There has never been a more dramatic conclusion to a Premier League season in England than last Sunday’s and some of the cheers could be heard back in Donegal.
Finn Harps goalkeeping coach Paddy Hannigan from Ballybofey and Manchester City Supporters’ Club Donegal Branch secretary Joe Doherty from Sessiaghoneill were fortunate enough to attend Manchester City’s dramatic Premier League success at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday
With rivals Manchester United about to post their necessary win at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light thanks to Wayne Rooney’s solitary goal, City, who had led their neighbours on goal difference going into the final series of matches, were letting the trophy slip through their grasp.
For a club with a history of pressing the self-destruct button, City were about to implode again having surrendered a 1-0 lead to trail by two goals to one against a 10-man Queen’s Park Rangers side, who were battling themselves to retain their place in the top-flight.
However, Edin Dzeko equalised in injury time before Sergio Aguero hammered home a 94th minute winner as the home support exploded in delight. It give City their first league title since the old First Division title in 1968 and, aside last season’s FA Cup, a first major trophy of any sort since the 1976 League Cup.
That win, thanks to Dennis Tueart’s overherd kick against Newcastle United at Wembley in 1976, happened when Joe Doherty was just a couple of months old. It was the first trophy handed out after his birth, so perhaps he was always meant to be a City fan.
“I certainly didn’t follow City for the success,” Doherty said this week. “My Manchester-based cousin John Long, whose father Liam came from Cappry, took me to a pre-season friendly against Stockport County at Edgeley Park in 1989 or ‘90 when Howard Kendell was manager. I was 13 then and supported City ever since. Barring the odd promotion here and there, there certainly hasn’t been much to celebrate until recently.”
City popped up and down the leagues and were even in the third flight of English football in 1998/99, the same season United famously won the treble of Champion’s League, Premier League and FA Cup.
Billionaire Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi family came in and took control of City in 2008 and the heavy investment has taken the club forward light-years.
“There was always a core of Manchester City fans around the county,” Doherty added of Donegal. “We decided to put an advert in the local papers a few years ago and managed to whip up enough interest to get the club going. We’re just shy of 50 members right now.”
With the club having access to tickets for individual matches and two season tickets, Doherty and Hannigan planned to visit before the end of the season. City, though, after a whirlwind start to the campaign had lost top spot and trailed United by eight points only last month.
“After City lost to Arsenal I thought they were finished but we had planned to go to a game,” Doherty added. “We had planned to go to the Manchester derby but since it was on a Monday it didn’t suit, so QPR it was. I was always hopeful something might ride on that game.
“Paddy picked me up a 5.30am last Sunday and we flew over to Liverpool via Belfast. It was a great occasion but with City trailing it was slipping away. I always felt if they got one goal then they might get two but they’d resorted to pop-shots from distance and they were just cannoning off QPR players, who were playing for their lives. They had to play through QPR to get anything. When Aguero scored the winner I’ve never seen anything like it. The place erupted.”
After almost missing the flight from Manchester back to Belfast, it was home for 10pm to Bonner’s Bar in Ballybofey, a place where former City player Paul Lake had paraded the FA Cup just three months ago. The pub has also been given a ‘Heart of Manchester City’ award, only one of 10 officially designated City pubs worldwide.
“There were still a few there when I made it back,” Doherty, also known for his love of Finn Harps, said. “It was a brilliant day and the only thing that comes close was Robbie Keane’s last minute goal against Germany in the 2002 World Cup. And that was only to draw - I think United fans know now how Bayern Munich supporters felt when they scored conceded two goals in stoppage time in the 1999 Champions League final.”