Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Broken Hoops

These are not the words of a bandwagon jumper; Shamrock Rovers suffer a few adverse results and in I wade to heap scorn upon the work of Pat Scully and his players. Rather it is thinking, aloud.

Last season Pat Scully's men enlivened the Premier Division upon their regal return to the top flight. A young side - primarily homegrown - emboldened by their manager, confident in their own ability, fearless. At the head of that squad there stood a firm disciplinarian - a man who appeared to ask no more of his players than he himself was prepared to sacrifice.

The young squad at Scully's disposal responded favourably to his promptings - any dissent was swiftly dealt with, justice was meted out in a rapid - victims might say rabid - and decisive fashion.

Following the club's promotion it was obvious that the squad would need strengthening - Andy Myler, Ger Rowe, Danny O'Connor, Derek Pender and Barry Ferguson were followed by David Tyrrell and John Martin to Tolka Park. Ferguson's arrival proved timely given the prolonged absence through injury of Aidan Price. The chaff was cast aside by a steely Scully as he sought to push his club into the limelight. Their performances for much of the 2007 campaign suggested the newbie boss was pushing in the right direction. Understandably, Rovers' performance levels dipped somewhat as the season unwound, it was to be expected.

As would any manager worth his seasoning, PS set about further remodelling work with the 2008 campaign in mind. In came even more experience - Darragh Maguire, Stephen Rice, Pat Flynn, Alan Murphy and Sean O'Connor parked their cars in Drumcondra. The cognoscenti spoke of the Hoops as possessing the best squad outside of the professional set-ups in the country. They were benefiting from professionalism in a parasitic fashion. Any player who was unable or unwilling to commit to a professional regime could sign for Rovers. Roll on 2008 and the impending improvement on 2007's 5th placed finish.

The opening weekend victory over Drogheda United seemed to fortify those beliefs. The Drogs ensuing form has put that into a clearer perspective. The following weekend saw them hold a hotly-tipped, but incoherent, Cork City at Tolka Park. Bray Wanderers were down and out when they were seen off - Galway United rolled over at Terryland. Then came the Dublin Derby. In derby terms, Rovers were meek; the goal they conceded was so uncharacteristic of what we had come to expect from a Pat Scully eleven. Then it was the Hoops' turn to roll over - this time they had no answer for the industry of Cobh Ramblers. That result was followed up with a lucky draw at home top UCD.

The basic tenets of Scully's stewardship were no longer in place. The indefatigable work ethic - the consistency of an unremitting work ethic allied to a tight defence - was nowhere to be seen. Even during their worst efforts of 2007 the side tried at all times to adhere to the blueprint. So what has changed?

Most obviously, the clientele. In my opinion the boss was hasty in his decision to scrap his youth policy. Ger O'Brien, Tadhg Purcell and Eric McGill are the last remaining connections with the young guns of 2006 and 2007. Netminder Barry Murphy also remains. Young players are willing listeners. Their lack of experience can be exploited if a coach can catch their collective ear.
Pat Scully achieved this very quickly when he arrived at Tolka Park. The instant success of his implemented strategies proved to the innocents that there was method in his tactics. It was clear to anyone watching Rovers at this time that those players would stand before a tank if Scully demanded it.

The rampant re-seeding of the squad has stripped it of such naivete. In have come seasoned campaigners; men with opinions and questions. Ideas of their own as to how they can best contribute in a crunch moment. Shamrock Rovers have morphed into just another League of Ireland squad, replete with well-travelled squad members who have heard most of it before. They have sacrificed youth and unswerving loyalty for experience and shrugged shoulders.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Foot In Mouth Outbreak

Having heaped praise here on MNS recently, I find myself deeply angered at the rubbish that Rowdy Roddy Collins spewed out during last Monday's program. Something I had suggested that MNS lacked was a good debate and Collins' comments certainly provided the perfect topic. The fact that not one other individual present in the studio challenged his words, reflects badly upon them.

Of course Roddy is no stranger to controversy, and there exists the possibility that he may have been deliberately trying to stir matters up. Upon reflection though, his argument did not differ hugely from Damo's - it was the manner in which it was presented that irked.

A brief mention of Gio's first Irish squad selection prompted a question as to why no home-based players could make a squad of 40. It seems a fair question when one considers that the dragnet trailed as deeply as the lower reaches of the Championship in England; although I don't follow English football and cannot reflect on the ability or lack thereof of those selected.

