BIG DAY DAWNS AS ROVERS PREPARE FOR AVIVA INVASION:
Not everything is black and white but around Letterkenny this week you’d be hard pressed not to argue with that one. And while Dessie Kelly and helpers were busy getting the flags up along the Main Street on Sunday morning and the commercial windows started filling up with the ‘good luck’ messages, the countdown to the biggest day in the history of Letterkenny Rovers was marching towards its day of destiny.
There’s still a buzz from that semi-final replay win over Ringmahon Rangers. The joy that swept around Leckview Park – with the exception of the corner occupied by the visiting fans – when the final whistle sounded on an April Sunday afternoon will live long in the minds of those who have followed this club from infancy.
The stalwarts among them had waited a long time for this. Intermediate Cup Finals don’t come around too often and in Rovers case make that never. Or never up to now.
The tears flowed unashamedly and those supporters of the club who have followed their fortunes like a religion can have seen few better days. But they might just see a better one next Saturday.
When I saw Dessie holding the ladder for the flag hoister last Sunday – he probably could have floated up on the adrenalin surge himself – I thought of the many occasions he has occupied a seat in the Aviva Stadium for international matches and, no doubt, stood on the terracing in its Lansdowne Road heyday.
But I wondered did he ever see the day when he would be sitting there watching his beloved Letterkenny Rovers fly the flag for the county at the cutting edge of junior football’s most prestigious competition? Perhaps, he did. And as the likes of Dunboyne, Killester United and Middleton were put to the sword in previous rounds he may just, like all those faithful followers of the club, have believed that this was the year.
He won’t be accepting the entrance fee at the gates of the Aviva on Saturday but he will be going through them with the pride of a man who has worked tirelessly for football and for Rovers over the years.
I was chatting to another fanatical supporter of the club at the weekend – Mickey Duffy. That priceless photograph of him on the back page of one of the local newspapers in the immediate aftermath of the 2-0 win over Ringmahon summed up all the emotions of the moment.
Indeed it says everything about Mickey’s reaction on the day of that semi-final success that only one match involving an opposition Rangers was occupying his mindset.
As Rovers were claiming that coveted Final place, his other great footballing passion, Celtic, were losing in the Scottish Cup semi-final to their arch Old Firm rivals. But for once, the Letterkenny man was still wearing a smile as broad as the Back Road on the day his beloved Hoops lost a Glasgow derby.
And now for Crumlin United. The Dublin side don’t need any introductions to the Intermediate Cup. Last year they thumped Tolka Rovers 4-0 in the final and will be more than keen (Robbie Keane even) to repeat the back-to-back success they achieved in the competition in 2009 and 2010.
They will, of course, start as favourites against Letterkenny Rovers but Donegal clubs have had the tag of underdogs attached to them in many a competition down the years and have emerged on the right side of the scoreline.
Those players who have brought them this far with some impressive performances against other top sides won’t be heading to Ireland’s national stadium this weekend to play second fiddle to the Dubliners.
But for most of them it will be an atmosphere and a venue they’ll never have experienced before and the thump of the hearts before they take the field will register on the Richter scale.
But that will be nothing like the experience should they pull off the greatest result in their history and there’s no reason why they can’t under the guidance of a man who knows the score.
Favourites Crumlin may be but, like I say, nothing – with some notable exceptions – is ever black and white in this game.
Dateline: Thursday May 5th. Venue: National Basketball Arena, Tallaght, Dublin:
The first thing you notice after you enter the National Basketball Arena, situated just off the M50, is the wall. The wall of noise, that is. Eardrum damaging noise raining down from the seats occupied by wildly cheering girls and boys – mostly girls – giving it all for their respective teams.
It’s a very tight match, making the level of clamour even more evident than it might normally be.
But I’m not here to watch this particular game or indeed the one on the adjoining court. Soon the girls team from Loreto Secondary School, Letterkenny, will be in action against Regina Mundi in the All-Ireland Junior B Basketball semi-finals and the tension is already mounting.
That ‘soon’ affords me the chance to have a look around our National Basketball Arena – caught on television but never at first hand. I’m impressed but not overly so. For some reason, I was expecting more given all that I’d heard and read about the venue.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a decent arena but I’d consider the Aura Leisure complex in Letterkenny to have the equal of it in terms of staging any national or international sporting event – if only the Aura management could be persuaded to stage any such contests.
Not that those of us in attendance from Letterkenny last Thursday are paying too much attention to the surroundings. There’s a game to be got through and for the opening quarter, the Loreto girls are equipping themselves well and a place in the Final – to be staged later in the afternoon – looks a promising prospect.
But despite a battling performance by the Letterkenny team in the remaining three quarters, the Cork outfit gradually pull away to run out winners.
Disappointment all round in Loreto ranks but they soon pick up again after being presented with their impressive All-Ireland runners-up medals and get back on the bus to head for the hills.
All-Ireland runners-up? Doesn’t seem at all bad does it?
Dateline: Friday May 6th. Venue: Finn Park, Ballybofey:
Not quite a national arena here (and the noise isn’t as deafening) but nevertheless this is an important fixture for Harps against a team occupying one of the rungs lower than Horgan’s men.
The front cover of the match programme shows goalkeeper, Ciaran Gallagher, back in the side in recent weeks after an injury to Richard Brush. A highly significant image as it turns out.
It’s a poor game. Undoubtedly the poorest seen at the venue this season with both teams cancelling each other through boredom. True, there are a handful of chances but this had all the makings of a snore draw from the early stages of the opening half and continues to right up to stoppage time.
