohs these days that manager Pat Fenlon has to rely on youth team players to fill his match day squad, but these kids looked so young it was frightening.

As it happens one of them came off the bench and scored a quite brilliant equalizer for the home team in the third minute of added time.

Christopher Forrester was the player in question and, naturally enough, the reporters at the game asked to speak to him afterwards.

Turns out match savior Christopher is just 18 years of age and young enough to play on the under-17 team that my son plays for and I manage at home in Dunshaughlin.

And when Christopher told us that he was back in school on Tuesday morning to study for his Leaving Certificate, I felt really old.

I can stomach the fact that the police look younger with every passing year.  But when you interview League of Ireland footballers who are the same age as your own kids, then maybe that’s the time to accept old age gracefully.

Sideline Views

GAA: The very talented Monaghan footballer Tommy Freeman may already be in New York by now and good luck to him. A carpenter by trade, Tommy is going to play football in your neck of the woods for the summer and see if the employment prospects are any better on your side of the Atlantic.  He will miss Monaghan’s championship opener as a result, but that’s the reality of life in Ireland these days. And yes, it is going to be a major problem for the GAA and all county teams in the coming months.
SOCCER: Arsenal beat Manchester United on Sunday, and the biggest cheers came from the Chelsea fans. Their team look best equipped to beat United to the league title, but so much will depend on Sunday’s meeting between the two teams at Old Trafford.
For what it’s worth I’m backing United to beat Chelsea, on Sunday and to the title. And I say that as an Arsenal fan who knows that Sunday’s win was too little too late.
SOCCER: Barcelona’s win over Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal last week was hollow thanks to the theatrics of both teams, but it was also memorable for a wonder goal from Lionel Messi that was reminiscent of Maradona at his best. If you didn’t see it, get online and watch the second Barca goal. It was sheer brilliance.
GOLF: Don’t be in any rush to put your money on Graeme McDowell to retain his U.S. Open title a few weeks from now. The defending champion visited this year’s host venue on Monday at Congressional and didn’t like what he saw. The Washington course is long and tough and McDowell admitted that it “beat him up” in his practise round.

TWO teams in blue have to share the honors. Dublin were shock winners on the NHL final over Kilkenny, but anyone who watched the game will know they were hungrier, more committed and fully deserving of their win. Likewise the Leinster rugby team that took on the best side in European Cup history on Saturday and sent Toulouse back to France with their tails well and truly between their French legs. A second Heineken Cup win in three years awaits Leinster. They deserve it.

REFEREES and their assistants don’t deserve half the stick they get -- most of the time. Study the first Chelsea goal against Spurs on Saturday night, however, and you will see that the linesman who decided the ball had crossed the line deserves all the criticism that has come his way since. Frank Lampard’s shot never crossed the line when Gomes spilled it, but the linesman awarded it. The second Chelsea goal, from Kalou, was clearly offside. Again the linesman made the wrong call. The sooner they bring video technology in, the better.