Tuesday, June 27, 2006


One of numerous currently circulating rumours relates to Eamon Zayed's impending switch to the nouveau-riche establishment of Drogheda United FC; and I believe it would not be unfair to say that such a move would be a boon to all concerned.

Bray Wanderers would be losing their striker in chief; though when I've seen him in the Seagulls' uniform this season he has participated with the enthusiasm of a blade sharpener facing his own execution...albeit this was during the lull in power at the Carlisle Grounds as Pat Devlin was passing his notebook on to Tony McGuirk...by all accounts little has changed. The player himself patently needs a change of jersey, he's out of contract at season's end, so they should sell now.

Some Bray fans may baulk at selling their top marksman as they flounder at the wrong end of the table, but the Drognoscenti willl be reaching for the seasoning in anticipation of Zayed's undoubted qualities being added to their list of ingredients. Critical and statistical analysis of the Louthmen's bite does not bode well for a league campaign. They have the ability to outplay any side on the island; their recent cup successes bear testament to this; but the step up from tough-nut cup competitors to serious league challengers requires squad depth and variety, consistency of performance, an ability to garner points in the face of adversity, blah blah blah, as a wise man once wrote.

Paul Doolin has fused many of these requirements into a young and talented group of players. There is no dearth of skill, professionalism and confidence in the camp - but a Bulgarian hotel porter, with whom I shared an escalator experience on the Black Sea coast recently, told me they need to score more goals. Yes, everyone knows!

Fabio has had one good goalscoring season for the men from United Park. He netted 14 times in the league as they marched to a 4th place finish in 2004. Outside of that his returns have been poor [7/8 goals a season] when viewed in the light of a determined league challenge. And he is their No.1 striker; Shane Barrett doesn't score freely, although he has an exceptional talent and can create openings for others with his terrifying speed. Mark Leech hasn't had a sustained run in the side, and I can only assume he's not 1st choice because his boss believes his other strikers carry a greater threat.

Which leaves Glen Fitzpatrick; an accomplished performer who has graced the likes of Shamrock Rovers and latterly Shelbourne in the Reds most recent title winning season. I'm a small admirer of his ability to control a ball, hold off defenders and bring others into the game. He provides an excellent attacking fulcrum, but he's no goal machine. I hadn't seen him play before this season and the evidence thus far suggests to me that he has a penchant for the extra touch.

Indeed, a report on the club's own website re. the crunch clash in Cork last Friday highlighted this habit. The writer referred to Fitzpatrick taking one touch too many when presented with a goalscoring opportunity. Drogheda succumbed, 3 points were lost in a single goal defeat and Cork landed a bodyblow on their fierce rivals.

On such cameos are leagues won and lost when the top sides meet. A supremely fit goalhungry stiker would have despatched the ball netwards in an instant; Doolo may well have called young Mr.Zayed again as the coach trudged Northeastwards last Friday night.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


It was with a song in my heart that I floated down to Tolka Park last night for the return of eircom League football, hopeful of seeing some real action and endeavour after countless world cup disappointments. Just my luck to get France in work; wasn't going to take a team 'cos I knew I wouldn't win anything, seemed like a waste of 20 euros; money better spent on a buy one get one free offer from those nice Apache Pizza people.

I was persuaded to take a share in a team, and subsequently drew Les Bleus - bon chance pour moi- once they top their crappy group I'll be on a profit. Don't feel so confident now.

Anyhow I arrived to an empty Drumcondra ground at about 7:30;more players than spectators at that stage - things improved. The assembled Hoopites were strangely quiet and never found their collective voice until the second half, and then only briefly.

This was my initial experience of second tier football; with most of the first division members based outside the Pale and all stubbornly refusing to play their home games in our capital city there's not much opportunity for me to take in a game.

I sat through a bizarre music mix that rattled out of the PA system and led me to the conclusion that they play 1st division music at 1st division matches. The Gladiators entered the arena in full battle regalia. Tom Connolly held his whistle aloft - let battle commence- after three weeks without a game this was a joyous relief. Then reality crept across my consciousness. It's f'in freezin'. There was I all t- shirty on midsummer's night frantically searching through my bag for something with sleeves. There was a gale blowing from the Drumcondra end which tested the roof of the old stand to it's extremes.

