Monday, August 28, 2006

STUDENT HEAVEN

The sedentary setting of Belfield Park was a refreshing change from the Neanderthal environs of Tolka Park the previous evening. Limerick FC were the guests for a 3rd round FAI Cup tie in Dublin 4.

I hadn't been to the Student's HQ since my fledgling soccer career hit yet another iceberg at a trial game in the latter years of the last century. But what a treat!

You know that feeling you get when you're on an airplane and it becomes clear that nobody is going to be seated right next to you. Aaah! The space...a seat for my bag, one for my drink, feet on the empty seat in front...heaven.

As Father Felix [Healy] commented 'the Belfield experience is like no other in football.' Sun shining, grassy knoll, the sense that all around you is as new, with one careful owner. It's relaxing rather than invigorating.

The crowd - and you know I use the term loosely - are different here too. A mixture of God's Waiting Room with a sprinkling of eccentricity, and nicely turned out studious types with their girlfriends. There's plenty of suede and denim around; but our money is not being wasted. One student has learned to bang a drum. And some of the others have learned to chant in discordant unison.

There's student music on the PA, prematch- none of those corny oldies they stiff you with elsewhere. It invokes a compelling urge to skateboard along the deserted stand. Then there's the public announcer.

With a voice like the lovechild of Jim Sherwin and Sam Eagle he gravely welcomes all, before reading through the teamsheets with the gravitas of a BBC World Service newscaster. If you closed your eyes you would drift away to the All England Tennis Club for the Wimbledon Championships.

This foolish delusion was trodden on gracelessly when the voices of a baker's dozen or so of Limerick fans began to make themselves heard. I have nothing but admiration, nonetheless, for the staunch support they offer their side - their irrepressible commitment to stoic abuse of the match official in the hope of helping their team gain whatever advantage is on offer.

Their pre match goalkeeping crisis had been well documented and Tommy Barrett was brave enough to put himself in the line of fire. The defection to the nets of one of their better midfielders was a doppelganger to their hopes of progress, not to mention - well now I can't mention it.

But Limerick gave an excellent account of themselves and weren't embarrassed by the 32nd minute lead they took. Pete Mahon was glowing bright red as he exhorted his charges; they didn't seem interested. Lims were playing the football, and they have some nice players.

Colm Heffernan was a constant menace on the left, goalscorer Kelliher showed skill and endeavour; John Lester looks to have the skill but not the hunger. Maybe the change of management will refuel his desire; shit I mentioned it.

The Students were at their most fluid when Ronan Finn was on the ball; and it was no surprise to see him net the equaliser. I was still taking the cap off my biro when he scored his second right at the birth of the second half; so I didn't see it. Steven Hurley's free kick was reminiscent of a Sampras ace; Barrett had no chance. Half time substitute, Conan Byrne offered a new dimension to UCD, and was a painful thorn on the Lims left side. The College seemed to be coasting.

But the Boys of Limerick refused to let them. At times they looked beaten and lacking in confidence yet their neat football continued to trouble the Students; and they were unlucky on a couple of occasions not to add to their tally. Let's say there are positives for the incoming manager.

UCD won the tie, did what they had to do. In Ronan Finn they have one for now and the future; his man of the match performance illuminated the game - long may he reign in our league.

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