Europe: Game 6

Dundalk 1-2 Vitesse Arnhem

The European run is over. Dundalk bowed out in gloriously heroic fashion. Heads held high, pride intact and more than a hint of disappointment not to have pushed Vitesse further than they did.

It felt almost indulgent to have disappointed after the first match in the Netherlands. Imagine being unsatisfied with a 2-2 draw away from home in Europe against a side like that?

After the second leg we are all perfectly within our rights to be disappointed that we didn’t, at the very least, take the game to extra-time. Who knows what would have happened then? We had all the momentum, the players looked fit, fitter than they had any right to be at that stage, who knows what would have happened?

The game followed a similar pattern to the first leg, we struggled first half to deal with the pace they had, the attacking patterns they created, the intensity with which they pressured us on the ball. But like last week, in the 2nd half we grew into the game.

The one difference from the first leg to the second leg was the crowd.

It feels like a complete cliche to say that football without fans is nothing. It feels like something that massive football clubs around Europe have said before proceeding to try to prove definitively that they actually couldn’t care less about fans.

I’ve been back to Oriel a couple of times since the restrictions have lifted and it was amazing to be back at live football but there was no atmosphere to speak of at either game. There are lots of reasons for that, it’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact. Having 150 people spread out around Oriel isn’t really ideal when trying to create some noise.

Thursday night in Tallaght was the first time that it felt like being back at a proper football match.

It felt like an event too. Fans gathering at Oriel, filing on to buses, chatter between folks on the bus, the sound of endless cans of Harp opening, pulling into Tallaght, buses emptying and stands filling up.

Leaving out the fact that we had to go to Tallaght to do it, this was special. The atmosphere was building and the lads behind the goal in the South stand we’re lifting the roof off by kick off.

That was nothing compared to the noise that followed when Michael Duffy scored a perfectly legitimate goal. My throat still hasn’t fully recovered from the screams and roars of celebration.

The songs kept coming, the cheers and jeers kept coming until a sucker punch. We had been getting closer and closer to scoring and then, what felt like out of nowhere, we were behind. Silence.

Again the second goal killed the momentum and atmosphere and I think we all needed half time to rest, recover and go again. We were facing elimination and we all knew it.

When you’ve been without something for so long you just grow accustomed to it not being there. I watched an enormous amount of football over lockdown and through the pandemic and it was obvious that something was wrong with it.

It’s only when you are in a stadium and can actually feel the impact of the crowd that you get the full sense of what has been missing.

The home fans helped to lift the players and the belief started to come back. They couldn’t get over the line and bring the game to extra-time but the experience of being back in a crowd, losing yourself, feeling like you’re part of something, is one that will stay with me for a very long time.

It is a cliche and it has been said far too many times by people who don’t mean it or don’t understand it but football without fans really is nothing.

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