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05 Jul 2022

The Commentary Box: VIP treatment for Zoe Murphy warms the hearts of all supporters

The Commentary Box: VIP treatment for Zoe Murphy warms the hearts of all supporters

Dundalk FC captain Pat Hoban with 5 year old Zoe Murphy who led out the Dundalk team before the UCD game at Oriel Park last Friday, (Photo Credit: Dundalk FC)

It was a fairly cold evening last Friday night at Oriel Park where Dundalk got back to winning ways beating UCD by two goals to nil in a match that Pat Hoban starred in.

He got one of the goals, which brought his tally to 120 goals with the club. Hoban was my man of the match by far. The game showed how vital Pat is to Dundalk, as when he is on song, the Oriel Park men are on song.

Hoban made the first goal and scored the second. He nearly created a third when his cross resulted in a Robbie Benson effort crashing off the UCD post. I said it was a cold night at Oriel last Friday, but the goals certainly warmed the hearts of the home faithful.

However, it truly was an inspirational night when little Five-year-old Zoe Murphy led her beloved Dundalk team out onto the pitch in her wheelchair having been subjected to verbal abuse by a young Dundalk supporter at United Park in Drogheda just two weeks before.

The Drogheda Incident

Zoe was born with quadriplegia and developed Cerebral Palsy at 21 months old. As a result, little Zoe suffers with spasticity and restricted movement. Zoe underwent life changing surgery which helped her. She undergoes intense physio on a weekly basis.

According to the Irish Daily Mirror there was a terrible incident at United Park two weeks ago. Zoe’s parents said it was not the usual happy pictures of a Friday night at a Dundalk match.

Zoe was left crying after verbal abuse from a young Dundalk supporter. Zoe said she did not belong at the game and that she could not come and watch her boys’ play.

She had been super excited at the thought of going to the Louth Derby. But it turned out to be Zoe’s most heart-breaking game and it was not because Drogheda beat Dundalk.

Her parents say that she was delighted to watch her boys play by the railing at United Park. Zoe was enjoying the singing and atmosphere and was singing along herself. Then it all went horribly wrong when a teenage boy bumped into Zoe’s mum while she was holding her.

Zoe’s mum asked the boy to be careful as Zoe can’t stand unaided and needs support. The boy then started shouting at little Zoey. He said she had no right to be there and told her mum to get Zoey out of the ground.

Then the biggest blow came when the youth hurled a horrible expletive at Zoe and her mum. Zoe became terribly upset and asked her mum could they leave the game as she felt she was not welcome.

The story was posted on Facebook by Zoe’s mum. It noted that Dundalk FC have always been absolutely amazing to Zoe. She says the club have helped her more than the family can repay them.

But Zoe’s mum says they never thought they would be made feel so uncomfortable by one of the club’s own supporters.

Republic of Ireland captain James McLean responded to the post by describing the abuse handed out to Zoe and her mum as shocking The Derry native invited Zoe and her family to be his guests at last Saturday week’s game against Belgium in the Aviva.

Zoe was also given top VIP treatment by Dundalk at Oriel last week. She met the team individually and saw the preparations for the UCD game in front of her as she attended the training sessions.

Zoe was given a number of presents by the players and was also able to see in person her heroes in training in the YDC.

A post on the Dundalk FC website said that it was an absolute pleasure to welcome Zoe and her family last Friday evening. She led her boys out before the game and inspired the lads to a 2-0 win over UCD.

Zoe was also presented with Dan Williams’s under 21 Welsh jersey that he got while playing for Wales against Bulgaria. Nathan Shepperd was also in the Welsh team as goalkeeper.

Second Chances

The day after the Drogheda game, Dundalk FC said the youth involved made contact with both the club and the Murphy family.

The Chief Dundalk FC Operating Officer Martin Connolly said the youth apologized unreservedly for his actions.

Martin said that having spoken to the individual concerned, both the club and Zoe’s family believe the youth’s apology to be genuine and that the incident was out of character for the youngster.

The individual agreed with Martin that he would work with the club and educate himself about Zoe’s condition which is Cerebral Palsy. Dundalk FC in a statement said the club would welcomes Zoe and her family to Oriel on the 1st of April. They said Zoe touches all our hearts.

Zoe and her family have had a terrible ordeal. However the response by the club to what happened has been top class. She is delighted to be back supporting her boys again.

The family made the most noble of gestures by agreeing to allow the youngster involved in verbally abusing Zoe to have a second chance and not having him barred from Oriel permanently.

Martin Connolly of Dundalk FC also deserves the highest of praise in how he dealt with the issue. It can’t have been an issue that was easy to deal with. But Martin went out of his way to protect Zoe and indeed her family.

He has also given the youth who verbally abused Zoe a second chance. He was obviously convinced it was out of character and that the young man was genuinely remorseful. He obviously felt that the young lad deserved a second chance and that it won’t happen again.

The decision to allow the youngster to return to Oriel would never have happened without the agreement of Zoe’s family.

Personally, I do not think I would have been as kind and understanding as Zoe’s family and Martin Connolly. I do believe that everybody does deserve a second chance in certain circumstances.