Rovers played with the elements at their back in the opening period. I spotted a triumvirate of interested onlookers perched closely together high in the stand; Nutsy, his trusty lieutenant Eamo and Aidan Fitzpatrick. The Cats boss took notes ahead of his charges tussle with Rovers next week while the other pair exchanged knowing glances as the game progressed. Were they hoping to pick up a bargain during the transfer window? There was certainly some fine talent on display, and a couple of useful footballers.

Rovers impressed, but their opposition must be put into some context. Kildare played like a side which hadn't wanted to get off the coach. There was no belief that they could achieve anything other than a defeat. Upon the restart, a goal to the worse and the gale at their backsides they flirted with resistance temporarily but retreated into their defeatist shell soon after. After Rovers scored a second from the spot they again gave the impression of rallying; but this was safe in the knowledge that they had secured their anticipated defeat.

The only solace that the Thoroughbreds can take from the game is that they've gone some way towards bedding in both Philly Gorman and Alan Kelly to the side. Kelly had a quiet game, and the visitor's forward line was a lonely place to be last night, though Gorman was a willing worker when the ball was in his vicinity. He needs games under his braces at this stage.

Rovers will do well to keep Shels'olly hands off the young Almond that is Padraig, his touch, speed and skill lit up the game. He was supported by a fine display from David O'Connor, before both were called ashore with a busy programme in mind, whilst Jamie Duffy showed tantalising glimpses of his potential. These players provided the 100's and 1000's to a pleasing attacking display from Pat Scully's predominantly young charges. It was only when their concentration lapsed that Kildare threatened to threaten.

And a welcome back to Barry Prenderville, who was credited with the opening goal on his return to eircom League action. And welcome back to the eircom League!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

eircom League - Return To Sanity

After 3 weeks of scratching around for a fix the eircom League finally returns this week. The interminable boredom of Rooney's metatarsal was almost worth it when T&T almost gifted Irish footie fans the greatest of compensations when they scared the sh1t out of our colonial overlords.

The drudge that has passed for the opening stages of the World Cup has made me yearn even more for my beloved league, and in a classic case of man shoots foot I'm going on a two week holiday this Friday. I still can't figure out how I agreed to it.

As I scanned the fixtures to see which ground I'd grace with my presence [before the full impact of my ridiculous error had penetrated] my eyes locked on to the Cork City V Drogheda United game. Nice one thinks me, few beers, chinese or maybe pizza for a change, sit back and listen to Reverend Pat [thankfully he's not gone to Galway] and Father Felix. Gadzooks it's not on live, no live games until August!

What a waste. The Cork / Drogs opera has been a feast for us eL watchers this season. All the ingredients are there in perfect quantity. The Cork boys are on the back foot, their bubble of perceived invincibility has been unceremoniously pricked; el Rico has turned his muscular tongue on the usurpers in black and the frail citizens of the 31 counties. We had it coming anyway, our own fault for doubting the unparalleled abilities of his miniscule squad. His charges then squatted over Dublin City and showed the doubters their true quality.

So they should be fit and feisty when the Drogs of War attack the Rebel stronghold this week. It will be their 5th meeting this season, Setanta Cup included, and the closest we've come to keeping all 22 on the field was the aforementioned Final. But just to show that there was still ill feeling between new enemies, Danny Murphy introduced Keith Fahey [I think] to a traditional cockney handshake at the end of the game. OK, it was after the final whistle but it's still classed as one of the 6 dismissals in games between the sides this season.

Danny Boy, Roy Boy, and Stephen Bradley will be the ones to watch - the vanguard of the Red Brigade, and the armour clad official is sure to be checking the spelling of those three names before the pleasantries begin. And guess who the got the juiciest job in blackdom, no I can't wait for you to guess; I have to tell you it's IAN STOKES! YES!

No doubt himself el Rico and Doolo will crack open a bottle of CCFC's finest bubbly [the cup final surplus] apres match, and have each other in stitches as they replay the game and games of yesteryear. Oh yes, there will be much jesting and jocularity at Turner's Cross this Friday, but this plonker will be on a plane to Bulgaria. Does anyone know if you can get eircom League Weekly there?

