Wednesday, May 30, 2007


The Waterford United Official Supporters Club recently penned an open letter bemoaning, amongst other things, the fact that their club had to fulfil a midweek fixture in far flung Derry. The expense involved in part-timers needing time off work, the total lack of away support were cited as reasons for their grievance.

Ok, in the case of Waterford United the fall off in away support would hardly be noticed in comparison to their usually massive travelling support; but that need not mask the unwieldy nature of such fixtures. The Premier League is not yet a fully professional set-up, and it is foolish to inflict any unnecessary expense on already needy clubs.

The letter was greeted in some quarters with accusations of amateurism; suggesting that if Waterford United had big problems with such a fixture they could sling their hook. But surely a slick professional machine - the kind of machine that the new-look league aspires to being - can easily circumvent these problems.

There is only one series of midweek games fixed in the Premier Division for this season...

Tues. 29 May Bray Wanderers v U.C.D.
Derry City v Waterford United
Longford Town v Galway United
Sligo Rovers v Drogheda United
Shamrock Rovers v Cork City

...and the televised Dublin derby 'twixt Pats and Bohs on Monday 28th May.

Why could it not have read Bray v UCD; Derry v Sligo; Waterford v Cork and Rovers v Drogs? Shorter travelling times for the away teams, along with the possibility of more travelling support. How can that be wrong? If there is a need for a series of midweek games then those fixtures can be cast in stone with the outstanding 32 games fitting around them.

Even if it involved a team travelling from one end of the country to the other on a Friday night, supporters have the comfort of knowing that they have Saturday off work when arriving home in the small wee hours. We do still want to make it easier for them to get to games don't we?

The early stages of the League Cup are played midweek; they are regionalised, so someone in power has given the concept a modicum of thought. At the risk of repeating what has oft been repeated, we need bums on seats. The FAI, CPO's and clubs generally, have worked hard to increase attendances this season; we all agree that this is the way forward. Still, there is nothing 'professional' about dragging Waterford United or any club to the opposite end of the island to fulfil a midweek engagement before a few hundred people.

The WUOSC letter should have the endorsement of all supporters of the league.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Those of us in Walkthechalk Mansions recognize an opportunity when it presents itself; the completion of Series 11 in this season's Premier Division provides a convenient marking point at which to evaluate the season thus far. The opening third of the 'eircom League of Ireland', now with added FAI has been an unspectacular success.

We weren't expecting five figure crowds at every game, but we have experienced a welcome growth in attendances. The total of 50 or so live games compares favourably with Setanta's promised offering of 79 Premiership ties for next season. Most of those games will be second-rate contests; generally we get to view the pick of the domestic action live on Irish television. The club promotions officers have been getting stuck into their allotted tasks, the profile of the game has definitely improved as a result of their combined efforts.

And of course, there has been no want of drama on the rock hard playing pitches of the country's elite clubs. That damn greenhouse effect has brought unseasonably warm and dry weather conditions to our little outpost throughout the Spring of 2007. This after all is Ireland; Land of the Emerald Playing Fields, watered incessantly by Mother Nature's own devices. Rutted, grassless and coated in sand has been the order of the matchday up and down the land - this is not usually an aid to exponents of the beautiful game.

Nevertheless, Longford Town still find themselves as the pile on the bottom. Were the strugglers to be returned those 6 priceless points, they would still find themselves propping up the table. As it is they have been cut adrift from the bottom pack, and it seems that they have twelfth spot in the bag.

Just above them are surprise packets Waterford United. Surprise, as in they beat Cork City in their opening engagement. Surprise, as in they weren't anticipating Premier Division football this season; they have worked hard to prove this point, whilst ensuring that they don't pick up too many more. Even Longford have beaten them!

Climbing arthritically upwards we meet Galway United - the club whose motto reads ' Melior Quam Nostrum Positus Innutum'.

