Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Send In The Clones

Unaffiliated, unattatched and unaligned. No, I am not looking for a date, just a pleasurable interlude of sorts. For I have endured many unfulfilling appointments this year and have finally begun to wonder why.

It has been a season of false dawns and false starts in the Premier Division; no more clearly illustrated than in the fall from grace of the title challengers in the last couple of months. Early in the season Drogheda United were deprived of the combined and significant gifts of Shane Barrett, Declan O'Brien and the recently returned Jason Gavin. United's bulging squad aside, spectators and the league were to be denied the pleasure of watching such classy operators in action.

John McDonnell's Saints took full advantage of the Louthmen's ongoing injury woes to compile a considerable advantage at the top of the table. Shamrock Rovers surprised all, and continue to surprise many. Cork City were hamstrung by the Case of the FIFA Two; Derry City were Nutsied to within an inch of their season.

Once Bohs had called a halt to the Saints flying start everything changed. Johnny Macs' new signings had bedded in beautifully to his 3-5-2 system. Sean Connor's side played in their faces at Richmond Park and proved to others that Pats could be stopped. The second half of that game told a story.

McDonnell reverted to 4-4-2 in the second half; the game finished scoreless. Rather than inflict his side's previously successful formation on Bohs, the Pats boss cultivated seeds of doubt by changing it midway through its first serious test. Yes, he used the system subsequently, but it raised questions about the tactical nous of eL managers.

They are a group still in the infancy of modern management; licenses and badges are relatively recent adornments for eL bosses. Therein, I believe, lies the reason for the underlying sameness that pervades.

Managerial experience is for the most part lacking; Rico has been around for a while, Pete Mahon has come up from what is often described as the games grassroots - it appears to follow then that he is 'steeped' in football. John Robertson and Paul Cook are relative newcomers to our stadia; early signs are not discouraging.

Remember that the bulk of our managerial stock are attending caching courses together, learning the same stuff at the same time; save for Sean Connor of course who achieved his A License before his brethren - maybe he does know it all. Consequently they will be putting the same ideas into practise, the same counteractions to the various situations that present themselves in a game. As a result we the spectators are rarely presented with any innovative or incisive thinking.

Coupled with the emerging professionalism that enables bosses to spend more time with their charges on the training astroturf, we are seeing more sides strive for good organisation and defensive strength as a basis for relative success. The early season flair of Pats was a welcome relief from these mundanities but that has long since joined the greenhouse gases.

Only a fool would deny the importance of organisation and sound defence; no I am not quoting Paul Osam. They are bedrocks of most successful sides; each side has a point at kick off, if you don't concede you still have that point. One from each game will usually keep you up, or very close to it. Certainly not a magnetic maxim when it comes to drawing punters through the time warp that is a turnstile.

So when all the bosses have attained their A licenses, what then for football in our land? The FAI Groundhog Day Premier Division? Definitely not. Eventually. The passing of time will render this previously new knowledge to the bowels of a good manager's mind. It should be assimilated, digested and processed. It will become the raw material of management. Give two artists the same lump of clay - and I'm not deriding any centre halves here - and both will produce very different pieces.

In these words; the good manager when experienced enough will develop the confidence to move from the License blueprint to put his own slant on the lessons learned. The brightest prospect we have produced so far is Pat Scully; young and new to the job he has already added his own seasoning to the mix and coaxed superhuman efforts from his side. A part-time set-up with predominantly young players, he has already moulded them into a successful team. As they say in all the corny Hollywood movies 'there's no I in team' - Rovers are a hardworking and honest unit who defend from front to back with equal application. Definitely a testament to their manager's ability, Scully remains a prospect for another season or two - then cometh Judgement Day.

He has created a side that is greater than the sum of its parts; what is disappointing in the overview is that such a side can challenge so strongly in our league for the top prize. The struggle to attain UEFA Club Licenses, the ongoing ground improvements which see capacity temporarily limited and the recent exodus of some of our finest talents; the sameness of our managerial pool is a passing symptom, I hope, of our incremental forward movement in the professional game.

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