Damien Duff says if fans do not feel safe they will not go to games

Bohs’ Cian Byrne was struck by a flare in February, and a linesman was caught by a missile launched from the Shels end last Friday in Drogheda

People do not feel safe at some League of Ireland games. That has become an undeniable reality this season.

As the north Dublin clubs meet on Friday night, Bohemians visiting Shelbourne at an ever-expanding Tolka Park, the latter’s fans join the former’s fans in having to swallow an away-day ban.

Both punishments stem from a supporter flinging flares on to the field of play. As a result Bohs fans were denied a trip to Drogheda recently, while Shels’ travelling gang cannot attend the Galway United game at Eamonn Deacy Park next Friday.

“It’s a Shelbourne problem at the minute,” said Damien Duff this week, “but I don’t think anyone can argue that it’s not rife around the league.”


Rarely does a Dublin derby pass without the fire brigade being forced on to the grass to dose flames. Bohs’ Cian Byrne was struck on the arm in February, hit by one of his own fans, and linesman Dermot Broughton was caught by a missile launched from the Shels end last Friday at Weavers Park.

“I’ve had a young Shelbourne fan not feeling safe at a game and I had to give him a big hug: ‘here, you’ll be all right, I’ll look after you’,” said Duff. “You want to feel safe, and if you don’t feel safe you’re not going to want to go to the game. It has to stop.”

Apparently self-policing by supporters is not effective with Shamrock Rovers and St Patrick’s Athletic promising a “zero tolerance” policy around pyrotechnic displays.

All eyes turn to the 4,700 crammed into Tolka on Friday night. On a brighter note the Drumcondra venue’s capacity will increase to 5,700, with two small terraces to open before St Pat’s visit in a fortnight.

If the best part of having Duff as a permanent fixture in the League of Ireland is his passionate outbursts, the second best part is his level headedness after the fact (he invited the young Shelbourne fan who hit Broughton to training this week so he could turn the incident into a teaching moment for the league’s increasingly younger fan base).

The former Ireland winger’s coaching ability alongside Joey O’Brien comes a close third.

Shels are top of the league, 11 points clear of Alan Reynolds’ struggling Bohs who have slumped to one spot above a relegation play-off. Unbeaten in nine, with Will Jarvis just named the Soccer Writers’ of Ireland player of the month for March, the wonder is how Duff’s charges can maintain this pace for 36 games.

“Top teams, top players, they are top because they do it as the season wears on, in the business end. Being top of the league I don’t feel added pressure, I put enough pressure on the guys already. Do they feel pressure? No, they’ve felt pressure from day one off me.

“I haven’t got into that side with them at all. I try to prod them emotionally from time to time. Here, I’ve got relegated three times. That’s a different pressure. Totally.”

Dundalk, meanwhile, begin life after Stephen O’Donnell at home to St Pat’s, and while Duff clashed with him on plenty of occasions this week he messaged O’Donnell.

“I have never actually texted a manager that left his post but I texted Stevie because A, I have his number, and B, I think he is one of the best this league has seen. Granted, I have had ding dongs with him – that was my opening line – but I felt I should text him because he is a proper manager, a brilliant coach. It’s as volatile a profession as any.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent