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: Shamrock Rovers (v Ludogorets Razgrad, Tallaght Stadium)

Date: 26 July 2022

Competition: UEFA Champion’s League Second Qualifying Round

Result: Shamrock Rovers 2 – 1 Ludogorets (aggregate 2-4)

Tickets: €20 (adult), €7 (kids)

Attendance: 6,322

Game Rating:  ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The game: I make a point of trying to get to a couple of the games involving Irish teams in Europe every summer, and I’ve seen some absolutely belting games (Dundalk hammering BATE 3-0 in this ground particularly stands out). This was no exception. Shamrock Rovers were slightly unfortunate to be 3-0 down returning from Bulgaria, having been easily the match of Ludogorets for the second half of the match. In this game, at times it looked like Rovers might overrun the Bulgarians, though overturning the 3-0 deficit only briefly looked possible.

There’s a gulf in class between these sides on paper, but from the off Rovers were on top, and threatened on numerous occasions in the first half, with a rebound slammed away by Aaron Greene around midway through giving them the lead.

Ludogorets were aggressive and frustrating, with a lot of professional fouls and time wasting, and deservedly received a red card – perhaps a combination of endless niggly fouls – about 55 minutes in, which seemed to signal an opening for Rovers. Placing much of the team behind the ball, however, Ludogorets were able to hold out until the 88th minute, when Rovers got a second and briefly threatened to take the tie to extra time. With most of the team pressed forward, though, Ludogorets finally came out of their shell and caught them on the counter attack, ending the tie as a contest. Really impressive from Rovers, though, considering the gap in budgets.

The ground: I was slightly disappointed there weren’t more people in the Tallaght Stadium, perhaps because of the heavy first round loss. There were a few hundred empty seats which I have no doubt would have been full had it felt like the tie was wide open.

Still, the south stand as usual made quite a racket, and the new north stand, still a ball-catching area of mud and machinery, is going to nicely round off the stadium when it’s done. I enjoy visiting here, though many other Irish grounds have more of that charmingly rundown feel that brings back 90s football, and I’d probably prefer that on balance. It’s a great spot for kids, though, especially with the McDonald’s over the road!

Extras: Programme, club shop, and they’ve started selling slushies, which my son goes absolutely wild for. It’s a bit full on getting served at half time and I had to go on a comical chase around the Main Stand to grab a programme from a fast-moving seller, but generally speaking the place is set, and very nice to visit.

Assorted asides: If you sit at the very back on the Main (West) stand, not only can you freely stand without annoying anyone, but there is a raised concrete area behind the seats that allows kids to see perfectly.

My totals for the year so far:

Games: 4. Home wins: 2. Draws: 0 Away wins: 2

Goals: 13. Home goals: 6. Away goals: 7. Goals per game: 3.25


Groundhopping: Ireland (v Ukraine, Aviva Stadium)

Date: 8 June 2022

Competition: Nations League (international)

Result: Ireland 0 – 1 Ukraine

Tickets: €20 (adult), €15 (kids) (much higher prices too, I only go when I get in early on the cheap seats, to be honest)

Attendance: circa 40,000

Game Rating: ⭐ ⭐ (five for the positive vibes, though).

The game: Another poor performance from an Irish side in the Nations League with a couple of stand out performances from Ogbene (who looks a real prospect) and Collins (who by all rights should have a lot more caps already). A couple of decent chances in the game at either end, a bit of a dull affair all in.

The goal was a freekick early in the second half that just somehow evaded Kelleher and went in the net. It’ll be forgotten totally in a couple of weeks. The highlight, to be honest, was looking at the atmosphere amongst the Ukranian fans.

Groundhopping: Ireland (vs Wales, Aviva Stadium)

Date: 11 October 2020

Competition: UEFA Nation’s League, League B, Group 4

Result: Ireland 0 – 0 Wales

Tickets: Not available to the public (entry via press pass)

Attendance: circa 50 press.

The game: It’s a really quite surreal experience watching international football from a socially distanced press box, fully masked, far enough from the other journalists in attendance to make a conversation almost impossible. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a game quite so quietly, chomping away on the free crisps and sandwiches and watching the action unfold far below, yet still hearing every word the players shout at each other.

