TWO SAFC-mad brothers from Ireland have clocked up thousands of miles travelling to watch their team’s home games.
Dedicated Sean and Malachy Kelly make the regular 500-mile round trip from their hometown of Navan, 33 miles north west of Dublin, to the Stadium of Light.
Since attending their first match in 2007, a 4-0 drubbing of Southend United, the season-ticket holders have rarely missed a game on Wearside.
Sean, 55, said they were initially attracted to the club by Cork-born boss Roy Keane, but their passion for the Black Cats continued to flourish despite his two-year stint as manager ending in 2008.
Describing his first match-day experience, Sean said: “My initial memory is the extreme cold of the day, but that was more than compensated for by the atmosphere and the friendliness of the people.
“We waited outside after the match in freezing conditions for what seemed like hours and met Roy and chairman Niall Quinn. This only added to the whole experience.”
Dad Sean said they were overwhelmed by the “warm welcome” they were given by Sunderland supporters, mixing with them in the city’s pubs and clubs.
“Within minutes of meeting up, we noticed how impressed the local fans were that somebody from Ireland would travel over and support their football club,” said Sean.
“By the end of a really fun night, an invitation was extended to return for another match and this was cordially accepted.”
The friendship has also seen fans make the trip from the UK to Ireland. In the past two years, a group of up to 16 Sunderland lads visited Sean and Malachy, 52, and their families in Navan, taking in the hurling final in Pairc Tailteann.
Retired teacher Martyn Coombs, 56, from Roker, said: “The warmth and affection we receive is unbelievable.
“To think, such love and friendship can have grown from a chance meeting is quite remarkable.
“Too often, negative things surround football, but this story is one to be cherished and embraced.
“Lifelong friendships have been forged through a joint love of Sunderland football club.
“As season ticket holders, Sean and Malachy still regularly attend home matches and meet up with their friends in The Cambridge pub, in Roker.”
* Failte = Gaelic for welcome