Saturday 24 February 2018

Gallery: Fans flock to Dublin for their heroes

Pat and Mary Kelly pictured outside the Aviva Stadium last Sunday
Pat and Mary Kelly pictured outside the Aviva Stadium last Sunday
Batty Flannery and his nephew Vincent.
Niamh Walsh, Anita Feely, Hannah kelly, Hannah Walsh and Jessica Walsh from Tubbercurry pictured outside the Aviva Stadium before the start of FAI Ford Cup last Sunday.
Joseph Cullen in the Aviva
Louise Scanlon, Kayne Scanlon, Leah Fox, Kali Mitchell, Stephen Scanlon, Jack Scanlon and Aleesha Scanlon pictured outside the Aviva Stadium before the start of FAI Ford Cup last Sunday.

Emma Gallagher

Some had predicted rain. Sunday morning arrived and it was the opposite, glorious sunshine.

Some had predicted rain. Sunday morning arrived and it was the opposite, glorious sunshine.

Whether the thousands of Sligo Rovers fans heading eastbound for the FAI Cup Final would be feeling sunny at half five remained to be seen.

Fans, young and old, complete with scarves, headbands, hats, jackets, and the obligatory jerseys crowded into cars, buses and trains for the journey to the Aviva Stadium.

The M4 was alight with cars brandishing Sligo Rovers flags as Dublin loomed in the distance.

For some, it was their first experience of Cup Final day.

For Batty Flannery, it was a different story.

"I have been at them all," the 87-year-old chuffed. "Right back to 1939 when Dixie Dean played. He was such a player.

"I hope that we win today, it won't be a lot of fun if they don't," the Caltragh man added.

For little Kayne Scanlon from Sligo town, it was his first final.

Mum Louise said that the 14-week-old was captured on camera at the semi-final.

Donncha Benson (6) from Riverstown was joined by parents Susan and Damien and younger sister, Brona.

Donncha said: "Gavin Peers and Aaron Greene are my neighbours.

"I kick football with them on the street.

"It' my first final, I can't wait to see them play."

Of course there was plenty of support from Riverstown aka 'Roverstown', where the majority of the team lives.

A special effort was made by diehard fans to get their message across, via a 46-foot banner.

It read: "Riverstown, Sligo...Ye have St Oliver Plunkett...we have Joseph Ndo."

Tom McKenna added: "We decided to come with the idea late on Friday evening.

"A group of us got together and made the banner.

"So many of the players live in the village and we want to support them on Cup Final day. We are hoping to get on television."

And they sure did.

Tom said: "When Rovers win, we'll parade it for the homecoming too. It will be special."

Confident that the Cup was heading back to the Northwest for the third time in four years were plenty of Rovers followers.

"I have no doubt that we will win.

"I predict 2-0," uttered Charlie Kelly from Sligo town. "I reckon Elding and Joseph NDo will both score.

"And that Ndo will be man-of-the-match," said Charlie, a regular at all the team's games.

Joe Lang was also reckoning a 2-0 victory for Rovers was imminent.

He said: "I think that Cretaro and Dijali will score."

John Fallon brought his young daughters Shona and Aoife to see the final.

"They have been to lots of finals before, hopefully we'll win," he added.

Some who were making their way into the imposing Aviva were relatives of those starring in the final.

The family of Raffaele Cretaro, the only local player, were gathering outside the Aviva ahead of kick-off.

Raffaele, his dad, said: "I'm feeling really proud.

"If he scores a goal, it will be even better.

"It's been emotional, as his grandfather, Fran Gorman, who he was very close to, passed away recently.

"He has something written on his t-shirt in his honour."

The Henderson family travelled from Newcastle to support their brother, Jeff.

Mark, Barry and Anthony were anxious ahead of the 3.30pm start.

"We hope he's not too nervous and that he plays well," Mark said.

As the crowds spilled into the stadium, watches were anxiously looked at every so often.

The sea of red appeared to vastly outnumber the claret and blue hues of Drogheda.

After President Higgins shook hand with the players, referee Paul Tuite signalled the battle had begun.

But Rovers hearts were shattered when Paul O'Connor sent Drogheda into the lead in the 13th minute.

The score remained the same as time trickled on.

At half-time there were ponderings as to whether this wasn't Rovers day after all.

Rovers tried and tried, yet that elusive equaliser seemed unreachable.

"I can't watch, my heart is in my mouth," one man said.

Then, in the 78th minute, Anthony Elding found Danny North who slammed the ball into the net.

The Red Army jumped across seats, shouting and screaming deliriously to hug each other.

Maybe this could be Sligo's day indeed.

Only six minutes later, super sub North had got his second, this time from a Joseph Ndo free-kick.

This time, the bear hugs increased, and many feet were trodded on in the euphoria.

Only injury time remained.

Oh, eight minutes, fans groaned.

"It's not good for your heart, this at all," one guy gasped.

"They're gonna score, they're gonna score, " another admitted, as he chewed his nails.

Memories of extra time and penalties resurfaced.

Then, Drogheda did just that, thanks to Ryan Brennan in the 92nd minute.

The Rovers contingent in the stadium went desperately quiet.

How could football be so cruel?

As many were preparing for extra time, Anthony Elding had other ideas.

North chested the ball to the striker, whose power shot crashed into the back of the net.

This time the celebrations hit the roof.

Friends were punched, hair was pulled, earrings were broken.

None of that mattered.

Rovers were bringing the FAI Cup back to the Northwest.

Cal Callaghan, who was at the game with a busload of supporters from the cinema said: "You don't see finals like that everyday."

And how true that was.

Sligo Champion

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