I reviewed the game in full here if you’re tempted to read up; it wasn’t a classic, with Ireland hampered by corona withdrawals ahead of the game, especially up front. In truth, in going to almost every Ireland hme game for the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve only seen a couple that I really thought were great entertainment. They should probably have won, however, with Wales – despite the presence of the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Daniel James – offering precious little. I quite like the look of Ireland under Stephen Kenny. It’s a far better style of passing, attacking football that’s actually really quite pleasant to watch, if frustratingly inefficient at the sharp end. Hopefully, the results will come.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 162

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, and for a short time, it felt like, at least from Ireland’s perspective, there was a slim chance that there simply wouldn’t be any more need to comment. If only.

Ireland has taken a major step backwards, with two days of nearly 200 cases announced in the last week as problems in meat factories, Direct Provision Centres and with reduced restrictions start to take their toll. It’s distressing, in large part because we had come so far – down to single figure cases daily, on average, for a few weeks – and things are starting to look like they’ve come undone.

We’re currently on a summer holiday in Donegal, which has been excellent but very weird: no restaurants, no indoor entertainment outside of our AirBnB, and very limited contact with locals. We picked the spot partly with that in mind. Malin Head’s beaches and hills are worth time on their own, and dropping into the odd quiet coffee shop for a take out cappuccino and shopping quickly, and masked, in supermarkets has done the job. It’s not exactly a glamourous summer break, especially with the regular drizzle, but it suits the situation quite well.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 129

There’s something so psychologically weird about an invisible enemy. It’s added to by the kind of ‘lag time’ involved in the virus – it doesn’t show symptoms for several days. It’s hard to handle: you know that you’ve been somewhere slightly risky (the supermarket, for example), and you don’t know if you’re now a risk to yourself and your family.

Of course, it’s entirely impossible to avoid any level of risk at all: if you’re locked up in your house, you’re at the very least requiring someone else to supply you with food and essentials, and that in itself is a risk. Life is also a constant risk, I accept that, but at least life’s risks typically manifest immediately, rather than hanging over you like an anxiety axe, waiting to fall, or not.

It’s been 129 days since Ireland went into lockdown, and probably a week longer than that since we started to have serious concerns about how coronavirus was going to impact us personally and directly, as opposed to in more abstract and distant ways. It feels like it hit hard, and while things have improved substantially since the worst times (for Ireland) back in April and May, things like ‘second wave’ and the daily check on the number of cases have become everyday language, and hovering worries.

The consequences come out in a number of waves other than the obvious illness itself – the current death count is somewhere north of 1,700 here, but now, thankfully, creeping up only very slowly. The effects are huge economically, of course, but the social consequences are substantial, too, as is the general sense of malaise, which has played out to some extent in the media and in public dialogue in looking for people to blame.

Some of those people should, legitimately, have been far more careful. American tourists giving interviews on national radio from Dublin Airport as they land from some of the worst-hit areas and telling Ireland that “the risk is exaggerated” quickly become pariahs, and anger at them is understandable, in my opinion. Videos of young people leaving large house parties show not enough care is being taken, but blaming young people and Americans (or China, as the point of origin of corona), just seems a little ridiculous and overblown.

Coronavirus Shutdown: Day 112

I’ve stepped away from these for a while because I needed the headspace, but here goes.

So technically, we are no longer in shutdown (I won’t rename the regular blog). The figures for new cases in Ireland have dropped to consistently very low double figures, and occasionally single figures so the signs are promising, though there hasn’t been quite the continued drop towards no cases at all in the last two weeks that perhaps we’d hope for. We – my family, though by no means everyone – are still working from home, though our son has returned to school, which is somewhat surreal under the circumstances, taught to tiny numbers and largely outdoors.

It feels like we’re now entering a period of stabilization, and how the numbers of cases change in the coming weeks will be important. We intend to continue to be exceptionally careful, spending almost all of our time away from others and trying to make the most of the countryside and the things we can do outdoors. Honestly, though, it’s getting more and more difficult to do in practise.

What’s really concerning is the broader, international picture. While Europe broadly seems to be in reasonably consistent recovery, the US and Brazil, in particular, are in wild territory, with new cases in both countries close to 50,000 a day. It’s hard to see where that could possibly end. As the below shows, globally we may not even be at a peak yet.

This is a huge worry, because ultimately, if things are to be anything close to what they were before, we’ll need corona to die out internationally, too, and that feels a very, very long way off.

For now, we have to be content with our newfound freedoms, and through a combination of sensible distancing, masks, limited social interaction, and basic common sense, ensure that we don’t abuse them. It’s hard to imagine we will be abroad until at best, very late this year.

Until then, perhaps we can see a bit more of Ireland, there are worse ways to be stuck. Hopefully the mental toll won’t become too taxing along the way, and we all keep our health.