Far and away the Republic of Ireland’s biggest and most successful football club, Shamrock Rovers - sixteen times Irish League Champions, seven-time winners of the All-Ireland Cup and almost a hundred other trophies, including fifty-five FAI and President’s Cups alone – have a haul of domestic honours to rival that of Manchester United, though their recent history bears a slightly bigger resemblance to Charlton Athletic or Brighton & Hove Albion.
Further development has doubled Tallaght’s capacity in the intervening two years, the addition of temporary stands enabling 10,900 people to witness Cristiano Ronaldo’s debut for Real Madrid in July 2009. The all-seater stadium has covered stands down both sides of the pitch and views of hills and a shopping centre behind either goal. Glass-coated high rises with fashionably angled rooftops and wraparound balconies peer over the angle of the West Stand rood, leading back towards the final stop on the Luas line to central Dublin.
Defending champions Rovers start the game in first place, narrowly ahead of city rivals St Patrick’s Athletic. After tying their flags behind the goal, Shamrock’s ultras congregate at the far end of the East Stand, faced by a noisy cluster of 50 or so fans who’ve travelled from Dundalk.
It takes sixty minutes for Rovers to begin ratcheting up a concerted spell of pressure. It takes another two for Dundalk to extend their lead, Griffin getting an unimpeded run on to a Ross Gaynor free kick and looping a header over Mannus for his fourth goal in six games. Manager Michael O’Neill, another Rovers man with Newcastle United connections, responds with two quick substitutions, Twigg replaced by Karl Sheppard and Chris Turner coming on for Stephen O’Donnell. By now the rain, which has been falling incessantly since moments before kick off, has reached a kind of Niagara Falls intensity, driving the crowd upwards and inwards as it swirls through the open sides of both stands.
We’re up to seventy-nine minutes before Rovers finally manage a foothold, Cherrie punching a cross off his own player’s head and Turner hitting the ball back into the net with the goalline unguarded. The home side are invigorated, only a fantastic save from Cherrie denying Oman an equaliser, but we’re into injury time – and the first big push towards the exits – before Billy Dennehy seizes onto a long Pat Sullivan cross and heads a leveller the home side barely deserve. “That’s why we’re champions,” chorus the Rovers ultras. The rain stops abruptly and I even manage to get a seat on the Luas back to O’Connell Street.
Date: June 21st 2011