But could Harps steal the points with a late free-kick awarded on the edge of the Bohemians penalty area? Kevin McHugh and Ryan Curran stand deliberating with each other before Curran takes possession of the ball and sizes up the defensive wall. But doesn’t manage to size it up to any great degree with the result that his free-kick rebounds straight off a Bohs man and before you can say ‘McHugh should have taken that one’, the visitors break up field.
Curran to his credit joins in the chase but the ball rebounds off him again into the Harps box where Ciaran Coll sticks out a leg and down goes Robert Lopes. Penalty, referee Dave McKeown points to the spot. And the arguments from home players are, you feel, more to do with the lateness of the award and the knowledge that there’s no way back, than any sense of injustice.
But there’s a bright moment for Harps among all the humdrum – Gallagher diving to his right to keep out substitute Anto Murphy’s penalty and secure a point.
Dateline: Saturday May 7th. Venue: Kingspan Stadium, Belfast:
Saturday morning 11.am. and a band of us are boarding a bus at Tobin’s service station on Letterkenny’s Port Road. Destination the Kingspan Stadium – still better known as Ravenhill – the home of Ulster rugby.
Four hours later, the Letterkenny under-18’s will take to the prestigious pitch for the final of the Ulster Carpets Cup against their Armagh counterparts who have already claimed a league trophy at the expense of their opponents a couple of months previously in, it has to be said, controversial circumstances.
The craic on the bus is mingled with that sense of anticipation that comes with hope. And in the company of the likes of Seamus Quinn, James Molloy, Mick Dunleavy, and Michael and Keith Gallagher, each of them with direct family links, to the team, we’re on our way .
And, eventually, through a glut of housing estates we arrive at the stadium. I’ve been here before for a Gordon West Cup Final or two but not since the whole ground was redeveloped into the modern arena it is today.
A sprinkle of rain greets us as we make our way to the stand to watch the end of the under-14 final – Virginia from Cavan running out winners in that one.
The Letterkenny under-18’s have been in stirring form this campaign but will require to be at their very best to overcome Armagh. And unfortunately on the day they’re not at that particular peak but, again, this is a game shrouded in some contention.
After enjoying a bright opening quarter during which they are camped in the Armagh half – with no reward on the scoreboard – their opponents, inspired by fly-half, Cormac Fox, start to make the most of the loss of hooker, Stephen Holmes, a nasty looking shoulder injury forcing him out of the action early on. The incident also results in Letterkenny coach, Gordon Curley, ordered to vacate the touchline to go behind the perimeter fence after he calls on a match official “to do your job” as the latter banters with the Armagh coaching staff and fails to allow replacement Douglas Doyle get on as the game goes back into play.
At 13-0 down, the Letterkenny lads could have let heads drop but back they storm closing the gap of 16-3 to 16-12, a try away from taking the lead.
But the penalty count against them continues to mount up while Armagh players are dropping all over the field in what appears to be injury related but in some cases only appears. Nothing whatsoever to do with the momentum Letterkenny have got into as they close that gap to four points.
In the end man of the match Fox executes a second drop goal of the afternoon to stretch the Armagh lead to seven.
It it still catchable but not when the match referee stops proceedings four minutes into injury time – at least three short of what it should have been.
Sour grapes? Perhaps, and there is no doubting the better team won on the day.
But on the strength of the season they’ve had this Letterkenny team deserved something more than two collections of runners-up medals.
Dateline: Sunday May 8th. Venue: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas:
Okay, okay, I didn’t make it along to Las Vegas for Jason Quigley’s latest success since his switch to the professional ranks (even the Donegal Daily expense account can’t stretch that far) but another high class performance – this time against Mexican middleweight James De La Rosa – underlined, yet again, his potential for a big title fight. And his ability to win one.
“This is only the start. I’m going to fill places like this with Irish people and I am going to light this place up green, white and orange,” the Twin Towns boxer, who was watched by his family who had travelled over for the fight, pledged afterwards. We shouldn’t doubt him.
Watch this and many other spaces besides.
OPERATION TITLE WIN:
Michael Naughton checked himself out of hospital to watch his Donegal team claim the LIDL NFL Division 2 title with a comprehensive beating – albeit after a nervy opening half – of Westmeath at Parnell Park on Saturday,
An outstanding performance all round by the Donegal women in a match they fully deserved to win – the thirteen point gap at the end telling the story.
Apparently, Michael was due to undergo an operation but opted instead for the surgical dismantling of Westmeath.
Cavan are up next in the Ulster Championship next month – this latest success sure to generate a further upsurge in belief that Naughton’s team can claim another title.
HOUSTON – WE HAVE LIFT-OFF!
What an ending to last night’s North-West derby at the Brandywell. Harps leading through ex-Derry City striker, Ryan Curran, right up until the 84th minute; the Candystripes drawing level with a Josh Daniels goal (the young lad who lost five members of his own family in the Buncrana pier tragedy bringing everything back into perspective); Rory Patterson (who else?) cracking home what appeared to be the winner for City with a couple of minutes to go; and then big Sean Houston, who has also seen service with Derry, getting on the end of a header to bring Harps back to fully merited parity again with time close to up.
Another valuable point for Oliver’s Army and a mark of the fighting qualities he has brought to this side.
And now for champions and current league leaders, Dundalk, at Finn Park this Friday night.
Just don’t be surprised is all I say….Tags: