By 1993 a new pool of players would find themselves making the NY Shamrocks their preferred metropolitan team of choice. By December a string of good results pushed the Second Team to the top of their league. Momentum was growing and a classic game out in Sportsfriends awaited the Shamrock leaders. The lads headed off from the club headquarters in a confident yet cautious frame of mind. Sportfriends was the Shamrock’s nemesis for many a year.
The bus pulled out from JJ Gilligan’s on a brisk fall day and ambled towards the Triborough Bridge. The stakes were high with pride even higher. The Shamrocks did not have a good record with their NJ arch-rivals over ten years. It’s hard to sum up the love –hate relationship with this NJ club. SF loved how much the Shamrocks spent at their bar after the games but hated that we always left with plenty of those beer steins as souvenirs.
As the bus climbed across the Tappan Zee Bridge someone commented how the view looked like one of those really difficult jigsaw puzzles with lots of clouds and trees…..nobody tempted a response to that one.
The lads were keen. Some even admitted to having stayed in on the Saturday night.
We arrived at the SF ground significantly early, something that took our foes by surprise. The property was nestled away on a back road and the pitch became visible while getting off the bus. They had a very impressive club house but an underwhelming pitch. A depleted field lacking grass suited SF. Such conditions had formed their style that was tough to beat. The visitors could handle such a surface but emotions and history were at the forefront of Shamrock minds.
The mood in the dressing room was intense while the jokes were not working. Knowing the 90 minutes ahead was not going to be easy enhanced the smell of blood. SF for the first time came into the game as the underdogs and this did not suit the Germans.
The travelling souls approached the dirty field on a bitter grey Sunday in New Jersey. Kevin McPartland, Carlos Granados, Alan Campbell, Sean Duffy, Derek Kierns, Adrian Brendan O’Reily, Barry Gallagher, Sean Campbell, Pete Hamill, Anto May, Dennis O’Boyle and Coach Roddy Clelland received a big cheer from the Shamrock faithful. SF was already warming up on the pitch with a substantial support of their own.
Winning the toss and taking advantage of the elements meant nothing. The game got off to a blistering pace. Tackles were hard and not shy. The tempo favored the home team as they gained momentum with every stride and every pass. A Shamrocks win would prove a turning point for the club but a huge blow for SF egos.
The half time whistle blew and with it no goals conceded by either side. A stern talking by Shamrocks coach Roddy Clelland drove home how close the team was to achieving a stellar victory. “We need to stay calm,” Clelland insisted. “We must seize every opportunity given.”
The second half started much the same as the first although this time the Shamrocks had lost their stage fright. The New Jersey sky was growing dark and the forest beside the pitch started to throw long shadows on top of the proceedings.
The spell was finally broken. A mistake by SF’s midfield and the Rocks intercepted. A pass found Sean Duffy running towards the SF goal and finishing with a deft strike into the net. The home team responded immediately as they upped the tempo. They hit the Shamrocks with everything including the kitchen sink. But it was too late. Shamrocks defended as if their lives depended on it and held on. Time was up. The Shamrocks had won a game of all games. There was cheering on and off the field as fists punched the evening sky.
“It’s a grand old team to play for, it’s a grand old team to know, and if you know your history, it’s enough to make your heart go…” The atmosphere in the dressing room was electric. Banter and conversations spilled out at lightning speed as players re-lived the game. How great it was to be a part of that day. The day Shamrocks beat Sportsfriends on NJ terrain.
There was a Sportsfriends old timer, a World War 2 Vet, who claimed that the takings from the till after a Shamrock visit were always bigger than the takings for the rest of the week. It was a compliment.
The coaching staff had asked the lads not to stroke too many of the glasses, the Rocks had after all, stroked a victory on their turf. The atmosphere it has to be said was always great and credit due, Sportsfriends always treated the Shamrocks well.
When we arrived in the bar the place was heaving and the SF players shook Shamrock hands. It wasn’t long before a sing song broke out and the Shamrocks, not really what you would call a shy group, took over the entire bar with song after song. After the driver threatened to leave for the 50th time the still singing winners headed to the bus. Not all of the glasses were stroked besides we always left a good tip. The German Vet smiled and rubbing his hands he said, “It’s was a great day for the Shamrocks, and a great day for our till.”