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Saturday 5th July 20145 ko 19.45

League of Ireland Division One

LONGFORD TOWN 3 (O’Sullivan 65 81 Shaw 79) G. O’Connor sent off 62 (dangerous play)

SHELBOURNE 0 McDonagh sent off 62 (violent conduct)

Att 780

Entry €10

Programme €3

Badge €5

NB. The Irish tour’s cost of £285 included entry into all the 3 games, and programmes, all transport, all excursions, and 3 nights bed and breakfast at Dublin City University

The great advantage of a day with just the one match to see is that the rest of your time is a blank canvas. There was time for a leisurely, if large breakfast before the coach headed north to the pretty seaside town of Skerries, In fact you could trace the coast north and see over the border to Northern Ireland. We stopped at Skerries Mills, a fascinating collection of working mills, one powered by water, plus four and five-sailed windmills. The guided tour was a real insight into the heritage of the area and the party enjoyed the history as well the views of the bay.

From there we visited one of the most contentious sites in the island of Ireland, the site of the Battle of the Boyne. The actual site, near Drogheda is where the supporters of Protestant King William III of Orange (Williamites) defeated the supporters of the deposed Catholic King James II (Jacobites) in 1690. The battle had ramifications for the whole of Europe, James was backed by Louis XVI of France and William by the Grand Alliance of England, Holland, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. Ironically that put Pope Alexander VIII in opposition to Catholic James.

From a Irish Catholic perspective the war was for Irish sovereignty, religious toleration for Catholicism, and land ownership, and from the English view it was about maintaining Protestant and English rule in Ireland. They feared for their lives and their property if James and his Catholic supporters were to rule Ireland. Of course those are arguments still being had today, as Marching Season disputes in Northern Ireland are still a massive issue. The guide took a line stressing the political rather than the religious angle on it all which struck me as an entirely sensible move.

From there were headed due east to Longford. The name is corruption of the Gaelic Longfort, from long (meaning “ship”) and port (meaning “port” or “dock”), with the port eventually coming to mean market or camp.

Not that we saw much of the town, as the “City Calling” Stadium is to be found in the Mullolagher district to the west of the town. Its a modern affair, renovated in 2001 although Longford have played here since 1924. The stadium holds 6,850, far more than the club’s needs, with an impressive main seated stand, with uncovered seating on the other 3 sides.

The party’s block purchase of 19 programmes caused a little consternation, the club’s print run was only 60, but both Longford and visitors Shelbourne were pleased to see their English visitors. We now have an invite to visit Dublin-based Shelbourne, and we were thanked over the PA system during second half stoppage time. That was a touch embarrassing as I was walking in front of the stand at the time!! There was an unfortunate interlude with Shelbourne’s Adam O’Connor picking up a nasty facial injury, his treatment and replacement necessitating 8 minutes first half stoppage time.

The game was perfect for us, two sides looking for a return to the Irish top flight, and occupying first and second places in the table too. The tension was obvious, with home fans telling me that Longford always dominate games with Shelbourne, but Shelbourne tend to win!

For a long time that outcome looked possible, with Longford dominating but being unable to capitalise. Without question the double sending off changed everything. Glen O’Connor’s challenge was two-footed and studs-up even if the contact looked minimal. William McDonagh’s dismissal for punching O’Connor was unanswerable, but the reduction in both teams’ numbers created more space with Longford exploited.

The prolific David O’Sullivan helped himself to two fine goals as Shelbourne’s defence crumbled with Gary Shaw scoring in-between. The final score was a little harsh on Shelbourne even if the result wasn’t. What impressed us all was the quality on show, after we’d been charmed by this friendly club.