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Groundhopping: Ireland v Gibraltar (Aviva Stadium)

Competition: European Championship Qualifers, Group B

Date: 19 June 2023

Result: Ireland 3 – 0 Gibraltar

Tickets: As part of our season tickets, circa €50 for one adult and one kid.

Attendance: 42,156

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆

The Game: Stephen Kenny’s Ireland project has been a strange journey. He’s launched a lot of younger players into international football, and unqiestiobnably plays a more attractive version of the game than his rather tactically limited predecessors, but is it more effective? I’d argue not. It was quite ugly to watch today, too, with the team far too focused on firing crosses into Evan Ferguson instead of actually trying anything all that original against an (obviously) below average Gibraltar side.

The first half was particularly poor, with Ireland going in at half time at 0-0, and the action so bad that for the first time ever, I let my son drag me downstairs five minutes before half time because he wanted a snack. The Aviva’s catering is dire, by the way. They were already out of any kind of soft drink before half time, and those prices…

Second half, thankfully, was better, with they ever-promising Mikey Johnston making an immediate difference (he really should be starting every game at this stage). It eventually finished 3-0, with Johnston, Ferguson and Adam Idah getting the goals. Honestly, though, this one wasn’t worth the effort, really. A shame, as I generally love seeing the minnows. San Marino, Lichenstein and Andorra are firmly on my bucket list.

The ground:  Great views from everywhere in the stadium as far as I’ve seen in the Aviva, but the atmopshere today was library-like, the most end-of-season vibe I think I’ve experienced at the place. The highlight was a Mexican wave, which probably says it all.

Extras: Let’s not get into the catering again. Poorly stocked and a rip off, what an odd combination.

Assorted asides: It’s a strange sensation going to an Ireland game that they’re expected to win very easily, and even stranger when, for the first half at least, it looks like a potentially memorable night because they might not. Not a classic, it’s fair to say.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 14. Home wins: 9 Draws: 4 Away wins: 1

Goals: 41. Home goals: 29. Away goals: 12. Goals per game: 2.93

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Groundhopping: Aston Villa (v Brighton, Villa Park)

Competition: English Premier League

Date: 28 May 2023

Result: Aston Villa 2 – 1 Brighton

Tickets: £39.50 (adult), Doug Ellis Lower

Attendance: 41,925

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆☆☆

The Game: With Villa needing to win (or some complicated stuff involving Spurs and Brentford’s results if they didn’t – both won as it turned out) to qualify for Europe for the first time in 13 years, this was a game that I simply had to get over for, the culmination of a season that for Villa has had a redemptive story arc worthy of a full season Netflix series.

To say Villa fans were up for this is a huge understatement. Two hours before kick off, the team coach was welcomed into the club car park by thousands of fans chanting and a few flares. The ground was packed half an hour before kick off, and the atmospehre was electric in a way I haven’t expereinced at Villa in a very long time, probably going back to cup games in the late 00s (I don’t get to a lot of games, to be fair!).

Thankfully, the game lived up to it. Brighton are a remarkable club, considering their resources, and this match was properly toe-to-toe from the off, with Villa scoring two early-ish goals, from Douglas Luiz and Ollie Watkins, both assisted by an absolutely marauding local lad Jacob Ramsey, suddenly a really key player in a side transformed by Unai Emery.

Brighton got one back through Undav, but while they threatened, there’s a change in feel around Villa at the moment, a lack of the vulnerability that long felt like it lingered in the background of these kinds of games, and I felt we were more likely to add another than they were to score. That final whistle – after which I had to almost sprint to the exit to catch my late flight back – was nothing short of ecstatic.

The ground:  I love Villa Park and have attended dozens – possibly over a hundred – Villa games over the years, but this was the first time I sat in the Doug Ellis stand (I’ve been in all the others). I think the atmosphere was electric everywhere today, so it didn’t matter too much where you were sitting, but this was fiery fromt start to finish. Love the feel of Villa Park, too, and the mixing of Brighton and Villa fans outside without any issue was nice to see.

Extras: I couldn’t resist the end of season shirt prices (£20 for the away), and found a programme from a 2008 game against Ajax I attended in the charity box alongside the matchday programme, so pleased with that. The currywurst van was good, too.

