Tuesday, November 28, 2006


With a third of the Irish Premier League games completed, the aroma of something special is in the air. This season has the potential to produce a classic battle, with just seven points defining the gap between top spot and sixth.

Admittedly, a casual glance at the upper end of the table is not going to invoke any trauma upon the more genteel football follower, save for the emergence of newly promoted Crusaders as a Premier League side of substance.

The usual suspects are hovering; Glentoran, Linfield, Portadown, and to a lesser degree, Dungannon Swifts and Cliftonville. Paul Millar's team have been impresive thus far, but have shown worrying signs of complacency. This does not bode well; any side seriously intent on making a sustained challenge needs to be strong of mind as much as fit, organised and skilful. The dismissal of Linfield in the CIS Cup semi final may have provided a boost to their confidence - but after last season's implosion I suspect it is a fragile commodity within the confines of The Oval. . While the headlines have been dominated by H&H up front, they have improved defensively over last term, and the presence of Paul Leeman and Gary Smyth will be key to their success this time around.

Paul Millar was not a happy man after the 2-2 stalemate against inferior opposition in the shape of Glenavon. The gap between his charges and the currently charging Champions is down to a meagre three points, and DJ's men have yet to slip imperceptibly into last season's groove. Elliot Morris can probably hear the rumble of Blue Thunder approaching as he guards the nets! While it seems to this writer that Glentoran's credentials have yet to be properly proven [ a league defeat or two will go some way towards showing us how strong they are], the pedigree of the Blues is unquestionable. The emergence of Jamie Mulgrew coupled with the signing of Thomas Stewart is beginning to add to their already impressive arsenal. For me the heartbeat of this squad lies in the combined talents of McAreavey and Gault; two different but beautifully dovetailed midfielders.

And then there 's Portadown. Firstly, toupees off to Ronnie McFall. His undying determination to prevail has dragged his team back from the horrors of last season's disappointing finish, followed by what was looking like a serious player haemmorhage. Kevin Pressman's presence has seeped confidence into a back four which oozes potential. In McCutcheon and Smart he has two quality strikers, and the league will continue to be graced by Wes Boyle as he nears full fitness. They may not have the strength in depth of the Big Two - and who does? - But if Lord Luck can convince his wife to show them some benevolence, they are in with a shout.

Realistically, the same can be said of both Cliftonville and Crusaders. Both talented outfits, but with the pitches cutting up badly it won't be too long before they have queues outside the physio's room. It's a tough slog, versus the polished professionalism of Windsor Park et al, and the 'smaller' clubs do need the peeress on their sides in these matters if they are to succeed Nonetheless, the performances of both outfits thus far have been invigorating for the neutral observer; with Cliftonville's opening day rout of Linfield a cherished memory.

In common with the other aspirants, the true test will come when the early season bubble is unceremoniously pricked for a couple of games; everyone becomes nervy, confidence begins to wane, managers earn their condiment. And what of Dungannon Swifts?

This was always going to be a difficult season for the Tyrone club. The ascension of Joe McAree may be good for the club overall, in the short term it's difficult to see what the benefits are to the senior side. This is in no way intended as a disrespect to the abilities of Harry Fay - whoever took up the job was destined to have a less than fluent opening. And that's how it has seemed for the Stangmore Blues; they're on the periphery of the title race, and in the thick of a battle for Setanta Cup qualification; but they seem weaker than last season. The departure of Timmy Adamson has holed them hugely; his goals are a major loss to them. The capture of Rory Hamill promised much, we are only beginning to see him settle now. Young Mark McAllister is in fine form, but can't be expected to maintain those standards for the season. If they can claim 4th spot again, it will be deemed a successful season.

Roll on December!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


It has always been one of my favourite phrases; we laughed conspiratorially as our First Year English teacher introduced it to us. He smiled benignly to himself, basking in the success of his annual implant; he saved 'social intercourse' for another day. So this is where the eL fan finds himself now.

The season is all but over; there's a piffling play off to be decided, and the more pressing matter of an FAI Cup Final - with the promise of European and Setanta Cup action the glittering prize.

Cork City and Shelbourne fans scan the media and fora daily, hoping to find no news of absconding players, as their respective clubs strive to find a foothold on the slippery face of the even keel. At the time of writing, the deposed Champions look to have the safer grip, but they are haemorhaging talent again. Neale Fenn, one of the classiest acts in the league has followed the shadows of Liam Kearney, Greg O'Halloran, George O'Callaghan and Kevin Doyle through the Turner's Cross exit door. Danny Murphy is zipping up his bags, Joe Gamble and Roy O'Donovan are cooing at their suitors. Neal Horgan is eyeing the others, while Billy Woods has been embarrassed by the delay in offering him a new contract. No club would easily replace such a gallery of footballing talent.

