NewHagaki (Postcard) from RWC2019 Japan 3

The lives-up-to-its-billing Shinkansen (bullet train) arrived in Shin-Kōbe Station at 14:14, just like the timetable says.  One stop on the metro later I’m in Sannomiya, checking into my hotel (the b Kōbe, smart, utilitarian, close to the night life) and ready to explore Kōbe, host city for Ireland’s third match in the Rugby World Cup.

Perched on a hillside sloping down into Osaka Bay, Kōbe is an attractive, compact, walkable city (humidity notwithstanding).  For an overall view of the place, I get on the Hanshin Regional Rail line at Sannomiya – up there with Shinjuku in the easy-to-get-lost stakes – and head east to Mikage Station, where the number 16 bus takes you to the cable car which will carry you up to the top of Mount Rokko.  It’s best to sit in the cafe and wait for dusk to descend to fully appreciate the panoramic vista below lit up by the city lights.  Nice though it is, it doesn’t live up to its nickname of The Ten Million Dollar View (how exactly do you assign a monetary value on a sight?).  And of course Mount Rokko is afflicted by that blight of modern tourism, hordes of selfie stick-wielding, Chinese tourists.  Such is life…

Kobe at night from Mt Rokko

Returning back to Sannomiya, I take a wander to further explore Kōbe.  Much of it appears to be deserted at night and I somehow end up rambling down to the port district in the south.  In this day and age it should be theoretically impossible to get lost what with smartphones and Google Maps and somesuch.  That assumption predicates on working Wi-Fi or a strong phone signal, things my increasingly wonky travel phone is lacking.  But having been to Kōbe many moons ago, I knew to head in the opposite direction of the Port of Kōbe Tower that illuminated the night like a giant red beacon.  Eventually I stumble across a metro station and end up back in Sannomiya for dinner.

Kōbe Beef is Wagyu beef from the Tajima strain of Japanese black cattle raised in Hyōgo Prefecture according to strict rules.  The meat is a delicacy, valued for its flavour, tenderness, and fatty, well-marbled texture.  And it is not cheap.  But when in Kōbe, you have to take the one time hit and try it at least once.  So I search for a suitable place (i.e. speaks English, accepts cards), eventually finding one in an upstairs teppanyaki joint and chow down in the company of a couple of Russians who are also in Kōbe for the match.  Over dinner, they tell me that only about 200 of their countrymen are here for the tournament, and though the talent is there, the Russian rugby team will only improve once they start playing against Tier 1 nations regularly but they won’t for political reasons.  And the food?  Yes it was very flavoursome and you could see why Kōbe Beef is prized.  The final bill came to about £80.00 for me, which didn’t seem too bad.  Maybe I’ve been living in London too long…

Kobe Beef dinner

It was now just after 10pm.  I was only intending to stop off for a wee nightcap on the way back to my hotel.  Next thing I knew, it was 2am.  Basically, Avery’s Irish Pub was packed out (it only takes about 20 to fill it) and people were being turned away at the door.  Consequently there was a group of about a dozen Irish fans gathered outside in the street drinking cans.  They invited me to join their “Can Zone” (geddit?  Instead of Fan Zone?).  Feeling it would be impolite to ignore such a request, I dash up the road to the Family Mart convenience store – which must have done a roaring trade in tins that night – to stock up and made merry with them in the warm Kōbe night.

The Can Zone

I can remember starting a rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann (why not?  It certainly wasn’t going to be sung at the match).  I can vaguely recall giving my insect bite antidote to some poor girl who wasn’t spared by the mossies.  There’s also a dim recollection of the local plod politely moving us along.  And there is evidence on my phone of ending up in some back alley dive bar.  But I definitely know I had the kind of fun times that almost certainly would not have occurred had it been with any other group of folk.