Assorted asides: European football, baby! Sure, it’s not the Champions League, but if you flick through my groundhopping posts, you’ll see I’ve a bit of an affection for the Europa Conference League, so I’m all for this.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 13. Home wins: 8 Draws: 4 Away wins: 1

Goals: 38. Home goals: 26. Away goals: 12. Goals per game: 2.92

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Groundhopping: Bohemians (v Cork City, Dalymount Park)

Competition: League of Ireland Premier Division

Date: 1 May 2023

Result: Bohemians 5 – 0 Cork City

Tickets: €16 (adult), €6 (kids) – prices including fees

Attendance: circa 3,000

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆

The Game: Currently top of the league and playing a Cork CIty side whose manager would complain and then be sacked after the game, this always looked likely to be a home win. Oddly, it’s also the fourth game in a row I’ve been to with a red card, three of them in the first half: when a Cork defender kicked out at Bohs point man and saw red off the ball, and the ever-lively Jordan Flores scored the resulting free kick, this felt like it was only ever going to go one way.

That said, the score was more than a little flattering – I think Bohs only had six shots on target, but their four late-ish goals made Cork look like they’d been hammered in a way that didn’t really reflect the majority of the game (in which Bohs were on top, but not totally dominant by any means). The free kick and a finely angled finish by McDonald were particulary impressive. Bohs are away to massive rivals Shamrocks Rovers next Friday – a game that could be key to the title outcome.

The ground:  “Dalymount is falling down” came the chant from the Cork City fans midway through the first half. I had to laugh, as I well remember their ground having its roof blown off only a few years ago during a storm, a far more literal falling down. Dalymount has improved slightly in the last few years, not least through the addition of the away (Mono) stand, in tribute to a dedicated fan who has passed on, and the improvement of the Des Kelly Stand.

With its moss-covered closed end and the endless graffiti around the outsides, though, I think Dalymount is nothing less than iconic, and I’ll be genuinely upset when it’s inevitably eventually gone. Grounds with character have so much more to offer the game than standard issue identi-kit stadiums, and this is one of them. It was slightly quiet today, but I’m putting that down to the win being so comfortable.

Extras: Dalymount is fairly well equipped now with food stalls, coffee, and a nice club shop. I’ve always been a fan of Bohemians kit, and while I didn’t buy any today, I do own a fair bit of their merch. The shop is well worth exploring. I didn’t dig into the programme but there was one.

Assorted asides: There were queues for the food truck for 100% of the game near the Des Kelly Stand, which strikes me as a slightly bizarre way to enjoy a football match. My son insisted on chips. I left him to it, it took half an hour. Probably room for another food stand!

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 12. Home wins: 7 Draws: 4 Away wins: 1

Goals: 35. Home goals: 24. Away goals: 11. Goals per game: 2.92

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Groundhopping: Dundalk (v Drogheda United, Oriel Park)

Competition: League of Ireland Premier Division

Date: 28 April 2023

Result: Dundalk 3 – 2 Drogheda United

Tickets: €15 (adult), €5 (kids)

Attendance: 2,825

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆☆

The Game: I’d never been to Oriel Park (though I attended a heap of Dundalk European games in Tallaght back in the day), so a chance to sett the Louth Derby on a bank holiday Friday night was too good to turn down. I saw Dundalk last week and they seemed to have a problem finishing chances at Shelbourne. No issues this week, as two first half goals coupled with a Drogheda red card saw them seemingly in complete control.

As is the way with derby games, though, Drogheda came storming back, getting back to 2-2 at about 80 minutes before a very late and slightly manic Dundalk winner. Great entertainment, though I had the toddler with me at football for the first time (at least at a proper stadium) and that made it a little harder to watch than normal!

The ground:  One massive stand and then a load of peripheral seats and standing areas make for a bit of an odd space, but it’s nice and atmospheric. I’m not sure I’d pay the extra fiver to get in the big tall part unless it was pouring rain. I spent most of the game in the grass at one end, where I had a great view of the fairly impressive away fan pyro displays and the little one could run about.

It’s run down and the away fans famously hate the little section they’re given in hte corner, but for the game reason I like a lot of the less impressive League of Ireland ground – that they take me back to the football of my chidlhood – I did enjoy Oriel.

Extras: Coffee, fast food, programmes, lots of pyro. About what you’d expect, really.

