Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Sean O’Connor: The bond between fans and a football club is a very special thing

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Seán O’Connor with you this week.

LOVE, LOSS AND SHELBOURNE

What does your football club mean to you? It may sound like an obvious question, but football can mean lots of things for lots of different people. For some, it’s a social space to meet friends on the terraces every week, while some parents bring their children along in the hope of converting them, whether it be Finn Harps, Shamrock Rovers or Galway United.

For others though, it’s essential. It’s cathartic. It’s a family affair. Seven days ago I spent a couple of hours at Tolka Park with Eric and Maurice Frazer before Shelbourne’s clash against St Pat’s (my Shels piece link here). Sitting in the stand, the brothers explained how Shels is far more than a football club for them, it’s a family which has supported theirs through thick and thin.

The Frazer’s family ties with the club stretch back to the 1940s, but since the pair lost their sister Thelma in the 1981 Stardust fire, they told me how the Drumcondra club has stood with them every step of the way in their 43-year fight for justice. A fight that, finally, saw the truth last month, as verdicts of unlawful killing were delivered for all 48 victims of the nightclub fire in Artane.

From a newspaper notice the club took out days after the tragedy to express condolences to the Frazers, to a minute’s applause and tribute banners at Shels’ home game against Shamrock Rovers last month, the brothers credit the club for keeping them together as a family.

“Shelbourne have been integral, not just in the Stardust (fight for justice), but also for us as a family,” said Eric.

It was impossible not to admire Eric and Maurice’s courage and strength, to speak so beautifully about their late sister after what has undoubtedly been an unimaginably difficult time for the family.

Throughout this week, I have been thinking about what football actually means to the people who adore it, and the one word I keep coming back to is memories.

43 years may have passed, but Eric and Maurice can still remember Thelma going to Tolka to cheer on Shelbourne, or travelling to Cork and Waterford to follow the team. The same night I spoke to the brothers, Damien Duff pulled a Reds supporter out of the crowd to help give the post-match team talk. That’s a memory the fan and his mates certainly won’t forget any time soon.

Everyone can recall their favourite moments, whether it be a cup final triumph, a memorable away trip or holding your Dad’s hand walking up the stadium steps for the first time. My Dad Aiden passed away in 2010, but there’s not a week that goes by where I don’t think of the evenings in Santry we spent watching Sporting Fingal. They mean more to me than anything.

For some, it’s more than just a game. Memories are all we’re really left with in the end, aren’t they?

IRELAND BUSINESS

Last Friday came confirmation that John O’Shea will again take interim charge of Ireland for the June friendlies against Hungary (home) and Portugal (away), with the FAI’s much-criticised search for Stephen Kenny’s successor set to rumble on. It’s also the same backroom team next month, apart from Brian Kerr who won’t link up with the squad due to prior commitments.

We broke the news last week that Jim Crawford’s U-21s are due to play England U-20s in a June friendly, as well as Croatia’s U-21s, with the Boys in Green gearing up for a huge last four Euro 2025 qualifiers this autumn. The U-21s have never qualified for a Euros before and sit second in Group A, two points behind leaders Italy ahead of the run-in.

Monday came the unexpected news that midfielder Sinéad Farrelly is retiring from international football after winning just eight caps since her debut a little over a year ago. David Kelly looked back on the US-born player’s spell in green here.

LEAGUE OF IRELAND

A huge League of Ireland double-header awaits this Bank Holiday weekend, with the Dublin derby of Bohemians and champions Shamrock Rovers the standout fixture this evening. With four Hoops wins and a draw in their last five league meetings, Bohs will be targeting a long-awaited victory over their rivals. Aidan heard from Dayle Rooney ahead of the Dalymount clash who says Bohs must believe they can win these big games. (Link to Aidan’s Friday piece)

St Patrick’s Athletic are winless in their last four but will be hoping to put an end to that run when they host Drogheda United in Inchicore tonight. This week Saints boss Jon Daly confirmed that his captain Joe Redmond will be sidelined for three to four weeks with an ankle issue, a blow considering the volume of games over the next month.

I also heard from Northern Ireland defender Ryan McLaughlin, who reflected on his formative years at Liverpool, his regret at turning down some loan offers while he was young and how the Premier League club look after their former players, with Liverpool currently funding the 29-year-old’s UEFA B License course. (Link to my Friday Pat’s piece here).

The story of last weekend was undoubtedly Damien Duff plucking a supporter from the stand for the team huddle after their big 1-0 win over the Saints at Tolka.

The Shels boss reflected on the viral moment here as well as his approach to the derby win which kept them top. I also spoke to Ciaran Harmon on Saturday, the fan who soon found himself shoulder to shoulder with Duff and Gavin Molloy on the pitch moments after the final whistle.

As their five-in-a-row bid continues, Shamrock Rovers put four past Drogheda on Monday night to move to within two points of Shels. Aidan spoke to 21-year-old Conan Noonan on his form this season and his long road back to fitness after a Covid-related heart scare.

Aidan’s video preview of this weekend’s Premier Division action can be found here too. (Link to Aidan’s video)

Be sure to keep an eye out on the Irish Independent for all the latest League of Ireland news, match reports and our video review over the weekend.

DDSL KENNEDY CUP ROW

In a rather remarkable move, the DDSL has been banned from this year’s Kennedy Cup and Gaynor Cup tournaments, putting the potential futures of some of Dublin’s top talent at huge risk.

The Schoolboys FAI (SFAI) have informed the DDSL that the decision was due to the league’s financial standing and their decision to disengage from the SFAI. It appears absolutely ludicrous that young footballers would be banned from the most two prestigious tournaments in the country for issues outside of their control, and potentially miss out on trial offers from clubs in the UK and elsewhere. A meeting, mediated by the FAI, took place yesterday to find a solution and you can only hope that common sense prevails.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Daniel McDonnell spoke to Derry City’s Sadou Diallo about his time at Manchester City’s academy, how his Islam faith comes before everything else, and how he’s loving life at Derry City having arrived a little under two years ago.

If you have any thoughts or questions feel free to get in touch with me at sean.oconnor@independent.ie or @SeanOCSport on Twitter.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend.

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