When Robbie Farrell scored the opening goal just a few minutes into the final game of the season at Station Road, little did we know the emotional rollercoaster ride that all Dundalk fans were about to experience. 1000 Dundalk supporters made the trip to Station Road. How many believed that Limerick 37 could actually do us a favour?
It wasn’t by any means an impossible mission but, certainly, it was a mission improbable .Since their 2-1 defeat at Oriel Park in September Shelbourne had won seven and drawn one of their next games. A 0-0 draw with Sporting Fingal took the wind out of their sails before they recovered to beat Waterford at the RSC. Dermot Keely rarely loses league title run-ins (remember 1995!).
The news that Limerick had been beaten 2-1 by Kildare in their penultimate game did little to settle our nerves. The rumours about Limerick in the run-up to the match were, to put it mildly, worrying. Depending on who you listened to: three or four Limerick players had left on holidays, a Limerick player was getting married the day before the game and the entire squad were invited, or Limerick manager Mike Kerley was planning on playing an experimental line-up as part of his planning for the 2009 season. All were unfounded but, hey – we are Dundalk FC – it’s inevitable we’ll be screwed on the last day isn’t it?
It’s a long time since Dundalk was involved in a final day decider to win a league. In 2001, Dundalk had clinched promotion with three games to spare and then won the league with a 1-0 win over Drogheda United in our second last game. 13 and a half years following the 1995 final day drama when Dundalk leapfrogged Derry City to win our ninth league title, Dundalk went into the final match with something to play for. It really didn’t matter that Shelbourne were the favourites.
We have had so little to celebrate and be hopeful about since our relegation that no fan was going to miss any glimmer of hope that our time in that God-awful division could, just perhaps, be at an end.
Dundalk fans have suffered such bitter disappointments that anybody who could not bear to experience any further heartache could have been excused for just burying their heads underneath a pillow for two hours on that Saturday night and just hope for the best when switching on Aertel at 9.40. We won promotion from this damn division back in 2006.
We won it and it was snatched away from us when the powers that be believed the outlandish claims of other clubs dreaming about full-time football and sell-out crowds. A fraud was committed against Dundalk fans in 2006 – a hard fought season was doomed to failure even before a ball was kicked. The day of the match in Kildare felt very much like the day when the decision of the IAG was made. It was difficult to overcome the feelings of impending doom.
Yet…here we were. If a man can win the Presidency of the United States talking about nothing but “hope” then we can stay optimistic for one more match. “We have nothing to lose” some people said. Well, we bloody well did. Really, it was time to get out of this division. We were bloody sick of it. We couldn’t stand the thought of another year of that rotten disgusting division.
Once we arrived in Kildare, Dundalk fans did their best to keep their spirits up. Fitzgerald’s Pub in Newbridge did not anticipate the influx of the Lilywhite Army. “I am not serving until you stop playing those bloody drums!” The handful of locals in to watch the All-Blacks at Croker looked perplexed but soon just settled down into the atmosphere. They made more money in two hours than the rest of the week put together.
Much like the pre-match atmosphere at the Cat & Cage before the 2002 FAI Cup Final – the pre-match banter and excitement did a lot to make it feel like we were unbeatable. People stopped talking about how we should have had the league won weeks ago. Losing to Longford was the turning point…no it was the last minute goal in Monaghan…if it wasn’t for the disallowed goal against Shels….All of that talk suddenly ended. You know….when we need to win something…Dundalk usually somehow pull it off. Remember 1995, 1991, 1988…
Jesus Christ…I think we can win this league!!
Down to the ground we go. €15 in despite the tickets saying €10…but nobody cares. We’ve got more important things on our mind. The temporary stand has apparently come from the K Club. The atmosphere is wonderful. It’s what it’s all about. The barstoolers will never understand what they are missing.
We are going to win this league.
The first bit of news from Tolka is good. It’s the first choice Limerick side that beat us in Oriel a few weeks before. Shels are slow at the back and some of those Limerick lads would give Usain Bolt a good race.
