Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Recently, news emanated from the bunker in Merrion Square that the God fearing folk therein - who sleep in Premiership kit and run the game in this country (this oft used writer's tool is commonly known as a 'cheap shot') - were to invite applications from interested clubs to become the 22nd member of next term's League competitions.

This sort of thing revitalises the game for fans as we endlessly speculate about who it might be, where the new member club will come from, have they a financial backer etc. Our voices become girlishly high pitched as we giggle excitedly in panting anticipation.

Well, the wait is over! Walkthechalk.com in association with Sniffer's Blog Inc. can exclusively reveal the name of the new club. 'And here to open the envelope is the ever eloquent Mr. Damian Richardson- and might I say, Damian, you look radiant in that lovely new guna, why I've an urge to ride you rock solid.'

Alright, back to business, the new club are AS Terisk. They are a small outfit, with a tiny fan base; though they seem to have an unreasonably powerful influence at the highest level of the game in this country. It has been suggested in envious circles that Oily Byrne is a big fan of the club; this is as yet, unfounded, speculation. Sometimes a club is not successful per se, but they can often continue to have an important input into the success or lack of same of other clubs - AS Terisk are representative of such situations.

Historically, their fleeting intervention in 2003 managed to deprive St Pats of 15 points which would have secured a league title for the Inchicore club. Last season, they managed to snatch 8 points from Shamrock Rovers; the loss of which ultimately sent Rugairi na Seamroige down to the First Division.

AS Terisk came back to haunt the Hoops again this season, incredibly leaving Tolka Park with 3 points, which may yet be the difference between Pat Scully's young soldiers winning the league, or not. Even the mighty Bohemians have fallen prey to the minnows; they also saw three points wrested from their grasp this season. Evidently, this club do not fear anyone, and will strike callously wherever opportunity presents.

But doubts linger; regardless of points lost by other clubs, AS Terisk regularly find themselves at the bottom of the table; almost consigned to the role of footnote, afterthought even. Is there really a place for them at the top table, are they worthy of such an honour? The FAI seem to think so, and they are rarely guilty of poor judgement.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Every time the Irish international squad assemble-and for sustained periods either side of their gathering- many column centimetres are occupied by the subject of the most important job in Irish football. At the time of writing, Stan is still the man, however tenuous his grip. But his is not the most important job in Irish football.

That grand title is currently in storage, polished and ready to adorn it's new owner. And that person has been touted to be just about anyone from Mary Robinson to Bertie Ahern. The official line is that the vacant position has not yet been offered to any of the applicants. The future of Irish football, happily, is not entirely dependant on the fortunes of our national side.

This particular saga began as August faded away to be replaced by an impatient September. Gareth Farrelly had just been removed from office at Bohemians, the soon to be richest club on the island. And therein lies the nub.

The fantastic advances of our club sides on the European platform this season have served only to create a demand for even more improvement; the next stage is the group stage. And Irish clubs now believe it is achievable. Realistically it's only achievable for the handful of full time outfits in the eircom League.

Shelbourne led the way in past years with rampant investment in their playing staff - this progression led other clubs to up their status in an effort to compete with the Reds. The effect of this on the finances of the clubs has been severe. Therefore to aspire to the next stage will take some careful fiscal planning.

Not so for Bohs. There is a pot of gold at the foot of the red and black rainbow, which hangs over Phibsboro. The club most likely to make the step up are embarrassingly comfortable for the foreseeable future. Properly managed, it is within their gift to take eL football into the honeypot of the group stages of European competition.

The management of this sticky opportunity presents a considerable challenge to the good folk of Bohemian FC, a club whose fans are not renownedfor affording managers the benefit of the doubt; or that other commmodity coveted by managers- time. Remember the exemplary managerial skills of Derry City's vaunted leader, Stephen Kenny, were unceremoniously discarded by the Gypsies in the not too distant past. Hopefully their hindsight influences their foresight, for this is one call which they must get right for the good of Irish football.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Even without another ball being miskicked in anger down Turner's Cross way, the bestriped locals will be scratching their collective ceanns as they gaze upon the bare trophy cabinet. A season that oozed seductive whisperings after last term's triumph has had one too many and failed to deliver on most counts.

