Thursday, March 29, 2007


Last Monday's results in Matchday 4 of the Setanta Cup saw two of the IPL sides get a severe spanking from their eircom League counterparts. Cork City travelled to Shamrock Park and inflicted a 7-0 trouncing on Portadown, having roasted the same side by 4-0 the previous week. Having been ambushed somewhat by Dungannon Swifts in their 2-2 draw, the free-flowing Pats went all Brazilian as they slammed 5 without reply past Harry Fay's minnows. Glentoran have regularly underperformed, with Linfield the outstanding flag bearers for their countrymen.

I use the term minnows in the sense of the club, not the playing personnel. Dungannon are making, and have made gargantuan strides on and off the field of play in recent years.... consecutive 4th place finishes have rewarded them with Setanta Cup football for the last two seasons. In Rodney McAree they possess a player with a high degree of intelligence, craft and skill; but he has been largely absent this year, and ineffective when available, owing to a knee problem. Another of the side's rallying points is Gary Fitzpatrick- again absent for a large chunk of their season with a jaw injury. True, in such as David Scullion and Mark McAllister they have fine talents, but both are still apprentices.

As can happen, success in one season doesn't guarantee the same level of performance the following term, and the Swifts have endured a period of transition as their esteemed leader Joe McAree moved upstairs and handed the reins over to Harry Fay. Factor in the stresses and strains of salvaging something from their domestic season with a cup semi-final in the offing and 5 league games left, and there is a lot of stress and strain on a squad without a single full-time player contained therein.

Glentoran have been a greater puzzle. Seemingly within touching distance of their worstest rivals, Linfield, they lag far behind once out of their own pool. As one of the Big Two, they are in possession of a psychological advantage over their domestic opponents- one which they don't carry into Setanta Cup battle. They can give the Blues a royal battle on any given Saturday, but cannot match the squad depth of Daithi Mor's men in the wider world.

And as for Portadown; a few short weeks ago they were the form team; meanness personified with a back four as tight as Nadine Coyle's rear. Kevin Pressman seeped confidence into those ahead of him, Kevin Braniff breathed new life into a slighty coy forward line. They were heading for the No.1 spot in the Carnegie Premier League as the Setanta Cup began. Then disaster struck; and we are talking unsinkable ships and iceberg surprises here. John Convery, a centre half hewn from granite was struck down; out for the remainder of the season. The defensive cohesion upon which the Shamrock Park side had built their season began to unravel around them. Another club bereft of full time professionals, they too lacked the strength in depth to absorb such a loss.

Many would argue that if this is as good as it gets from the northern clubs we should ditch them. Some would call for a four team Setanta competition. Surely, after all, the sponsors will lose interest if the tournament becomes lopsided in favour of one league over the other. Agreed, but the Setanta Cup is the glamour competition on this island and we must preserve it. The all- Ireland angle continues to enthral, although it is a possibility that should the same sides qualify year on year it will become dull and predictable. Should that be the case we could always follow el Rico's suggestion of involving a couple of Scotch and/or Welsh sides, while slimming down the Irish contingent.

In the interim what can be done? Well DJ has probably provided the answer to that question. Were the competition to straddle the season's of both leagues with matches replacing domestic weekend fixtures it would level the playing field considerably. Not alone that, but the away side would most likely bring greater support. There are few who fancy the round trip from Belfast to Cork on a dirty Monday or Tuesday night. The period from September to November covers both realms, as does March and April. The games can be spread across both periods; a transfer window can operate in the intervening months, with a new squad lists to be forwarded for the March/April segment.

The game up North is attempting to progress but undeniably lags behind its equally progressive Southern equivalent at the moment. League of Ireland sides are dabbling in full-time professionalism, with fantasy squads which are beyond the fiscal grasp of the majority of the barely there semi pro clubs across the border. None of the above draws a distinction in class; where the clubs are of comparable quality, the players are of comparable ability; just without the benefits of full time facilities and training.