I think most fans of the domestic league will accept that our best players can play Championship football. The issue here doesn't revolve around why our league was not represented; rather, how it was represented by Mr. Collins.

El Rico was first to speak - 'There's too much bad defending. Too many goals missed up front from opportunities presented. To go to the next level we need to eradicate bad defences.' When asked how this could be achieved, he cited the superior concentration levels of those participating at the highest level.

I find little to argue with in that. Former Pats player Colm Foley splashed about a little, ultimately saying that there were one or two players up to scratch, but failing to name either.

Roddy flagged Colin Healy as the only reasonable candidate from LOI football. Arguable, but OK. He then pointed out that if players displayed the kind of qualities of which Damo had spoken, well then they wouldn't be playing LOI football for long. OK. 'Until we have better competition, high tempo games, we're not going to produce players who can play international football'. Again, OK. Damo had mentioned that our situation would improve in this regard when the top tier would be reduced to ten teams; in theory, improving the overall standard of teams in that division. That too is a fair point.

It may not be Roddy's appointed crusade to champion all things League of Ireland, and we certainly need dissenting voices. But the plasterer's rant may well have been delivered from any barstool occupied by a Super Sunday arse, anywhere in Ireland. We all know and acknowledge that things around our league need to improve. Stadia, organisation, administration, playing surfaces. Irish football has begun a journey; having started from a lowly position, we are improving.

'We get the players that didn't make it in England, or the ones that didn't get a chance to go away - that's what we're feeding off.' What a fine tag line for an ad to attract fans to eL football - the divine words of Rowdy Roddy collins. A man who moments earlier had described Glenn Crowe as '..fantastic. Give him 40 strikes, he'll hit the target 39 times.' He did not neglect to mention that it was he who 'took him back from England.'

He did neglect to mention that he has been hawking his moneymen around the League of Ireland in order to take over the club most likely. How has he convinced anyone that such an investment is worthy considering his lowly opinion of our domestic game? Maybe his thoughtless comments have put an end to any such possibilities on this island.

By all means criticise, in a constructive manner. We are not precious about our league - any supporter of Irish football knows its limitations better than our stay-away critics. Damo spoke of the next step; here was a positive spin on our current level. Implied therein is an acknowledgement of the progress made thus far. In the words of the Feel & Fall party - A lot done, lots more to do - or something like that.

A link to the MNS programme here. Roddy's comments are contained in the Goal of the Month clip from the MNS 14th April show.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Get Out Of Purgatory Free Card

Now that TV3 no longer hold a monopoly on eircom League highlights I have left purgatory far behind me. Not that I ever devoted Monday nights to hanging around until midnight or thereabouts in order to have Trevor Welch wind me up and deprive me of a sound night's recharging.

No, I indulged myself in the filthy temptations of a Sky+ box; perversely Sky - the arch enemies of all things eL - made it easier for me to get my weekly highlights fix. It seems like I've stepped unknowingly into the tardis and emerged from some distant time into the late 20th century. MNS is My New Sex - it has restored my belief in television, reinforced my decision to buy that absolutely necessary plasma screen with matching stand.

Deprived of Top Gear, there was little left on screen to engage me - the odd decent documentary; Shameless has its moments; Jools Holland's late night show; now I think I'm falling in love with Con Murphy. Did anyone notice his tan last week, or is it just me?

It's by no means polished and perfect - the show, not Con's tan - but would we want it to be? The efforts to bring on a diversity of guests will always lend itself in the early days to edgy and incoherent performances from panellists unused to full-on TV exposure. In comparison say to the 3 wise men - Dunphy, Giles and Brady - there is a way to go. That particular trio are totally comfortable with what is going on around them, a condition induced by familiarity. Their relaxation allows them to concentrate on the conversation allowing for lively intercourse and debate.

If one is to take Emmet Malone's appearance on MNS as an example of the opposite - Malone is widely respected and highly regarded amongst the eL community, but he contributed very little to proceedings on the program and it seemed as if an opportunity had been lost. Hopefully he will be back and better.

The show is crying out for a good argument, someone to challenge eL Rico or Rowdy Roddy Collins - that duo are never short of an opinion and are consummately comfortable before the cameras. Chillingly so in the case of the latter, who sat legs akimbo right in the centre of my sitting room all through the show a couple of weeks ago. The full frontal of Roddy's least effective tackle reminded me of a gruesome story I had heard about a certain unnamed ex-footballer who arrived into the dressing room one evening cheerily informing his mates of a certain acquired condition which might make choice of shorts an issue for his teammates. Obviously, his TV confidence suggests that the condition has cleared up.

