The poor ‘Ls’ – Leinster, Lilywhites (Kildare), Liverpool and Limerick – had a weekend to forget
In such a remarkably packed weekend sporting schedule, it's really difficult to know where to begin. My first port of call was Oriel Park on Friday night for my first Dundalk match of the season where manager Stephen O Donnell was coming up against his former charges. Not that any of the 3,000 or so patrons at the Carrick Road venue needed any reminder.
The witty supporter chants from both the home and away sections provided a constant reminder of the Galway native’s previous employment. The home side enjoyed the better of the early exchanges and deservedly took the lead on 24 minutes courtesy of the lively Daniel Kelly.
Latching on to a ball over the top from Patrick Hoban, Kelly benefited from a defensive mix-up to round the Pat’s ’keeper, Joseph Anang, and slot home his second winning goal of the week.
Dundalk had several opportunities to add to the scoreline over the next hour but so too had the visitors. The home side rode their luck at times, especially in the final quarter, and had goalkeeper Nathan Shepperd to thank for keeping another clean sheet.
The Welsh U21 international made two fantastic, late stops and while not the biggest to ever wear the ’keeper’s jersey at Oriel, he was the clear match-winner on Friday night.
The balmy sunshine of the early evening gave way to a cold and breezy finish to the night so I was more than happy to polish off the tail-end of the kids’ curry chips as the game drew to a conclusion. Owen Fee and Gerry King's sauce is still top class!
That's six wins and a draw since the mid-April, single goal defeat to Shamrock Rovers and while the Lilywhites remain eight points adrift of the league leaders, they have one game in hand.
Drogheda United, who'd done their Louth neighbours a huge favour earlier in the week with a surprise 1-0 victory against the champions, continued their recent good form with a draw away to Bohemians courtesy of a late Dean Williams equaliser.
I'm not a big fan of the modern day Sports Bar but if there was ever a case to be made for the wall-to-wall giant multi-screen food and beverage outlets, it was last Saturday. Somewhere with multiple viewing options, a decent pint, a solid food menu, an atmosphere that celebrates watching sport as a shared, communal experience and a location where, if circumstances dictate, jumping around like a frenzied lunatic is absolutely the right thing to do.
In the end, I had to settle for sharing 'Sports Saturday' with a gang of the kids' friends, their mums and dads and a few sports mad neighbours... and what a day's craic it was!!
The weather was glorious so the younger ones simply tore around the garden with games and football as the adults busied themselves setting the atmosphere and getting in the mood for the big games.
My own viewing of Kerry/Limerick, Dublin/Kildare and Leinster/La Rochelle was intermittent at best, suffering largely from feeding and watering the invited troops. And while I didn't mind skipping most of the two one-sided provincial football finals, the finish to the rugby game in Marseille’s Stade Velodrome was a must-see.
Ronan O’Gara's already impressive coaching career hit a new high when denying favourites Leinster their fifth European Champions’ Cup. The closing stages of this final will not sit well with Leo Cullen or his players.
When La Rochelle second row Thomas Lavault was yellow carded with 14 minutes remaining, for the most stupid of trips on Jamison Gibson-Park, the winning of the game was presented to the Irish province on a plate. Ross Byrne’s resultant penalty extended Leinster’s lead to 21-17.and you thought, with numerical advantage, it would be a routine close to the contest.
What should have been the cue for Leinster to pick up the tempo and drive home their advantage proved the opposite. Instead, it was La Rochelle who found the character and will to lift their performance to unprecedented heights.
The final 10 minutes were played out exclusively in Leinster's 22 as the bruising French outfit bombarded the leaders’ line. Despite referee Wayne Barnes showing uncharacteristic leniency towards Leinster's penalty infringements, La Rochelle eventually crossed with almost the last play of the game. The guests were now getting restless – it was time to get back to my hosting duties.
The sitting room was jammed to capacity with expectant Liverpool fans, both young and old, for the closing instalment of 'Finals Saturday'. However, there was to be no joy for Jurgen Klopp's side as they lost out to a Real Madrid team whose name, it appeared, was etched on this year's trophy from a long way out.
The Merseysiders had all the early chances but Madrid just don't seem to lose European finals and Vinicius Junior's 59th minute tap-in put a real dampner on our party night. It just wasn't a day for the 'Ls' – Liverpool, Leinster, Limerick and the Lilywhites (Kildare).
Sunday was a very slow day in our house and the pedestrian pace of the Connacht and, in particular, the Ulster finals were somehow conducive to my lacklustre mood. It was pretty poor fare in both Salthill and Clones but Galway or Derry fans won't care a damn. Kerry are still the team to beat but Dublin haven't gone away.
Onwards to this weekend and Páirc Uí Chaoimh.