Wednesday, May 23, 2007

LOTS OF TO DO DONE - MORE TO DO

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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