Assorted asides: Dundalk is actually as easy to get to as any Dublin side from North County – right off the motorway with easy parking around the ground. I’ll be back.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 11. Home wins: 6 Draws: 4 Away wins: 1

Goals: 30. Home goals: 19. Away goals: 11. Goals per game: 2.72

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Groundhopping: Shelbourne (v Dundalk, Tolka Park)

Competition: League of Ireland Premier Division

Date: 21 April 2023

Result: Shelbourne Rovers 1 – 1 Dundalk

Tickets: €17 (adult), €6 (kids)

Attendance: circa 4,000

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆

The Game: A last minute shout, this one, to catch what is really a mid-table clash in the League of Ireland top tier. Dundalk are not going well this year, but started strongly in this game, in particular when they won a penalty early on, and a Shelbourne defender reacted by hitting an opponent and promptly got sent off with just 12 minutes on the clock. The penalty was saved, but Dundalk dominated from there on, with Shelbourne occasionally getting free on the break but largely forced to defend.

Unfortunately for Dundalk, they are not great at breaking sides down, and for a lot of the time, didn’t look like doing much. Rayhaan Tulloch, who won the early penalty, conceded one to allow Shelbourne to go in front around a hour in, against the run of play. Tulloch then equalised, which meant almost every relevant action in the game involved him in one way or the other. He’s on loan from West Brom.

Overall, this was like a win to Shelbourne, given the amount of opportunity Dundalk had to take advantage of them being down to ten men. It kind of petered out in the end.

The ground:  I’ve been trying to follow the Tolka Park (knock it down or keep it) saga, and I understand it’s currently back under ownership that makes it likely it will be around a bit longer. I love the place. It’s unpopular with some fans, but it’s a proper old-world football stadium, one that has entire sections that have to be roped off, but feels like watching football 30 years ago.

I actually thought the peripheral facilities were decent today, too.

Extras: A decent sized club shop, several food stalls, and there seems to be a bar under the main stand (I didn’t go in). I didn’t see a programme, but there was an unoffocial supporters zine on sale outside, which I thought was quite cool – you don’t often see that at League of Ireland level.

Assorted asides: I learnt that Shels fans sing that Lily Allen song about… erm… sexual satisfaction as part of their chants. “It’s not fair and I think you’re really mean” might be one of the funniest things I’ve heard sung in a football stadium.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 10. Home wins: 5 Draws: 4 Away wins: 1

Goals: 25. Home goals: 16. Away goals: 9. Goals per game: 2.50

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Groundhopping: Rush Athletic (v Finglas United, St Catherine’s Park)

Competition: Leinster Senior League Sunday Senior Division 1B

Date: 16 April 2023

Result: Rush Athletic 2 -0 Finglas United

Tickets: free, walk up

Attendance: circa 150

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆

The Game: My local side, Rush Athletic, are pushing for promotion to the 3rd tier of the Leinster Senior League (which is, in practise, the 5th tier of Irish football). Three teams go up, and four are in serious contention, including today’s opponents Fingas United, who arrived with a remarkable 11 game consecutive winning streak, having started the season poorly. All four sides are now as near as makes no difference level, and whoever misses out on going up in a few weekends time will have been seriously unfortunate.

In this game, Finglas started well, with Rush clinging on a bit in the early stages of what turned out to be quite a bitty contest. The game reached 0-0 at half time, and I felt Finglas were the more likely scorers

Early in the second half, the Rush goalkeeper was sent off for a challenge on their winger, a bit of a borderline call I felt, but if anything it pushed Rush on and they dominated from then on, stiffling Finglas going forward and scoring two on the break. It’s a vital win from a promotion perspective, though a couple more are probably necessary to firm things up. It’d be really cool to have a fifth tier team in Rush next year, with teams like Cherry Orchard and St Kevin’s, both iconic Dublin amateur sides, likely to be in the same division, so fingers crossed they pull it off.

The ground:  I think I’ve said all there is to say about St Catherine’s: it’s a quaint sea-view pitch with standing room around the edges, but there’s little more to it than that. Except when the coffee van turns up and creates a kind of snack terrace. Still a lovely place to watch football.

Extras: No coffee van today, I was genuinely disappointed.

