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IRELAND DIARY - The Longford Day

Oxford United's tour of Ireland in pre-season continues

11 July 2018

Ireland Diary- The Longest Day In Longford

Tuesday 10th July

It’s time to take a look at the tour from the other side of town. After breakfast with the staff and players- Cameron Brannagan a notable absentee after being struck down by a virus last night and confined to his room while his roommate runs for shelter elsewhere- I sit in with Tiger and a meeting he has with Colin Barson, the Chairman of supporters group Oxvox. I then share a taxi across Dublin with Colin and fellow fans the Bradbury brothers who have accidentally booked into the same hotel as the team. Awkward. Brother Russ was key in the first of these epic tours, to Wiener Neustad in Austria a few years ago, and drove 39 hours to be here for these matches!

All taxi drivers in Ireland have a story to tell and ours tells us that they have just finished filming Game of Thrones up at Malahide Castle, and that the beach at Portmarnock where the players have been running each day was used as the set for the beach landing scenes in ‘Saving Private Ryan’. “I had to lie dead in the water for hours so I had a flask of whiskey and a kind of long drinking straw. It kept me warm a little but meant most of the extras were half drunk each day” he tells us.

We are dropped in Merrion Square and I stand outside Oscar Wilde’s house, the allotted meeting point for the Yellow Army today. I ask, but Oscar’s not in. Then three coaches turn up and 150 fans pile on for the two hour drive to Longford Town. Now, what happens on tour stays on tour, but I have a suspicion that some of those fans have been drinking over the last few days; it was like some of them had risen from the sands of Portmarnock beach themselves. There is a real mix of ages on the buses and lots of story swapping. Everyone seems to have had a fantastic time out here and I would just like to thank Simon Hathaway and the Yellow Army for the way they organised the coaches and successfully got everyone to and from a difficult place tonight.

I have issues with bus numbers. I am sitting at the front of Bus 1 and so Bus 1 should be the first to arrive, right? Sometimes I see our supporter buses on the motorway to away games and bus four is leading 1, 3 and 2. This causes me anxiety attacks and ruins the game for me. But thankfully today we stick to the right order all the way through the green fields of Ireland. Brown fields really because the heatwave has scorched the 80 miles between the capital and our destination. Everthing looks like it could do with a drink, while onthe bus it is everyONE needing rehydration.Fans are given the option of getting off in Longford itself, where there are bars and pubs, or going to the ground. About six stay on the buses!

At 5.30pm we arrive at the neat red and black gates of Longford Town. There are three low concrete stands with no roof and a taller main stand which houses the dressing rooms and clubhouse. Club official Mick Farrell has served the club all of his life- his father served before him and after some initial confusion where he mistakes us for the team bus (“You’re not the players? Then who the hell ARE you?") he proudly shows me round the function room where fading clippings reflect the history of this great club. As with Portmarnock we could not ask for better hosts although some of the things I hear are starting to crack me up now: I ask if there is wi-fi and and am told “well there is in the town, but you see that stand opposite? I stops just short of that. And then the signal starts again just the other side of this stand on this side”. Amusing but very little help.

The PA Announcers are equally hilarious, playing a hitlist of indie tunes and disco that I haven’t heard since Fingals in Wheatley on a Friday night. They play a song by the Frank and Walters which I think I am the only person in England to have bought originally, and when I tell them this they play it again, just for me. Later, Jerome Sale off BBC Oxford pops in to ask who their number 21 is during the game and they tell him “Micky Murphy” and then just about hold back their giggles until he is out of earshot!

To add to the banter level Rob Hall has agreed/begged to do the official twitter so he settles in next to me just before kick off and is soon creating scenes on social media. It is hilarious, but if anyone wants to know the actual score then a goal tweet of “ GOAL Tony McMahon ! keepers side , finesse.. you know the R2 + O on fifa ting ;)” is not useful (plus factually incorrect, it’s R1). My favourite of the night is “ahhh bare subs... basically bare man come off , loads come on, my boy Nels is on jheeeze, and shaun derrys on! told ya !”

It goes down great with all but the grammar police while in the game itself the U’s gather momentum and win comfortably, 5-1. “I told the lads they weren’t great” Karl Robinson tells me“but they are as tired as they are ever going to be right now because of the training every day- Shaun Derry came on and even he’s done an 8km run with Tiger this morning!”

The end of the game sees mutual applause from pitch to stands and then everyone jumps on the buses and heads for home. I am the last to leave, along with Jerome and Dave Pritchard of the Mail but the Longford groundsman waits patiently for us to finish filing copy and reports, then wishes us well for the season.

It is gone midnight when I get back to the hotel (my thanks to the media gents for the lift, going an hour out of their way to drop me off) but the coaching staff are still there picking over data and video from tonight’s game, constantly striving to improve and refine. I make my apologies and retire to my room, do an hour or so’s work and then my eyes simply refuse to co-operate and I crash out.

Long day in Longford but staff, players and fans have all put in the hard miles.

One more game, then it's coming home...

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