Tuesday, May 08, 2007

DERRY HEIR

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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