With apologies for studying league tables as opposed to verbs during my limited Latin schooling it translates very roughly to 'better than our position suggests.' The Westerners have still not treated their fans to a home win after six attempts. Their lack of firepower undoes some attractive approach play, and this needs to be rectified promptly.

From the west coast to the east -the aptly named Seagulls are fourth from bottom. As difficult to predict as the landing site of seagull shite, they have scored some impressive results, but remain the team most likely to be sucked back into the relegation battle. They are the only side not to take points from Galway United this season, yet they have beaten Bohs and drawn with Cork City at the Carlisle Grounds.

Sligo Rovers bring up the rear of the middle section; the abdication of Rob McDonald cast the seeds of their aspirations to the breeze before the season got going. Leo Tierney kept the ship afloat until Paul Cook's appointment. The new boss was still warming up the seat when his side blew Cork City out of the Showgies in a 4-1 trouncing. The quality of Rovers' goals and play were a joy to behold; they built on this win with an emphatic 2-0 defeat at Bray Wanderers. The jury is still out on the Bit O'Red; but the Judge is impressive.

I must confess to a soft spot for Shamrock Rovers; the injustice of Thomas Davis' despicable (Stuart Byrne, registered trademark) actions in delaying the Hoops move to Tallaght, combined with the work of the 400 Club in salvaging the famous club are difficult to ignore. On the field the attitude that Pat Scully has instilled in his young side speaks volumes for the man's managerial skills. As a part-time set-up they will struggle to break into the top four. But that won't stop them from struggling to achieve it; such is their self-belief. It, along with confidence, is a fragile commodity and may not last the youngsters through the length of a tough season at the top level. A good cup run may help to replenish their levels.

UCD continue to thwart, frustrate and agitate. The club that nobody seems to want in the league have been an asset this season. Nobody will get an easy game from this crowd; they rarely get stuffed by anyone; and have already scored twelve goals this term. Compared to 26 for all of last season, they are well ahead of schedule and may well have to stop scoring and collecting points soon. You have to love them!

Leading the middle four are the fallen, once almost mighty, Derry City. There has been enough written and spoken about Mr. and Mrs. Fenlon's influence on the Candystripes.

Bohs fans rejoice, for the big club have made the top four. Boasting the meanest defence in the league, with only five goals conceded, the only way is up so far as Sean Connor is concerned. The Phibsboro side managed to shut out Drogheda and Pats. They failed to score against Derry City - while not conceding - and will be a little embarrassed at sharing no goals with UCD. Indeed, only Cork City have breached the Bohs backline on more than one occasion; it must have sent a shiver down SC's hard neck to see Roy O'Donovan leave Jason McGuinness looking like a learner driver searching for first gear as he accelerated away to dispatch the second. There have been many changes at Bohemians, and they are optimistically within sighting distance of the title race with the transfer window looming.

Cork City's victory over Bohs gave allowed them to slip into third place. They too are a little further back than they would like to be at this stage. Doubtless, the exclusion of Colin Healy and Gareth Farrelly has hurt them. The absence of Danny Murphy and Alan Bennett has left the seemingly reliable Dan Murray exposed on more occasions than he'd care to remember. John O'Flynn's bullet finish against the Gypsies provided a reminder of his abilities; he has disappointed in fleeting cameos to this point. Perhaps his opening goal of the league season signals a much needed return to form for the striker. Another club talking transfer windows, they have the FIFA 2 to come on stream and will surely become more consistent as the season wears on.

And so to the current title challengers. Drogheda United have successfully defended their Setanta Cup trophy; they have also successfully dismissed their League Cup aspirations. Despite the club's squad depth it has been a continually disrupted campaign for Paul Doolin's men. The side built on the solidity of its defence has seen that same back four change relentlessly. Dan Connor has been absent too. Consequently the Drogs defence have been wildly extravagant; ten goals conceded in ten outings must keep Doolo awake at night. Niall Shelley has done a fine job of filling in at centre half; Damian Lynch equally so at right back; but the steadying influence of Jason Gavin has been missed. Up front Eamon Zayed is slowly growing into his role; the prolonged unavailability of Declan O'Brien is a major blow. Two-touch Fitzpatrick is a different type of player. Every machine has cogs; the triumvirate of Connor, Gavin and Fabio are essential to Drogheda when it comes to the crunch games.

