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Drogheda United V. St. Patrick’s Athletic
United (02) Park
Jan 26th 2003

Score : 0 – 0

    Drog Day Afternoon (Rusty’s Farewell)

I cycled passed the Dublin Spire and it looked magnificent in the early afternoon sunlight. I was bombing my way down towards Connolly station to get the 13.51 train to Drogheda. No season would really be complete without witnessing the last game of the season. We’d planned to drive up but when that fell though it was too late to get a place on the supersaints bus. So the train it was.

In fact it wasn’t so long ago that I remember being out in Bray where we got thumped 4-1 on a warm afternoon by the sea. Of course that was two years ago when our seasons ended in May. Today the last game of this interim season was taking place on a cold bright January day.

After picking up my ticket I was instinctively drawn towards a TV screen where were already one to the good against the calamitous hammers in the FA cup. I got a clap on the back and Shayzer stood there beaming. His happiness was there for all the world to see and it had nothing to do with the FA Cup. It was due to the fact that the trickle of rumours that started on SoccerCentral on Friday about “the greener” getting the top job had turned into a monsoon of newsprint by this morning. I’d seen the Star on Saturday saying that Kerr had got the top job in Irish football but I refused to believe it. The fact that every Sunday newspaper had a story about it made me more of a believer that the FAI had made a ‘good’ decision for the first time in living memory.

I bought the Observer and read about how Brian Kerr had managed Dublin’s “unfashionable” St. Patricks Athletic to the title in 1996. I chuckled to myself. A Drogs fan sat down in the seat across from us. He passed me the Sunday World which didn’t have any news about the final day of the season. Instead it was wall to wall English FA cup nonsense and pictures of Kerr’s house along side the mansion of Keane in Cheshire. The Sun was out and we were all in buoyant mood as the the train zipped up the coast past many pitches with the youth playing football. I felt like it was the start of a new time for Irish football and was hoping that the saints could put a miserable season behind them and end Rusty’s playing career with a win. In the strong winter afternoon light all things seemed possible. A Dublin man in charge of the Irish team, perhaps this surreal atmosphere could stretch to an away win for St. Pats. That’s what I was thinking so looking back now I can only put it down to being carried away.

The old hometown looked the same…………

We got talking to the Drogheda fan sitting across form us resplendent as he was in his claret and blue home shirt. This dedicated blighter had been up since before the light at 6.30 in the side of the road somewhere on the roadside trying to hitch into Tullamore. Now a lift and one train ride down already he was about to pull into this hometown with half an hour to kick off. He was telling us that his girlfriend was going traveling around the world for a year and that this was their second last weekend together before that happened. Needless to say she wasn’t impressed when he arose to pull on his 02 shirt that morning to get back for the Drogs last game of the season. Something’s just have to be done. This kindly gent phoned some taxi number (Ray’s cabs we joshed him saying that Ray was the man who did everything in the old one horse town.) When we got to the station a mini-bus pulled up and 5 of us jumped into it. 2 Drogheda fans, two St. Pat’s fans and one Dundalk fan whose brother was getting a rare start for Drogheda.

Shayzer got the pints on in the boozer and I bought the tickets and the black and white program. There was real signs of a lack of money from the program, the tickets, and the ground. It’s sad to say this ground was probably in better shape when me Da took me here to see my first ever league of Ireland game in the nineteen hundred and seventies.

Inside the pub had finished off their demolition of the hammers. The story abounding from the fans who had witnessed it was that Gary Breen was culpable in all of the goals. The dream of a team of Gary Breen’s had become a nightmare reality for the east enders.

We got into the ground just as the teams were coming out on the pitch. It was still fairly bright and the Sun was preparing to set over the sheds to the West. The traveling contingent from Dublin was fairly impressive. Obviously a lot of the fans have the same strong feelings that the final game of a season has to be witnessed. It’s the book end of the season. The mujha hadin – or whatever the ‘DRAWhadda’ supporters call themselves were there in force optimistic after their sides fine performance in taking all the points from Shels the previous Monday.

Drog Fight

The game started. Straight away Seamus Kelly was clattered within the first four minutes by Derek Delaney (no.9) for Drogheda. This was going to be a dog fight and that’s there was clear instructions from Harry McCue to go down fighting. For all their bluster it was St. Pats who exerted early pressure with a few consecutive corners just in front of the away fans. Tony Bird tried an acrobatic bicycle kick that didn’t come off. From another breaking ball at the edge of the box Liam Kelly set himself up for a volley that was deflected over the crossbar for another corner. Nothing resulted from this. Overall the natural light started to fade and the game began to descend into the scrappy affair that both sets of fans had to be expecting. On the half hour mark the lights came on and with that the first real chance of the game was created. Trevor Crolly floated a long cross field ball which was controlled by Michael Holt on the edge of the Drogheda box. He jinked one way turned inside defender and cracked in a low shot which came crashing off the post with the netminder beaten.