Up at Tolka Park, the Wanderly Wagon trundles on. Pat Fenlon is being wined and dined on Steven Kenny's salary, and the changing rooms resemble the reception area of a Parisian boudoir; with the residents ready to swing into action at the ringtone of a mobile. Some may already have been fitted out for their new striped strip. The Santa letters of the Shelbourne squad would make interesting reading.

Every player in the land is hoping for a call from Sean Connor's lair, deep in the bowels of Dalymount Park. Things are strangely quiet at United Park, but that's when a manager gets his best work done.

Apart from the recurring speculation regarding transient players, what else is there to keep us hooked? What some in the South East claim to know, this mere mortal is left to wonder. The hottest release this side of New Year's Eve will be the unveiling of the constituents of next season's Premier and First Divisions.

After the monotony of the endless second-guessing, the promise of a giddy high looms; when fans get to berate and debate ad nauseum, the decisions of those entrusted with this thankless task. Oh the silly season is just around the corner for sure!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


The most interesting definition of the word arbitrary, and the most suited to the cause of the eL follower, defines the word as 'uncontrolled or unrestricted by law; despotic; tyrannical'. Those last two adjectives conjure unpleasant memories from this decaying season.

Again, the feelings of the faithful fan are callously discarded as a result of the regular inertia of the powers that be, and their aspirants, in Irish football. Of course, they are not all inefficient or self advancing; there are certainly plenty of genuine people involved throughout the administrative and committee areas of the game. Without these good folk, we would no longer have clubs to support in some cases.

Whilst Michael Collins was stood between the proverbial hard place and the rock, he has at least restored a pinch of sanity to an unstable season. It was important to the frustrated majority of fans that there would be no replay of 'that game'. And how demoralising it feels to be referring to it as such.

With respect to Jason McGuinness, his presence on the field was not the difference between Bohs winning or losing that game. Sure, he played his part in a pulsating game; but had he not been available I venture that the result would have been the same. But there I go, talking about football as if it were important!

Is it too much to hope for? Will anybody take the lessons of this season on board? The optimist within suggests that the new broom will dust the neglected corners of the eL; the pessimist points to the sullied hands which will hold it. It has been a great season with a thrilling title chase in both divisions; cup upsets, great goals and greater controversy. We have been inundated with live games; we have a weekly highlights show, however imperfect - we are striving on all fronts to nurture our tender professionalism.

Sligo's new managerial appointment has breathed fresh confidence and credibility into the game; hopefully Stephen Kenny's ascension will do likewise. We're headed in the right direction, but there are many icebergs along the route. Let's tighten up the rulebook, abandon these ludicrous journeys to the courts and spend the money on the game instead; not use it to further line the plush pockets of the legal profession.

Strange to note that the eL chose the Law Society buildings in Blackhall Place, as the venue in which to publicize the impending season in the Spring of 2006. Maybe they'd be willing to come on board with some sort of sponsorship deal. We could call it the Alleged League, we would have Alleged Champions. The Hearsay League Cup Final has a good ring to it.

The winners of each competition would be known in the following season's renewal as the Defendants. Referees could be called Prosecutors; their assistant's, Witnesses. Fans could address each other as 'learned friends'; football would be such a civilized game. I've completely lost the run of myself now, apologies.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Where does anybody start with trying to extract the logic from the recent toings and froings of Irish domestic soccer? It exasperates to even conceive, that a National League can descend into such a maelstrom of farce and idiocy.

And what appears to be the panacea for our ailing competition? Fines and legal actions. Just what a league - which hopes to be all singing and all dancing for next season in an effort to drum up fresh support both on and off the plastic seats and terraces - needs.

It has become an embarrassment to be unveiled as a supporter of the eircom League. Fans of English football point and mock; their laughter circles uncomfortably around you, and your defence is exposed; for there is no saving explanation.

We are the victims of smallminded image consciousness and stressed out club chairmen. Indeed the antics of those in positions of authority on both the club and administrative sides would be sneered at in schoolboy football circles; this makes the fact that the situation[s] are being played out across media even more embarrassing.

All eL fans will weep when they look at these threats and counter threats from the outside. At a time when we should be enjoying a fantastic title run in, we are being asked if we have a condom. How can all of this be happening again? Every fans forum is like an autumnal tree, with fans falling from every branch; disillusioned by the ill judged intrusions and inept inertia of those who hold our beloved game by it's tenderest parts.

I could go on and on, that's if I haven't already! This eL fan is in his maiden season and I have loved every minute of what I've seen on the pitch. I know we have problems to solve, but our product is a quality one; it's about the football, the atmosphere of a live game. We have some class players plying their wares, and some class managers. We are drawing ever closer to the heartbeat of European football.

The last words go to an unlikely source, Dr. Damo. I heard him being interviewed on RTE Radio during the week and the thrust of what he said was this: We need to stop the pedantic behaviour of running to the high court to resolve our disputes. We need to hold our nerve now - we are at an important crossroads, and the next step for us is the most exciting step that Irish football has ever taken.

For my money, the wisest words that I have heard from anyone in authority this season - I just wish they hadn't come from Dr. Damo!