The return

Europe: Game 1

Dundalk 4-0 Newtown

Now that we can all breathe a bit easier after Sunday night’s final, it’s time to get back to proper European football.

I was one of the lucky number to be in attendance on Thursday as Dundalk took on Newtown of Wales in Oriel Park. As much as it was a joy and privilege to be back at the ground it was also still so surreal.

No real atmosphere to speak of, so few people in the ground, being able to hear players talking to each other, not shouting at each other, just talking to each other, knowing that the players can absolutely hear everything being shouted at them, just surreal.

It really was a joy and a privilege though. A joy and privilege that I got to share with my Dad who was also randomly drawn out of the season ticket holders list to attend, even though we weren’t technically allowed to sit next to each other. We were allowed to be a few feet away from a gargantuan spliff but we couldn’t sit beside each other because, y’know, UEFA.

My Dad is the reason that I started going to Dundalk games in the first place. I remember being heaved over turnstiles and sitting on his knee if there wasn’t a spare seat. I genuinely don’t know how that didn’t end with me being flung several rows into the stand in celebration.

I remember thinking it was amazing how he knew absolutely everyone. I still think that’s amazing and it’s one of the most beautiful things about a club rooted and tied to the community that it represents. This entire town loves the football club and the sense of community that that brings is so special.

When I was growing up, too old to be launched across a turnstile, I fell out of love with football for a little bit. I didn’t go to Oriel, I stopped playing the game, I turned away from so many aspects of it that I sorely wish now that I hadn’t. I moved away to Dublin and followed the club from afar but it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t part of the football community in Dundalk and that started to irritate me.

I moved home, sorted a few things out and started playing football again. In hindsight it’s probably a good thing that I didn’t play much football in my late teens since I have Paul McGrath knees after only playing for a few years.

The biggest miss from being back in Oriel at the minute is the social aspect. The pint before the game, the coffee at half time to heat up, the same faces in the same seats every Friday night, the chat and analysis after the game.

Those are all the elements that make you feel connected to the club, connected to the community and it’s sorely lacking at the moment. It feels like a perfect storm that at this particular moment in time, when the future of the club is up in the air due to issues with owners and the future, the fans, the lifeblood of the football club, the people who make the club what it is, are locked out and can’t congregate and make their voices heard.

The whole experience of being in Oriel and seeing the team win was soured almost immediately after the full time whistle. I’ve been accused of being too focused on the negative from time to time but unfortunately there is plenty to be negative about at the moment.

All of the nonsense about when Derry announced that they were resigning Patrick McEleney and how disrespectful it was shouldn’t even have been an issue and in fact it distracted from what the real issue is.

If the club was being properly run and there was any sort of planning or foresight Fats should never have been in a position to sign a pre contract with anyone because he, Chris Shields, Michael Duffy and others would be tied down to longer deals or would at least be given assurances that there is a contract offer coming. There would be cohesion, there would be a strategy, there would be something to entice these players to stay, but there isn’t.

It’s impossible to say what state the club will be in when we all get to go back to Oriel together. We don’t know who will be in the dugout, in the boardroom, on the field, we don’t know anything. We do know that we all miss it.

Hopefully soon we’re all back together again and we can all figure this mess out as a collective, as a community, as the town.

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