Much as I drank, it wasn’t bad enough to induce a much of a hangover Thursday morning.  I was up and out to Sannomiya station for breakfast at Mcdonalds (bad form, I know.  But I can’t be doing steamed fish and rice for brekkie).  Then it was onto the metro down to the Harbourland district.  On the 17th of January 1995, one of the worst earthquakes of the 20th century struck Kōbe.  6,000 people were killed and over 300,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed.  One of the worst hit areas was Kōbe Harbour, a maritime gateway from the earliest days and amongst the first ports of entry to Japan when it ended its isolation.  The completely destroyed harbour has since been rebuilt, and there sits here an open air memorial museum telling of what happened through artefacts, a video presentation (with English commentary in an Irish accent) and most starkly of all, part of the harbour preserved exactly as the earthquake left it.  It was good to see also the many Irish folk here too, belying the cares-only-about-drinking Paddy stereotype.

Nunobiki Falls

Next was a metro ride back to Shin Kōbe station.  For behind it lies the revered Nunobiki Falls.  Getting there though, is a slog; a steep 400m climb up many dodgy steps that obliterated lofty presumptions of my fitness levels (I blame the humidity.  That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it).  That said, the resultant views were totally worth it.  There’s actually four separate waterfalls, the tallest of which rising to 43m.  They looked positively mystical in the midday light and it wasn’t hard to see why they have inspired art, poetry and worship for centuries.  Back down to Shin Kōbe station and as I make my way to the metro, by a complete million to one chance, Emeldah spots me.  She is the fiancé of Tommy Feely, legendary Ireland supporter, RISSC London stalwart and my fellow WONS Orphanage cohort.  They had just arrived in Kōbe from Tokyo and were lunching in a station restaurant when she saw me walk by, so I joined them for a quick drink.  It was good to finally catch up with the couple having missed them in Tokyo.

Onward I went to lunch at a place not 100m from my hotel.  Wanto Burger is an American-type diner, the twist being that it serves towering burgers made with Kōbe Beef.  It’s a place highly recommended by the Lonely Planet guidebook and by the time I get there, the queue – Irish to a man (and woman) – stretched out the door.  I’d condemn them as blind followers of guidebooks but for the fact that’s why I’m here too.  Thankfully the wait was only 20 minutes to get seated inside, service however was terrible and the second queue to pay the bill was just as bad.  It’s saving grace however, was the outstanding food.  It really takes the humble hamburger to another level when you use wagyū as your main ingredient, giving the beef heightened flavour.  Very messy to eat, but I cared not.

Kobe beefburger

Fully fed, I head on to meet Andre the Treasurer at Ootoya, 100m the other side of my hotel.  He is there with John McGinley and wife Susan, Joe Loughran and wife Gemma (this was practically an RISSC London Committee splinter group meeting!) where I finally collect my match tickets.  As I set off for the match, the patchy drizzles that had blighted the day morphed into outright monsoons by the time I reach the Noevir Kōbe Stadium,  But it mattered not, the roof was going to be closed and my Rugby World Cup had started at last.  As the crowds entered the Noevir Kōbe Stadium (renamed the Kōbe Misaki Stadium for the purposes of the tournament) I could finally get a sense of the occasion.  Kōbe folk, who couldn’t have been nicer and helpful to us visitors as it was, had turned out fully to support the Irish team.  Many of them decked out in Ireland rugby jerseys, and a significant few were wearing Ireland football shirts (a curious number of them unsponsored!).  The 10,000 travelling Irish fans were clearly going to be augmented with local support.  Collectively we roared on Ireland to a win over Russia that was not as comfortable as it might have been.  The Irish team clearly took their foot off the pedal in the second half and only when the Russians threatened to get back into the game did Ireland pull out a couple of tries to round off a 35-0 win.  I had a great time here, not least because proper SLR cameras were allowed in the stadium, and telephoto lenses too.  So I made full use of my 70-300mm zoom and captured some spectacular shots.  And if that wasn’t enough, Maiko was here.

