Well hello there reader, it’s been a while. Where did we get to on our Irish travels?
Ah yes, so. Friday night saw a quiet night at the hotel because most of the players have gone home for the weekend. There was a ‘last day of term’ feeling that afternoon, as captured on video by Rob Hall who wandered around filming Hallycam for me - I will get that on to iFollow soon but there seems to be a lot of footage I maybe shouldn’t use…
With no players around, most of the staff watched the England game together in Gibney’s in Malahide and then on Sunday we had a 10.30 tour of the Guinness factory. I then had a chance to explore Dublin properly, and you will be pleased to know I approve of the whole place. Not just the pubs of Temple Bar but also the bullet holes in the columns of the GPO, the nods to Molly Malone and Phil Lynott and the musical heritage, and the way the Liffey binds the whole place together. It’s a jolly nice place, although trying to buy a cricket bat for beach cricket can be surprisingly tricky, it seems.
By 9am on Monday the boys are back in town and the black-shirted staff are once again outnumbered by the electric blue players. Tiger has arrived and is in good spirits. He has a new Oxford United t-shirt and shows me pictures of him with the former Prime Minister of Thailand with the same shirt. He moves in higher circles than me.
I have somehow become travelling fixture secretary so I need to get to Tolka Park ahead of everyone else, so I take a bus from our base in Portmarnock towards central Dublin. I take a walk past Croke Park and through a couple of high-rise housing estates where I half expect Joey the Lips and Jimmy Rabbitte to be rehearsing, and reach Tolka Park around 4.30pm.
Now able to hold around 10,000 fans, the ground is great, but maybe not quite as grand as the time it hosted internationals and great nights in Europe. Giant rusting roofs rise high above what was once a seated stand but has now lost half the seats for terracing. The letters in the stand spell out ‘REDS’ so I immediately discount it as a picture possibility.
The staff of opponents Portmarnock FC appear and we shake hands because they have done us proud in getting the game on here after the dry pitch problems earlier in the week. This is Shelbourne’s ground and their staff could not be more helpful when Mark the Kit Man, Scott Daly and Amy Cranston reverse the van in and start setting up the dressing room and physio areas.
Over in the stand I am having a nightmare and can get no connection to wifi of any description, having to admit defeat in the quest to bring the game to iFollow. I suspect the same will happen at Longford and UCD but I will keep trying. As it happens, tonight I just about scrape enough signal to tweet and get the match report and gallery live and would like to thank Liam Faulkner for his help, as well as Simon Hathaway who does an outstanding job as stand-in photographer.
The game itself is a typical first game of pre-season. Portmarnock are tough to break down and relishing the chance to play a League 1 side. Cameron Brannagan scores the only goal but it’s not all about the result, it is more about fitness and getting your timing back. The new boys all look good, there are no injuries and the game does exactly what it says on the tin: pre-season, friendly.
There are scenes at the end though. I herd fans towards one central part of the stand and then usher the players over to meet them and get our now annual ‘startled players realising how good the fans really are’ pre-season picture. There are scenes. Somewhere along the line Tiger donates his shirt to a fan and before he can get his jumper on he is half lifted aloft, bare-chested, by joyous fans. To my horror I realise I know the fans and for a split second fear I am getting the blame for this! Fortunately Tiger is laughing as much as everyone else and the whole evening is sealed with handshakes and hugs all round.
Last year we played Hull and Middlesbrough in Portugal and they had around 50 fans apiece who were barely acknowledge by their players, while in the sea of yellow shirts around them it was hard to pick out the players from the fans. We do things right in pre-season. Tonight is similar, with players happy to chat and have pictures and a real family atmosphere. Somewhere in the middle I get a couple of minutes to chat with my son and see that all is well. My brother-in-law, best mates, colleagues old and new and people I used to stand with at the Manor are also here; it is that sort of club.
Back at the hotel an hour after the game and the analysts are hard at work piecing together footage and data ready to feedback first thing. Mark Thomas, Head of Recruitment, arrived today and the recruitment panel of him, Tiger, Karl, Faz and Shaun gather round a laptop to check out a player they think they like the look of...
Next morning we settle down to work again. Tiger meets Colin Barson, new Chairman of Oxvox, in the bar. I sit there sweating and hoping they don’t notice when each barman reporting to work calls a hearty ‘Morning Chris’ to me. As if they know me by name….
Then it is time to catch up with news from home, a chance to update this diary and then out the door and off to Dublin to join the fans on the buses to tonight’s game at Longford. Head shaved. Game face on.