It’s northside versus southside this weekend with the communities of Phibsborough and Inchicore on tenterhooks ahead of an all-Dublin FAI Cup final.
emarkably, it will be the first time St Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemians lock horns in Irish football’s showpiece fixture.
With more than 35,000 tickets sold, Sunday’s match at the Aviva Stadium could break the record for the biggest attendance at an FAI Cup final. The record of 41,238 was set way back in 1945.
It’s clear how much this game means to both sets of supporters.
Take a stroll close to Richmond Park, home of St Patrick’s Athletic, and you are left in no doubt. Flags bearing the club’s crest decorate homes, as does red and white bunting.
It’s a similar story at Dalymount Park, home of Bohemians.
“The fact it could have ceased to exist really concentrated the minds of a lot of people in the club,” says Bohs superfan Gerard Farrell, highlighting the struggles of the club in the not-so-distant past.
“The club has never had as many members. There’s a real ‘local connection’ feel now, and you see it with people putting the bunting up on their houses and flags around the place.
“The club reimagined what it wanted to be, and its identity, and I feel people have really bought into that.”
Mr Farrell has been a fan of Bohemians for nearly 30 years. The first game he attended was the 1992 FAI Cup final between Bohs and Cork City. The Dublin team won and a love affair started.
His family’s connection runs deeper, as his father Leo lined out for the Gypsies more than half a century ago.
The club has more than 1,000 members and Mr Farrell is proud of its fan-owned status. He owns a stake in it himself.
“It’s a huge part of my identity. A lot of my family are from that part of the city. My dad played for Bohs in the ’60s and his uncle was a vice-president of the club.
“A lot of my family are Bohs fans by proximity, even if they don’t have much interest in football. It’s a big part of my life as I have also made some great friends through the club and had some great nights with the club – and some bad ones too, when the results don’t go your way.”
The Drumcondra native said it took some tough years for the club, as it struggled financially, to help him realise how much it meant to him.
“It brought it home to me, and a lot of the fans, just how important the club was to us. I was a bit at a loss. I thought to myself, ‘what would I do if there was no Bohs?’.
“To go from that to being in Europe again and back in an FAI Cup final for the first time in 13 years is a special feeling. I’m really glad that the ground has stayed in Phibsborough, too. Bohs belong in Dalymount, and it should remain the home of Bohs.”
Despite being a St Patrick’s Athletic man through and through, Johnny Keegan is from the north inner city and by his own admission, is “deep behind enemy lines this week”.
“Most of my friends are Bohs fans and if we lose this match, it could be a painful few weeks for me, or likewise for the Bohs lads,” says Mr Keegan, with good humour.
With his father from Islandbridge and his mother a Dolphin’s Barn native, he is steeped in St Pat’s tradition.
“I started going to matches with my dad in the late ’80s and since then I’ve been hooked. For me, going to Richmond Park is the highlight of the week. It’s great to go to a stadium for a few hours with like-minded people with whom you’ve a deep connection.
“You also have a deep connection with the place as you’ve so many memories there. It’s special to be there.”
That connection gives League of Ireland fans an “authentic, traditional” football-fan experience that can’t be bought, he believes.
“Most clubs in the league wouldn’t survive without the dedication of the volunteers and I think the players know that and it makes that connection special, even though they’re professional players,” he says.
After winning the FAI Cup in 1961, St Pat’s went on to endure a tough relationship with the competition. The team reached the finals of 1967, 1974, 1980, 1996, 2003, 2006 and 2012 – losing all seven of them.
They eventually ended 53 years of hurt with victory over Derry City in the 2014 final at the Aviva Stadium. So Mr Keegan knows that days like Sunday are special.
“I imagine it will be an emotional occasion. There are St Pat’s fans that have died in the pandemic, and the same for Bohs. Everyone there will have either lost someone or knows someone who lost someone.
“So I’m really grateful to just be going to the game. I think a lot of people realise what a privilege it is. I certainly won’t be taking it for granted.”