Tuesday, October 10, 2006

THE FUTURE OF IRISH FOOTBALL


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.

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