The Super Saints and their sexy 3-5-2 formation! Again the triumvirate applies. Fahey, Kirby, Ndo. Their presence was essential to the success of Johnny Mc's adventurous formation. When Sean Connor decided to man mark Joe Ndo at Richmond Park, Bohs became the first side to take points from the Saints. Ndo's absences, followed by Kirby's, led to a dismal run of results for Pats. The writing was on the ball when Drogheda United arrived in Inchicore; two points behind and a game in hand. They wiped the turf with Pats in the first half. Without Fabio up front they struggled to register this on the scoreboard. Then we saw something new in St. Pats. The steely resolve for which the Drogs are renowned was unveiled before the Richmond Park faithful. A gutsy performance worthy of champions replaced the floaty football of early season victories. Five points to the good, money in the bank, not leaking goals. There is a long way to go, but who wouldn't swap places with Pats right now.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Robbie Clarke, Aidan Price and Barry Murphy - each one a near ever present in the Shamrock Rovers First Division title winning side of 2006. Across 36 fixtures the celebrated backline conceded a mere 13 goals. Ger O'Brien was, and remains, another mainstay of that defence. Barry Ferguson was brought in to add some Premier Division guile and experience for this season's campaign.

In their opening ten games of this year's Premier League renewal the Hoops have conceded a miserly seven goals; bettered only by Dublin rivals Bohs and Pats. When one takes into account that Rovers have already engaged all of the so called top sides, this represents a fantastic achievement.

Realistically, the goals against statistic masks the fact that of those, only Cork City - who are not having the most 'top side' of seasons - have dropped points to the newcomers. Pat Scully acknowledged as much himself in his piece to camera following the disappointing reversal at the Brandywell last Monday.

Even the most blinkered eL fan must concede that Scully's Babies deserved a point from that game. At times it seemed as if Rovers would molest football; although they never quite hit those heights. Aside from the early exchanges of the first and second halves the visitors had the soles of their feet comfortably flat on the floor of the swimming pool.

It was during that bedding in period at the onset of the game that Derry were at their most potent. Twice Kevin McHugh received possession - twice he ran directly at the visitor's backline, on each occasion with the effect of a cat scattering feral pigeons. Somehow, the ball was scrambled to safety. While the Rovers defenders were still getting the measure of their immediate opponents Pat McCourt got on the ball. He was given space, and the inevitable happened. There were almost 80 minutes of the game remaining, but they found no way back.

Prior to kick off, eyeing up the respective forward lines, it seemed apparent that neither front pairing would outplay their sentries. And so it was. But as has been said before, the line between failure and success at the top level of any sport is as narrow as an ant's rectum. Roy O'Donovan's introduction and subsequent yellow card in Cork's meaningless Setanta group fixture against Dungannon Swifts may ultimately have cost the Southerners a place in the final of that honeypot.

Royboy was suspended as a result of that booking - he missed the molestation of Linfield - the presence of the side's most lethal frontman would surely have swung the game their way. A similarly big decision was Pat Scully's call prior to Monday night's action.

The aforementioned Robbie Clarke is a fine player, going through a rough patch. He has started all but the last two of his side's games this season. Dropped in favour of Derek Pender for the game with Sligo Rovers, he entered the fray on the hour mark. Dropped in favour of the previously untried Dean Lawrence for the Derry game - the damage had been done by the time he entered the action late in the second half.