Monday, June 12, 2006


Laoch! Those of you who didn't use the Setanta Cup ad breaks as refill opportunities will have learnt a couple of new Irish words for your laziness. Legend! Loathe him or merely dislike him; love him or like him; there is not a football follower on this island whose radar he hasn't crossed.

There are many more eminent football commentators who will bestow accolades at the shrine of Keano's career. I am a fan, not an expert; but I don't eat prawns. I've never turned to the left on boarding a plane, but I think footballers at the highest eitlean of the game should.

It was around this time 4 years ago that our nation was divided by the inner strength of the man; nothing I say here will convert any of those well-hardened attitudes. We've all had 4 years to form our opinions and they've been well thought out by now. But the event taught all of us a great deal about the man behind the professional footballer and for that alone he earned a huge amount of respect from this fan. But that was off the field.

From humble beginnings at Cobh Ramblers [no offence intended], he took the stairs to the top floor with club and country. Nothing new there I'll grant you. What made a player who wasn't gifted with the balance, skill and trickery of Zizou, Ronaldinho, Maradona, Cruyff and Pele fit to share a sentence with football's fantasia? Many will say drive, determination and an unswerving will to win. But that's not what does it for me.

Temporarily deprived of my power to turn back time I cannot make faultless comparisons between the game's glitterati. I do know this however; the majority of fans of the beautiful game, and I include Dermot Keely in this, will nominate Edson Arantes di Nascimento as the greatest footballer the world has witnessed. And if you follow that thread you will follow the great one's footballing philosophy.[El Rico may be a bit wary of the Brazilian's current ability to render anything he touches rock solid, however].

Pele believes fervently in the team game; wherein the outstanding ability of any member [oops, sorry] is used to supplement the overall capability of the team. He also ardently espouses football as a simple game, which it is when you strip it back to it's basics. He always did the right thing; passed when a pass was the best option, only indulged his dribbling skills when it was necessary to hold the ball up; in short whatever was best for the team.

These are exactly the attributes Keane brought to any team he graced. He kept the game simple, collected the ball, passed the ball, made himself available to receive it again. In the clips you see over the next few days notice how often he gets close to the man in possession in order to receive a simple short pass... of course he had to work his 'nads off to get there, but this unselfish work for the team was his oft unseen hallmark.

We'll all have our own special recollections of Keane Moments throughout the years, and they'll no doubt span the best and worst aspects of his total dedication to his team, for he was no angel. Once he had conquered his early demons there were few more dedicated to the cause, he was the one you want on your side; not playing against you. His hunger and desire lifted all around him, a man for the trenches. Somehow I can't see the dugout suiting him, but best of luck with it Roy, and thanks for making me feel proud to be Irish. KEANO, LAOCH!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Forza First!

It's time to avert your eyes from the gaudy trinket that is the World Cup while the dullsville opening group matches take place, and focus the football section of your brain on the eircom League 1st Division. Yes it's still there!

You may be excused for ignoring the aforementioned division given the recent suggestions re. promotion /relegation and absence thereof, but there is still an interesting battle burbling nicely in the bowels of our national league.

Go moch doirse [I think it's gaeilge for 'early doors'], we had Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk going head to head at Tolka Park, the Hoops winning in a best of three game, as there were no particularly 'odd' goals scored. This result signalled the determination of the Behooped Nomads to shake off last season's disasters, while sending the Louthmen into an uncontrolled spin, which continues.

Finn Harps are top scorers in the division. Conor Gethins rattled four past Kildare at Station Road in their opener, before Harps were relieved of his assets by injury. But as the Muller people say 'there can be no pleasure without pain' and young Davitt Walsh has benefited from Gethins' absence with a five-goal haul of his own.

It is indeed fortunate that the Donegalmen are so adept in the opposition box, as this appears to be matched only by their ineptitude in their own penalty area; very few scoreless draws when Finn Harps are in town.

Limerick weren't expected to set the league alight and they fulfilled that prophecy with a 2-0 defeat away to Galway in their first fixture. Subsequently, however, they have made a habit of winning by a single goal, mirroring Premier leaders Drogheda. Indeed the Drogs also fell victim to the Limerick single goal phenomenon at United Park in the FAI Cup. Thus far the Lims have been a revelation, opening up a five point lead at the summit.