Ireland vs Russia

Maiko from Kanazawa did post-graduate studies at Galway University and became a fan of Galway United (and Supermacs onion rings!).  For many years afterwards she travelled at great expense from Japan to follow the Irish national football team around Europe (so much so that Maiko was made an honorary member of RISSC London).  These days such adventures aren’t viable now that she is married and with three children, but Maiko was determined to come cheer on the Irish rugby team, even if it entailed a five hour drive to get here.  I knew she would be at this match but didn’t think I would see her as she was off home straight afterwards.  But as fate would have it, Maiko and her kids were sitting just two rows away from me.  It was a delightful unexpected bonus to see her before my visit to Kanazawa the following weekend.  However it took forever to leave the stadium, because Maiko and her three children were togged out in Galway GAA jerseys for the occasion and so many Irish supporters wanted photos with them that it was nearly two hours before I was finally able to see them off in town.

A post-match heaving Hub pub

I hadn’t eaten yet, and here begins another unplanned night out with Irish fans.  I stop for a bite to eat at a cheap diner near my hotel and got chatting to pair of siblings from Cork.  They persuade me to come join them for a quick drink afterwards.  That ‘quick drink’ involved squeezing into an absolutely heaving Hub pub, where getting a drink at the bar is a non-starter and we resort to illicitly smuggling in cans (hello again , Family Mart), fuelling a sing-song the likes of which has never been heard at this basement bar.

For all that, I have no difficulty making it to Shin-Kōbe station the next morning.  Kōbe was wet, boozy, delicious fun.  It’s nine days until Ireland’s last pool match against Samoa, so I’ve planned out an entire schedule before then; first to Matsuyama (for a J-pop concert), then all the way up to Kanazawa (to visit Maiko), then onwards to Nagoya, Osaka and Yamaguchi before ending up in Fukuoka for the last game.  Not a typical Ireland supporter’s itinerary.  But then in so many ways, I’m not a typical Ireland supporter…


Cathal Chu

NewU21s set fo face Iceland in Reykjavik on Tuesday…15/10/2019

Republic of Ireland U21 manager Stephen Kenny will send his young charges into more 2021 European Championship qualifying action on Tuesday afternoon when they take on Iceland in Reykjavik at 4pm.

Iceland commenced their campaign with two resounding victories over Armenia and Luxembourg but suffered a crushing five nil defeat by Sweden in Helsingborg on Saturday last and are likely to be hurting and dangerous back on home territory.

Ireland will of course be without Aaron Connolly, promoted to the senior squad, the injured Jonathan Afolabi and the suspended Troy Parrott, while one or two may be carrying knocks received during Thursday night’s bruising encounter with top seeds Italy, which ended scoreless in Tallaght Stadium.

Three players, Aaron Drinan, Danny Grant and Simon Power have been called into the squad which travelled to Reykjavik on Saturday.

             P  W  D  L  F  A  Pts
Ireland      4  3  1  0  7  1  10
Italy        3  2  1  0  6  0   7
Iceland      3  2  0  1  9  6   6
Sweden       2  1  0  1  6  3   3
Armenia      4  1  0  3  3  8   3
Luxembourg   4  0  0  4  0 13   0

Goalkeepers: Gavin Bazunu(Manchester City), Caoimhin Kelleher(Liverpool)
Defenders: Nathan Collins(Stoke City), Kameron Ledwidge(Southampton), Conor Masterson(QPR), Danny McNamara(Newport County on loan from Millwall), Lee O’Connor(Glasgow Celtic), Dara O’Shea(West Bromwich Albion), Liam Scales(UCD),
Midfielders: Conor Coventry(West Ham United), Zachary Elbouzedi(Waterford), Danny Grant(Bohemian), Gavin Kilkenny(AFC Bournemouth), Jason Knight(Derby County), Daniel Mandroiu(Bohemian), Jayson Molumby(Millwall on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion), Conor Ronan(Dunajska Streda on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers), Jack Taylor(Barnet)
Forwards: Aaron Drinan(GAIS-Sweden on loan from Ipswich Town), Adam Idah(Norwich City), Michael Obafemi(Southampton), Simon Power(Ross County on loan from Norwich City)

NewU19s lose to Denmark in second encounter…14/10/2019

U19 Head Coach Tom Mohan used this afternoon’s second encounter with Denmark in the Showgrounds to assess other members of his Republic of Ireland squad. Denmark again secured victory with a goal in each half on a wet and windy Monday afternoon. 