In a cheese slice wrapper; let's not throw the rubber duck out with the water, let's level the playing field. Give part time players the opportunity to recuperate between games. Lets not expect them to play a domestic game on Friday or Saturday, then face a professionally prepared side on Monday night. And again the following week, and the week after that etc. Let's straighten up Setanta.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007


In a shock move, Irish international gaffer Steve Staunton, has elbowed Bobby Robson to one side as he makes the most crucial team selection of his rocky managerial career. The novice boss has explained his actions, and his team selection in an exclusive interview with Irish football website

Stan is a man under extreme pressure as the wrath of a nation flexes it's anger in anticipation of another embarrasing performance. There is little appetite for the Louthman's pallid rhetoric; we want a win and a heartening performance from our overpaid fashionista footballers.

As our once lofty standing in the international game is reduced to leprechaun stature - our nearest neighbours Norniron have overtaken us - we run the risk of becoming the laughing stock of Irish sport once again. Should we be forced to witness another 90 minutes of amateur foreplay a la San Marino even our fiercest fans will be off to Elvery's for cricket whites.

I was told by a dog in the street that this game versus Wales will be the first ever soccer international to be held on the hallowed partturfpartplastic of Croke Park. Whilst on the surface it may seem like a fraternal deed on behalf of the GAHmen, they may in fact be about to reap a rich harvest from the realms of soccer fans and event junkies on our bloated isle.

All those fans who've never experienced the atmosphere of a packed house at Croker; should they become disenchanted after another lame performance, they may well become hooked on the venue and the experience. We could lose a lot of them.

Steve Staunton has been gifted an opportunity which he hasn't earned...the raw emotion of the recent rugby experiences at Jones' Road is proof of that. The crowd will be behind the side to a degree not experienced since the heady days of Italia '90; if that doesn't inspire these players.....sigh. The future of our international side rests on the shoulders of the following players.

Packie Bonner

Steve Finnan - Dave Barry - Diarmuid O'Sullivan

Stephen Ireland - Richard Dunne - Liam Miller

Kieran Donaghy - Roy Keane

DJ Carey - Ronan O'Gara - Brian O'Driscoll

Kevin Doyle - Niall Quinn - Declan Browne

Bonnar has been selected mainly for his punting and shot stopping ability. The defensive unit consists in the main of Corkmen; defensive, but eager to attack [oops]. The Honeymonster adds physical presence. In midfield we have two of that zones finest exponents. There's plenty of firepower in the half forward line; the legendary DJ alongside the metronomic deadball prowess of O'Gara; O'Driscoll's probing runs and gasifying pace will terrorise the Welsh back four. Kevin Doyle and Niall Quinn are assured performers at this level; Declan Browne's pointing ability cannot be ignored. The points are in the bag- unless Stan goes 4-4-2.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007


The eircom league, that's who. With all new teams, with all new strips, all new balls, all new stadia; and some which are almost the same as last season.

Galway United have signed a centre -half called Nightmare, sorry Nooitmeer. Bohemians have the letters ER above the player's names on the back of their shirts; does this mean that their new squad is having trouble recognising each et cetera?

We had a couple of shocks; Waterford sorted Cork City out and Sligo Rovers put Galway United back into their box. UCD and Shamrock Rovers played out a scoreless draw! The debutants picked up points - Wexford Youths and Limerick 37. It was BBC who were the first to fall prey to the Limerick name - misinterpreting 37 as their score, rather than part of their title - hugely disappointing for eL followers who dearly wished that Aertel would capture the once in a lifetime honour.

Attendances were officially UP on last year's opening weekend. Noel Mooney and his acolytes had targeted 18,000 spectators, the figures tell us that over 20,000 people abandoned their plasma screens to watch eircom League football. Fanrific.

The first televised offering of the season did the league no favours. For over an hour two sides competed to hit the ball as high and hard as possible. Glen Fitzpatrick's awful miss robbed the suffering audience of a goal; but he served the game well in another way. The two-touch striker's confidence wilted thereafter, while Ollie Cahill blossomed. Tony Grant eventually replaced Fitzpatrick and only then did the Drogs begin to play some football. Sean Connor did us a disservice by withdrawing Neale Fenn as soon as he began to show us how football can be played.

