Saturday, March 10, 2007

GUESS WHO'S BACK?

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 other...er Rossiter...er Mansaram...er Fenn...er 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?

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