Starting Eleven: Bobby Jones; Lewis Richards, Mark McGuinness(C), Andrew Omobamidele, Ben Greenwood; Ross Tierney, Harvey Neville, Conor Grant; Festy Ebosele, George Nunn, Tom Cannon
Sean Bohan for Jones 60′
Dawson Devoy for Nunn 46′
Donal Higgins for Neville 46′
Timi Sobowale for McGuinness 60′
Jamie Bowden for Ross Tierney 60′
Alex Gilbert for Cannon 71′
Armstrong Oko-Flex for Grant 71′
Barry Coffey for Omobamidele 71′ 


Goalkeepers: Sean Bohan(Bohemian), Jimmy Corcoran(Preston North End), Bobby Jones(Wigan Athletic)
Defenders: Ronan Boyce(Derry City), Ben Greenwood(AFC Bournemouth), Oisin McEntee(Newcastle United), Mark McGuinness(Arsenal), Mazeed Ogungbo(Arsenal), Andrew Omobamidele(Norwich City), Lewis Richards(Wolverhampton Wanderers), Timi Sobowale(Manchester City)
Midfielders: Jamie Bowden(Tottenham Hotspur), Barry Coffey(Glasgow Celtic), Dawson Devoy(Bohemian), Conor Grant(Sheffield Wednesday), Donal Higgins(Galway United), Harvey Neville(Manchester United), Armstrong Oko-Flex(Glasgow Celtic), Tyreik Wright(Aston Villa)
Forwards: Tom Cannon(Everton), Ryan Cassidy(Watford), Festy Ebosele(Derby County), Alex Gilbert(West Bromwich Albion), Conor Noss(Borussia Monchengladbach), George Nunn(Chelsea), Thomas Oluwa(Shamrock Rovers), Ross Tierney(Bohemian)

NewIreland draw with Georgia in Tbilisi this afternoon…12/10/2019

Mick McCarthy expressed satisfaction with the point gained from a scoreless draw with Georgia in this Saturday afternoon’s crucial European Championship qualifier played in the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena.

There was little to excite in a pretty poor contest with neither side showing very much invention. The hosts had the greater share of possession but their few efforts on goal were wayward and Darren Randolph did not have a single shot to save.

Ireland came closest to scoring after four minutes when John Egan‘s header from a Conor Hourihane free kick struck the post. There was a second half chance for Jeff Hendrick but be hit the side netting from an acute angle.

Central defensive duo Shane Duffy and John Egan were Ireland’s best performers while late debutant substitute Aaron Connolly looked the part and had two efforts in his 16 minute cameo appearance.

Team; Darren Randolph; Seamus Coleman(C), Shane Duffy, John Egan, Matt Doherty; Jeff Hendrick, Glenn Whelan, Conor Hourihane; Callum Robinson, James Collins, James McClean

Alan Browne for Robinson 73′
Aaron Connolly for Collins 78′
Derrick Williams for Hourihane 90′ +2′

Later this afternoon, Denmark scored a late winner to defeat Switzerland in Copenhagen.

