88th minute winner in Tolka? Just say yes!
by, 18/07/2010 at 1:34 PM (1055 Views)
The slogan for the winning City of Culture bid had been "Just Say Yes!". Derry had been announced as the winning city on Thursday night and there was general euphoria home and abroad.
Friday dawned and it was the first trip of the season and a visit to a familiar haunting ground, Tolka Park. Working in Dublin now, this is particular a home game for me now! I spent the early morning in the dentist's chair, but unfortunately not in a Paul Gascoigne side, being filled full of lidocaine instead of alcohol. After that it was back to bed to make up for some of the sleep I'd missed out for the last week.
However I would had to have been in some state to miss out on Friday night's game. It really brought home the geographical spread of the first division that we are now into July and this was City's first visit to Dublin this season. The game had been designated as the "Beachwear Away Trip" and the travelling contingent descended on the Upper Drumcondra Road in a swathe of Hawaiian shirts, grass skirts and flip flops. As I headed for Fagans to meet a few mates, there was a surreal scene of Derry lads heading into Tesco with full inflated paddling pools and lilos.
There was no sign of the esteemed Mr Ahern in his local, but sure even if he was there he could probably claim that he has no memory of seeing 100 odds football fans in a collage of Hawaiian gear and replica shirts.
I was on commentary duty and was joined for the night by James O'Toole. The presence of a co-commentator really takes the pressure off, and also increases the craic during the commentary. We got set up and had a quick chat to Paul Doolin, who was there to cast his eyes over potential recruits for the U-23 setup. The youthful face of the Derry side coupled with their outstanding performances in the second tier means that there are more than a few who are in with a shout of selection.
Given all that, the game could hardly have started worse for City. First corner of the game, Molloy misses a routine clearance, Coburn slams it home to make it 1-0. Alan Matthews, two minutes into his reign as Shelbourne boss, must have been wondering if it was all going to be as easy as this.
City struggled to adapt to a competitive and aggressive Shels side who battled and disrupted the attempts of the visitors to try and settle into the game and build a rhythm. I've always been a fan of David Cassidy since he had a great game in the Brandywell with Shamrock Rovers. He may have spent time with Dundalk and now have moved onto Shels but I still think he is a cut above most midfielder in the division. Colin O'Brien and Philip Gorman where the other Shels players who impressed. Gorman dropped deep out of the front line and saw a lot of the ball and O'Brien with his weaving runs down the right was a real threat.
However as the first half wound down, City gradually began to force their way back into the game and managed to create a few chances. A long ball from Doherty was chased down by McDaid who kept the ball in, cutting it back to Harkin. Harkin, a real creative presence this season fed Farren in the box but the striker, coming across the defenders was unable to keep his strike on target. Then just before the break, Shane McEleney flashed a header a couple of yards wide from a corner.
City were being to show green shoots of recovery, but it was far from certain at this stage that they were going to force their way back into the game. Indeed the pessimists amongst us were discussing that if we lost this evening we weren't going to be too badly affected as most of the rest of the promotional challengers were also losing.
Shels started the second half with plenty of momentum and had a couple of chances to double their lead. "Gilt edged" is an term used all to often by football journalists, but McGill had an absolute solid gold chance midway through the half. He charged onto a through ball, bustled his way through two defenders and left himself with only Doherty to beat. The midfielder opted for power as he tried to drive it low past the Derry keeper. However an absolute wonder save by Doherty saw him stick out a leg and parry the ball away and out of danger.
Football is such a dynamic game that is is lazy to speak of turning points, but within two minutes of that save and Doherty was the architect of the equaliser. A long punt down the field from a goal kick, Coburn appeared to lose the flight of the ball in the air and Farren raced it on. One bounce, Farren rifles it home to make it 1-1.
The celebrations were suitably jubilant but ended with two players requiring treatment! Mark Farren collapsed in a heap at the corner flag, whilst Emmett Friars went to ground inside his own half. Our own celebrations in the commentary booth, causing a few of the Shels fans to launch a bit of abuse in our direction. A few suitable hand signals(no, not what your might be signals), saw us convey to them that they could be quiet, it was 1-1 now.
After getting back on level terms, it was now the team in blue and black that was causing more of a threat. McBride, who had been a very busy presence throughout the game appeared to be finding more and more space and pushing City up the field. City went 4-4-2 in search of a winner, a real sign of intent from Stephen Kenny in a game where most fans would have taken a point.
The fantastic four of P McEleney, McLean, Harkin and McDaid have been an absolute joy to watch this season and whilst McLean was missing and McEleney retired hurt, Harkin and McDaid took up the slack. McDaid is a carbon copy of Mark Farren's early years, an absolute bundle of energy who never gives up. Harkin is in my view the find of the season for City. Playing behind a lone striker in a 4-4-1-1 he is the creative fulcrum on which City are at their most effective.
As City gradually increased the tempo, the home side appeared to struggle with the intensity. Every break in play saw several Shelbourne players head to the dug out to take on liquid. It was a pleasant night in Dublin but certainly not abnormally warm of humid that would indicate the need for such vigorous rehydration.
Stephen Kenny utilised his bench, throwing on McCrudden and Lafferty for their debuts following the acquisition of both players midweek. And Lafferty was to play a crucial role in the winner. The bustling McBride intercepted a Shelbourne and spread the ball out towards Harkin on the near touchline. Harkin, showing the instinct of the player maker showed great awareness to help the ball on via a backheel to Lafferty. The ex Celtic man put the afterburners on to leave the full back for dead and whip in a dangerous ball across the 18 yard line. The ball fell to McDaid but his first touch appear to take the ball wide. However rather than try and win a corner, McDaid twisted on the ball on the endline and hooked it over Coburn.
Out of nowhere McBride advanced on the dropping ball. Would he blast it or place it? No, the midfielder went with his head, back across the scrambling Dean Delaney and into the empty half of the next. Delirium. Morrissey sang of panic of the streets of Carlisle, Dublin, Dundee and Humberside. There was no panic, just complete madness as Hawaiian shirts were discarded and a mass of pale white torsos tumbled down the steps of the Riverside to celebrate.
As someone suggested afterwards, City's travelling support could do with the advice of Gok Wan about looking good naked, but when you've just scored a winner in Tolka, who cares? It was all about clock watching at this point but in truth Shelbourne hadn't seriously threatened since the McGill chance and the three additional minutes provided no real further threat.
The final whistle was greeted with celebration in the press box amongst the Derry contingent, never mind the terraces. The scenes were reminiscent of the title challenges of 2005 and 2006 as the City players converged on the City support to celebrate a big victory at Tolka Park. Four years to the day after the famous win over IFK Gothenburg it was another big win. It may not have achieved the same shock waves around the world that victory had, but for City fans it was just as satisfactory.
We'll leave you with the strains of New Order and a song title which ever football fan understands
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