No disrespect to Dean Lawrence; a player has to make his debut someplace, and he will be good enough. But face to face with one of the league's most gifted players, at the Brandywell; well the gods are not exactly on your side are they? Lawrence didn't come in at left full - instead regular right back Ger O'Brien was switched to the opposite side in order to accommodate the debutant. This caused a double disruption to the backline. The gifted player?

Paddy McCourt in full flight is a beautiful sight to behold; unless he's coming your way. The most experienced of defenders would feel a quick squirt of sweat; dreading the possibility of being exposed. The simple antidote to this is cover. The right-sided midfielder helps out his full back. But Lawrence's covering player was Jamie Duffy.

Jamie Duffy is a talented ball player; often his contribution to the game is more garnish than substance. A sometimes frustrating player who flits in and out of the game, showing tantalising glimpses of ability. It must be acknowledged that he worked harder than I have ever seen him work before in a Rovers shirt on Monday; but he is no more a defensive midfielder than Sean Connor is a sportswear designer. Thus the Hoops right flank was exposed. As the game progressed the efforts of Ian Ryan helped to nullify McCourt's threat; but the centre half turned central midfielder was having to cover a lot of ground.

Eventually Lawrence succumbed to cramp; Ger O'Brien moved back across to his customary spot, and Robbie Clarke slotted in on the left. The sky did not fall in. What was Pat Scully thinking? Derry don't pose a powerful threat down their right side; even an out of sorts Robbie Clarke could have contended with what was on offer. This would have freed up Ger O'Brien to nullify McCourt's early efforts. On such minutiae are points won and lost.

Ultimately, Rovers didn't have the nous to outwit the Candystripes defence. They certainly caused uncomfortable moments for Kelly and Oman, but the enforced pairing of Purcell and Myler looked too one-paced to worry two solid defenders. It was surprising not to see Ger Rowe used in a more central role when he was introduced.

Without the presence of Danny O'Connor in the middle there was something lacking. Tommy Barrett was injured; yet he doesn't seem to have settled into his rhythm yet. Derek Pender would have provided the sort of cover that Dean Lawrence needed, also injured. Credit must go to Pat Scully; his side are largely inexperienced. He has cultivated an ethos of hard work and self belief within the squad. There is no such word as consolidation in the Rovers dressing room. Of course, it is easier to believe when you are picking up points; there looms ahead twenty three tough games, assuming every club remains in the league until November of course.

Hopefully the Hoops continue to pick up points, and continue to believe for the club very much represents the future of football in Dublin City. With young players such as Purcell, Lawrence Cassidy, Kilduff, the McGills et al on board the future is bright. Bring on Tallaght.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007


So Nutsy was crowned King of Derry. It seemed like a natural progression initially. Derry City had the players; league runners-up for the previous two seasons, one of those 'enviable' records in the cup competitions. A football city, like no other on the island, hosting a populace imbued with a yearning to see their team conquer all. Enter the most successful manager of recent times in the eircom league.

A liaison made in whatever your version of heaven is. The wee man was possessed of the pedigree and the nous to take the bridesmaids of the Maiden City to the next level; a Premier Division title. And then this happened!!

The Setanta chalice has eluded Pat Fenlon thus far; his new charges were expected to fight it out with Linfield and Drogheda United for a semi-final spot in a tough group. Derry performed with all the reliability of a drunken suitor. There was a flash of solidity in the home tie versus Linfield but a second half collapse meant that the fans were left with that unpleasant unfulfilled feeling.

Goalkeepers make for easy targets; when the last line of defence errs there is usually only one outcome. But the malaise was affecting more than the begloved. The team seemed strangely lethargic. TEMPO, TEMPO screamed a bewildered Felix Healy. The moustachioed one had a point; City were at their best when playing a high tempo game under Stephen Kenny. But canny King Kenny is no more. You have to let it go Felix!

