11th November 2005 (two fixtures remaining)
League Table – Pl GD Pts
- Cork City – 31 +32 70
- Derry City – 31 +31 69
- Shelbourne – 31 +34 64
On the 11th of November 2005 we were to play old rivals Shelbourne away in Tolka Park in the penultimate game of the 2005 season. Shel’s had been the most successful team of the decade but, despite strengthening their squad from 2004, were lying in third place, more or less out of the running for the title. This left ourselves and Derry City to battle it out. We knew we were to play Derry in Cork in the last game and so were anxious to remain ahead of them going so that a draw on the final day in Cork might do.
We had started the season well with a maturing Kevin Doyle scoring many of our goals. But when Doyle (along with the impressive 17 year-old striker Shane Long) left to join English Championship side Reading mid-way through the season, we faced a test of our reserves but with John O Flynn, Neale Fenn and Denis Behan up-front alongside the versatile Roy O’ Donovan we were still very capable of scoring goals.
George O’Callaghan was also in incredible form scoring many crucial goals from midfield. So we remained at the top of the table for most of the second part of the season. Then during the run-in a gap developed between ourselves and favourites Shelbourne.
That just left Derry. We had threatened to pull clear of Derry on a number of occasions but had failed to do so. They would inevitably score a last minute winner while you were listening to their match on the radio or keeping an eye on Teletext. This happened at 5 or 6 times over those last few months. It was exasperating. Now here we were a point ahead of them with two games to go. There was a chance we could wrap it up early. If we won against Shel’s and Derry failed to beat St. Pats the following day, glory was ours.
However Shel’s had a side full of talent. On my side of the pitch Ollie Cahill and Wesley Hoolihan would offer a menacing threat. I needed to be ready. Our striker John O’Flynn was carrying an injury and so we would be relying on experienced part-timers Colin O’Brien and Billy Woods to step in and lead our ship to safety.
11th November 2005, Tolka Park, Dublin
Shelbourne 0-0 Cork City
Shelbourne : Delaney, Heary, Cahill, Rogers, Hawkins, Crawford (S Byrne 68), Ndo, Moore, Hoolahan (Baker 83), J Byrne, O’Neill (Crowe 64).
Cork City : Devine, Horgan, Murphy, Bennett, D Murray, O’Brien, Gamble, Woods (Kearney 72), O’Callaghan, O’Donovan, Fenn (Behan 88).
Finally Shel’s were mathematically out of the race. But the following day Derry won 2-0 overtaking us. The position for both sides was clear. Derry only needed a draw, we needed to win. We had home advantage. But we needed to make use of it.
12th November 2005 (One fixture remaining)
League Table Pl GD Pts
- Derry City – 32 +32 72
- Cork City -32 +31 70
- Shelbourne -32 +34 65
Thursday 17th of November 2005 (The day before the final match)
The morning session is devoted to set pieces. Lads wear tracksuit bottoms, gloves and hats to prepare for standing about. It’s unusual for us to be training during the morning on the day before the match, but Rico wants to walk through our set pieces and Derry’s too.
Defending free kicks. Our manager Damien Richardson (Rico) decides to keep it simple – focus on marking your man. Stay with him and stay on the move. They caught us up in Derry with a set piece, don’t let it happen again. Everyone is to come back for ‘corners against’, therefore expect it to come back in quick once cleared.
Be ready for second balls. That’s one of their strengths. We need to have a man in front of Beckett or (Stephen) O’Flynn to stop balls into their feet. Be wary of Beckett with back to goal, he’s good at putting others in. They play down the middle, therefore important to get it wide where we‘re better.
Rico thinks they’ll start with tall lad Killian Brennan out wide on my side as they are afraid of us and Paddy McCourt won’t track back as much as Brennan. Muzza thinks they’ll aim every long ball at Brennan. I must be ready for this and the others must be too.
Damien says he’s going to tell the papers that’s it would be better for the league if we win as we play better football. He thinks it will wind them up, but he also thinks that it’s true.
Danny Murphy asks Rico about parking car as problems in last big match, Rico retorts, “There’s a lot I can do for you Murph, but I can’t park your f****** car for you as well.” It breaks the tension and the boys are laughing. Rico’s speech is good, ‘Back Yourself and you’ll be fine‘, I intend to.
Walking off I’m looking forward to the game. I meet Billy Woods after training. He says he’s been playing a long time and he’s never been so close, so he’ll be devastated if we don’t do it. Neither of us dare to contemplate celebrations, we want league winners medal and nothing else will do.
I meet family and some friends later, they are more nervous than me.
Friday 18th of November (The day of the game)
I wake early, a few early text messages wishing best of luck. I stay in bed until 11 and then get up and open curtains, nice bright day, a few clouds around but relatively good weather, which is a good sign.
At 1.30 I go for my usual walk down Glasheen Road and through UCC. The atmosphere is building already. I notice a few city flags on cars going by and spot a few people wearing old city jerseys. The morning’s paper has Rico on the back page starting war of words as promised. However in UCC life is going on as normal and it’s a nice place to get away from the hype.
3pm. I eat my normal pre-match, which is pasta and chicken.
I need to leave early to secure parking. We had problems in our last sold-out game during the Summer against either Slavia Prague or Djurgardens. So I leave my house at 5pm. After parking I realise that I have left my phone in the car by mistake but I decide that is a blessing in disguise, I don’t need it now.
I put my gearbag into the dressing room where Graham Fitton, our kit boy is making sure things are running smoothly. Dressing room is as usual, gear ready up on hooks, and a few jerseys and cards wait to be signed on the massage bed. While walking to Turners Cross Tavern where we’ll have toast and tea, I try to avoid eye contact with our fans who are beginning to congregate outside the ground as I need to be left alone.
Get to Turners Cross Tavern and the atmosphere is good, Greg O‘Halloran, Mark McNulty and Mick Devine are here before me peering into the one “451” fanzine magazine. Inside it they’ve given Mick player of the season, he deserves it, he doesn’t comment on it though.
Atmosphere with lads is good, Greg tells me he thinks we’ll win 2-0, that we’re better than them, and with crowd and everything, he can’t see us not coming away without the title. I avoid making any predictions myself.
We wander off back to ground around 6.15. There’s a massive line of people all queuing for tickets to get in. I’ve never seen such a crowd so early. It’s amazing but I try to keep my head down, so as to wander into ground unscathed. The pitch looks great. That will suit us… I think.