The Extra.ie FAI Cup Final is generally a special occasion but yesterday’s penalty shoot-out win for St Pats over Dublin rivals Bohemians has set a new bar.
Bohs fans were greater in number and had taken the South Stand at the Lansdowne Road end of the ground as their own. St Pats were at the Bath Avenue end of the ground and the stadium rocked from before the game to the roars of over 37,000 fans, a new record for the final.
The average age was lower than for pretty much any other game at the ground with family groups and kids bedecked in red and black or white.
The music and lights programme at the Aviva is always well managed by Darragh Persse and yesterday had a local flavour to the traditional football anthems. The Auld Triangle drew a particular loud chorus from the Bohs fans.
Then there were the flares. and whoever was selling them to fans in advance will have already secured their Christmas bonus. The smoke and whiff of cordite that enveloped the ground before kick-off was repeated regularly and matched in volume after each of the extra time goals that led to the penalty shoot out.
There it was Bohs that took an early advantage but two misses then gave Robbie Benson the chance to win the cup for the Inchicore side. Despite having run himself into the ground across 120 minutes, during most of which he wore a white bandage around his head, he somehow summoned enough power in his left foot shot into the right-hand corner to make it a Pat’s Day.
Yesterday showed a full-colour version of the potential of the SSE Airtricity League.
The average Premier League attendance in the last year of uninterrupted fans in the grounds was 2,139 according to the ever-excellent extratime.com.
There isn’t a child in the ground yesterday that wasn’t buzzed by the excitement and while a chilly Friday night in March may not have the flares and the drama, it could be a starting point for a deeper love affair with the sport and their local team.
The match programme yesterday highlighted the work that both these clubs do within their communities. From food banks in the pandemic and schools programmes for 600 kids to the deep-rooted work of Bohemians on so many levels in and around Phibsboro, and the special impact of having a team of Down Syndrom players in the Special Champions League this year.
Like so many sporting clubs they are so much more than the sport they play, and it would be fully deserved to have those attendance numbers doubled when the League returns in 2022.
Writing in the programme FAI CEO Jonathan Hill said that “Friday nights as football nights are indeed very special in Ireland.” “We can all do more to make them even more attractive, and as an Association we need to do whatever is needed to make our games more valuable.”
The quote went on to reference football as a broadcast option which is indeed a vital element but yesterday was about the magic of the live experience and that is where the harder but ultimately more rewarding work in terms of lifetime commitment should be encouraged.
Travel to the cathedrals of Anfield, Old Trafford and Celtic Park is more challenging and less attractive in the long tail of the Covid pandemic. Wouldn’t it be great if fans decided to adopt their local club, and bring their kids to Tallaght Stadium or the Carlisle Grounds, Turners Cross or Oriel Park, Deacy Park or Head in the Game Park?
Maybe even if a fraction of those in the ground yesterday got to Tolka or Dalymount more often that would be a solid foundation to build on.
Special days leave a mark but it is not permanent. It needs to be nurtured with the more regular familiarity of nights out with friends and a wider club family.
There is a favourite old Chinese proverb that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago and the second-best time is today.
It has been a strong season in the League, supported and backed by targeted sponsorship from SSE Airtricity, Bank of Ireland and Extra.ie, and the hard work of club officials up and down the country.
Let’s hope that is repaid with more fans through the gates when we gather again.
Sport for Business Perspective
Live sport with the people of your own community is a very special way in which we engage together.
It matters less the code you follow, the length of a game or the shape of a ball. It is worth finding those couple of hours a week to build memories that will last a lifetime.
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