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For kitmen, derby days can be both the best and worst

Aidan Fitzmaurice


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Bohemians kitman Colin O'Connor. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Bohemians kitman Colin O'Connor. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Bohemians kitman Colin O'Connor. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

In a busy city full of Friday night bustle and noise, it can be the quietest, loneliest place in town.

It's the away dressing-room at Dalymount Park, your team - Shamrock Rovers - have lost to their bitter rivals, and you still have to pack up.

"That's the killer, when you don't get a result and you are left cleaning up, that's hard to take," says Mal Slattery, the kitman for the Hoops, the club he supported as a boy.

"When you win it's great but when you lose it's horrible, driving away from Dalymount after you've lost, that's just an awful feeling."

The chasm between Bohs and Rovers, who do battle at Dalymount Park this afternoon (2.0), is vast, this game the most intense fixture in the Irish soccer calendar.

Divide

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Shamrock Rovers kitman Mal Slattery. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Shamrock Rovers kitman Mal Slattery. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

But the highs from success and the lows from defeat are the same in both camps, despite the divide.

"The worst bit is leaving Tallaght after a defeat," says Colin O'Connor, now 30 but who began working as Bohs kitman when he was a teenager.

"That walk from the dressing-room to the car park, you have a few lads hanging around to give you stick.

"If you win there's no one there, they have all scarpered. But lose and it's grim. If we lose to Rovers on a Friday, I know that if I go to my local pub I'll meet 50 Rovers fans who are dying to give me stick."

The two men responsible for ensuring the 22-plus players are properly prepared and kitted out agreed to speak to this newspaper, to open up on what happens behind closed doors ahead of the derby - a battle for supremacy, and honour, in the city.

Even their own backgrounds underline how complex the derby can be. Rovers' kitman is a northsider from a Bohs-supporting family, and his Bohs counterpart grew up in Rovers territory on the southside (Crumlin).

"I was the renegade - the rest of the family were from Cabra, my grandfather was a Bohs supporter, but for me there was something about that green and white jersey the first time I saw it," says Slattery, who got hooked on Rovers when he was six.

Although based behind enemy lines across the Liffey, O'Connor's family were steeped in Bohs, his sister working behind the club bar and his earliest memory is the 1992 FAI Cup win, when he was five.

"I'm from Crumlin, I get stick all the time, I have a club car and driving a Bohs car through Crumlin and Walkinstown… let's just say you get noticed," he jokes.

So both know what's at stake in the derby.

"There is a different feeling in the air, you get the butterflies in your stomach, as you know it will be a battle from the first second. You want to do well, you want a result, it's all about pride," says Slattery.

He will arrive early at Dalymount Park today, 11am, to make sure Stephen Bradley (above) and his players are prepared.

"I'll be first in the dressing-room but you sense the build-up when you see the Gardaí and security come in, and then you hear the roars," he said.

O'Connor says: "When Pat Fenlon was at Hibs I went to the Edinburgh derby and, to me, Bohs v Rovers is bigger. For a Friday night game, the players are saying at 7.10pm, 'We want to get out there,' as they know the supporters are all in, they want to warm up in front of them."

Success

Until recently, Bohs had owned the fixture, unbeaten in seven derbies, but Rovers turned that around last season with a league win and then a Cup semi-final success.

"That feeling at the end, that we'd beaten them to make the Cup final, was something I'll never forget, being out on the pitch at Dalymount with our supporters," Slattery recalls.

For O'Connor, a shock 4-0 at home to Stephen Kenny's Rovers, then the reigning champions, in 2012 stands out but like with all derbies, the losses leave a deeper mark than a win.

"Wins are great but I have all the losses in my head, the defeats do stay with you," he says. "So we'll see what happens today."

Bohemians v Shamrock Rovers, Live, RTÉ2, 2.0

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