But in this case, I think both Martin Connolly and Zoe’s family have just been top class in how they have dealt with the specific situation. Bullying is rampant in our society. And what was said to five-year-old Zoey was disgraceful bullying.

This issue has now been dealt with. Let us hope that the young man who was involved in this incident has learned from the incident and can move on. Sadly, bullying is rampant in our society and does not just involve young person to young person.

It can be from adult to adult. Young person to adult. And adult to young person. A person who is bullied can be seriously affected by their experiences. It’s common in many workplaces. It’s common throughout society. There must be zero tolerance for it, no matter where it manifests itself.  

The Connolly’s

The Connolly family in Andy and Martin are people who have already built a living legacy for themselves at Oriel. It was Andy who ploughed his own money in to the club in 2012 that saved it from going to the wall. Martin ran the club at that time too.

Paul Browne also ploughed his money into the club and has also left a huge legacy. Andy Connolly stepped in last November as the good ship Oriel was in trouble again. This time Andy brought Stats Sports with him to save the club once more.

Many people have left magnificent legacies in the past at Oriel. The Connolly family are examples of people who have contributed a magnificent legacy in modern times and we as supporters can see this today in front of us.

The UCD Match

So seeing Zoe Murphy on the pitch leading her boys out last Friday warmed the hearts of all Dundalk supporters on a bitterly cold night and Zoe led her team to victory.

Dundalk were much better than they were in the game against Drogheda United. They led on 16 minutes when Mark Connolly set up Pat Hoban, who then put Daniel Kelly in. Kelly is a magnificent player. He rounded the UCD keeper Lorcan Healy. and slotted the ball into the empty net.

Dundalk got their second goal a minute after the break when Lewis Macari’s cross found Pat Hoban at the far post. Pat controlled the ball magnificently and volleyed the ball to the roof of the net. It was game over.

Pat Hoban had notched his 120th league goal for Dundalk, bringing him ever closer to the great Joey Donnolly’s all-time scoring record for the Lilywhites.

Darragh Leahy played his first game of the season for Dundalk at left full. He was top class. He has fully recovered from his injury picked up in pre-season. Daniel Kelly, who has also had injury setbacks recently, had a top class game and got a great goal.

After the game the boss Stephen O’Donnell was in top class form. He said he thought Dundalk had played very well. He stated nothing in the league can be taken for granted and accepted Dundalk were sloppy a bit after they went 2-0 up. But he said they did regain control.

Asked about the fact Dundalk had only scored one goal in March, the boss said that they were not creating enough chances. But the manager exclaimed they had been keeping things tight at the back.

I asked him would he feel pressure returning to Inchicore given he guided Pat’s to the cup in November and within days left to take charge at Oriel. Stephen says he won’t feel pressure.

He says it was disappointing the way things turned out as he had a good rapport with the coaches at Pat’s. He says he also had a great relationship with the Pat’s players. He says he does not want relationships he built up at Pat’s to be sullied.

He noted that ultimately, it’s about his players. The rest of it he said was just a hullabaloo. Stephen said Inchicore was a great place to play. He dismissed a question that it was an intimidatory place to go to, given the crowd are right on top of the players.

He laughed off my question over being afraid of the reaction going back to Richmond Park. He said Inchicore was a great place to visit.

Daniel Kelly

Daniel Kelly, who scored the first goal, told me he was delighted to be back from injury and also getting the first goal. He said he had got a couple of niggles and injuries along with a hamstring problem, but now he was fully recovered.

Daniel said that the team had worked at a lot in training. For his goal he said Pat Hoban yelled at him to stand over the ball. He said Hoban’s move in the goal was terrific. He got in behind the defence.

He recalled how he rounded the keeper and slotted the ball home. He said Marc Connolly had got the cross in. Pat Hoban’s flick put Daniel through, and the rest is history.

The young attacker felt that Dundalk could have scored more. He said Robbie Benson’s header against the crossbar was just like Patrick McEleney’s header in the 2018 FAI Cup final that won the cup.

Daniel said it was great to have Robbie back at Oriel. He says he really makes the atmosphere around the club so positive.

He was really looking forward to next Friday’s game with Pat’s. He says there will be a great atmosphere. Daniel says Dundalk have nothing to fear and will go there looking for 3 points.

Final Thoughts

Dundalk head coach Dave Mackey said he was really pleased with the performance against UCD. He said it was now a question of building on the performance and creating consistency with results going forward.

Dave said Dundalk are doing very well defensively and have built up four clean sheets already. Two of the goals scored against them were penalties in separate games. He said Dundalk will build on the result.

Dave Mackey confirmed John Martin missed Friday’s game because of a knock on his knee. Dave confirmed he should be back in a matter of weeks.

Friday was a very wet night. Yet over two thousand people attended. Dundalk have been fined €1,200 as a result of the incidents at United Park more than 2 weeks ago.

Very sorry to hear about John Murphy’s recent illness. I featured him in last week’s paper. Thankfully John is recuperating. well and should be back on the Dundalk FM airwaves very soon. John is a great person and I wish him all the best in his recovery.

It should be a humdinger of a game against Pat’s this Friday in Dublin. The atmosphere will be electric. Have a safe week everybody. And remember please be careful out there.

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