Groundhopping: Ireland (v Norway, Aviva Stadium)

Competition: International Friendly

Date: 17 November 2022

Result: Ireland 1 – 2 Norway

Tickets: €30 (adults), €15 (kids), plus those pesky Ticketmaster fees.

Attendance: 41,120

Game/ Experience Rating:  ⭐

The Game: The only real bright spot in this game, which was frankly a pretty turgid watch, was the 15 minutes after half time during which Ireland looked, briefly, a semi-decent side. I had booked the tickets hoping to see Erling Haaland (but also suspecting, correctly it turned out, that I wouldn’t), and instead the absence of quality was absolutely palpable in a game that seemed to be just played out almost for the hell of it.

Alan Browne’s goal was the bright spot for Ireland, though it was struck from some distance and I felt like former Villa goalkeeper Nyland should have saved it, though if I’m honest I haven’t bothered to checka replay. Neither Norway goal was particularly memorable, and for much of the game you’d have been as well off watching it at home with a quiet beer.

I’ve never been in the Aviva with it quite this flat; a firm ‘we’re not going to the World Cup and you’d know it looking at us’ vibe. Worrying.

The ground: I went right up the top of the Aviva in 502 for this game, basically because I had a hunch the more expensive tickets wouldn’t be worth it (nailed it on that one, anyway). We didn’t get in until 20 minutes into the game after some shocking traffic but did catch all the goals. The highlight of the day was possibly the charity Christmas lights already set up on the walk in.

Extras: I got to see a former Villa player in Nyland, and a certain my Odegaard had a good game, so I guess that’s something!

Assorted asides: Note to self: international friendlies are rubbish. I feel like I’ve said this before.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 13. Home wins: 6 Draws: 2 Away wins: 5

Goals: 36. Home goals: 18. Away goals: 18. Goals per game: 2.77


Groundhopping: Shamrock Rovers (v KAA Gent, Tallaght Stadium)

Competition: Europa Conference League Group F

Date: 27 October 2022

Result: Shamrock Rovers 1 – 1 KAA Gent

Tickets: I’ve decided I’m all in for Shamrock Rovers Europa Conference League Group Stage. €75 for the three Shamrock Rovers home games. €30 for kids for the same. There were more expensive tickets, but I don’t need to be in the padded seats!

Attendance: 6,203

Game/ Experience Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Game: It’s amazing how often a dead rubber of a football match sees a team up their performance – “it’s already dead, lads” is one of the great frustrations of a football fan, and this was just such a case (though yeah, better they turn up at some stage, of course!). Shamrock Rovers, fresh from winning the League of Ireland for the third year in a row thanks to Derry failing to win in Sligo during the week, are already eliminated from the Europa Conference League, and should really have beaten KAA Gent, a far superior team on paper, here.

Rovers start well, scoring early through Rory Gaffney, who often looks the most dangerous player on the pitch when he plays. For much of the game they threatened to add to the tally, though Gent had their moments too. The game was spoiled a little bit a very picky referee, whose quick-fire approach to yellow cards eventually sees him send a Rovers player off for a pretty mild looking second yellow with 12 or 14 minutes to go, after which they conceded and looked like they might lose for a while. Hong Hyun Seok, the Korean substitute who got the equaliser, could have scored a couple more.

Bizarrely, one draw in the Europa Conference League is worth €166,000 in prize money, more than winning the League of Ireland title in full, so I suspect we’ll be seeing a bit more Rovers dominance on the domestic scene in the coming couple of seasons as they keep grabbing that European money. Despite a good performance at this one, they do look some way short of threatening to get out of a group: getting into one has to be the main aim again next year.

The ground: I love walking up to a football ground in the pitch black. With the floodlights and the colour, its like walking up to a spaceship on a decent clear winter night. I suspect I won’t be in Tallaght again until they have the fourth side of the ground done, and that should add to the atmosphere a lot, I think.

Extras: Gent fans start out making a hell of a lot of noise (we walked past a fairly manic lot on the way in), only to go pretty quiet when Rovers scored and stay that way. Something tells me they were expecting a fairly easy win! This result pushes Ireland’s European club coefficient even higher – dare we hold out hope of two sides in the group stages next year?

Assorted asides: Season over, really, apart from the relegation play offs. I might have to find my way down to UCD for one more LOI hit for 2022.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 12. Home wins: 6 Draws: 2 Away wins: 4

Goals: 33. Home goals: 17. Away goals: 16. Goals per game: 2.75


Groundhopping: Shamrock Rovers (v Molde, Tallaght Stadium)

Competition: Europa Conference League Group F

Date: 13 October 2022

Result: Shamrock Rovers 0 – 2 Molde

Tickets: I’ve decided I’m all in for Shamrock Rovers Europa Conference League Group Stage. €75 for the three Shamrock Rovers home games. €30 for kids for the same. There were more expensive tickets, but I don’t need to be in the padded seats!