The foreplay wasn't bad - they almost cupped the Setanta Cup in their sweaty palms, but were undone in extra time by Drogheda. They performed well in Europe, but we can all claim that! In retrospect Shels double swoop was to prove the first of several self inflicted injuries for El Rico's outfit.

Apparently punctilious in word and deed, it reflects poorly on one of the games great characters to have presided over such a disappointing season. In his defence, there are few sides which could easily absorb the loss of Liam Kearney, Greg O'Halloran, George O'Callaghan and, effectively, John O'Flynn.

A seemingly casual attitude towards the League Cup ended in ignominy after one game, as local rivals Cobh gleefully holed their neighbours on their own turf . There followed the now infamous affair at Longford when the reigning League Champions again had their flag lowered in a cup contest. This time it was their opening tie of the FAI Carlsberg Cup, and we were left with more questions than answers.

One wonders if it's off the pitch where Cork have encountered the source of their demise. Graham Taylor once referred euphemistically to Paul Gascoigne's 'refuelling' habits between games. I am not speculating for a moment that any such atmosphere prevails in the hallowed halls of Turner's Cross, but.

Who will ever forget Rico's reference to 'being ridden rock solid' - by now a part of eL folklore. He famously followed up with abundant references to his relationship with his arse. I have, ahem, covered this ground before. To refresh; he said something along the lines of' I won't be bothering my arse anymore', and 'I have a pain in my arse.'

These may be considered by some to be innocuous comments- maybe it's my warped mentality- but they swooped back into my consciousness in the context of some recent comments by our outspoken hero. He was attempting to explain away some recent underwhelming performances from his charges, and his words sent shivers down the final fused vertebrae at the base of my spine - that was easier than checking the spelling of coccyx.

Damien blithely announced to a gasping press that he had been flogging some of his players all season. I was taken aback by his barefaced attitude to the antics of the Cork City squad, and his hand, act or part in same. This kind of revelation would be deemed ridiculous were it entwined in a storyline from Footballer's Wives or Dream Team. Am I being naive, is this the sort of thing which goes arm in arm with professionalism?

If it is, then I for one am going to polish my boots and get fit again. As another journeyman footballer I'm sure that I'm just the sort of signing that Damo will be looking to make in the near future.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The recent gala evening on the site of the old Windsor Park stadium to celebrate the venerable Ronnie McFall's 100th year in the heated seat at Portadown FC was deemed an unqualified success by all in attendance. Indeed the guest list was a veritable WHO ARE YE? of current world football. Ronnie's eyes, ears and right hand man at Portadown, David 'DJ' Jeffrey was gushing in his praise of the efforts made by all involved to attend the glittering occasion.

First up to the podium was Roy Coyle, who spoke through a medium, and showed all present that he has lost none of his interpersonal skills when thanking the waiting staff for their excellent efforts on behalf of the guests. Messrs. Wells and Boyce glowed as the stars of world football applauded forcefully in their direction.

Lawrie Sanchez took time out from his busy schedule as chief executive of the Association of Football in Ireland [AFI], and joked that Ronnie was one of those who had believed an All Ireland footballing body would never exist. Controversially, he announced that the AFI, and only they, would decide who did or didn't get to use Croke Park - not good news then for the GAA who had hoped to be allowed stage the All Ireland Hurling final between Stockholm and Brisbane at the island's foremost soccer venue. He also notified the throng, to great applause, that such is the strength of our Euro co-efficient that the winners of this season's second division title will be seeded in the UEFA cup qualifying draw. Take a bow, Bohemians.

Stephen Kenny, general manager of recent Champions League winners Derry City, praised Ronnie for his unsurpassed record in club football. Steve Staunton slipped in almost unnoticed, having recently resigned from his post as boss of World Cup runners up, Brazil. Off the record Stan was heard to remark upon the reason for his departure after what was considered a successful World Cup for the Brazilians. ' We just can't match the technical ability and heart of the Irish side...modern Irish players have it all, it's as if they're just born with it. The South Americans just can't cope with it, and as for the rest of the world, well everyone is trailing in the wake of Ireland. Their domestic league is so strong, they dominate club football in Europe'. One could see the international boss, David Healy, allowing himself a satisfied grin in the background.