Whilst there may be a strong resemblance to the squad of 2005 and 2006, things are very different now. Pat Fenlon, the manager, can make Paul Doolin, the manager, look adventurous. At Shekelbourne, with a vast array of attacking talent under his stewardship - and Glen Crowe - they regularly shut up shop early, often dropping vital points as a consequence of their manager's reticence. Rarely were the gifted ones allowed off the leash.

Nutsy was the consummate pro - always treating big games as if they were finely balanced European ties. Always safety first. Who can knock it; the man has the medals to back up his strategy? The squad that he bought dominated the eircom League in his first managerial post.

So to Derry; not Mr. Fenlon's squad, but an inherited one. Therefore not attuned to the style of football preferred by their new boss. More linedancers than lapdancers; the simple high tempo, high work ethos game is second nature to them. But good footballers should be able to adapt?

There have been a couple of significant changes at the Brandywell....

2005: Scored 56 (2nd highest) - Conceded 25 (2nd lowest). Top scorers were Mark Farren with 17 and Ciaran Martyn with 7.

Bottom side that year were Finn Harps, for whom a certain Kevin McHugh netted 13 times. Only Farren and Jason Byrne bettered his league total that season.

2006: Scored 46 (2nd highest) - Conceded 20 (2nd lowest). It was infamously a season which was reduced to 30 games owing to the Dublin City saga. Top scorers were Mark Farren with 8 goals from 17 starts, and Ciaran Martyn with 8 from 23 starts. New man McHugh was slow to get out of the blocks and managed just 4 from 16 starts.

Uncooked statistics relay but some of the story; Gary Beckett is considered a 'forward'. In the last two seasons the 'forward' has amassed a meagre tally of three goals. Ciaran Martyn -'midfielder'- has scored 5 times that meagre amount. This pair constituted the attacking fulcrum of Stephen Kenny's side. Beckett - Master of The Hole; Martyn - Master of the Forward Foray. The pair dovetailed seamlessly. We have seen little of the former and even less of the loaned one this season.

Ruairi Higgins appears to be the new bosses' favoured partner for the usually impeccable Barry Molloy. Higgins is a player of considerable talent, but a different type of player to Martyn. So a significant goal source is no longer.

The goalkeeping situation has been well covered, in a manner of speaking. Whilst I never felt that I could throw a child from a burning house into the waiting arms of David Forde, I would have to think thrice about throwing my mother-in-law out to either of the current contestants. But, without visiting the commentator's kiss of death on either, that ship has been less rocky recently. The early season fiasco was enough to upset the meanest of defences, and since then there has been some tinkering. The most obvious change has been the omission of Dermot Keely's godson, Eddie McCallion.

The diminutive full back had been one of those players who can turn up for the match with his newly washed jersey on. A virtual ever present last season; when he did start for PF he was the one to be sacrificed from the back four, when big changes would be made in order to rescue a game with about five minutes remaining. The popular defender progressed from favourite to be replaced during the game, to total omission. Psychological warfare from the new man, or just an acquired taste?

The new buys.... Karl Bermingham is a promising youngster, but hasn't been able to make an impact thus far owing to injury. Ola Tidman; an unforgettable debut, jury out. Peter Hynes; a surprising choice, but offers something different up front with his physical presence. He needs to prove that he can cut it at the top end of the table, should the Candystripes ever return there. Dave Rogers and Alan Moore; by the time Nutsy got to the Shels car boot sale most of the good stuff was gone. The Scouser is an adequate and wholehearted player, but his acquisition didn't really strengthen the squad. Alan Moore is best in a central role on the treatment table. Gifted but often absent. As for Greg O'Halloran, a fine mimic. But his abilities do extend to providing excellent cover across defence or midfield.

These are seen to be PF's players; but the established ones are not sufficiently talented- or in the case of Moore, available - to bring anything new to the side. Thus, the current crop will have to continue their learning curve until the opportunity offered by the transfer window alleviates the situation somewhat. Hopefully the fantastic following at the Randywell can remain patient.

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