Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Cup Final Appearances Help You Breathe More Easily

Not just Cup Final appearances, but sweet victories over your fiercest rivals. Sean Connor has yet to sample defeat at the hands of the Hoops while Bohemians boss.

The preamble to this semi-final presented two sides that had fallen out of form. Rovers were three games without a win; Bohs had conceded five in their previous three outings and hadn't managed a goal in four. Not much to tempt the lazy neutral onto a bus there then.

But there was so much at stake, so many permutations. Rovers have been a revelation this term; their fearless flight to the higher reaches of the eL canopy would be worthy of the sparkle that a Cup final appearance brings; to capture the trophy would indeed be the ketchup on the breakfast roll. Not that Pat Scully would publicly admit to such thoughts before the season's end.

Sean Connor presents a quizzical figure to many of his club's staunchest supporters. Point out that Bohs' situation is far superior to the mud in which they frolicked last season and they will remind you that SC has been facilitated at every turn by a benign board. His side have been an ugly duckling all season; the momentous FAI Cup win at United Park suggested that a swan lay within. They remained within striking distance of the league title until the recent discovery of their inner Donald Duck. The natives were growing increasingly restless.

The non-performance at Flancare Park with undertones of player unrest meant it was time for SC to discard his comical red bloomers and begin to look like a top drawer football manager. Joxer and Ricer felt the fruits of his indignation. Heroes of the Ultras, SC was putting his scrotum on a cold surface.

As such, the atmosphere around Dalymount Park was a little subdued. While naturally wanting their side to prevail; there was comfort to be had in defeat - the pleasure of watching an enemy walk awkwardly away with his scrotum in his pocket.

It all started so well - Mick McCarthy and his entourage mingled, he and Sean have now met three, er two, times. Larry welcomed the Hooperatzi, then played the scary music over the PA - the gladiators entered the sunkissed arena. God, who is obviously a member at Bohs, supplied a light sprinkling of rain, just enough for slick passing.

Owen Heary had a headed opportunity early on; should have done better he was doubtless muttering to himself as he trotted back from his far-post attack. The boss could hardly contain his glee as Joxer set off on a run; stubbornly persisting with the outside option. It was to be the one and only occasion, but David McGill can't have known that as he flailed in the wake of the gifted midfielder.

Ryan McCann was in for Stephen 'deal or no deal' Rice. the newcomer started brightly. He looked sharp and interested in getting forward. Rossiter's 16th minute dismissal after a couple of launches robbed Bohs of McCann's attacking ideas. There was little time for the niceties as the home side battled with 3 v 4 in the midfield area.

It was a bitty half; mishit, overhit, underhit and then there were the hits. Voices on both sides of Dalyer bayed for blood and retribution. The Gypsys threatened mainly from deadball situations. Rovers and deadball situations? Well think of a granny who's lost her glasses and can't find her teeth as a result. David Tyrrell's introduction early in the second half remedied this acknowledged weakness in the Hoops armoury. Until then, they didn't threaten Brian Murphy, or his goal, to any significant degree.

Tyrrell had just arrived on the field when the hosts should have opened the scoring. Kelly was the artist- the Billy Elliot of Dalymount Park - Glen Crowe the wrecking ball, as he spurned a gift that the aforementioned granny may well have converted. Groans from the Jodi mixed with sighs from Connaught Street merging as they drifted into the Phibsboro sky.

It was easy to forget that Sean Connor's men were numerically challenged; their efforts never betrayed it - Rovers' never exploited it. True, Pat Scully's side were as industrious as ever. The hari-kari tackling had abated and the duo attempted to offer us some football. But the industry of both sets of players refused to allow it; Damien Hancock was still producing yellow cards ad nauseum, only now they were for minor infringements. There have been rumours that the official fell asleep with yellow card in hand on Tuesday evening, and booked his missus. Whether this happened once or twice is still subject to confirmation.

The goal was a creeper; you never really saw it coming. Yet another average looking ball arrived in the Rovers' penalty area - Crowe rose again, then he was buried - under a sweaty human sea of black and red. From Pat Scully's viewpoint it was a soft goal, definitely not the sort that his side are accustomed to conceding, but they all count.

Rovers were now upping the pace as the minutes rolled by. Scully used his three permitted replacements. Connor kept faith with his ten warriors. Tadhg Purcell slipped the Bohs defensive line; this one had equaliser all over it - if you were standing on the Connaught Street side. Murphy got a look and a touch; Purcell attempted to redeem himself by laying the ball back. DANGER! DANGER! The defenders were heading en masse in the direction of the ball; the inexperience of youth must have shot through Pat Scully like the pain of a carelessly bitten ice pop. His attackers were also drawn to the ball. At the opposite post was a space large enough to build a drug dealer's bungalow. Men with measuring tapes scurried from the playing area as the ball dropped into the unoccupied real estate; danger averted.

Yet, not ended. The Hoops rolled forward again; there were plenty of red and black shirts in close attendance. The ball arrived from Des Byrne's wing, the full back got a toe on it- only to divert the white orb into the path of the goalbound Purcell. Murphy again showed why he will be a serious contender for Player of the Season. You have just read the kiss of death.

It was disconcerting to see the energy drain from the Gypsys upon the occasion of any deadball situation awarded in their favour. They crawled with none of their might towards the ball on such occasions; then sprang to life whenever danger presented itself. Connor must have noticed this, because he finally introduced a substitute. Joxer was withdrawn in favour of the effective interventions of Thomas Heary.

There was to be one last push from the never say pass away Hoops; Purcell again tested Murphy, who at this stage definitely had enough points for his chosen course. Somehow the ball reappeared and headed for what Americans call the endline. The promised four minutes of added time had elapsed as the visitors prepared to take a corner. Barry Murphy wiped the blood from his nose as he cantered into the opposition box. Opposing players exchanged greetings and admired the quality of the stitching on each other's shirts. Suddenly it was incoming.

All eyes were on the ball. Heading in the direction of a hooped jersey? No. A striped jersey? No. Barry Murphy's jersey! The 'keeper rose - had his moment of glory arrived before he ever got to appear on Big Brother? Were we to 'enjoy' extra time in the most ironic of manners? It was 'keeper v 'keeper. Murphy v Murphy, yet the legal profession were as powerless as the rest of us. It became apparent that the trajectory of the ball was going to take it over the bar, and so it was.

Damien put his card away and blew long and hard on his yellow whistle. The Jodi stand erupted for the umpteenth time. Did SC grin a wry grin?

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