                P  W  D  L  F  A  G/D  Pts
Ireland         6  3  3  0  6  2   4    12
Denmark         6  3  3  0 16  5  11    12
Switzerland     5  2  2  1 10  5   5     8 
Georgia         6  1  2  3  4  8  -4     5
Gibraltar       5  0  0  5  0 16 -16     0  

Goalkeepers: Darren Randolph(Middlesbrough), Kieran O’Hara(Burton Albion on loan from Manchester United), Mark Travers(AFC Bournemouth)
Defenders: Seamus Coleman(Everton), Matt Doherty(Wolverhampton Wanderers), Shane Duffy(Brighton & Hove Albion), John Egan(Sheffield United), Kevin Long(Burnley), *Enda Stevens(Sheffield United), Derrick Williams(Blackburn Rovers)
Midfielders: Alan Browne(Preston North End), Jack Byrne(Shamrock Rovers), Josh Cullen(Charlton Athletic on loan from West Ham United), Jeff Hendrick(Burnley), Conor Hourihane(Aston Villa), Alan Judge(Ipswich Town), James McClean(Stoke City), Callum O’Dowda(Bristol City), Glenn Whelan(Heart of Midlothian)
Forwards: James Collins(Luton Town), Scott Hogan(Stoke City on loan from Aston Villa), Sean Maguire(Preston North End), Callum Robinson(Sheffield United), Aaron Connolly(Brighton & Hove Albion)

Suspended for the Georgia match

NewAirtricity League action on Friday evening…11/10/2019

There were three Airtricity League Premier Division contests played this Friday evening. Third place Bohemian defeated Champions Dundalk by two goals to one in Dalymount Park while second place Shamrock Rovers scored the only goal for victory over Finn Harps in Tallaght Stadium. The third contest saw strugglers Cork City and UCD face off in Turner’s Cross where the hosts secured a three two success.

                            P   W  D  L   F   A   G/D   Pts
Dundalk [Champions]        34  26  5  3  69  17   52    83
Shamrock Rovers            34  21  6  7  56  21   35    69
Bohemian                   34  16  8 10  45  27   18    56
Derry City                 33  13 12  8  49  30   19    51
St Patrick’s Athletic      33  13  9 11  26  30   -4    48
Sligo Rovers               34  10 12 12  36  43   -7    42
Waterford                  34  11  7 16  42  50   -8    40
Cork City                  34   8 10 16  28  46  -18    34
Finn Harps                 34   6  7 21  25  60  -35    25
UCD                        34   5  4 25  23  75  -52    19

The First Division play off promotion series continued on Friday evening with Cabinteely going through to face Drogheda United in the next stage of the promotion play-off series.

Following last week’s scoreless draw at Stradbrook, the sides played out a one all draw after extra-time in the City Calling Stadium this evening with the visitors prevailing by three goals to one in the penalty shoot-out.

Cabinteely will play host to Drogheda United on Friday evening next at Stradbrook in the first leg of the First Division play-off final with the second leg set for United Park one week later.

The winners will then face Finn Harps over two legs to determine who will compete in the Premier Division next season.


NewU19s lose to Denmark in the Showgrounds…11/10/2019

Head Coach Tom Mohan saw his Republic of Ireland U19 side go down to a one nil defeat in this Friday evening’s friendly international against Denmark, in the Sligo Showgrounds. The only goal came two minutes before the half time break in what was for the most part an evenly contested encounter.

Mohan summoned an extended panel of 27 players, with several new additions, to the North West for these two contests with the Danes as he prepares for their 2020 European Championship qualifying Group 10 assignment in Austria next month where Gibraltar and Switzerland complete that qualifying group.

While disappointed with tonight’s result, Mohan will be happy with the opportunity to assess his player options in a quite competitive environment. He will give those players who missed out this evening an opportunity when the sides meet again in the Showgrounds at 1pm on Monday afternoon.