Just up the road, Shelbourne were beginning the second coming. Damien Duff was at Tolka Park; in the stand unfortunately. There were reported sightings of The Great One; may Olly's recovery be as quick and uncomplicated as possible.

Dermot Keely screamed for all he was worth, his larynx well rested after his temporary retirement. The Shels boss showed no signs of ring-rust as he gave Tom Connolly as good a pummelling as he'll ever receive from the touchline.

On a cold March night the Richmond Road venue was a heart-warming place to be. There wasn't the usual Garda presence; a recognition of the low key affair which First Division games can be. The CD player struggled to produce its best form, pre-match. The Riverside Stand was closed, there were gentle signs of slippage all around.

Adversity often brings out the best in society; and nowhere is this better reflected than in the supporters of Shelbourne. Much maligned, often envied, usually despised...the results of success. The Shelbourne Supporters Club has also been resurected in an effort to give the ailing club a boost.

The fans who turned out to support their side against Kildare County were exactly what football fans should be - supporters. They gave a team which Dr. Frankenstein would have been proud of a rousing reception. Easy to be upbeat at the beginning you may say. Four minutes later Shels had conceded a penalty and were a goal down.

They hauled themselves back into the game, Gartland meeting a corner kick around the fifteenth minute. At half time the Reds were 2-1 down, and it was difficult to see where the equaliser was coming from. Especially after the young side lost Jim Crawford after just ten minutes of the second period - I know Tony O'Dowd was in goals - but pure support willed the side on. It could be keenly felt from three sides of the ground that the fans were not leaving until their side equalised; and equalise they did, finishing the game strongly in a show of determination and honest effort.

Well, Dermot Keely is managing them isn't he?

Sunday, March 04, 2007


Is it the beginning of the end, or the end of the ignorance? Finally someone, anywhere, has decided to help the keepers of the flame. Like eager children heading excitedly for their beds on Christmas Eve, eL lovers anticipate the bounty to be placed beneath the tree by the FAI.

Many would have scorned the notion of the FAI as the saviours of the domestic game; but thus far they have displayed substance. JD's heavy-handed approach with naysayers is discomforting, but understandable. Our product is about to become the subject of an unprecedented marketing campaign. This is the winner takes all penalty kick. We MUST unite behind this effort or risk slipping back into the manure which clings still, to our boots. All is not sweet, but if we keep our dirty undies out of the public eye it will help to improve the image which is about to be expensively cultivated.

Should this push prove unsuccessful it will provide generations to come with iron-clad reasons to dismiss the local league from their gallery of pleasures. It's accepted that we are a nation of event junkies, susceptible to HD Heaven and all that seeps from it. If it looks glamorous it is glamorous. Let's exploit this bandwagon mentality to attract new people to our product. Let's make kids torment their parents to take them to Dalymount Park, Turner's Cross, Terryland Park and Finn Park.

We want to see sprogs in Saints scarves and Drogs replica kits, buying overpriced fizzy drinks at freshly painted football grounds with toilet roll in the loos. Premium suites with finger food and not a greyhound in sight. Who cares if half of the people know nothing about football; let's just get them in to the matches first; and then we make sure to get them back.

League of Ireland football can be anything. Family friendly, car thief friendly, child friendly, alright bud friendly - the possibilities are bottomless.

It's not going to happen overnight -Ballymun wasn't regenerated in a day- but it just might be about to happen. When was there a time like this in League of Ireland history? A huge prize fund, clubs promotion officers, more live games than you can shake a cocktail stick at. The teething problems of proper regulation will soon be forgotten; clubs are getting their faeces together.

On and off the pitch players are experiencing facilities and expertise not before seen at this level. And these are exciting players; recent exports such as Stephen Ward are a perfect illustration of their quality. Even a blind drunk man in a shiny Man United jersey can see that Ward's success isn't down to the abilities of Mick McCarthy and Wolves. Clubs beyond this island have begun to recognise the ability of our footballers; our European exploits have raised eyebrows.

So, fingers crossed and eyes dotted, here's to the retirement of the asterisk and the success of the 2007 eircom League of Ireland.