by Brendan White
Thursday September 29th 2011. Tottenham Hotspur versus Shamrock Rovers at White Hart Lane. For a strange ten minute period, League of Ireland fans watched, almost in disbelief, as Shamrock Rovers held the lead.
Stephen Rice was the right man in the right place as he deflected Pat Sullivan’s strike into the goal for the lead. The home fans in disbelief; Rovers fans in dreamland.
Although Spurs did come back to win 3-1, the feeling of being in the lead was a surreal one. Cudicini, Lennon, Defoe and Pavlyuchenko were all overshadowed by Rovers in the first half, with goal scorer Stephen Rice shining throughout. The game showed the quality that Rovers have in their squad, quality that they need to regain the Premier Division title. It bodes well for other League of Ireland teams who will think their squads are on a par with Shamrock Rovers. The League of Ireland has a large pool or quality players; we just need fans to get out every week to notice.
I left Tolka Park last Monday night having just seen Shelbourne defeat Limerick 4-3 in a cracking match. Goals, disallowed goals and even the referee was substituted after just one minute.
Shelbourne took the lead through Philly Hughes before Andrew Bhandarker put into his own net for 2-0. Hughes made it 3-0 after the break but John Frost pulled a goal back for Limerick for 3-1. Hughes got his hat-trick from a stunning free kick to all-but before Barry Sheedy got a goal back to make it 4-2 and then grabbed another with one minute of normal time remaining to make it a nervy end to the game for Shels.
Shels held on but the non-stop pace of the game throughout was a real eye-opener. For all the negative press, this game was a true cup tie, no holding back. Well worked goals, strong challenges and everything you would want if you went to a match.
The only downside was the crowd. Just 627 people were present to witness the match between two teams with eyes set on promotion. It deserved much, much more. The 627 people that did attend will certainly be glad they made it, me included.
This game followed on from the Premier Division clash between UCD and Bohemians that I attended the week before. UCD came out on top 2-0 but it was the manner of the victory that stood with me.
UCD have nothing at all to play for in terms of winning any trophies this season, but it didn’t stop them playing. Their opponents Bohemians needed a win to keep up their slim chances of winning the league but you would never have thought so. UCD played them off the park, especially in the second half. Bohs were flat, un-inventive and there looked to be a distinct lack of interest in the game. And they duly paid for it.
UCD took advantage and scored two wonderfully well worked goals and Bohs had no answer. The game itself was a terrific spectacle. End-to-end in the first half with Bohs slightly shading it on chances but the second half saw UCD take control and make life difficult for the former Premier Division champions.
It begs the question “why aren’t more people out watching these games?” Most games cost just €10 for adults. Two games in the space of a week that would have graced any TV screen without a question being asked.
Both games were played in front of small crowds but with the exciting matches they witnessed, I have no doubt they will be back attending games. These games show what the League of Ireland is all about. Terrific performances from individuals and from teams as a united group. We have quality, we just need more people to see it and realise, this league ain’t half bad after all.