Ireland Diary- The Final Entry
Well diary, it started on the beach and ended on the beach as well.
Our last proper day in Ireland is a double game day. First we play UCD in Dublin and then it will be a race back to the hotel to watch England’s World Cup semi-final. We meet at breakfast and Karl Robinson tells the players the arrangements for the day. What he actually says has more swearing but the gist of it is very much that no matter what line ups he has chosen over the three games out here nobody is to read anything into it in terms of his starting XI when we play Barnsley. Everyone has played an equal amount of time, barring injury, and the same thing will happen in the two games on Saturday against Oxford City and Hampton and Richmond.
The players go for a gentle walk in the morning and then I somewhat gatecrash the management team’s drive to the UCD Bowl by jumping in the car with them for the 40 minute drive. The longest part of that is spent trying to find the football ground part of the UCD campus. This is an enormous place with fantastic facilities; academic as well as sporting, and it takes a while to work out where we are going.
The ground is immaculate, approached down some steps and with one main stand along one side and a gentle rolling bank on the other. First things first. We find the match officials and our hosts and everyone agrees that moving the kick off forward by 15 minutes and shortening half time would be very sensible. It is then just a case of trying to let everyone coming to the game know this. Apologies if it caught anyone out, but I think the overwhelming majority of spectators approved.
The game itself is extremely open. Chances fly past but United deservedly lead 2-0 through Jon Obika and Luke Garbutt at the break. The second half is neat enough but to be perfectly honest the crowd is dissolving after the hour mark as people edge towards the exit ready to catch the England game.
The final whistle sees the staff and players applaud the space where the fans were, clapping and power walking towards the transportation that awaits. The plan ALMOST works. By the time we get back to the hotel England are leading but we have only missed the first five minutes so we have plenty of time to celebrate the nation’s progress to the World Cup Final. Nothing can go wrong now…
We watch on the dance floor in Tamangos nightclub, a giant mirror ball casting fairy lights around our heads as we sit, entranced, and will our national team on. It proves to be murder on the dancefloor. At the final whistle I have never seen a nightclub so deflated. Well not since the mystery celebrity guest turned out to be Chico.
The stunned silence is eventually broken by the scraping of chairs as the players head back for their rooms, but a handful of us finish our waters and need something stronger so we go into the hotel bar to drown our sorrows. The locals look at us with sympathetic Irish eyes but their night is about to get a lot worse. A guitar appears and before we can dive on him Dan Bond is up and away, singing to his beloved audience and getting a sing song going. Even worse, I am persuaded to play the guitar for a bit until John Mousinho turns up and steals the show with an excellent set of covers, greatest hits and songs in the wrong key for a straining Bondy. Mous is a very talented guitar player and good fun is had by all. It ends, somehow with a 4am staff game of beach cricket under the brilliant Dublin moonlight, a fitting end to a tour that has seen proper team bonding for all, as well as some serious hard work for the players.
There have been many highlights: Tiger throwing his shirt into the crowd at game 1. The Portmarnock under 9 team’s faces when the Oxford fans got to the rude bit of “My old man said be a Swindon fan”, but probably my favourite moment was half an hour before Monday’s game when I was on the pitch next to Karl and he looked at what was at that stage a sparse crowd. “Not many here” he said, disappointed because we have told him how these things are usually so well supported. “Give it half an hour, you will be amazed” I said. He was.
There are so many people we need to thank over here but I wanted to say a few personal thank yous to John, Mary and all the staff at the White Sands Hotel in Portmarnock. What a place and particular thanks to Carl the barman who I never quite trained out of the habit of edging towards pulling the shutters down while we were still thirsty. We have been royally entertained by Mark and the band every night; great people who are more than welcome at a game any time. The staff, players and officials at Portmarnock AFC, Longford Town and UCD have been incredible and also Shelbourne for helping us with the ground at short notice. I would also like to thank Simon Hathaway and Liam Faulkner for standing in to take photos at games.
And finally I would like to thank everyone who has shared the journey with us. All football clubs play pre-season games, many go on pre-season tours. But no other football club does it to the amazing, boisterous background of a sea of yellow shirts. OUFC pre-season is a wonderful thing and we thank every fan who has been over here and made it a home away from home.
See you at Oxford City on Saturday…