No winners in this spot of Dublin derby bother
Published 19/08/2014 | 02:30
There is something special about the night of a Bohemians-Shamrock Rovers derby, a buzz in the air which is a step above an average League of Ireland date.
Granted, a Monday evening in August hardly represented a triumph for the drawing up of the fixture list, but the authorities were still confident that most of the 3,500 tickets for the Dalymount Park encounter would be distributed by kick-off. Shamrock Rovers had sold their allocation by the weekend.
The majority of these people, loyal supporters of a league that is often pilloried, were either making their way across town or enjoying a drink around Phibsborough when the news emerged that the game was off.
Sadly, the reason for the postponement and the accompanying images only served to cement a negative perception of the domestic game.
"Is it any wonder people don't go to LOI games?" responded one user when the Irish Independent posted a picture on Twitter of the damaged penalty spot that led referee Tomas Connolly to make his late call.
Players of both sides were equally bemused. By 8.0, a point where the stadium should have been heaving with the noise of derby night, the Bohs squad were training to the soundtrack of their own voices. They didn't stray near the offending penalty area, but they had no concerns about it.
"That's the best the pitch has looked all season," joked one player. Members of the gardai were a tad perplexed by developments.
Connolly's strident verdict created its own issues around the ground, with large crowds congregating to find they were being refused entry as the news filtered through slowly. To put the timing in perspective, Pat Fenlon had finished his team-talk at 7.0 and was about to send his Rovers squad out for the warm-up. "It's a disaster for the league," he said later, shaking his head. "We wanted to play but it's nothing to do with us."
Connolly did briefly stop to explain his logic to reporters. "I am not an expert on grounds," he said. "But the pitch is not safe."
In the official's defence, he would have been left in a difficult position if a player had sustained a serious setback on the surface. As ever in the League of Ireland, though, the main gripe is related to the issue of consistency.
Bohemians played Drogheda United at Dalymount on Friday and were informed afterwards by the officiating team - led by Anthony Buttimer - that they were concerned about a divot in penalty box at the Tramway End.
In response, Bohs engaged in remedial work with a view to getting it right, laying a sod on the problem area. Connolly said that he spoke with groundstaff and was given the impression that it would take eight days for that part of the grass to be fully repaired. One of his assistants lifted the sod during the inspection to illustrate that point.
"It's in better condition than it was on Friday," sighed Bohs president Matt Devaney, left to count the cost of an expensive cancellation.
The overall state of Irish football's old home is inextricably linked with the financial state of the Gypsies, a sad story in its own right, and at some point it was going to catch up with them.
But with the players and management satisfied, and the organisers confident that the stage was more prepared than it was for a game just 72 hours earlier, this smacked of an unnecessary mess.
For the long suffering League of Ireland fan, that is a depressingly familiar feeling.