Having worked in football for over 17 years I was lucky enough to reach the FAI Cup Final twice, once in 2003 and again in 2006, losing both times.
The build up to the 2003 final was overshadowed by a serious illness to the great Charles Mbabazi Livingstone. The game against Longford, whom we had beaten in the League Cup Final at a packed Richmond Park earlier in the season, left us with many what ifs and regrets. Indeed Longford went on to win the final again in 2004 which showed what a good cup side they were.
The 2006 final was the last game played in the old Landsdowne Road. It was a horrible wet and windy day. As it turned out, due to an “administrative error”, I had no ticket for the final despite the fact it was known I would be working on the day. I ended up watching the game from high up in the old Lansdowne stand where the media covered the game from. I recall getting a “yellow card” from a radio journalist who was covering the game because he said that he could hear me roaring over his broadcast.
But what a game!!! That night, back in a jammed packed McDowells, we and watch the game again. Other than not winning the cup we had no regrets, everything was right going into the game and the team gave everything they could give on the pitch.
So what happens when a club reaches the FAI Cup Final?
Well, it is all go for the club. The first thing is to check your contract with the kit supplier to see are you entitled to a new set of kit for the final. Match day sponsors to be sourced, merchandise to be picked,this is your last big pay day before the end of the season. The hotel has to be chosen. The need for a hotel is interesting as for every other game the manager and players sleep in their own bed but not the night before the final, they want to be together as one unit.
Organising the after match function which is always more difficult when you lose, especially for the players. Don’t forget the suits!! This is one thing left to the players to arrange. Believe me you do not want to lose the cup final and to be told by the manager his players where uncomfortable wearing their suits and that’s the reason they lost a game.
Match tickets is the old chestnut which raises its head for every big game but none more so than the Cup Final. You do not want the players or staff having to take phone calls from a fella they met once looking for tickets. So management of match tickets is always high on the list.
The media briefing is an important part of the build up. It is our chance to show off our community in a positive light to the national media.
Another interesting thing we did in the build up was to invite a member of the League Referees panel in to chat with the players the week of the game. After all the final is the Blue Riband event and the last thing you want is to see your players chasing the referee around the park, so by coming in and just chatting in a relaxed environment it helped ease any tension that can be there.
The mascots can be a problem and one clubs always try and get sorted early in the build up. The match programme and ensuring all the detail required is sourced. A club song to be played on the PA is a dangerous one you would need the X Factor panel to decide the song you want played.
And finally, the Garda escort to the pitch from the Hotel. This one trip can inspire the players to greatness and gives the fans the acknowledgement their team has reached the big time. I made a point of always having the team bus drive past the supporters who had gathered outside of the club to allow the players savour some of the atmosphere.
On reaching the Stadium the manager’s backroom team will have the dressing room ready. The kit is laid out, the inspirational words on the wall, the water drinks and wine gums in place.
As the administration face of the club you meet and greet the club's guests, sponsors and the FAI officials and you get them settled into their seats.
Then comes kick-off time, you can do no more; it is now down to the eleven players on the pitch. All you ask is they turn up and perform so that when you all step back on the bus you have no regrets and that everything was left on the pitch.......