Team: Jimmy Corcoran; Timi Sobowale, Oisin McEntee(C), Andrew Omobamidele, Mazeed Ogungbo; Alex Gikbert, Jamis Bowden, Barry Coffey; Conor Noss, Ryan Cassidy, Armstrong Oko-Flex
Mark McGuinness for Sobowale 65′
Festy Ebosele for Cassidy 65′
Ronan Boyce for Omobamidele 82′
Conor Grant for Gilbert 82′
George Nunn for Noss 82′


Goalkeepers: Sean Bohan(Bohemian), Jimmy Corcoran(Preston North End), Bobby Jones(Wigan Athletic)
Defenders: Ronan Boyce(Derry City), Ben Greenwood(AFC Bournemouth), Oisin McEntee(Newcastle United), Mark McGuinness(Arsenal), Mazeed Ogungbo(Arsenal), Andrew Omobamidele(Norwich City), Lewis Richards(Wolverhampton Wanderers), Timi Sobowale(Manchester City)
Midfielders: Jamie Bowden(Tottenham Hotspur), Barry Coffey(Glasgow Celtic), Dawson Devoy(Bohemian), Conor Grant(Sheffield Wednesday), Donal Higgins(Galway United), Harvey Neville(Manchester United), Armstrong Oko-Flex(Glasgow Celtic), Tyreik Wright(Aston Villa)
Forwards: Tom Cannon(Everton), Ryan Cassidy(Watford), Festy Ebosele(Derby County), Alex Gilbert(West Bromwich Albion), Conor Noss(Borussia Monchengladbach), George Nunn(Chelsea), Thomas Oluwa(Shamrock Rovers), Ross Tierney(Bohemian) 

NewWaterford exit TCW at quarter-final stage…11/10/2019

Airtricity League representatives Waterford travelled to Ochilview Park where they went down to a three two defeat by Scottish League Two side Stenhousemuir in the quarter-final of the Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup this Friday evening. The match, televised by BBC ALBA, was keenly contested with the ‘Blues’ suffering heartbreak as the hosts scored the winner in the fourth minute of added time. 

NewIreland U21s in scoreless draw with Italy…10/10/2019

The Republic of Ireland and Italy played out a scoreless draw in this evening’s 2021 European U21 Championship qualifier played in Tallaght Stadium. Manager Stephen Kenny expressed satisfaction with the performance of his team in a hugely competitive contest played in front of an attendance of 7,231. What will be of some concern is discipline, as Ireland received six yellow cards, the last of them being a second for Troy Parrott, who was dismissed on 64 minutes following an exchange with £20 million Everton striker Moise Kean, who received a straight red. Ireland had seven attempts on goal with five of them on target while only one of the Italian’s ten attempts was on target. As the statistics suggest, Caoimhin Kelleher was largely untroubled in goals, having just one save to make, while the back four also proved quite resilient. Man of the Match was unquestionably Norwich City striker Adam Idah who was excellent, giving the Italian central defenders a torrid time. Idah appears to have added that bit of aggression to his skill set which augers well for the future. The sponsors ‘MoM’ award went to Conor Coventry.

The coaching staff and squad will now take stock, recharge their batteries and prepare for their assignment against Iceland in Reykjavik at 4pm next Tuesday afternoon. Ipswich Town striker Aaron Drinan, currently on loan with Swedish side GAIS in Gothenburg, together with 18 year old Bohemian winger Danny Grant have been called into the squad as replacements, with Parrott suspended and one or two players carrying knocks. Captain Jayson Molumby and fellow midfielder Conor Coventry were both yellow carded for the second time last night and a third card would mean a one match suspension.

The management will no doubt have kept a close watch on the contest between Sweden and Iceland in Helsingborg on Saturday afternoon which ended in a 5-0 victory for the hosts.

Team: Caoimhin Kelleher; Conor Masterson, Dara O’Shea, Liam Scales; Lee O’Connor; Conor Coventry, Connor Ronan, Jayson Molumby(C), Zachery Elbouzedi; Adam Idah, Troy Parrott
Jason Knight for Ronan 62′
Michael Obafemi for Elbouzedi 68′
Gavin Kilkenny for Molumby 85′

             P  W  D  L  F  A  Pts
Ireland      4  3  1  0  7  1  10
Iceland      3  2  0  1  9  6   6
Italy        2  1  1  0  5  0   4
Sweden       2  1  0  1  6  3   3
Armenia      3  1  0  2  3  7   3
Luxembourg   4  0  0  4  0 13   0