Bohemians' chief operating officer Daniel Lambert has two targets on his mind this week.
Naturally enough, he has allowed himself to think about what it would be like if the FAI Cup was lifted on Sunday evening.
But Lambert wants to see something else before November is out and that is confirmation that the club have succeeded in an appeal to raise €75,000 so every child living in direct provision in Ireland can receive a €30 Christmas day gift.
The raising of the bar for the fourth year of a campaign run in conjunction with DHL and Lambert’s Bang Bang cafe in Phibsborough is just one example of the community activity that has broadened the Bohs story beyond football.
On the southside of the Liffey, St Patrick’s Athletic have also stepped up attempts to be a positive force in their area, with the repurposing of their Richmond Park base as a Covid-19 foodbank during lockdown the primary example.
Thousands of food parcels were delivered to elderly and economically vulnerable residents with the stadium a hub of vital activity.
It helps to explain why the weekend showpiece in the Aviva is set to be enhanced by the presence of spectators who have been drawn in by non-footballing angles.
The first all-Dublin final since 2000 and a maiden decider between these two old clubs is expected to attract the biggest crowd for this fixture in 60 years – Covid might hit numbers but ticket sales look set to exceed the 36,101 that attended the 2010 clash of Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers.
It has proved a source of surprise outside the capital, where traditional powers would feel the day requires the participation of the one-club towns or cities to swell numbers.
But the buzz generated by the game sits in with an apparent resurgence for the League of Ireland in the capital, an overdue development given the population base and the sport’s enduring appeal in the city.
This is not just about the cup contenders as Shamrock Rovers packed 7,765 fans into Tallaght for their trophy presentation last week while Shelbourne are attempting a rebirth. But there is no doubt that Bohs and Pat’s are an example of how to grow an interest that is not directly reliant on results.
Bohs are much further down the line in this regard, and will have the largest fanbase on Sunday with the anticipation being that they will treble the crowd they brought to the RDS on their last outing in 2008 when they were double-chasers and the country’s outstanding team.
The Saints expect to add around 4,000 extra fans to the crew they brought in 2014 for the long-awaited end to their cup famine.
Liam Buckley’s side had won the league a year previously, but there was a subsequent recognition behind the scenes that the club needed to do more to connect with younger people in their locality.
A full-time community officer, David Morrissey, was appointed in 2018 – not with the aim of getting more bums on seats but rather to tie in with schools and youth clubs and just get the club involved in whatever was going on in Inchicore and the surrounding areas.
Alan Mathews, the Shels assistant when they won the aforementioned 2000 final with Bohs, is on the board at St Pat’s along with his role as the Pro licence holder on head coach Stephen O’Donnell’s coaching ticket and he acknowledges discussions took place around the demographic.
“There’s been a concerted effort and a strategic approach to try and get younger people to the games but also to associate with the club,” says Mathews.
“You look at the initiatives that Bohs have and we’ve got our ones going. It’s positive because they are being done for the right reasons. You have to be far more diverse now and encompass different people within your club.”
Bohs have certainly led the way in this regard, with the worldview driven by Lambert and like-minded souls tied in with his firm belief that the football club needed ‘values’ that a core group could identify with, especially when situated in an area where a large amount of people are coming and going rather than settling.
“If you think about it, why do people go to a certain place to eat or drink, or why do they buy clothes brands, it’s not always because it’s the best food or drink or clothes – it’s because it says something about them,” he says.
“A football club based around winning or losing games is a narrow proposition. But Bohs, as a club now, they give a lot more ins to people. And it can be different reasons for different people.
"For some of the younger people that go now, it could be issues around climate, or our artists groups, or it could be the fact we’ve got good bars and a DJ.
“It’s a transient life now, and for me, a club can be a reference point in your life where everybody else changes every few years.
"People aren’t really in unions or community centres now. They don’t go to mass any more. But they can go back to this place.”
Rivals have mocked quirky announcements with the big reveal of a club poet and the appointment of a climate justice officer drawing wisecracks about. Lambert points out that a CNN America story on Seán McCabe, ‘world football’s first climate justice officer’ headed the sports section of their website for three days. McCabe has since been involved in talks with officials from Barcelona about his work.
“They called us,” said Lambert, “Who would have thought Bohs would be on a call with Barcelona and it would be about climate.”
If that is bigger picture stuff, there’s a pertinent local angle too. A long-standing scheme is the Bohemian Foundation link with Mountjoy Prison driven by Thomas Hynes, the aim being to use sport as a positive force for the inmates with players and staff actively participating.
Last month, Bohs’ Disability and Social Inclusion Officer James Flanagan brought a team to play in the inaugural Special Champions League. The direct provision drive is tied in with a relationship with MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland).
“Some of the work we do with homelessness and integration and Mountjoy, they are mirroring issues we have in the area,” continues Lambert.
“We were delivering fliers around Dublin 7 and Dublin 9 this week and when you mention you are from Bohs, they generally have a positive disposition when they didn’t before. It’s taken a long time.”
The irony of it all is that while Bohs would position themselves against big business operations, their persona has proved a massive commercial success. Their away jersey with a ‘Refugees Welcome’ message and a kit deal link-up with the band Fontaines DC in tandem with Focus Ireland has contributed to the remarkable situation where almost 50 per cent of merchandise sold this year went overseas with exiled Bohs fans only making up a tiny percentage.
“We contacted them and asked what was more important to you; 95pc of them said the club’s values were more important than things on the pitch,” said Lambert.
At home, demand is higher than supply for most games with Dalymount’s capacity strained and rising membership levels meaning general sale tickets will be thin on the ground in 2022.
“For a members-owned club who can’t go toe to toe on spending with other clubs, you can’t guarantee success on the pitch,” said Lambert, “but you can control what you do off the pitch and, in a strange way, that has led to better commercial partners.”
There would be a section of Bohs fans alarmed that a victory is needed on Sunday to get back to Europe, but Lambert takes a certain satisfaction in stating that the outcome will have no impact on budget as the club is on a secure footing and not vulnerable to a bad result unlike in the recent past.
Across the city, the Saints have a different funding structure with the long-term support of the generous Garrett Kelleher invaluable but the principles underpinning the outlook are similar in the sense that it’s about embracing a degree of social responsibility.
Sometimes, a final pairing just works as an attractive big day out and the spike in interest this year could be linked in with the frustration of live sport being shut off so long.
Bohs’ entertaining European matches at the venue this summer drew floating fans in too, while supporters of other clubs always go along to the decider.
But there’s no denying that the appeal of this derby has been strengthened by the desire of the participants to open their eyes and throw open their doors to the city around them. The profile of the attendance should make that point and ensure there is no turning back.