It was the first away game I had been to since turning up for Drogheda United matches but will make something of a trait of it by attending next week's encounter with Shelbourne in Dublin. Paddy was not my companion at this game. That misfortune fell the way of my close Ballymote friend Alfie Gallagher who jumped on the train at the Ballymote station to accompany me the rest of the journey to Sligo town.
We timed our arrival in the town to coincide with the Palestine solidarity rally which was well attended outside the main post office. Once finished we plugged the hiatus between rally and game with delicious pizza in a local restaurant followed by a trip to a bar. Alfie took to the Guinness Zero whereas it was whiskey neat for moi. I like to think the dark stuff was his way of generating the ambience for the appearance of the All-Blacks in the Rugby World Cup final, an event we would also watch.
We arrived about seven minutes late at the stadium as Alfie's navigation skills on the night left him mystified. Not that it was seven minutes of great soccer denied us. The game was nothing to write home about. There was nothing about it that remotely resembled the four goal thriller fought out by the same sides in July. If anything was set alight on the pitch it was the salvo of flares from the Sligo ultras diagonal to where we were seated. So intense was the barrage that visibility in one area of the pitch literally went up in smoke and the match had to be suspended with the warning that any further incidents would see it abandoned altogether. That seemed to have worked. Presumably most Ultras wanted to see the game they had paid to watch.
At one point a firecracker, outside the ground, startled me and my mind drifted back to the earlier rally which was staged in a bid to highlight the plight of civilians, half of whom are children, being mercilessly slaughtered by rampaging war criminals invading Gaza. What they face is a constant barrage of projectiles much more lethal than firecrackers. It made me feel embarrassed that I had got startled by something no more dangerous than a squib.
Despite being a languid affair the 0-0 draw was enough to secure top league soccer for the Rovers next season. The outcome mattered not to Drogheda who had successfully guaranteed themselves a place courtesy of their 0-0 draw against Derry.
The customary match hip flask had made the trek with me. Topped up with Pernod, it helped bring the internal heat up as the external temperature dropped. But despite its warming effect it did nothing to firewall me against the tedium of what was taking place before my eyes. The cracking of the ball against the Sligo crossbar was the only real moment of drama to rouse me from my mental torpor. Three words sum up the game, giving it a 3D effect - Dull, Drab, Dismal. Neither Alfie for Sligo nor moi for Drogheda came away feeling contented that we had been served up a feast of soccer.
What the visit to the Showgrounds reinforced in my mind was the dilapidated state of Weaver Park. The Rovers' stadium was in much superior shape, with better access to the stadium and toilet facilities. No constant drip of water from the roof either. Drogheda is home to a population around twice the size of Sligo town, yet offers a football stadium only half as good. Drogheda United is in serious need of a cash injection. The US owners of English side Walsall are said to be favourites to take over but that has to be decided by the Members Club in early November. Anything I guess is better than the gay hating Saudis.
A new stadium also appears to be in the offing. John Delaney promised one as far back as 2018 but he must have been having a laugh. For all of that, Drogs fans can relax knowing they will watch their side play premiership soccer next season with the promise of better to come.