Saturday, September 23, 2006

CANDY COATED FOOTBALL

Derry City's season has already fascinated Irish football fans. At this moment in time the club from the Northwest are being swept along by the momentum of their success. But the day of reckoning is nigh.

Nobody expects city to oust PSG from the UEFA Cup competition, everybody hopes that they do. Shels fans will be happy to see their nearest rivals further engaged in strength sapping battles on foreign fields as the battle for domestic dominance nears it's end. Irish fans, generally, are proud of the achievements of Stephen Kenny's men as they swim with the sharks in the deep waters of European competition.

But I fear for Derry. Canny Kenny has recently been cultivating the siege mentality beloved of Alex Ferguson; this is usually the tool of a manager who knows that his players are approaching reserve fuel. The bizarre events of their last two outings, both against Shelbourne, will have served the manager well in this regard.

City's season started back on the 20th February when they travelled to Windsor Park for that historic Setanta Cup tie against Linfield. They have played 41 competitive games this season. I think they're getting a bit leggy.

The players have had to dig deep into their boots on three occasions in the past fortnight; dredging up reserves of courage, workrate and stubborn refusal to accept defeat. First up were their French opponents; always a step ahead in body and mind. Chasing a team in such a fashion for 90 minutes is hugely tiring, mentally, but the Candystriped stalwarts never stopped.
And we all know well the outs and ins of their doubleheader with Shels.

I see this fatigue personified in one man - a player for whom I have the greatest admiration - Ciaran Martyn. His bursts from midfield; his willingness to get ahead of the play; are aspects of the game which I love, and Martyn is the finest exponent of them in the eL. But of late they have been rare sightings.

Possibly, the quality of the opposition has retarded his attacking instincts but I doubt it. It's a vital part of Derry's attacking abilities and one only has to look at the No.8's goalscoring record to confirm that.

For a large part of my life I have been condemned to support Leeds United- before I saw the beacon from the eL. Don Revie's side were often said to be unlucky; they didn't win as much as they should have. Season upon season the Pride of Yorkshire were in the frame for multiple trophies, only to reach the season's end empty handed and jaded. At least City have already qualified for next year's Setanta Cup courtesy of their League Cup success.

Too many big games, too many games to catch up on towards the season's finale meant they were eternal also rans. Leeds didn't have day jobs to contend with. It's very difficult to concentrate 100% on football when you've still got to get up for work in the morning.

For the sake of City, the city, and their fantastic fans I hope that should they find themselves cast adrift from the UEFA Cup at the end of this week, they will find enough resolve within themselves to continue their title challenge.

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