In terms of the SSE Airtricity League, it was all quiet in terms of news. Everyone is hoping that the effects put in place by the Irish Government will have an impact and that the curve will be flattened. This will give a better idea of when things can hopefully get back to normal. Currently, June 19th is the target date for the League to restart.
In the absence of football, it has been all about reminiscing on social media. People posting their favourite football pictures, picking their all-time best XI’s or talking about their favourite memories. For me, I thought I would take the time to reflect on the first time I ever saw Sligo Rovers play. The game that solidified my lifelong love affair.
I was 10 years old when I first saw them play and it wasn’t even in Sligo. It was in 1989 and they were away to Finn Harps in Finn Park, Ballybofey. My earliest memories of Rovers were hearing snippets on Sunday Sport on RTÉ Radio. The games used to be played on Sunday afternoon and they would go around the grounds. One game I remember clearly is when Rovers played Shelbourne in the Showgrounds.
They were losing 2-1 but had won a free-kick. The legendary Paul ‘Ski’ McGee stepped up to take it and duly scored and the game finished in a 2-2 draw. I used to annoy my Dad to take me to a game for my birthday. Unfortunately, my birthday is in June and the season used to finish in May – this was before Summer football – it took me a while to get my head around that!
But I wasn’t to be denied for long. It was a good friend of mine Fergal Nealon who asked me if I wanted to go to Finn Harps game with him and his dad. I was delighted, my parents didn’t mind and I think Fergal’s dad was happy that he would have company. I don’t remember much of the journey up but I do remember seeing the ground and being immediately hit by all the cliché smells you associated with football at the time – burgers, soup, booze and cigarettes.
Fergal’s dad got me a programme, I still have, it’s one of my most cherished possessions, really is. We went into the main stand, into the VIP area, or what was the VIP area in Finn Park. It meant the seats had cushions on them which impressed me to be fair! Of course, it helped that Fergal’s Dad – Ted – was a former Minister of the Arts and a T.D. (a member of the Irish Parliament).
The match was a physically tough one but Rovers who were pushing for promotion won 1-0. Former Northern Ireland international Billy Hamilton scored the goal – a header. And that was me hooked. I loved every moment of it right down to when we stopped on the way home in Biddy Earley’s pub for a club bar and some soft drinks. Ever since I have always had a soft spot for Finn Harps and Finn Park and just hope it won’t be too long until I am there again.