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Remembering A Legendary Tolka Park Night: Harchester United Vs Keith Duffy's All Stars

Gavan Casey
By Gavan Casey
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This post was originally published on 5th Oct, 2016


It speaks to the colossal nature of the fixture that then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern took to the Tolka turf to greet both sides.

Tolka Park was a happy hunting ground for Harchester United; a 3-3 draw on Richmond Road a season previous had seen the East Midlands club advance at Shelbourne's expense in the UEFA Cup qualifying round, and they returned brimful of confidence having survived Jamie Parker's dressing-room hostage situation and the former goalkeeper's subsequent assassination at the hands of East Midlands police.

Their task on this famous evening, of course, was wholly different. In Shels' place stood a team of renegades. A team of brave soldiers, tasked with trumping the 2001 UEFA Cup finalists. A team containing Damien McCaul from Den 2.

"It's a good, but not a great team," joked Eamon Dunphy months previously, as he posed for pictures outside Dublin's Clarion Hotel.

"If Ken Doherty is playing, then Dream Team must be the favourites."


But Keith Duffy's All Stars had more to offer than a kids tv presenter and a former snooker world champion.

As a schoolboy, Joe Elliot of Def Leppard actually once represented an England XI at Wembley. Legendary radio DJ Tony Fenton was formerly a midfield partner to Ronnie Whelan at Home Farm, and was more than comfortable with the task at hand considering the famous old club once considered Tolka its home. Then-Carlisle United manager Roddy Collins would play the Whelan role alongside Fenton that famous evening.

Others, including TV3 presenter Martin King, were admittedly far less optimistic. Former WBO World super-middleweight champion Steve Collins told Sky Sports of his footballing abilities: "When people see me play today they'll understand why I took up boxing," which, given could have been construed in any number of ways.


When asked if he could provide some pace out wide, comedian Brendan O'Carroll said:

You'll see a quick burst coming down the wing definitely, but it certainly won't be me. And I think it's about time that television start taking interest in the real game - the genuine serious game - that is pro celebrity soccer.


Player-manager Keith Duffy, meanwhile, revealed the extremely curious tactical approach the All Stars would take against their Sky One opposition, displaying at best a tenuous understanding of football:


We're going to go for the 4-4-2 formation. We're going to go for the offsides. So if our backs are going out, they're going to go out together. They're going to be striking - they're going to be very confident - so we're going to let them strike away. And hopefully we'll get as many offsides as we can and then [unintelligible] straight in the back of the net. 4-3, we're going to win.

It was Harchester United who laid down a marker from kickoff, however, as Louis Decosta Johnson - who played former PSG striker Monday Bandele in Dream Team - dispossessed Brendan O'Carroll with consummate ease almost instantaneously.

Indeed it was Decosta who opened the scoring early, cutting inside from the left and rifling a low drive past an All Stars goalkeeper who may or may not have been an actor from Fair City. A sublime solo effort from Dean Holness (Campbell Hooper in Dream Team, also Danny in Mike Bassett: England Manager) doubled the visitors' lead before Duffy's side could find a foothold in proceedings.


Beppe di Marco from Eastenders showed some of that famous Italian steel despite being almost totally English, firing back from the penalty spot, but he couldn't hide his frustrations at Duffy's ramshackle midfield, which had parted like the Red Sea to let Holness in just moments before:

Myself, I'm having a stinker. I'm supposed to be playing centre midfield, and there's about two of us in the midfield. I'm trying to mark four players and can't get the ball.

And sure enough, Dream Team added a third, with Keith Duffy's incredulous decision to apply the offside trap at almost every opportunity costing his side dear at the start of the second half.


The game then took a turn for the worse, as Brendan O'Carroll was booked for histrionics following a rash tackle, only to gratuitously hit the deck moments later as he appeared to collide with the referee Paddy Kelly's elbow. Having dubiously claimed he invented the Cruyff turn pre-game, he went on to score a Johan Cruyff-esque penalty of his own, with several All-Stars joining him in his run-up before the diminutive playmaker poked the ball home.

But if the game had descended to farce by this point, captain and manager Duffy brought it into disrepute soon afterwards; the former Boyzone squad member chipping the ball into his hands and embarking on a remarkable Gaelic-football style run through the heart of the Dream Team defence, before being hauled to the Tolka terrain. An irate Duffy predictably received his marching orders from referee Kelly, who had frankly had enough of his shite.

When the final whistle sounded the travelling Harchester faithful left the happier, with their side emerging from a controversial tussle with a 3-2 victory (although our own copy of the referee's match report would suggest O'Carroll's illegal penalty was written off, as his final score read 3-1).


Join us in reliving one of the famous stadium's most epic encounters below.


Perhaps curious of the reporter to deem it 'sad' that a charity match put more bums in seats than any League of Ireland fixture that year, but we get the point. Nonetheless, it was an occasion which simply doesn't receive the same nostalgic acclaim as many of the great Tolka nights which both preceded and followed it. One which brought Michael Carruth and Danny Rawsthorne to blows down the wing and, more importantly, saw over €65,000 raised for Childline.

Donate to ISPCC Childline here.


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