AFI P.R.O. Pat Dolan brought glamour to the occasion with his arm candy Felix Healy, as the pair positively shimmered in his 'n' his pin striped three pieces. The ruling body's Treasurer, Roddy Collins, also took the time to acknowledge Ronnie McFall's huge service to the game - he stepped out of one of those vintage Hummer limos on the arm of Chris Eubank.

Cooking oil magnate Olly Byrne, himself a legend of Irish football arrived by telecopter late on; so much so that the bar was closed; his appeal for three pints was shouted down, much to his disgust.

Meanwhile Linfield manager, Liam Beckett baited Ronnie with the news that his side are as hungry as ever after securing their 25th Grand slam last season. All in all, a great night for one of football's enduring and most enthusiastic characters.

And what a tribute to the man that he saved the best 'til last; everybody was suitably ossified by the time Damo got up to say his 'few' words - so it didn't really matter by then. By the way, El Rico reckons the AFI are trying to ride him rock solid.

Finally, an obviously emotional Ronnie was cajoled to take the stage. Ever the professional, he used the opportunity to speak about the future of the game, and his beloved Portadown. Somewhat against the run of play he slated Robo-Refs. He complained about their slow printouts when cards are issued, the poor quality of their action replay facility [HD is DEAD he said emphatically], and their inability to use their discretion.

Ronnie's radical recipe is for people to take on the task of officiating at games! Warming to his topic, he informed the assembled acolytes that the investment in new lower legs for Glenn Ferguson, Jeff Speirs and Noel Bailie was a strong indication to opposition clubs that the Reds were serious about retaining their position in the penthouse of Irish football, for the foreseeable future. When queried on the Jason Byrne transfer saga, Ronnie would say only that the club would not stand in the centre half's way should he wish to follow Pat Fenlon to Real Madrid.

Monday, October 09, 2006


When I were a lad of but eighteen winters a man who nowadays serves on the backroom team at $hels presented me with a Player of the Year trophy. The diminutive masterpiece - not me, the statuette - has long since been consigned to the Trophy A&E, as it awaits a new prosthetic limb. I fear the queue is too long though, and have voiced my concerns on the delay to Hary Marney.

I knew the man personally, played alongside him on occasion. The words which preceded the presentation have oft times echoed around the cobwebbed corridors of my cranium. 'You only get out of football what you put into it...' It's an aged, jaded adage which may be successfully applied to most of life's travails. But as a teenager who was in love with the white mitre - the ball, not the bishop's wand - it never occurred to me that I was putting anything into football.

The game is full of pitfalls and disappointments and a resilient spirit as much as the twinkling toes is a necessity for any successful player. The recent and relatively unheralded guillotining of Adrian Fitzpatrick brought all of this to mind. There stands a man who has had to manage a club with his head in the stocks.

Back in February at the glitzy launch of the imminent new eL season- I had the salad- the former Kilkenny City boss was ushered to the stage along with that man of few words Damien Richardson, and the nearly Bohs manager Pat Fenlon. I genuinely didn't know who the man was until his introduction. He seemed uncomfortable in the spotlight and found it difficult to sound like he was looking forward to the upcoming season.

There he was, representing his guppy club beside two stingrays. His club had given Pat Scully a managerial leg up, and the Rovers boss had taken the cream of the playing staff away with him. Fitzpatrick was to say, 'there's only one player left from last year's panel, and he wasn't even what you'd consider a regular'. This then was the launching point for his fledgling managerial career. It consisted mainly of relying on bigger clubs to loan him young players, along with whatever a trawl would yield.

All things considered, the Cats made a reasonably good start. Christy Doran was banging in the goals. So much so, that John Gill reeled him back in to Dundalk. Their cutting edge removed, things were only going to become more difficult for the Marble City side. The magnanimous machine, which is presided over by that fairy godmother of charities and lost causes, Olly Byrne, supplemented the City ranks with Gary Deegan.

