It was a tough pre-season. Those Cairo Street steps don’t get any easier! So, it was great to get to Heffron Field for the first game of the season. The pitch looked dodgy – long grass and virtually no markings. The two foot, four inch ref reassured us he would do his best and that the conditions were the same for each side. Fair enough ref. It was great to see Al Dowling make the starting team. He looked pumped and was ready for ninety minutes of footie. Unfortunately, Al only lasted ninety seconds of footie before retiring injured. The lads regrouped with Ferg reverting to right-back and Doctor T coming on to play on the right wing. Billy the Kid was in goals; fullbacks were Joe and confusingly Joe, with Barry at left-back. Hector, Gav and Dan completed the mid-field with Nick and Johnny Rhodes up front.
The long grass and poor markings were not conducive to free-flowing football. This game felt like it would be decided by set plays. And so it proved with the first goal arriving by the boot of every-body’s favorite Geordie lad – no not Gaz from Geordie Shore – Dan ‘the man’ Eeles. A beautiful strike from a 25 yard free-kick looping over the opposition’s keeper. 1-0 to the Barney Boys. The game was very scrappy. A lot of frees were given by the adolescent referee. Was his Mum there to make sure he was home in time for tea the crowd wondered? New recruit Joe O’ Shaughnessy was playing with authority at the back – cleaning up any broken ball and winning the majority of headers. His fellow recruit – Billy the Kid – was also going well between the posts with some great catches and lofty kick-outs.
Rovers’ then got a lucky break. With the ball pinging around the six yard box after a partially cleared corner kick, the ball broke nicely and was pounced upon by the opposition. A swing of the left boot and it was all square. Almost straight away after the restart Dan had another long distance effort which rebounded off the crossbar. Close but no cigar or KET on this occasion. Rovers’ then scored on the stroke of half-time. Another scrappy goal which was too scrappy to describe. We were in a dogfight now.
At half-time we knew we needed to man up. Tristan King came on to add some physical presence to the mid-field. King put in some crunching tackles and won his fair share of headers. Rovers’ knew they were in a battle now. Gav Roberts came on for Ferg with twenty minutes to go. Within five minutes of his introduction he had made a difference – threading a beautiful weighted ball through to the on-running Nick Heather. Nick slid the ball past the on-rushing ‘keeper. 2-2 and it was game on. It was all BUFC now. The lads chased, harried, scrapped and fought for every ball. It was great to watch.
As the game entered the final stages, there were some dubious decisions to say the least. Some penalty decisions didn’t go our way. Fouls were committed but not seen. The ref looked lost – he wasn’t much taller than the grass so may be his sight was indeed obstructed. One foul in particular on Dan went unpunished. The opposition’s ‘keeper claimed he dived. Back in your box you muppet the crowd roared. It was down to the last five minutes now. A draw looked likely. The Barney Boys had one more corner to defend. The ball was banged into the box. It was rattling round the box just like Wendal was rattling round a different type of box earlier on that morning (#noshow). A Rovers’ player finally made a decent connection and it was sliced into the back of the net off the shins of an unnamed and unknown Barney Boy. 3-2. Alas, there wasn’t enough time to respond. A valiant effort but we came up short.
Man of the Match: Joe O’ Shaughnessy for his tenacious tackling and fearless defending.
Great effort: Johnny Rhodes for his endless running in leading the line.
Comic highlight of the match: Sorry Al – has to be going off injured after ninety seconds into the first game of the season. Hopefully that isn’t your season over lad! Fergal L T Gallagher.