Saturday, August 19, 2006

IS THERE A GYPSY HEAVEN ?

Sometimes it's heaven to be an eL fan. I don't include my last trip to Dalyer on a freezing, miserable March night to watch Expunged beat Derry City 1-0. Last night was different though, balmy and mild, unlike the atmosphere inside. But first you had to get inside.

I was going to the game straight from my indoor football exploits; 60 minutes of unparalleled skill and gasping for air. The young Garda wanted to check my bag; his hand came into contact with my freshly sweaty boxers and we exchanged a look - I don't think I was his type, he withdrew his hand after a cursory rummage and I was on my way.

My luck improved once I'd been accepted as a guest of Bohemian FC. A beautiful damsel made her way towards me, smiling; there was no one behind me, I knew this for sure as I was in the heavens with the other hardened hacks. Being seriously dehydrated - there was no time for a post match pint - after my indoor exertions, her offer of Lucozade and a packet of crisps was enough for me.

Dalymount was buzzing, the pitch pristine, the lights bright. No breeze, no glaring sun; the stage was set for a classic. Then the teams entered the arena.

Paul Tuite took a deep breath and blew on his feadog; the barrier was raised and both sides set about each other for 45 minutes of Braveheart-type battle, mixed with no little skill. An reiteoir [I'm trying to help ye prepare for the TG4 games] seemed prepared to let the game flow and he was forced into some tough decisions by flying forwards in penalty area upheavals, looking for a cic pionos at both ends of the pitch.

This was the 3rd meeting of these sides this season with the Gypsies yet to penetrate the Shels rearguard. A weakened Gypsies eleven were easily dismissed in May by 2-0; while the carnage of their recent League Cup tie is still fresh in the mind. The home team were determined tonight. But Shels are a top side in fine form and they've beaten determined sides before. They showed no signs of discomfort.

Ndo was impossibly elastic in a way reminiscent of Mark Rutherford at his peak; even when he seems to have lost control of the orb....There was a titanic struggle in the centre of the park, where Stuart Byrne and Joe were matched up against Thomas Heary and John Paul Kelly.

The opening period flew by in a flurry of tackles, runs and goalmouth drama; Shels possibly shaded it; 0-0.

The second half was entering it's puberty when Glen Crowe reminded the Bohs faithful what he's capable of by turning his marker neatly and finishing with confidence from about 12 metres [EU Rules, sorry]. It seemed like Groundhog Day for Bohs. Repeatedly this season they've come out against the top sides, given a good account of themselves and left the field with 'nil points'.

But both fans and players alike were determined not to be beaten. Thomas Heary was abrasive in midfield, Joxer wasn't letting his lightweight physique inhibit him, but they were losing the battle. Gareth Farrelly sprung stalwart, Stephen Caffrey, from the bench. Stephen Ward, one of Ireland's U21 heroes in a Greek oven just two days earlier was called ashore. Joxer filled his berth on the left and Caffo took a deep breath in the centre alongside Heary, the man who carried the distinction of being first to piss the ref off on the night.

In the meantime Glen Crowe took the time to remind the Shels fans what he's capable of with a glaring miss, when it seemed impossible to do so. O'Brien, in the Bohs' nets, to his credit never gave the ball up and scrambled across his line to save Crowe's tame tap in from all of 75 cms.

Caffo's introduction brought added steel to the home side. Without the pedestrian Arkins up front they threatened. Ironically, it was the deep ball to the back post which troubled Shels throughout the game, the ex - Shels man would have thrived on it. The current Shels men couldn't deal with it; as time after time their goal came under threat. Aside from Harkins goal and later Caffrey's, there were at least 2 occasions when arms were raised in salute by the Men In Black. On each occasion the MC determined that the ball had not gone trasna an line; but Shels' rearguard was at 7's and 8's.

Joxer was finding more space down the left, terrorising Heary and Ryan; Baker was introduced to negate the threat; Crawford was introduced to eliminate Steven Caffrey; and this he did with clinical efficiency as Caffrey had to carried from the field in acknowledgement of a scything challenge from the former Newcastle player.

Full credit - as they say in post match analysis - to both sides, for providing us with a Dublin Derby worthy of the handle. It lacked nothing. Bohemians were deserving winners, a glimpse of what might be if they could lift themselves to this level of performance against the league's lesser lights as well as it's alumni. Shels I hope will sportingly acknowledge that they were bettered on the night.

The more intuitive Bohs follower may privately acknowledge that the Twin Towers of Ferguson and McGuinness sway dangerously under pressure, seldom a game passes without one or both of them incurring a carta bui; but further out the field things are certainly improving as Paul Devlin's influence begins to filter through the side.

And I nearly forgot, Happy Birthday Ma.

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