Football: Ireland, October 2018

I’ll say up front that I regarded Dublin as my last choice when the initial Nations League draw was made back in January. Plenty of European destinations to tick off my list but instead we got bloody Ireland. Been there before, expensive, don’t like Guinness, what else is there to do. But bear with me. 

Sky… Ireland… Skyrland? No.

We booked our flights the day after the Denmark loss in September… £55 from Bristol, Monday to Wednesday, some bargain considering you’d have thought that would be the ideal flight time for a large chunk of the 3,000 strong Red Wall. 

Hang on… I have completely forgotten about the Spain game at the Principa… Millennium Stadium. Due to work commitments I wasn’t able to go, which I was quite disappointed about, even though my project won a national award just as kick off time approached. I didn’t miss too much it seems, it would have been nice to go the stadium again since it’s likely to be the last time I visit there for the foreseeable future (… I don’t like rugby). Would love to play there with 70,000 cheering us on should that ever be the case, but the ‘light show’ I came across during the second half was tragic.
To make up for booking a non-refundable £150 a night room in Dublin back in January, my travel companion Pete provided me with a Dublin guide book (which I’m guessing didn’t cost £150), so at least we had some things to do, having visited the Guinness Storehouse last March. As far as the first night went though, we had a pricey three course steak dinner and two pints in the hotel, slightly different to the 12-15 pints on the eve of the Danish game!

Waking up fresh on match day was a strange feeling, but not one that I regretted! For some reason when scouring Google Maps I came across Phoenix Park, which I believe is the biggest park in Europe, yet it lay just a 5 minute bus ride from the Ha’penny Bridge. There were a few monuments, Dublin Zoo and the official residence of the Irish President to attract us. It was only when we got to the first stop: Wellington monument did we grasp of how big the bloody place was! It took a good 30 minutes to reach the Papal Cross, which was erected when Pope John Paul 2nd visited in 1979 to deliver mass to 1.25 million people! That’s even more people than I have read this rubbish!

Wellington Monument

Standing at the cross you couldn’t hear – or see – any of the city centre but had a great view of whatever the mountains are called around the capital. I have been lucky enough to visit Central Park in New York and was taken aback how one park could have so many different environments, and this park is similar. Just five minutes after walking from the cross to the main road we were in the middle of a deep forest, topped off by seeing a herd of wild deer chillaxing near the walkway. A quick look on Google will tell you that Central Park is 3.41km2 and Phoenix Park is double the size! Well worth a visit if you go again… I was a bit miffed that it hardly features in any of the ‘top tourist spots’ in Dublin. Apart from one particular free-kick, it was the highlight of the trip!

Back in to the centre, we were making good time and decided to visit Trinity College before the inevitable alcohol consumption. The college is famous for housing the Book of Kells, which my mate Wikepedia tells me, is an “illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts”. That’s great, and the €15 entrance fee didn’t offend, especially considering the end of the self-guided tour ends in The Long Room, containing some 200,000 of the libraries oldest books. For a load of old bookshelves, I thought it was a fascinating area. 

A handful more books than our living room!

Without this turning in to an episode of Antiques Roadshow, you’ll be glad that once leaving the college we were entering football mode, inaugurated by the cheekiest of Nando’s and some fruity cider. After a pit stop at the hotel to collect the flag, we headed to Devitts on Camden Street that was recommended by the Welsh FSF guide, on to a jazz bar and finally to the Beggar’s Bush close to the ground where we were only just outnumbered roughly 20-1 but had a great craic with the Irish fans, who like me were especially gloomy about the game, deeming it impossible to expect anything than a 0-0 draw. 

That 0-0 draw looked a cert 45 minutes after we were shepherded into the ground and belted out the anthem. Gosh, it was dire. I expected ROI to be “a bit shit” but didn’t expect us to play at their level, and we were lucky not to be a goal down after another defensive error that saw Spain run riot. I’m so late writing the blog I’ve forgotten how poor the first half was, so I’ll quickly fast forward to us having a free kick on the edge of the box just before the hour. An ACTUAL chance perhaps? No Bale, and OK the young lad Wilson scored a worldy against Man United recently for Derby but it wasn’t as though he was just going to boot it in to the back of the net, was it?

He did. The first away Wales goal I’ve witnessed in over a year. Arms everywhere. That perfect mix of surprise and celebration. I did check to see if Pete was OK – his ticker isn’t what it used to be! The remaining 30 minutes did little to ease one’s pulse either. All of a sudden we were ripping Ireland apart due to them having no other option than to push forward, and Christ they had their share of chances; a brief highlight during the nerves being James McClean mis-controlling the ball in front of me, not quite justice for concussing my pal Joe Allen a year prior, but something. 
Hold on to win, we did. A brilliant, second half defensive display, including Ashley Williams!

There’s Wally….

Once we walked what seemed like an age from the ground the elation was slightly wearing off so a top up of gorgeous Orchard Thieves cider or 4 listening to some jazz and light-hearted banter with sad Irish people kept me going. I liked the jazz, although it’s not usually my thing. (If ever a geezer does a solo bit, applause is compulsory). Once I was aware that most pubs close in Dublin around midnight, I parted ways with Pete to squeeze another two in, eavesdropping on other red shirted chaps’ versions of events, before heading back via a pizza that was two sizes bigger than necessary. When in Rome…(??)

A welcome lie-in on Wednesday morning started the day, prior to a greasy spoon full Irish breakfast that hit the spot. We didn’t have much of a plan for the day but as we stayed 2 minutes away from the castle decided to give that a once over. Calling the complex a castle is a bit rich, and that’s coming from a Newportonian! Only one corner remains attached to more modern state apartments. The tour itself I found interesting; it included descending to see some ruins of the fort, a disused chapel and the state apartments themselves, where the presidents are inaugurated inside St Patrick’s Hall. The tour guide I particularly liked; he gave a good summary of Ireland’s history without mentioning Bono or Westlife. 

By the time we enjoyed some fish and chips for lunch, we strolled back to the hotel and headed to the airport. What I expected to be a few days void of anything overly exciting became a thoroughly enjoyable trip. 

And we won. 

Next up 6 days in Albania! Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram where I regularly post my crap pictures during trips before my crap blogs!