At the other end of the table, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that Monaghan desperately need to record a couple of wins when the sides return to action. Currently a half dozen points adrift of a compact pack, they are curiously the division's most consistent outfit; currently blazing a trail with seven consecutive defeats.

Significantly, only seven points separate Kildare, 2nd from bottom and Shamrock Rovers in second place, so a decent run will put any of the mid table sides into a good position. It's been a turvy-topsy affair thus far: Dundalk are the finest example of this while Galway have lost only once, and already beaten Limerick, yet their manager has cut his bungee.

An early special achievement award has to be shared betwixt Kilkenny City and Athlone Town, both of whom have surpassed expectations. The Cats were left to sup from an empty plate when Pat Scully felt a Hoop on his shoulder, taking half of his felines with him to the South Dublin club; thus leaving Aidan Fitzpatrick's hastily borrowed squad to introduce themselves to each other in a very short space of time. Michael O' Connor's charges tasted victory only six times last term, yet they're halfway to matching last season's points total after only 11 outings.

Early doors it may be, but with the shadow boxing complete, sides now know what they are up against in what may prove to be a very open contest. FORZA FIRST.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Glen Crowe; a marauding terror of a striker. On top of his game, oozing confidence, hungry for the ball, hungry for goals. Solid. Strong. Fearless. A defenders nightmare, his hunger fuelling his movement, a controlling touch and he explodes away; ball at his feet as he bears down on his target and scornfully buries the ball past a jelly kneed keeper.

The crowd let loose, the music blasts as the assembled acolytes celebrate yet another thumping finish by their hero. But he's wearing a striped jersey. Longford Town? Cherry Orchard? Clonshaugh Albion? No, it's a Boez shirt. Ah! That Glen Crowe. No surprise then that Nutsy summoned him to his summer residence on the Richmond Road.

Yep, the last time I had the pleasure of watching the gifted striker score in an eL game he was in the Gypsies gear. And he was a treat to savour. Even in the most mundane of matches there was always the possibility of his incendiary finishing lighting up the night.

The lucid memories of which combine to make his recent cameo against his former club sad viewing. Shels were comfortably in control of the game when our hero was introduced. A perfect situation for a forward to enter a game. He's fresh, should be keen, his opponents are tiring, p'ed off at being behind again, bowing meekly out of the game. There should be space to exploit, surely chances will come.

Glen didn't have to wait very long. I'll be honest; I don't recall how he came to be in possession of the ball. But it was on Shels left side, a little infield, around the halfway line. He came onto the ball, possibly an intercepted pass, and he was moving at about 3/4 pace [.75 for the Europeans among you]. His first touch took the ball into the Bohs half. Crowe increased his rate of knots. He was moving powerfully after the ball; he caught up with it. Still a long way from goal, but with a clear run, the nearest oncoming opponent was on the far side of the pitch with a red flashing light in his eyes. Seeing the danger, he was preparing to abandon his post in an attempt to head off the looming danger.

Looming danger! There was more chance of El Rico getting a lift home from a referee than there was of Glen Crowe going for goal. In a matter of milliseconds his processors realised the situation- if I don't get rid of this ball quickly I'll have to go for goal- and you could see him scanning the pitch for a face saving pass. He switched the ball ridiculously to the right, the attack lost all momentum, the red flashing light switched off and..... nothing. Not a boo, not a jeer, not a groan.

The Glen Crowe of Bohs would have descended on the goal, scuttled the defender over and scored. I had a special moment with Glen Crowe, I was patched into his innermost thoughts, but obviously they're not all for public consumption. Here was a striker who had scored freely as the sharp edge of the Gypsies attack, revered by the Castleknock club's faithful.

But now I could only see fear; the fear of missing, the safety of not trying to score. Pass it, it looks like you're bringing others into the game, it's expansive. That's it. Expansive. Is Nutsy buying this? Definitely not. You've got to get out of there Glen.

I'm sure the money's good, always an important factor. Shels scored 62 league goals last season, he scored 8 of them. He hasn't scored yet this term; he's lost his place. Though I'm no fan of Jason Byrne, Nutsy obviously is. He has finally acknowledged to the country that Byrne into Crowe doesn't go. And Gary O'Neill, Crowe's mini-me, has firmly shoved the ex -Wolves man into the shade with his displays and more importantly, his goals.

Glen if you want to glow again, you've got to go.