Attendance: 5,860

Game/ Experience Rating:  ⭐⭐

The Game: With Shamrock Rovers coming under increasing pressure at the top of the League of Ireland, Stephen Bradley has made it clear their priority is no longer Europe, but ensuring they maintain their Irish title. Which is a shame, but I get it: trying to get out of this group was always going to be a big ask, and while any kind of result is worth a serious cash influx, it’s unlikely to top the totals involved in doing it all again from the position of Champions (which vastly increases your chances of a group stage as well as the obvious implicit benefit) next season.

This was not a sparkling performance, and I think that’s a shame as despite losing 0-3 away and 0-2 today, I feel Molde are beatable for Rovers on their day. In fact, had a very good chance in the opening minutes been put away – a fairly easy one on one – this could have been a very different story.

It turned out, instead, Molde got a relatively routine win in which Shamrock Rovers’ threat seemed to fade throughout. A disappointing performance and officially the end of the campaign, though it’ll be interesting to see KAA Gent drop by in a couple of weeks time.

Groundhopping: Ireland (v Armenia, Aviva Stadium)

Competition: UEFA Nation’s League, League B Group 1.

Date: 27 September 2022

Result: Ireland 3 – 2 Armenia

Tickets: From €20

Attendance: 41,719

Game/ Experience Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Game: I’ve seen some dreadful Ireland games over the years, and it’s for that reason, combined with the limited stock of players available to him, that these more exciting recent games involving a fairly fluid (if limited) football team have me on the ‘Kenny in’ side of what’s become an Irish international fan divide. This team are good to watch, and that gives a lot of leeway in my opinion, especialyl when the quality of player is clearly not there.

That said, they’re also flaky. Ireland totally dominated this game for 70 minutes, with Armenia offering almost no threat as a John Egan header early on and then a long-distance strike from Michael Obafemi gave Ireland a really comfortable lead. Two different mistakes within a couple of minutes of each other got Armenia back to 2-2 in the 75th minute, though (both well taken goals, too), a dangerous position for Ireland where a loss would have been enough to relegate them to the Nations League third tier.

There was another decent chance for Armenia at 2-2, before the game closed with a period of complete chaos, a VAR penalty for one of the most obvious handball stops from a defender you’d hope to see. Armenia got a red card for the handball, another for some surprisingly over the top complaints (it was absolutely blatant), and Brady scored the penalty to win it in injury time. Great entertainment.

Groundhopping: Rush Athletic (v Tullamore Town, St Catherine’s Park)

Competition: Leinster Senior League Sunday Senior 1B (sixth tier)

Date: 18 September 2022

Result: Rush Athletic 2 – 0 Tullamore Town

Tickets: Free in, just walk up.

Attendance: circa 110

Game/ Experience Rating:  ⭐⭐

The Game: Rush Athletic are already looking secure in Sunday Senior 1B after just a handful of games, a great achievement for my local side’s second season ever in the sixth tier of Irish football. Tullamore Town, however, are not, having been battered 5-0 by league leaders Oliver Bond Celtic on the opening day, and came to St Catherine’s intent on defending for their lives.

That made for an odd game. This was hyper defensive, with Tullamore’s most attacking players during the first half quite often no further forward than the half way line. That made them difficult ot break down, but it also made this a bit of a terrible spectacle for much of the game. It took until just after the 70th minute for Rush to finally take the lead, something that happened essentially because the Tullamore defense was too tired to deal with a run down the right wing.

From there a game of football finally broke out, with Tullamore finally forced out of their shell, and perhaps inevitably, Rush grabbing a second goal for their third league win of the season. A good win, considering the way the opposition set up, but a pretty poor spectacle.

Groundhopping: Shamrock Rovers (v Djurgårdens, Tallaght Stadium)

Competition: Europa Conference League Group F

Date: 8 September 2022

Result: Shamrock Rovers 0 – 0 Djurgårdens IF

Tickets: I’ve decided I’m all in for Shamrock Rovers Europa Conference League Group Stage. €75 for the three Shamrock Rovers home games. €30 for kids for the same. There were more expensive tickets, but I don’t need to be in the padded seats!

Attendance: 6,330

Game/ Experience Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐

The Game: Djurgårdens, oddly, are the fourth ranked team in Shamrock Rovers group, with Shamrock Rovers the third. I think its quite a balanced group with little between Molde, Djurgårdens and KAA Gent, though it’d be a stretch for Rovers to qualify.

