Red Army out in force at Tallaght
SITTING in the packed Sligo Rovers section at Tallaght Stadium last Friday, it was hard to escape the reality that the Bit O'Red have the best supporters in Ireland.
The 'Red Army' isn't just numerically strong and relentlessly vocal, it is the embodiment of what Sligo Rovers are all about - a club and the community it represents rhyming in perfect harmony.
Rovers fans sing their hearts out, roar on their heroes with unbridled passion and rise to the challenge of outscoring their opponents with wit and fervour, even a measured sprinkling of taunting at times. But they're never nasty or vulgar or threatening.
Rousing renditions of 'The Hoops are having a party, the Leinster Senior Cup' and 'Going down, going down, going down' were stinging and amusing jibes at the home fans but were free of the distasteful taunts directed at Anthony Elding by Shams fans when he was sent off.
There's an interesting age profile to the Bit O'Red's travelling fan base.
There are families with young kids, all gloriously decked out in their red and white favours, a fair few battle-hardened fans who've been on the road for quite a few years, and the up and coming younger brigade, a giddy, boisterous group whose lives seem to revolve around their obsessive devotion to the Bit O'Red.
The 'Red Army' is also boosted by a huge contingent of exiles, Sligo people living in Dublin who turn out in their numbers to cheer on their local team whenever they're in the Capital. One of the real joys of going to watch Rovers play in Dublin is the certainty that you will meet up with old pals.
And then there's the Forza Rovers boys and girls - surely the most enterprising and loyal group of fans you would find anywhere.
The Shamrock Rovers fans unfurled a banner midway through the second half last week which read: SRFC - Stupid Rural Fixation Complex. It was a poor attempt at a put down for their country cousins.
In response, Forza Rovers displayed their banner. It bore the inscription: "Making History - not living off it"
Decisive victory for the Forza boys.
It was the latest in Forza's impressive output. Their display honouring Rovers 1983 FAI Cup winning team at the last home match against Drogheda was sheer class
There's a thread that binds all Rovers fans together, irrespective of age or gender. It's the pride in their home place, a fervent belief that no matter what else clouds the lives they lead, there will always be the Rovers to provide the escape valve. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but always, always there.
We didn't get the win we craved at Tallaght and, truth to tell, it wasn't a game or performance that will live long in the memory.
But that won't stop the 'Red Army' taking to the road again next week.
Every match an adventure, every journey a pilgrimage.