This spurred Drogheda into a revenge raid of their own and a low cross a couple of minutes later with a deflected shot looping over Seamus Kelly’s left hand post. St. Patrick’s broke away from this short period of Drogheda pressure with great speed. Kevin Doyle looked to paraphrase an album title “lively and dangerous” ran alongside Paul Donnelly in something resembling a basketball fast break. Young Doyle pealed away to the right wing and Donnelly neatly swerved to the left avoiding a desperate tackle from the last Drogheda defender. We all rose up knowing that this was a guilt edged opportunity. Neil Bennett advanced off his line and even though he could have taken the ball on further Donnelly elected to shoot. The ball flew over the crossbar and out of United park. (I refuse to call grounds after the names of sponsors and there is precious little evidence of any financial injection around this club.)

Half time came and I took a call from Brian (11 year old fan who was shamefully taken on some family trip rather than seeing his teams final game of the season. I gave him a brief expletive heavy match report which was tempered with the fact that I’d just seen Donnelly send the ball out of the ground with the goal as this mercy. I went over the what approximates to the toilet here and it makes the jax in Richer look like the executive washroom. I saw the farewell banner for Martin Russell which was the impressive work of one very dedicated Invincible

“5 seasons, 24 goals, one Magical left foot – thanks for the memories Rusty”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. Despite him not making an appearance today thus far I was brought back to the last time that left foot and caused unbridled joy in my life. I was the last minute free kick against the $h€€Liban in the cup when he’d hooked in the ball to his old mate Oso to bury our enemies hopes with a brilliant header. How many assists had this man in this great five seasons ? I suppose what we need is a supersaints stats driven anorak figure to step from the shadows and answer this query with regard to Rusty's assists.

45 minutes of the ‘mare left

It was my impression that this game meant more to Drogheda that it did for me so that I began to become apparent in the second half. The drogs fought their way back into the game. By the 63rd minute Kevin Doyle was subbed off and on came Ger McCarthy. I wasn’t optimistic that this was the key to unlock their defence. Three minutes later a cross from the left had someone climb high in the claret and blue to flash a header just past the St. Pats post. Ten minutes later a cross that wasn’t dealt with by anybody falls to the sub. Mark Quinless who steers his toe poke just wide. The groans and desperation from the home fans was palpable. The cries came from the St. Pats fans for Charlie’s introduction to the game. For the last half of the season I would have been happier with a collective of them managing the team as I was not convinced that they could do a better job than Herr Dolan. Finally with 3 minutes left Charles Mbabazi Livingston was sent on in place of Liamo. Almost immediately a chance fell to McCarthy and then Charlie on the follow up forced a great double save from Bennett. Then Somewhere near the halfway line “one of the most exciting players to watch” in the league according to the program got the ball. Charlie beat the first couple of tackles with ease, he moved up the wing and cut infield. Mc Carthy pulled out wide on the right to give him that passing option but Charlie wasn’t into that. He beat another lunging tackle that saw him emerge into the box and I was screaming now with the imminent possibility of seeing the goal of the season with almost the last kick of it. Shamefully the attempted shot on goal was feable and in no way matched up to the mesmerizing build up. The ball trickled harmlessly into the waiting Drogheda keepers arms. Into the extra time we went. Drogheda created another chance and the substitute no. 13 Quinless went closest with a shot that grazed the bar from 12 yards out. The Drogs fans knew they were in the playoffs and we knew that we were in a going to finish just above that fate.

It was over. McKeon another portly little man blew for full time and thankfully brought an end to a very forgettable season. A poor start an okay middle and a terrible end. It was a short interim season but it had really taken it out of us. The scores on the door read that St. Patricks Athletic finished 7th. We had amassed a total of 33 points by winning 8 games, drawing 9 and losing 10. We had scored an average of a goal a game and conceded 1.22. We finished below Longford town, and UCD. All in all a season that started so brightly with our fine adventures in Europe ended in death by dullness on a cold night by the Boyne. We sang “Rusty we love you” as he was carried on the shoulders of the team but there was no disguising that this was a damp squib ending to a great playing career. I wanted to get out of the cold and get a cup of coffee into me. We trudged back into the town in search of a good boozer called McPhails which I used to drink in as a teenager. We found it and on the box this time Curtis Fleming was putting in a man of the match performance against Liverpool. I said to Shay that I was hoping that Drogheda would survive the play offs as this is real football country up here. (They duly did coming back to beat Galway 3-2 over two legs and I was glad for the Mujha’s). Then I received a call from Luke (a bray fan) who drove into Lawrence’s street And gave us a lift back to Dublin.

When I got back to the station I picked up my bike and cycled home. Looking at the Spire from Talbot street I found that sight to be inspirational. Sure I knew that the supersaints had had a woeful season but Brian Kerr was the top dog now. That could only be good news for the domestic game. Like a man awoken from a nightmare I cycled past the spire safe and settled into dreaming of the good things that might happen for the saints next season. Football in the off-season is a game for the dreamers.

Dr. Groove 20th Feb 2003

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