Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bohs v Cork City - A Neutral's Perspective

Act I- The Beginning

Were Steve Staunton still flailing about it in his former role as Republic of Ireland manager he could have taken a masterclass in the art of football management from Damian Richardson at Dalymount Park last night. While many football bosses hold to the mantra that once the players cross the white lime the game is out of your hands, there is a lot that can and should be done before that happens.

The streets of Phibsborough in downtown Dublin 7 thronged with angry looking German Shepherds and gaily clad Gardai; it was almost as if Shamrock Rovers were to be tonight's visitors. Poles, Lithuanians, Chinese and Corkies and poles populated the footpaths. Within the condemned stadium there was an air of anticipation; a press area thronged with flickering laptops and men with large earmuffs loaned an air of gravitas to the proceedings.

And impressive proceedings they were as the Big Club put on her finest clothes for the occasion. A packed stand allowed one to imagine what it could be like every week if only...It seems but a matter of time before each player is introduced individually to the crowd at a live game. Player T's name will be called ( X always seems to get this gig, but I'm trying to improve the image of T) to his individual musical intro. He may just jog on and wave; the more talented ones will somersault into the arena in the fashion of pompous boxing champions; there will be a scantily clad nubile on either side. End of fantasy.

The choreography bestowed by television on our live games, means the combatants must line up abreast of one another for a close up camera shot prior to the tossing and handshaking. An unfortunate oversight last night meant that the camera cable was too short to get close in. Bohs fans could not know it then, but it was to be a dire portent. The cohesion with which the red and black entered the arena was as good as it got for the home fans, their performance lacked in all departments thereafter.

In the game's first significant clash Liam Kearney faced up to his former Shels teammate Owen Heary. Ryan McCann was in close attendance; this double-up suggested that theirs was a predetermined dovetailing of duties on the right hand side for the hosts. Heary waited patiently as the magpied winger danced around the ball; then with all the wisdom and knowledge of a defender who's seen it all before, he ended the scene. Throw in to the visitors and the optimism of the home fans is uncontained.

But the Corkies weren't having it; undeterred they put it up to Bohs. Brian Murphy flapped uncharacteristically under a high ball. Denis Behan was wasteful. The first kick out of the contest painted a depressing picture. I decry these long kick outs, twenty players compressed into a fraction of the grass on one side of the pitch; it invokes memories of under 10's pursuing a terrified ball en masse into a corner of the pitch. Not alone that, but it turns clean possession into a lottery.

When Kevin Hunt made a poor choice of pass Cork were quick to capitalise. John O'Flynn had no time to think about injury as he burst towards goal - his effort was somewhat premature, and wide. The game had not yet settled. Heary hoofed a hopeful ball crossfield- it dropped from the airspace surrounding the figure of Cork's centre-half Brian O'Callaghan - he didn't deal well with the dropping ball and it landed in the vicinity of Harpal Singh. The former Leeds United player struck a shot that embarrassed this former Leeds United fan.

There must have been huge disappointment amongst the die-hard Gypsys when they learned of Gareth Farrelly's absence. A week of songwriting and banner building lay wasted, on the positive side it would weaken City's effort. It was not to be though. Farrelly's absence forced el Rico into a double change. Leon McSweeney was shifted from his striking role out to the right hand side of the visitor's midfield quartet; John O'Flynn cancelled any injury plans he was cultivating to partner Denis Behan up front.

It was McSweeney who dominated the opening stages of this game. His slaloming runs created havoc in the home guard - pace and skill combined in a package which harked back to the monochrome wingers beloved of old men in caps. For twenty four minutes Conor Powell chased dust as the Road Runner zipped past at his leisure. Wily Connor decided that Powell had had enough. The usually reliable - and pacy - defender was said to be suffering with stomach cramps; there were certainly skidmarks around the area in which he and McSweeney were operating. With Des Byrne again serving a ban it was left to SC to introduce an Acme Inc. left-full. Dean Richardson hadn't even time to introduce himself to the game when he heard 'Meep, Meep' as the ball was flicked beyond him in the left full position. Mc Sweeney exploited the momentary uncertainty to hit the byline. A driven cross scudded across the face of Murphy's goal - low and dangerous - Kearney aligned his left foot to divert the missile into the net. The less benign of the supporters in red and black hailed the inspired substitution.

The Gypsy's reply was swift; Billy Woods got himself into trouble in City's left full position. Darren Mansaram was lurking and pounced to rob the experienced midfielder-cum-defender. With eyes only for goal he bore down on Mick Devine. The ball was driven low to the 'keeper's right; Devine reacted quickly to get a strong hand to the ball and the danger was cleared. Cillian Lordan was introduced in place of Brian O'Callaghan and took his place alongside the monolith that is Dan Murray. The half hour mark was upon us.

Finally the home side put together a move of substance; the criminally underused Singh was picked out in good space on the left hand side. His accurate cross reached the forehead of Mansaram who headed downwards, just as Devine had anticipated. That sequence heralded the half time whistle, and some time for reflection.

Then the damn dancing girls came on and it was hard to concentrate. The posse of lithe damselettes callously eased away the frets and consternation of the home crowd, contorting and bouncing seductively like a Darren Mansaram poledance. At the other end of the field it was reported that Anthony Buttimer had to be physically restrained from entering the ground. A pair of girls' teams were squaring up to each other; one clad in green and yellow, the other in a fashionable silver. But it was the keepers' jerseys that were the problem. Both were appearing in grey, a clear clash of colours. The game went ahead nonetheless.

