Monday, March 10, 2008

Too Many Indians

What an interesting opening weekend it was. We saw the eircom League in all its three tiers of glory. On the bottom shelf we had a Cobh Ramblers side beginning their Premier Division program without last season's top scorer Davin O'Neill. Injured? No. Suspended? No. Unavailable due to work commitments? No. On holiday? Yes. No? Reportedly.

This is not a criticism of the individual concerned; rather an observation of the situation. It presents a throwback to a time soon to be past if all goes well for domestic football. 'Almost amateur' players will be a distant memory in the elite league.

On the second shelf we have the likes of Shamrock Rovers - progressive, forward thinking, but not fully professional, yet. Conveniently, for purposes of comparison, they were pitched against the side currently sitting at the summit of the highest shelf and it made for fascinating viewing.

Pat Scully has a decent squad; Paul Doolin has two. Every manager's dream may well become Doolin's nightmare as he grapples with the perverse problem of finding his best team. The Drogheda supremo's failure to succeed on this count undermined his club's kick-off last Saturday. Those of you who watched the uplifting first broadcast of MNS this week will have heard Tony O'Donoghue steal some of my thunder.

It relates to Stuey Byrne - who began the game as a bench warmer. It was evident even in the early stages that Shane Robinson should be pushed out wide and Byrne brought into the centre of midfield, where Drogs were ineffective. It took the United boss over an hour to bring Byrne on, at the expense of Paul Keegan. It should have been Richie Baker called ashore - although Ollie Cahill was equally ineffective on the left, but taking Baker off would mean two changes to an area crying out for it, while using just one sub. An increase in the hosts hold on the central area would allow Robinson greater license to attack against a full back who looked the least comfortable of Rovers' players on the day.

Doolin's tactical acumen is further brought into question by his opening substitution. With about 66 minutes played, he introduced all seventy-eight inches of Ibrahima Thiam Iyane to the game - a resonating statement of his lack of belief in his own players. The debutant was introduced for the player who up until that moment had looked Drogheda's most influential - Guy Bates.

The staff at United Park have gone to lengths in order to convince allcomers that Ibrahima offers more than the sum of his inches - his colleagues don't seem to buy into that particular spin - its too early yet for others to judge. Suffice to say it was not an impressive bow from the striker who is in trouble if aerial ability is his greatest asset. It is inevitable that once a beanpole has been introduced high balls are lofted lazily into his airspace ad nauseum. If any innocent had stumbled across the final thirty minutes or so of this game they would have struggled to believe that Drogheda United are the reigning champions. Offered only one serious attack strategy, they drowned in their lack of imagination and fully deserved to come off the field as losers.

Adam Hughes is a player whose style I admire, his first competitive outing was a forgettable one - the late looped header being his only significant intervention.

So, it's possibly a case of upwards and onwards for what will be a settled Shamrock Rovers eleven. Meanwhile Paul Doolin will have to scan his collection of suntanned pros in order to decipher his best eleven - a new kind of problem for the managers of our top shelf teams.

Finally, let's start a conversation - one where referees and the appropriate club officials make a midweek decision on who wears what. It can't be any simpler. The referee's indecision is final in these cases, so the safest call is to get the official to decide during the week. Leaving it until the vagaries of the last minute on a Friday is akin to a centre-half standing with his arm in the air waiting for an offside call to be interpreted in his favour. It cannot be left to chance and proactive action will head off any potential problems.

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