DERRY: BACK ON TRACK

Waterside station, L'Derry

Waterside station, L’Derry

I wrote a blog recently (or started it) while travelling back from Coleraine on the train to Belfast. It was about the Setanta Cup match at the Showgrounds, which Shamrock Rovers won. Now I am writing on the move again, on the same stretch of track. But the difference this time is that I am returning from a day out in Derry.

Single Track replaced alongside Lough Foyle (viewed from Peace Bridge)

Single Track replaced alongside Lough Foyle (viewed from Peace Bridge)

Derry station

Derry station

Northern Ireland Railways (Translink) has just re-opened the line from Coleraine in County Londonderry to Derry City. The new timetable began this morning with the 09:20 service from Great Victoria Street station in Belfast, arriving at the Waterside station in Londonderry at 11:33am, one minute ahead of schedule. But even with the new track, the train takes nearly half an hour longer than the Goldliner express bus, which terminates at Foyle Street bus station, near the Guildhall.

This important rail infrastructure project has been timed to coincide with Derry being the UK Capital of Culture for 2013. It marks the completion of the first phase of the track renewal and improvement project at a cost of over £30m. Translink say it will secure the long-term future and sustainability of the Northern corridor rail link which provides vital connections to jobs, colleges, universities, shops, businesses and local attractions.

Mussenden Temple, Benone Strand

Mussenden Temple, Benone Strand

Peace Bridge from train

Peace Bridge from train

The GAA Congress was held in Derry for the first time this weekend and brought several hundred delegates from clubs throughout the island and further beyond to this rejuvenated city.

View from near Castlerock across towards Shrove, Moville, Inishowen

View from near Castlerock across towards Shrove, Moville, Inishowen

This blog was originally published as the train back to Belfast arrived at Yorkgate staion. I updated it later with a link to the new timetable. All in all, a very enjoyable day out, including a nice lunch at a popular bistro close to the station. So at this stage I think thanks are due to the Into the West rail link campaigners such as Eamonn McCann and the local politicians such as rail enthusiast John Dallat for putting the pressure on Translink to deliver what I hope will be a very successful improved service linking the two main cities in the North.

SETANTA CUP

Shamrock Rovers v Coleraine

Shamrock Rovers v Coleraine

SHAMROCK ROVERS 0 COLERAINE 1

Back in the days of my youth, I remember seeing one of the matches in a cross-border competition, the Blaxnit Cup. It might have been the second leg of the final at Dalymount Park in May 1968, when Shamrock Rovers lost 2-1 to Crusaders from Belfast, but took the first trophy 3-2 on aggregate. The following season, Rovers were again in the final but lost 4-3 to Coleraine, who went on to retain the trophy the following year by defeating Sligo Rovers in 1970. The Irish League side re-appeared in the 1972 final but went down to Cork Hibernians over two legs. The competition featured four clubs from the League of Ireland and four from the Irish League and it ran until 1974, when it was replaced by the Texaco Cup and then after a break, the Tyler Cup until 1980.

For that reminder about Coleraine’s previous Blaxnit success. I am grateful to David McClarty MLA, who was following my tweets from the ground on facebook. In one of my tweets I mentioned that one of Coleraine FC’s stalwart fans is the actor James Nesbitt, Chancellor of the University of Ulster, who was in Dublin on Saturday for the IFTA awards ceremony.

Since 2005 the all-island club competition has been known as the Setanta Sports Cup. This evening at Tallaght, the Hoops and the Bannsiders renewed their rivalry in the first leg of a first round match. I have been following Rovers at their new stadium over the last two seasons, but I don’t think I have ever seen Coleraine in “live” action.  I was impressed by the visitors and their vocal bunch of around 200 supporters who made the long trip to Dublin from the North-West.

Full Time

Full Time

The new-look home side were playing their first competitive senior game this year, because of the difference in soccer seasons in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. Before the game, one minute’s silence was strictlly observed by the teams and the crowd in memory of Tony Clare, a Rovers supporter who passed away recently. Then it was into action, but I missed the usual roar of the home fans and only one stand was in use. I also noticed that one of the banners behind the goalmouth had a picture of Rovers’ former striker Gary Twigg on it. He is now playing for Portadown in the Irish League, who lost 3-2 at Drogheda in the same competition.

Shamrock Rovers had most of the goal opportunities in the first half, with Mark Quigley unsuccessful on at least three occasions. Five minutes before the break, an injury to Ruairi Harkin forced him to retire and he was replaced by David Scullion. In what was to prove the decisive move of the whole match, in the third minute of first-half injury time, Scullion picked up the ball from Paul Owens and coolly lifted it over the top of the advancing Rovers’ keeper Barry Murphy.  Coleraine had taken the lead against the run of play.

Scullion nearly managed to double his side’s lead ten minutes into the second half. Quigley was replaced in the Hoops attack by Gary McCabe, who was involved in a few good moves along with Sean O’Connor. O’Connor came close with a free kick and McCabe likewise in the dying seconds of the game, when Coleraine had their goalie Michael Doherty to thank for keeping their advantage.

Coleraine fans at Tallaght

Coleraine fans at Tallaght

So the 200 or so Coleraine fans left Tallaght in a very orderly fashion and singing the praises of their team. The two sides will meet again next Monday at The Showgrounds, Ballycastle Road. There were three other cup games (first leg) tonight:-

ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC 0 GLENTORAN 0

CORK CITY 4 Morrissey 16, Turner pen 26, 45+1, Kavanagh 69 CLIFTONVILLE 0

DROGHEDA UTD 3 R Brennan 8, O’Connor 14, G Brennan 60 PORTADOWN 2 A Burns 25, Braniff 43

SHAMROCK ROVERS 0 COLERAINE 1 Scullion 45+3