While most supporters will likely set off for the Aviva Stadium sometime around midday on Sunday, for Mark McGuinness his journey will begin two days earlier.
That’s because the avid Lilywhites fan is travelling from his home in Sydney, Australia, where he has resided for the past 15 years.
Son of well known Dundalk fans Paddy and Iris McGuinness from Seafield Lawns, this isn’t Mark’s first round the world trip to see his beloved club in the FAI Cup final.
He was also there for the wins over Cork City in 2015 and last year and is hopeful of completing his own treble by seeing Vinny Perth’s side beat Shamrock Rovers this weekend.
“Four years ago I said I’ve got to go back for the Cup final because we may never get into it again. That’s a harder argument to have when we’re in it every year but I’m going for my own treble on Sunday because this is my third time back for a final out of the last five and I’m two from two. When I come back we win and the two times I haven’t come back we’ve lost so I feel there’s a moral obligation on me to come back as often as I can for those sort of things,” he laughed.
Growing up in the McGuinness household, it’s no surprise that Mark has such a passion for the club with his parents virtually ever presents at Dundalk games be they in Oriel Park, across Ireland or anywhere in Europe.
“For all that I’ve missed over the years, for the likes of my parents and others of that generation for them to be able to see it is great because they’ve been there through thick and thin.
“The flip side for me is that I’d be trying to get them to come here to visit their grandkids and generally anything from February to December is ruled out. Even in recent years when I discuss getting them out in November the response is well let’s see how Europe goes first,” he laughed.
“That means that the only time you can get them out here it’s the worst time because of the heat but I don’t begrudge them that at all. They’ve had a longer relationship with Dundalk Football Club than their grandkids. It’s great for them and that generation to see the success.
“The highlight for me last year was being back in the Ballymac and all the players coming over to talk to mum and dad. That element of the League of Ireland is why people love it. For me that’s the thing I really like about it, the personal contact that realistically you wouldn’t get from supporting a much bigger team. Money will be spent on something else but the memories, win, lose or draw, will never go away even if you are 70,000km away.”
Mark settled in Cronulla just outside Sydney having re-located there with his Kiwi wife Keli in late 2004. The couple now have two daughters, Ella (9) and Kate (7) who were back at Oriel Park as recently as the Derry City game in September to take it all in.
“I’ve been lucky in terms of my work because particularly in the last three years I’ve a lot of clients in the UK so I’ve excuses to come back.
“Prior to the Kenny era, I would have been back maybe once every three years and there were other times where I came back when there was no football on. I remember coming back for my sister’s wedding around nine or 10 years ago and it was the day of a Dundalk game so the wedding was left at a certain point and I went to see us beat UCD 3-0.
“In the last number of years I’ve been able to get back because of work but my wife also does a lot of travel so in the last number of years we’ve come back during the school holiday period in Australia which is around late September. Essentially over the last four years we’ve been coming back around that time so I’ve been here to see us win the league three out of the last four times.
“Last year we were there and the kids experienced being on the pitch but this year we were in the air. We travelled on the expectation that the Derry game at home would be the night we won the league but then the Rovers game was slipped in so we were actually in the air when that was going on. I was probably the only one hoping for a draw that night,” he laughed.
Mark’s love of the club is not just for the big occasion. He regularly gets up in the small hours of his Saturday morning to either watch the club in action or follow the game on radio or social media.
“Nowadays it’s not that hard to get hold of games. Following games was a lot more difficult 15 years ago whereas now you always have commentary, loads of guys Tweeting and any time it’s on TV it’s really not that difficult to find it.
“I certainly miss the buzz of going to Oriel every second week and obviously the away games. Whatever teams I’d follow here you don’t get the buzz that you would at home.”
Mark revealed he booked his trip back for this year’s final as soon as Dundalk beat Sligo Rovers in the Cup semi-final knowing that his All Black supporting wife could potentially have been looking at flights to Japan for the Rugby World Cup final the same weekend. The potential of a clash there at least ended on Saturday when New Zealand lost out to England in the semi-final.
Mark revealed how understanding his wife is.
“She’s a sports fan moreso from an All Blacks rugby perspective so she’s had a few trips at short notice to go to World Cup finals and the likes so she knows what it means to me and what it means to the family as well.
“It wasn’t a hard sell this year because the treble is on but if we make the Cup final again next year I’m pretty much out of excuses but we’ll cross that bridge next year if we come to it,” he laughed.
Mark, who predicts Dundalk will win 2-1 on Sunday, revealed what his trip home would entail.
“It starts off on Friday lunchtime. It’s a rather convoluted route from Sydney to Melbourne, Melbourne to Abu Dhabi and then Abu Dhabi to Dublin so that will get me in on Saturday morning. That gives me enough time to recover and then go for some pints on Saturday evening. Then it’s the Aviva on Sunday and hopefully a celebration in the Square on the Monday which I missed last year because last year I left on the Saturday which got me in on the Sunday morning of the Cup final and then flew out the Monday morning.
“This time I managed to get a day either side so hopefully there’ll be a bit of a celebration,” he said.