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A rugby fan gets an introduction to the League of Ireland as Shamrock Rovers keep their campaign on track

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Photo by Tembela Bohle at Pexels

Coming from Galway, a city where your two choices of professional teams to follow are Galway United and Connacht Rugby, I made my decision at an early age to follow Irish rugby’s underdogs. A wise decision, I know.

In the midst of a disappointing season this year for the Sportsground faithful, rumblings have been heard of regulars not renewing their season tickets and moving residence to Eamonn Deacy Park.

Although I can’t condone abandoning a team when they’re experiencing a rough patch, it can’t be denied that the League of Ireland is an attractive alternative. A week before Galway United took on Shelbourne, I had the opportunity to travel to Tallaght with four other student journalists and a seasoned vet to see the most successful club in the league’s history host Sligo Rovers.

In a game that was certainly worth the entrance fee, Shamrock Rovers dominated the visitors with a 3-0 performance, moving themselves up to fourth in the league table. Since then they have risen to second. Seeing how Sligo was a place ahead of the Hoops heading into the fixture, many were expecting a closer encounter.

Aaron Greene was the hero of the night, assisting Graham Burke for the first score of the match and bagging a second half double for himself. Besides the impressive display on the pitch, it was the atmosphere in the stands that really grabbed my attention.

For rugby fans, the idea of away sections and ultras are foreign. The only two chants you need to know are The Fields of Athenry and then shouting your team’s name in unison, on repeat. There’s not a lot of creativity.

In Tallaght Stadium on Friday, the ultra’s section was at full capacity for a game I was told was going to be a quiet fixture. Flags the size of the pitch itself were draped across the stands and the noise of drums were preparing us for battle. After Burke’s belter of a goal, the instant deafening from the Shamrock fans let me know that they were a bit more than pleased.

After being impressed by the atmosphere surrounding me during the game, we were allowed into the media room post-match to hear from the two opponents. Here,e I was given an insight to the passion of those who had just finished entertaining us on the pitch.

Player of the match Greene began his conversation with us by praising Graham Burke’s performance on his 200th appearance for the club. “We’re very well set up when you have Graham’s quality like that, he’s one of the best in the league and he put it in the top corner. I’ll take credit because I told him to change his boots.”

“I’m delighted for Graham because I think his all-round play has been exceptional to be quite honest and he really prides himself on scoring goals.”

“Graham’s play has been incredible and to top it off with a goal like that on his 200th appearance, it’s brilliant for him.”

Soon after some light conversation, Greene started to open up. His mother, Carmel, passed away in March last year after a long battle with illness and he told us how this loss affected him. “Last year was difficult being out for so long, the knock of losing my mother and trying to refocus on football, to be honest I wasn’t in any shape of wanting to come back”.

“My Mam was sick from when I was a few months old. She had a brain haemorrhage. I was never reared with my mam, if that makes sense. That was one that hurt me a lot. It was difficult, because my mam was in a hospital since I was six months old.
“I was living in a hospital for a lot of time, when she was put in palliative care. It was difficult. Difficult to get your mind set. And the manager, he was incredible because he lost his mother, he was able to help me with it. I was in no shape, mentally, to come back.”

– Aaron Greene

Stephen Bradley, the manager in question, had some poignant words when asked about Greene’s return to football.

“I’ve lost my mam, so I understood where Aaron was, in his head. It takes a lot of soul-searching to really find what you want to do in life, forget about your job.

“Aaron’s family is a tight family and when he lost his mam, like anyone, he was devastated. But I think it shows the type of man and character he is, he took his time out to think. He knew we definitely didn’t want to lose him, so the door was open for him. It was important that he had time to think about it and weigh up what he wanted to do.”

To see such vulnerability in an interview with the press is not something I’m used to coming from rugby. Usually players and coaches are media-trained to the gills, not really giving much away in terms of personality. And I don’t blame them for this, seeing how quick some stories can gain traction.

But to be met with such honesty was refreshing, and really showed me how much drive these players have and how much it means to play for their club. Although I won’t give up on my beloved Connacht just yet, I do know that whether it’s Shamrock Rovers or Galway United playing, the same passion is going to be there on the pitch.

For more on the differences between soccer and rugby fans, listen to The Green Army and its Divisions below.

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