Job done. Just about. It was not the most convincing or free-flowing display you’re ever likely to see from the Reds, but the most important thing is that we’re in the draw for the next round. There was a real sense of trepidation amongst our small group as we trooped through Clonturk Park en route to Tolka from the alehouse we were plotted up in on the Drumcondra Road. Would we be treated to another dreadful night at the hands of non-league opposition? The ghosts of Crumlin and Sheriff still loom large around these parts. Fucking shitty night for a game, rainy heavy dark evening. With the gleaming floodlights coming into view, one of the chaps speculates as to whether or not the game is still on, such is the lack of any sort of crowd noise. As we cut down the lane that leads us onto the Richmond Road, the realisation that one of the other ties in the round, Waterford- Mervue, has already been rained off is greeted with a few sardonic snorts from the lads.
The Reds start the brighter and should be ahead by a couple of goals within the opening 15 minutes. A wild clearance from a Cherry Orchard defender is only kept out by the fingertips of his keeper, thus sparing the latter’s blushes as a nailed-on cert for OG of the year. The crowd is sparse, and a far-cry from the reasonable attendances in 09 and 11 against the aforementioned LSL outfits. The inclement weather may have been the excuse many were looking for to stay away. The third game in 7 days, 15 brick in on a drizzly night to watch the Reds slug it out against a pub side? No thanks, seems to be answer from most.
Shelbourne are going through the motions but comfortably on top without playing well. Chances are being created and spurned. Please, please, please do not let this be another one of those nights. And then the breakthrough……….for the visitors. A ball from our right hand side isn’t cut out and makes its way into our penalty area. Glenn Cronin and one of their forwards both slide in together to win the breaking ball, and the Orchard man’s leg seems to strike Cronin’s shin. Surreally, and to the bemusement of the assorted hardcore in the New Stand, the referee points to the spot. Former Shels talisman (snigger) Marc Hughes tucks away the spot kick. 0-1, and the shock is on.
In fairness to the shirts, they didn’t let this setback entirely disrupt their game and within a few minutes have the ball in the net only to see the equaliser ruled out by the linesman’s flag, presumably for offside. The visitors lead doesn’t last long however as a surging run from Gareth Matthews sees the full back needlessly taken down by an Orchard defender. HEWHW does the needful from the spot and levels the Reds up before the break, his second converted penalty in five days- lets hope the big man is rediscovering his goalscoring touch.The half ends on a sour note- some AntoAndDeco League thug tries to break Daws’ leg- the Shels midfield very lucky not to be seriously injured following a horrific and reckless tackle. Unbelievably, the ref only books the non-leaguer; particularly galling when Shelbourne players have been receiving their marching orders for a lot less all season long. You know the crowd is really abysmal when you walk into the bar after the half-time whistle and there’s not even a one-person queue.
The second half is a scrappy affair, as it begins to dawn on the home fans that Cherry Orchard are probably the worst non-league team we’ve faced in many a year, on a par with the Rockmount team we gave a hiding to ten years ago. We can’t seem to get the breakthrough, there’s plenty of endeavour but not enough craft, and for all our possession we’re still looking too narrow. We have yet to seriously test them on the wings, although Barry Clancy seems to be getting a bit of joy down the left. Please no fucking soul-destroying midweek replay. Please. Casso misses a great chance from close range, and later when one-on-one with the keeper, steers his low shot wide of the far post. It’s just not happening for the diminutive Ringsender tonight. Glenn Cronin is then desperately unlucky to see a thundering volley creep wide. Would have been a wonder goal.
We’re still, surprise surprise, looking jittery at the back. Our defence are too hesitant to clear their lines, and allow the ball to bounce in and around the 18 yard box far too often. Anxiety is growing in the stands. Lorcs looks like hes on a go-slow this second half- he can’t get going, really lacking pace tonight. Just not at the races. Gareth Matthews is having a dreadful game, his second in the space of 5 days after his Dalymount horror show on Monday. He’s definitely the weak link in an already shaky back four.
Conan Byrne is introduced for the enterprising Barry Clancy. Regulars down the Dumcondra End exchange quizzical glances; yes, we need a goal but Clancy has been arguably our best player this evening. Will this turn out to be another one of Alan Mathews bizarre substitutions or will it be an astute masterstroke from the Reds manager? Masterstroke it would appear! Within a few minutes of the change, we’re ahead- a brilliant cross from Casso is nodded home by HEWHW. Relief, serious relief. We’d only just settled down celebrating that goal when Co Byrne picks the ball up just outside the box and smashes it low and hard to the bottom right hand corner of the Cherry Orchard net. No chance for the keeper. Game over. Surely.
Of course not, who do you think you support? One of the clichés I hate in football is when some morose, self-depreciating fan of some club or other says something along the lines of “Y’know X (insert fans team), we never like to make it easy on ourselves”. Usually this sort of remark can be dismissed as a sort of supporter stock phrase, but in Shels case it is actually true. Within two minutes of giving ourselves a two goal cushion, Gareth Matthews inexplicably makes a total bollocks of a routine clearance, ends up on his arse and allows the Orchard striker a handy finish past Delany. 3-2, fuck. What in the name of fuck was Matthews doing for that? It capped off a truly awful defensive display from the full back.
Lets be honest, you’d be almost disappointed with the Reds if they didn’t give you a minor coronary going into injury time. We manage to become even more jumpy at the back, if that we were possible. A Cherry Orchard corner. Bouncing about the penalty area. Driven towards goal. Back of the net written all over it. Taken off the line by a Shelbourne head. Christ on a Ducati, how do we manage to get ourselves into such crises? What should have been a routine victory against brutal non-league opposition sees hanging on for dear life at the death. The game ends, and no one around me is ecstatic, excited or reassured. Just relieved. Very fucking relieved.
So what did we learn?
- Barry Clancy has put in a great claim over the past week for a regular starting place on the left wing. For all his limitations, he’s done well out there as of late, our Barry.
- No matter who we have in goal, we continue to look jittery and disorganised at the back. This need to be sorted as soon as possible, although we’ve been saying that all season.
- Gareth Matthews is really struggling. Whatever about his ability to join the attack, he struggles with the fundamentals of defending. On Monday and Friday again, he was shown up by some fairly substandard wingers.
- We might get away with missing chance after chance against this calibre of opposition, but in the next round we won’t be so lucky. We need to become more clinical in front of goal, since we seem incapable of keeping a clean sheet down the other end.
- Our season will still be alive going into September.
- Lorcs can excite and infuriate in equal measure. Excellent Monday night in Dalymount, was a no-show for the second half of last night’s cup tie.
- Conan Byrne is developing a habit of coming off the bench and scoring screamers. Why can’t he produce this sort of magic on a more regular basis and how can we get the best out of an evidently talented footballer?
- No matter how good/terrible they are, we never, ever seem to have it too handy against non-league sides in the FAI Cup.
Anyway, we’re through to the last eight, so maybe we should all cheer up and try and enjoy it. Roll on Monday night’s draw, winner of Waterford/Mervue in Tolka, ta.