Thursday, October 05, 2006

GONE TO THE DROGS

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!

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