Raiders of the Lost Archive has limited potential, 60 can be cringeworthy stuff, but appealing to younger fans I suspect. The luxury of a camera and post match interviews at every ground is the stuff of fantasy for long suffering fans. Re-runs of the same clip over and over from the same angle offer no fresh insight to an incident, yet we were forced to endure the like in TV3 purgatory. The blindingly obvious interventions of Paul Osam would terrify inmates of Guantanomo Bay.

While MNS is not perfect it is certainly progress. Highlight packages have the power to make the mundane look exciting, a bit of background music and a visual effect can make it look sexy. This is what our league needs, not live coverage. Already I have detected in my workplace an increased awareness of our domestic league; the show has aroused some people's curiosities. Possibly enough to encourage one or two to attend a game.

The powerful and invasive tool that is TV is being used to good effect for the eLOI. MNS presents easy access to lazy would-be punters - we just need a few to catch the virus - the sneezes will do the rest. Another tiny step on a mighty journey for domestic football in the 21st century.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

To Have Done Some Service

Bertie Ahern, Ian Paisley, Tony Cousins. All fallers in the 2008 Grand National. All plying their respective trades at the top of their field in our native land when the inquisitors arrived. I'll take any flak that's coming over the odd-one out.

The culling of Damian Richardson served notice to managers of what we still quaintly refer to as 'full-time set-ups'. The phrase reminds us that as a league we are young - maturing but not yet mature. As is the case with nature we all mature at different rates. As is the case with rugby players some induce their development by unnatural means; building a heavy framework on weak foundations. Some have learned lessons from others. Shelbourne retain the monopoly on financial collapse.

There are those who prefer to take the incremental albeit more circuitous route. When Arkaga Investments moved into Cork City they displayed no emotion - in came the FAI Cup, out went Damo. When the board at Galway United decided that they were ready to push their currach onto the stormy waters of professionalism they cast an eye eastward. Not exactly replete with reserves, they opted for a cut-price appointment - Tony Cousins had no previous management experience, but was shadowing the achievements of Paul Doolin at Drogheda United. That Cousins applied for the Galway job was a mark of his ambition; that in itself may have appealed to the Board.

There was a sense in the early days of his tenure that the former striker was learning his trade as he went along. It's one thing to have the badges; another to have the ability to apply what you have learned to the situation that you are in. Most of us who follow the game could waffle our way through a post-match interview, that's without the badge. Week following week the Galway boss appeared before the cameras with unconvincing explanations preceding lines of the 'have to do better' genre.

And it went on. And on. And nothing changed. The lame protestations about premature displacement belied the knowledge within. TC knew he hadn't done enough; knew his number was up - he still has the gig on the taxi ads anyway. The rumblings around the squad's fitness levels can't have done much to endear him to his board. There is no disputing the fact that the Board themselves erred. Whatever faith remained following their first season in the Premier Division, the reserves ebbed rapidly away with each one of those dropped 11 points in the opening four weeks of the campaign. As a result the new man comes into a squad not of his choosing and must knock seven shades out of them until the summer transfer window.

In no particular order - Bohs, Pats, Cork and Drogs. Most people's Top 4. Derry City are on the fringes, along with the Hoops. That's 6. Then there's Sligo Rovers who can give anyone a game on their day. So that's the top 7 sorted, arguably. Galway United finished 8th last season. It certainly is going to be the most competitive league in years, and whoever takes over the vacant position at Galway United has a tough task ahead of him.

Entering the fray bestowed with the knowledge that he has to create something better than that which Scully has carved out at Shamrock Rovers - not officially a professional set-up - must be his first target. They are the benchmark for any fledgling pro club, a testament to their new-found organisation and staunch support. Somehow it seems like the perfect gig for Sean Connor. Attracting players to our western seaboard is a difficult ask; he lured the likes of Darren Mansaram, Liam Burns, Harpal Singh and Faz Kudozovic to the outcrop that is Sligo town -
OK, I've never been there.

Granted they have not all been outstanding succeses - but they are all possessed of a quality which illuminates the summer turf on a wet and windy summer's night, be that in Galway or otherwise. Oh, and Steve Bruce might visit.

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