It was never going to be anything other than a learning curve for the loan players; an uphill walk with a bungee around your waist for the manager. Results began to worsen- reports mentioned the 8 consecutive defeats as the catalyst for the novice managers departure. The Kilkenny City stats would not be bedtime reading for the meagre quantity of faithful fans.
They reflect the lowest average attendance across both divisions, hovering around the 120 mark. Money is tight for the Cats. Even the managerial behemoth that is Steve Staunton would struggle to put his imprint on the club.

Fitzpatrick made a dignified exit, wishing the club well for the future; interestingly he remarked that during his short stewardship they 'introduced a lot of good young players to the club, who will go on to have excellent careers in the league. Unfortunately we weren't able to get the rewards our efforts deserved.'

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Drogheda United's season started back on February 20 when the fresh faced Drogs debuted in the Setanta Cup, courtesy of a vaunted victory over Cork City in the previous season's FAI Cup Final. Coupled with a fourth place finish in last term's league table and an expansive outlay on playing staff- the future was bright; the future was claret - and it had the trademarks of an exciting vintage.

They took the Setanta Cup back to their trophy room after defeating Cork in added time; on their way to the title they became the first team to win at fortress Windsor in the 05/06 season against the then seemingly invincible Linfield side. There was something refreshing about their journey and their promise.

A young side oozed quality, confidence and technique all over the field. their fitness and movement was a joy to behold. But there were question marks. Significantly, their economy at the back was permeating the rest of the side. Goals were in short supply.

There were as many positive as negative comments; 'though the purchase of Eamon Zayed seemed to betray the inner thoughts of Paul Doolin. Still, they were riding high on 1-0 victories, so any criticism seemed snippy. The Louthmen were touted by some as a cup team; with their watertight defence they were seen as capable of grinding out a result against any side in the land - had they not already proven this?

But they had sustained a slow puncture...soon it became a noticeable deflation...eventually the wheels came off. Limerick held them scoreless at Hogan Park in the FAI cup; we all looked away while United finished them off at home, but they were smote down, ironically by a single goal. Dundalk were swatted aside by a shadow side in the League Cup, they were a shadow of themselves as Derry put 4 past them without reply at the Brandywell in the next round; so much for the Cup Kings.

Progress in Europe was masking domestic inadequacy; it was easy to dismiss the dearth of goals - top scorer Fabio was injured, all would be well upon his return. Noticeably, Fabio's deputies were not covering his absence well. The goals from midfield had dried up also.

Remember Paul Keegan - three goals in three games from midfield and an ever present menace whenever the ball was delivered into the danger area. As a player or a team lose confidence in themselves or those around them reluctance becomes reticence and the runs are no longer made.

So the malady was coursing from the strikers to the midfielders; but the back four were still staunch. Shelbourne were the only side to breach the Jason Gavin fortess in the opening third of the league season as the Drogs fell to a 2-1 defeat. Since then they've conceded 12. Not an astonishingly poor record, but if you're not scoring every goal conceded becomes doubly potent.

Anyone who has toiled in a side which struggles to score will understand the hopeless feeling of conceding first in a match. Fans will be quick to point out that their heroes are not woefully off the pace. An end of term report will inevitably be rounded off, as most of mine were, with the immortal phrase ' can do much better'.

Or can they? Have the younger players got the stamina? Are they too reliant on Fabio? Does the captain get a decent supply? When Jason Gavin has an off day they look very ordinary at the back.

Since the World Cup break, so loathed of John McDonnell, aside from lowly Waterford, the Drogs have only taken maximum points from St. Pats- themselves a club who's league efforts are in steep decline. Friday night's game has draw written all over it; or have the Drogs slipped so far that they will fall to a Saints side buoyed by last week's four goal harvest?

Either way, Paul Doolin has a lot to think about when it comes to shaping his squad for the new season; as this one is doomed to disappoint. Derry City have played as many games but Stephen Kenny streams seamlessly as last weeks victory over UCD shows; with 6 changes from the side which lost to little known French outfit PSG.

Maybe Paul Doolin needs a little more time to strengthen his squad; hopefully he is afforded same for he has the raw material to mount an assault on the domestic game's top prize. One should never embark on a serious climb without proper back up - the plight of last season's champions bears testament to that!