Assorted asides: I posted about what I felt was quite unsportmanlike behaviour from one side on Twitter after going to this game. I got half a dozen replies, which, as you can see above, is about 4-5% of the people at the game. They all disagreed with me, but then they would, they were all connected to the side I was calling out. I deleted it in the end because arguing about football at a park level just strikes me as a bit ridiculous. The whole thing was bizarre. Just goes to show you never know who’s watching on the internet.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 9. Home wins: 5 Draws: 3 Away wins: 1

Goals: 23. Home goals: 15. Away goals: 8. Goals per game: 2.56

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Groundhopping: Ireland (v France, Aviva Stadium)

Competition: UEFA European Championship Qualifiers, Group B

Date: 27 March 2023

Result: Ireland 0 -1 France

Tickets: As part of my season ticket, roughly €28 per game (not including non-international extras)

Attendance: 50,219

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆☆☆

The Game: Ireland are improving rapidly at the moment, at least in terms of performances, and despite hte loss, it’s fair to say that this performance against recent World Cup Finalists France exceeded almost all expectations. The arrival of Evan Ferguson in the first team is the latest thing to get Ireland fans fired up, but it was an all round performance here that rarely saw Ireland outclassed, despite the French being fresh off a 4-0 hammering of the Netherlands.

In fact, star man Kylian Mbappe, booed throughout, barely got into the game, often dropping back into the France defensive line to collect the ball. As is sadly typical of Ireland, the goal was both from a long way out, and came directly from a defensive error, as Cullen gifted Ben Pavard the ball around 25 yards from goal and he slammed home in a moment that could almost have been called against the run of play.

Ireland had lots of great build up play and briefly threatened to equalise with a couple of late headers, one of which was absolutely magnificently saved by Mike Maignan, a save that made the front cover of L’Equipe the following morning as the French press admitted their side had been a little fortunate.

The catch phrase of Ireland fans online recently has been ‘green shoots’, and despite a loss that almost everyone saw as inevitable before kick off, there were lots of green shoots here.

The ground:  I’ve been disappointed in Ireland fans recently – there’s a bit of a big game mentality going on, I think, and the atmosphere at friendlies has been shoddy to the point of dull. That wasn’t the case for this, which saw the Aviva light up as Ireland went toe-to-toe with the French in front of a sell out crowd. It’s games like this that give Ireland fans their reputation. I’m not convinced it’s always deserved, but at times the Aviva atmosphere is nothing short of wonderful.

Extras: One of those games where I break my usual rule and grab an ‘I was there’ programme, plus a spare one for my son’s friend to keep, too. The little lad got a half and half scalf and loves it. He’s nine, it’s allowed.

Assorted asides: With, potentially, 15 years of being fronted by Evan Ferguson on the horizon, are Ireand on the way back? I find it hard to see tournament qualifcation this time around, personally, but it also doesn’t seem a millon miles away any more. Perhaps the 2026 World Cup, with a bit of luck?

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 8. Home wins: 4 Draws: 3 Away wins: 1

Goals: 21. Home goals: 13. Away goals: 8. Goals per game: 2.63

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Groundhopping: Rush Athletic (v Oliver Bond Celtic, St Catherine’s Park)

Competition: Leinster Senior League Sunday Senior Division 1B (Sixth Tier)

Date: 26 March 2023

Result: Rush Athletic 0 – 0 Oliver Bond Celtic

Tickets: free, walk up

Attendance: Roughly 100

Game/ Experience Rating:  ☆☆

The Game: Both Rush Athletic and Oliver Bond Celtic had plenty of reason to be up for this one – Rush are sitting in second and still holding outside hopes of winning a title, but also have an eye on those behind them – they must finish at least third to secure guaranteed promotion. Oliver Bond are one of those sides pushing to catch them.

Unfortunately these games can go either way, and this one wasn’t good. A first half filled with offsides, and few decent chances, and a second half only slightly better, though Rush has a couple of threatening headers, and Oliver Bond scuffed a one-on-one with the Rush goalkeeper. Oliver Bond also had a forward sent off late on for kicking out at a defender after the ball was shepharded out. A daft red card if you ever saw one.

The bottom line, though, is this wasn’t overly entertaining, though it probably suits Rush more than Oliver Bond as the current gap stays in place. Three games to go to secure that promotion.

The ground:  Rush Athletic is just a pitch with a metal barrier around it, but my word the views are exceptional (see pics). Always a pleasant experience.

Extras: Berry and Bean coffee van. That’s about it.

Assorted asides: I think I’m right in saying if Rush secure promotion to the fifth tier (third tier in Leinster Senior League terms), they’ll be at the highest level they’ve ever been in the Irish system. That means a huge few games over the next month or so.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 7. Home wins: 4 Draws: 3 Away wins: 0

Goals: 20. Home goals: 13. Away goals: 7. Goals per game: 2.86

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