The match kicks off…
Anybody that remembers the final day of the 2001/02 season in Monaghan knows that one of the most inevitable events of a match like this will be false alarms and hoaxes. Dundalk fans start to cheer because the radio has just reported that Limerick are 1-0 up. Hold your horses’ lads…a phone call to a Dundalk fan in Tolka confirms that the report is a hoax. I give out to the people standing around me. “Unless I say so don’t f***ing celebrate!” There was no time to get angry as Robbie Farrell rises high to head home a corner. Soon he produces a magnificent finish to make it 2-0. At least we are doing our business. The impending sense of doom is retreating…at least the nightmare scenario of us not taking advantage of a Shelbourne slip-up won’t happen. It’s still 0-0 at Tolka. Shels are all over them says the text. Is it just a matter of time?
Dundalk are intent on finishing the season in style. They are soon 4-0 up thanks to two more from Robbie. The first time a Dundalk player has scored four goals in a league game since Dessie Gorman’s four against Sligo back in 1987. We are about half an hour away from winning the league. Then the individual with the radio who has been keeping people up to date says in a deadpan soft tone – “Shels have scored – Flood”. Silence.The feeling is sickening. All the hope that existed disappeared in an instant. It was stupid even to think we could win this league. We had our chance and blew it. Nobody has the energy to debate where it all went wrong. 1000 people are standing there watching our team destroy Kildare and it all means nothing.
Casso scores a goal of such quality that it should have been followed by a Mexican wave. Instead, he gets a gentlemanly round of applause. Doyle makes it six. The applause fails to drown out the sound of the young Kildare fans in the stand opposite who are chanting “Shelbourne, Shelbourne, Shelbourne”. We stand and take it. It will be over soon and we can get the hell out of here.
While the man with the radio is quiet – the texts are showing something quite remarkable. Limerick are throwing men forward. They missed a one on one opportunity. Keely has decided to move to five in midfield. He wants to hang on. Freeman has missed an open goal. Limerick are sending their goalkeeper up for corners….Shels fans are getting nervous.
The final whistle goes in Station Road. Well done lads…you did your bit tonight. Now…can we please just be put out of our misery? Text comes through… “One minute left…Limerick going all out”. Fair play to them…at least they are not rolling over. I begin to make a move back to the bus. No point in hanging about.
Then things get very confusing.
The man with the radio has reneged on his agreement to keep us up to date on matters from Tolka. He has decided to start screaming and has hurdled over the barrier like a Grand National winner on steroids.
Erm…what the f*** is going on???
After about two seconds he is followed by a rampaging army.
The stewards s*** themselves. They are going to lynch their own players!
Not quite able to take in what I am seeing I notice that there are about ten sets of eyes on me…after the earlier hoax there are those who are afraid to celebrate. I am one of them. I become convinced that this is the biggest cruellest hoax ever perpetuated. It was one of those young Kildare fans shouting for Shelbourne….no way we can win a league like this. At this stage the pitch has 985 supporters on it…there are about 15 of us still in the stand.
Finally a text comes through with just one word: “Yes”. I breakdown.
This is just too much. Station Road has gone beserk.
Out on the pitch there are people screaming, crying, lying face down in the muck, dazed, confused, shocked, elated and ecstatic. It’s like the best rubbish Vietnam/Zombie movie you’ve never seen. Some chap with a beard kisses me on the forehead, I am coming across people that have worked hard and suffered so much disappointment over the years. It slowly dawns on us what has just happened.
Obviously, this was the way it was always going to happen. This is Dundalk FC we are talking about. We are never, ever, going to do a Bohs and win a league by 20 points. We have much more style than that. Dundalk FC are going to inflict every possible emotion in you throughout a season and then, just when you think you can take no more, they will cram it all into one final 90 minutes. And then they will make you live with the sinking feeling of failure for two out of three minutes of injury time in a match being played about 25 miles away. Then they make your heart explode with an injection of adrenaline straight to the heart at the absolute last moment possible.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dundalk FC are the Champions!