Another item off the to-do list

Ned Simspon, writing in the match programme for the recent clash of Bohemians and Drogheda United mused that “Getting lost on campus whilst trying to locate the Bellfield Bowl is almost as much a part of an away fixture against UCD as the game itself”. It was a view that resonated greatly here, now read on…

My relationship with soccer has always been something of an adventure. From, as a youngster, being carried shoulder high by Jimmy Maguire, across farmland to a pitch a what will forever be known to me as Barry’s Lane, to ending up in Old Trafford because the wheelchair allocation at Anfield was full.

Even more vivid, though, are recollections of a time when Sundays were divided between going to GAA and soccer matches. My brother-in-law had signed for Dunboyne AFC and – at that time – nothing was thought of going to a soccer match in the mornings and then traipsing off to whatever part of the county or country following St Peter’s or Meath necessitated.

It wasn’t a solo run, mind you. Others, like the late Paddy Mulreid – recently deceased President of Dunboyne AFC – and his neighbour and friend ‘Sonny’ Lowndes, also worked to a dual mandate at that time. Perhaps it was only fitting, then, that recent tournament for the Paddy Mulreid Cup – comprising the host club, Verona, Ratoath and UCD and eventually won by the latter – began as Meath were preparing to tackle Armagh at Croke Park.

Apt, also, mind you, that yours truly managed to check another item off the to-do list in the weeks following Paddy’s passing. Namely, managing to attend League Of Ireland football for the first (and second) time. Eoghan D’Arcy was again at the wheel for the latest trip into the unknown.

Jason Byrne of Bohemians

Before Bohemians or UCD were seen kicking a ball, however, the credence of Ned’s assertions were all too obvious. Attitudes and arrangements at the Dublin 4 venue left plenty to be desired, but, it must be said, that was in stark contrast to the welcoming atmosphere encountered as Eoghan’s brother, Colm, joined the expedition for my debut outing to Dalymount to see the locals take on Drogheda United.

As has often been intimated previously, given circumstances, the simplest of gestures or adjustments can often make the biggest difference. Thus, sincere thanks is due to all at the Phibbsboro club (yes, I’ve brushed up on my Dublin geography, JOR et al!) for assistance provided with parking and access to the disabled viewing area and such like.

Thanks, too, to Drogheda’s Cathal Brady – who has strong connections with Dunboyne – for his post match courtesy. For all that some might decry the domestic game in this country, the standard wasn’t at all like what naysayers would profess, the passion obvious – as was evidenced by the incident during which these wheels popped up on Soccer Republic – and quality of players on view made for a couple of good weekend’s entertainment.

Some might scoff at this, but, League Of Ireland fare has been a launch pad for some great careers – such as those of Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Keith Fahey, Paddy McCourt and James McClean – as well as acting as base camp for others.

Mention of Fahey is timely. Having carved out a successful career with Birmingham City, he is to be commended for returning to his home league. He has been the fulcrum of what has been quite a decent campaign for St Patrick’s Athletic. Knockers may well sneer again, but, honestly, how many would go back where they began?

Then, there are the other lads. The lads for whom the Airtricity League is their zenith. Nothing wrong with that, either. Lads such as Eddie Gormley, Paul Osam, Pat Morley, Pat Fenlon and Stephen Geoghegan – to name but a few. Owing to their loyalty and longevity, they became iconic figures in the home league.

Jason Byrne currently merits such billing. For that reason alone, it was good to have the opportunity to see him in action. Yet, the mind retraces the path back to Fahey. Maybe it’s just timing. Having been one of the leading figures in the club since its foundation, Paddy Mulreid would’ve observed many generations beginning the careers in the green and gold stripes.

Again, the timing seems perfect. The tournament in his honour poignantly illuminated the last few laps before the season’s action got under way in earnest. Everything must start somewhere. For some, the new season will be the beginning of the next phase of their careers, for another generation of youngsters, though, the coming weeks will be the very beginning of the journey. One very special observer will be watching them all from the touchline above.

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