Still, any kind of porgress is progress, and Djurgårdens looked pretty ordinary in this game, which on a better day Shamrock Rovers could have nicked. They grew into the game, particularly in a dominant period towards half time in which the Irish side were by far the better side. I’ve been hoping to see more of Jack Byrne, who has been struggling for fitness but is one of the best players I’ve seen in the League of Ireland, and when he did make it on, he was good but not outstanding.

Both sides could have won this, but neither really set the place alight. Still, a fairly comfortably point for Shamrock Rovers is great for the famous coefficient, the significant funding on offer for any kind of points in the Europa Conference League. They’ll certainly need to be home wins if they’re going to progress, though, so perhaps a missed opportunity.

The ground: Surprisingly, less are showing up to these group games than the knock out games (less riding on them as inidividual games, and slightly more expensive, perhaps). It’d be nice to see sell outs going forward. Tallaght was the same as always: a good, neat place to watch football but not one of Ireland’s most interesting stadiums.

Extras: This match made the news for a chant about the Queen that was a little bit tasteless. I didn’t hear it, as I was right down the other end of the ground (in fact, where I usually sit in Tallaght, the away fans are easier to hear than the home ones). What I did hear was Rovers fans chanting for Djurgårdens rivals Hammarby, and a vocal response from the away end, which was fairly comic.

Assorted asides: Djurgårdens has the best away fans I’ve seen of any European side in Ireland to date. Which is interesting as I’d rank Norkopping, who I saw play St Patrick’s Athletic a few years ago, second. The Swedes are a bit mad, but likeably so.

Groundhopping: Shamrock Rovers (v Ferencvaros, Tallaght Stadium)

Date: 25 August 2022

Competition: Europa League Final Qualifying Round

Result: Shamrock Rovers 1 – 0 Ferencvaros (aggregate 1-4)

Tickets: €20 (adult), €7 (kid)

Attendance: 7,163

Game/ Experience Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐

The Game: I’ve been a little unfortunate watching Shamrock Rovers European games this season, in that both of the home games I’ve been to have been in practise dead rubbers, with the side already 3-0 down against Ludogorets from the first leg in the Champions League, and 4-0 down in this case. Still, seeing decent European sides in Ireland is always worth doing.

This did feel like a dead rubber of a game. It sold out, perhaps helped by the knowledge that even after their inevitable loss, Rovers’ European adventure would continue in the Conference League group stages, and Ferencvaros were pretty average for the whole game, drawing just one really solid save out of Alan Mannus, who looks a seriously solid keeper.

Rovers won this at the last through a bit of a tap in from Andy Lyons, and that drew an impressive reaction out of a crowd that new their team was out (it is impressive to beat a team like Ferencvaros for a LOI team, regardless of the situation, and worth ranking points for next year’s European games, so definite positives). Overall, though, a bit of a nothing game, made entertaining only by its closing stages and the fact that Rovers matched and in fact marginally outplayed the Hungarian side throughout.

Groundhopping: Aberdeen (v Motherwell, Pittodrie)

Date: 13 August 2022

Competition: Scottish Premier League

Result: Aberdeen 2 – 3 Motherwell

Tickets: £20 (adult), £12 (kid)

Attendance: 14,714

Game/ Experience Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Game: We found ourselves in Aberdeen as a city aside from a holiday in the Scottish Highlands, so this was the perfect chance to catch a first ever live Scottish Premier League game when Motherwell visited over the weekend. Motherwell have a strange Irish link at the moment: having lost home and away to Sligo Rovers in Europe a few weeks ago, they promptly sacked their manager, and have a new one in charge in time for this trip, for whch they’ve bought only a handful of fans from East of Glasgow.

Aberdeen are sloppy from the off, with Motherwell dominating the early exchanges and unsurprisingly going ahead in the first few minutes after a sustained period of pressure. There seems to be plenty of potential in the Aberdeen squad – I particularly liked Stewart at the back, and Shayden Morris, a rapid wide man recently signed from Fleetwood and, I think, making his debut. It’s disjointed, though, and when Aberdeen take the lead with goals either side of half time, it feels more fortunate than a reflection of the game.

Motherwell hit back, leading 3-2 after 60 minutes and then frustrating the home fans by killing a lot of time (6 minutes of injury time arguably wasn’t enough) to hold on for the win. A nice see-saw game but I understand why Aberdeen fans would be pretty put out by it all given the shoddiness of their side, who resorted to throwing popular goalkeeper Roos up for corners at the end. Both defences poor, I didn’t feel the level of football was notably higher than our regular haunt, the Irish top tier (nor, to be fair, is it notably more expensive), but fiercely entertaining.

The ground: I’m really impressed with Pittodrie. The walk in is one of the most beautiful I’ve come across for a football ground – lots of open space and dune like hills to be strolled over until you come across the ground as you head over a sandy, rabbit-covered peak, the highest stand on one end popping into view and an angle on a scattering of seats in the main stand from outside on offer.