What was to happen in the second period? Bohs looked rudderless. Turner was not imposing himself on the game, Crowe and Hunt were anonymous. McSweeney and Behan were terrorising the back-four. O'Flynn looked dangerous, and Kearney's insistence on hanging out wide was a constant worry. The body language was all wrong from the early stages. Shoulders were shrugged, fingers pointed and arms held up in disbelief throughout the opening forty-five minutes. SC had 15 minutes to put it all right.

Conversely, the visitors were cohesive in everything they attempted. Operating as a unit, they excelled in their simplicity. Underpinned by the Dan Murray who's lack of conversation with the ball nullified any threats. Each intervention consisted solely of a fullstop; the ball arrived and was hastily despatched by a defender who had clearly been instructed that there was to be no nonsense. His defensive duties were utmost and the upfield sorties were never required.

Act II - The Second Half

Out came the main players, no changes to the cast - Bohs, predictably, were quick off the blocks.
Turner hit a tame effort; Richardson ballooned an attempted cross. Harpal Singh opened up his shop; Neal Horgan was the first customer, he bought a dummy. Clearly displeased with his purchase, he hauled the winger down and was given a yellow credit note for his troubles. With about an hour of the allotted time elapsed turner had an effort blocked as the hosts attempted to impose themselves upon the tie. Lordan and Mansaram tangled in the penalty area - Damien Hancock decided it was a no penalty area.

Yet there was still no cohesion or understanding about the Bohs' performance. Turner and Hunt, the players who would be expected to propel the side displayed no understanding. The former made gallant efforts to influence the game but his effort waned as the game wore on. Mike McGinlay replaced Ryan McCann on the right; the midfielder had such an anonymous game it was probably only the fact that he jogged by the bench that he was noticed by the coaching staff. Mc Ginlay did well to cross from his perch on the right; Glen Crowe rose to meet the ball and sent it into orbit. At no time were the home side freed from the threat of a second goal, despite their half efforts. Although McSweeney was raiding with less frequency both he and Behan were persistent thorns to Bohs' dreams of progression.

The visitors took the blows, soft as they were before retaliating. Heary was slow to absent himself from the former Ipswich Town striker's flightpath and received a yellow card for his cuteness. Behan stung Murphy's ribcage from the resultant free. Soon after O'Flynn broke in the inside right position; his rushed effort was well wide of the target. The home support won a soft free kick which Singh stood over; he threatened Devine's goal, the big 'keeper was scrambling as the ball sailed perilously close to the angle of post and bar.

The home support were growing increasingly critical. Behan got a sight of goal again; Murphy was equal to his attempt. Singh's flick freed Crowe whose cross was unremarkable. We were into the last twenty minutes now and there was still no suggestion that Sean Connor's side could create anything worthy of a goal.

In football's gallery the 77th minute carries little weight; but on Friday 26th October the little minute chose to announce itself in the most significant of fashions. Mc Sweeney was meandering across the field; eventually a dark-shirted opponent decided to end his progress. The winger managed to release the ball before he was impeded. It rolled out left to the boyish figure of Liam Kearney. Kearney assumed his full height as he addressed the ball, pushing it ahead of him before driving it clinically and low to the far corner of the net. 2-0. Soon after the two-goal hero picked Behan out but the big striker's header was limp; the same pair combined again, this time Behan shot weakly into the waiting arms of Murphy.

The introduction of Neale Fenn wasn't exactly hailed by the Bohs faithful; that almost changed when he sneaked in at the far post too get on the end of Turner's corner. Devine blocked to concede a second, but fruitless, corner. With the game in their back pocket and their opposition wilting there was little to inspire in the closing moments. The view of those moments was obscured by paying punters voting with their feet. Meanwhile at the School end, Rebel's confused; these were not Rebels at all, but supporters. They urged the object of their obsession on for 90 minutes, they cheered the dancing girls, they sang and chanted incessantly and deserved to enjoy every moment of their long trek.

Not half a million miles from where I was seated I could overhear a live radio commentary; Joe Gamble was on the ball during his live piece. The game was in its closing moments as the learned one told his listeners that 'we had not seen much of Gamble tonight'. McSweeney's performance was eyecatching and substantial, Kearney's goals were crucial; Murray's unfussy defending inspired confidence in those around him. Gambles work was the matchwinner. Tirelessly he protected his back four, like some kind of Rebel Superman he was everywhere that there was danger - but made it his business to be there first.

Maybe the TV pundits highlighted his efforts, I didn't see the coverage, but I have rarely witnessed such a complete display of the midfield arts from a footballer at any level. His understanding of his worth to the team, and the attributes of those around him; his application of that knowledge, his selfless and tireless running were a textbook lesson to all aspiring footballers. At the other end of the spectrum lies glen Crowe; I have seen a lot of this striker over the last two seasons and cannot recall seeing him play a good game in that period. Crowe is a shadow of the player who struck fear into defenders during his first spell with the Gypsys and appears to lack the necessary hunger and motivation required to excel at the highest level.

With no silverware in the Dalymount trophy cabinet this year, the patience of the frustrated masses is wearing thin in Dublin 7. Damien Richardson can take heart from the display given by his players. Each one seemed keenly aware of what was required, they played and fought for each other and were focussed on the task at hand. None can dispute their place in this season's FAI Ford Cup decider, a second appearance in three years. It contrasted starkly to the home side's disjointed approach, vaguely reminiscent of recent Irish performances.

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