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Wednesday 16 October 2019

Dublin derby can be heaven or hell

Fenlon feels Hoops will have the egde

Pat Fenlon when he was appointed Bohs manager back in 2008. Photo: Sportsfile
Pat Fenlon when he was appointed Bohs manager back in 2008. Photo: Sportsfile

As a supporter, player, manager and now as a TV analyst, the Bohemians-Shamrock Rovers fixture as been close to a lifetime obsession for Pat Fenlon.

One of only two men to have played for and managed both clubs, the Finglas native, who grew up supporting Rovers, will be back at Dalymount Park tonight for the sold-out FAI Cup semi-final, on commentary duty for RTE.

"The big pity for tonight is that the crowd [3,800] is so small and that Dalymount can't cater for more fans," says Fenlon.

"It's an old ground but it has a feel to it that new stadiums don't have. They are all the same, four concrete stands, whereas Dalymount has something about it.

"It's the one game in Ireland where it feels like a proper football match, and I say that having been involved as a supporter, player and manager. It just feels like a real game.

Feeling

"I feel it's lost a bit of something in Tallaght, I don't get the same feeling for Rovers-Bohs there, but in Dalymount it's a proper match in a proper venue, though maybe it will come over time in Tallaght

"Even me going tonight doing TV work, it has that tension around it that you feel during the day."

Fenlon was involved in 30 league games between the clubs in his spells with Bohs as a player (1991-93) and manager (2008-11) and also as a Rovers' player (1996-97) and manager (2014-16), though never an FAI Cup tie as tonight is the clubs' first cup duel since 2006.

As he looks ahead to tonight's game and also reflects on his own time as a participant, one obscure meeting stands out.

"The Leinster Senior Cup final, Paddy's Day, Dalymount, 1993," Fenlon says proudly of a Bohs-Rovers game marred by crowd violence (see panel).

"I played up front, I was captain and I scored the winner for Bohs. We had a very young team, I think we only had one or two senior players. I remember getting the trophy, as captain, and there was a running battle between the fans on the pitch in front of us. Utter madness.

"Even then, there was great rivalry and it was only the Leinster Senior Cup.

"We had a young side, Rovers had a strong team. They should have won, but the derby game often means that the team who should be on top don't always come out on top. If you look at where Rovers are as a club compared to Bohs, they should be turning them over every time and that hasn't happened."

Fenlon laughs when asked to explain which emotion is stronger: the joy of winning a Bohs-Rovers derby or the pain of losing one.

"It depends who you ask," he says. "If you're a player you can bask in a derby win for a while. If you are manager, you get around half an hour after the game to enjoy it but then your mind is straight on to the next game.

"When I was a Bohs' player and manager, if we lost to Rovers I knew I'd get so much abuse from people around me, mates of mine who were Rovers' fans.

"When you play for or manage Rovers, it's the one game you want to win as you know what it means to people.

"It's horrible to lose the derby, and maybe the pain of losing is bigger than the joy you get from winning it."

Fenlon admires how Bohs have gone about their business against Rovers in their recent eight-game unbeaten run, but fears that due to injuries in the Bohs' camp, and the demand at Rovers for a Cup final appearance, the away side can win it.

"It's such a big game for Rovers. They need to get to a Cup final, they need a trophy, they are 15 points behind Dundalk as it is and that could get worse for them so a Cup final might appease the masses," he says.

"And I think they'll win the game. I know that goes against the logic from the last few games where Bohs have had the upper hand.

"Rovers have to play a bit quicker. What Bohemians have done well against Rovers is that they worked them out. Bohs know how to play against them so Rovers have to come up with something different.

"So Rovers need to work Bohs out, I can't see the Bohs game plan changing, Rovers do need to change it but I think Rovers will win it."

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