Thursday, May 29, 2008


Why do we need analysts? Is it because they know more about football than the rest of us? Maybe it's for the dimmer members of the viewing public, those people who need to be taken to the puddle to have their nose rubbed in it before they realise that there is a puddle there. Of course, for the purposes of a live game, two pairs of eyes sre better than one - and the fact that we don't have a dozen or so cameras at our games means that we can do with eagle-eyed observers.

It is one of the greatest differences between the live experience and the live TV experience - the ability to cast an eye from one end of the pitch to the other, unrestrained by the squawks of an anxious director. If it's good enough for eL Rico to look at his defence when his side are attacking, well then I deem it to be good enough for me.

The aforementioned cameras where wheeled out for our viewing pleasure in the leafy suburb of Inchicore this week. Felix and Large David bored us with their prematch patter as we waited for battle to commence. Yet another mascot! We have more of them than CPO's now. Like abundant nephews & nieces, it's difficult to remember the names.

The game disappointed, as crucial title clashes often do. More so in the first half, when the sides cancelled each other out. The second half spectacle was a major improvement for neutrals and Bohs fans; on-pitch action allowed us to concentrate on the field of play rather than on the inane comments picked up by pitchside mikes.

Defeat would not be inconsequential for the home side; nor would it extinguish their title challenge. They seemed somehow subdued throughout this game - a brief period, post-goal apart. John McDonnell's side have already acquitted themselves better than they did last term. A horrendous injury list was absorbed with the ease of a snake swallowing a bishop's ring. I'm not sure where that came from.

The win in Sligo signalled the intensity of their title challenge; the defeat by Bohs signalled the extent of their limitations. In the gusset heat of such games it has become cliched to cite the moment of individual brilliance/individual mistake scenario. In their two meetings with the Gypsys this season, the Saints have produced the crucial moments. Keith Fahey's wundergoal will linger long in the memory - a moment of rare skill exquisitely executed. Of such wondrous ingredients is the beautiful game formed.

Players being stretchered off, tackles over the ball - these have no place in the beautiful game. Centre-halves standing with an arm raised, head turned towards a referee's assistant - this too. Damien Lynch epitomises the good pro. Reliable and consistent without ever taking centre-stage, he has found himself in the limelight thrice on TV this season. His winner against Shamrock Rovers; his first-half opportunity against Bohs and his armraiser later in the same game.

Johnny McDonnell must be commended for not throwing Lynch to the lions in his post-match interviews; it indicates his increasing professionalism before the microphone - I was unable to see his post-goal reaction from the sofa. There were three crucial points at stake on Tuesday night - never mind that 'it's not important to be on top in May' guff. Every point is important in a title race. To win in your nearest rivals' backyard is a satisfying humiliation of your opponents. To lose to a self-inflicted wound is equally humiliating.

Be aware of the amount of training a professional player puts in; be aware of the preparation the coaching staff put into preparing players for their individual contests, for the collective requirements of the team. When, at any level in football has a player practised raising their arm in the air? It has no place in football. As a tactic, it transfers responsibility from players unto officials. Officials are not part of either team; they have not trained and rehearsed with the competitors - why then should a player believe that an official is going to do his job for him?

Lynch was close enough to Glen Crowe when the ball arrived within their compass - rather than play football - the task for which he has been contracted - the defender chose to raise his arm while turning to the referee's assistant in anticipation of a favourable judgement. This is the stuff of lottery. Meanwhile, nearby, another gambler was taking his chances. Wily warrior Crowe was in transit . No longer renowned for his pace, artistry or silken touch, it wasn't going to matter this time. Bohs' all-time topscorer had been afforded the freedom of a fart on a crowded Dart. Unfettered, unchallenged, he had all the time and space required, plus a little extra, to deliver his killer pass.

Stephen Brennan may well have played Crowe onside - he made an effort to redeem himself by heading towards his own box in an effort to snuff out the threat. Meanwhile Damien Lynch had finally realised that his side were in trouble. Alas, he was no longer in a position to affect the outcome. Nonetheless, professional pride dictated that he be seen to make an attempt to be in the vicinity of the goal when the inevitable happened. His eventual arrival had all the punctuality of an Irish bride's.

On such minute fulcrums pivot the differences betwixt leading a title race and chasing a title. Pats may well have to face a fine following the introduction of Joseph Ndo. He sparkled all too briefly, like an illegal red flare, before going up in smoke. Gary Fitzpatrick was rapidly snaffled up by the impressive pairing of Oman and Burns. Strangely, the former Drogheda striker replaced Mark Quigley when it seemed Quigley would provide a better foil. The Inchicoremen are light up top - outside of Quigley & O'Neill they possess few realistic alternatives.

Pat Fenlon has added belief to Bohs; his title-winning experience can be seen in the steel which runs through his side. Neale Fenn languished in anticipation of Nutsy's second coming - the wait has been worth it, for we are seeing the best of one of the eL's most influential footballers. Jason Byrne has been forced into a supporting role - he deserves an award for his incisive first-time pass which set Crowe on his way for the game's only goal. Critically, it was Fenn who set Byrne up.

We are set up nicely now for a tight title race; Pats & Bohs are evenly matched as of now, resources may be made available during the transfer window; both face European exhaustions. It may all boil down to managerial nous and nerve, hopefully not armraisers.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

33% Off

Any wouldbe scribe would be a foolish wouldbe scribe were he/she not to avail of the opportunity presented when a title race reaches a significant point in the race. not only is this now the case in the Premier Division, but likewise in it's poor relative, the First Division.

Much like our ailing health system - epitomised by the fine figure of health that presides over the labyrinthine service - the second tier of our domestic league has established a two-tier society. 6 points separate the top four sides - no surprise to see Shelbourne, Dundalk, Waterford United and the Sporting Fingal franchise occupy the private beds. After yet another turbo-boosted opening to a First Division title assault, Dundalk have just experienced the first lag of their campaign. Their three game winless run has - unfortunately for Lilywhites supporters - coincided with a golden run of wins for rivals Shelbourne. Dermot Keely strengthened his squad considerably during the winter and they have begun to gel nicely now. Anto Flood's 12 goal haul has been bolstered by David Freeman's six. Flood's flood of goals will surely be attracting the attention of barren Premier Division clubs; Shels are not exactly in a position to turn down a good offer.

Contrast that rich artery of striking form with John Gill's side - midfielders David Cassidy & Jamie Duffy have accumulated nine goals between them, while Dundalk have failed to find the net during their last two outings - Robbie Martin's return to fitness may be a help, but it's clear that the Orielmen need their strikers to come up with the goods. Waterford are still in the hunt but will need to improve their away points haul if they are to steer themselves into top spot. Alas, Gareth Cronin's efforts may yet be undone by the club's unravelling financial problems.

Liam Buckley's Wild Geese are another side settling into some form and remain unbeaten against the three sides above them. Those three draws will need to be converted into wins during the remaining two-thirds of the season if they are to figure in the final shake-up for promotion. The Morton Stadium men can only improve as they play together, so there remains some room for optimism for the North Dublin outfit.

Fifth placed Longford Town trail the newcomers by a further seven points. Their total of 14 points separates last season's FAI Cup runners-up from bottom dwellers Athlone Town. The midtable area seems to be floored with the kind of material used for bungee jumping. Sides string two, three, maybe even four good results together before slipping back into mediocrity.

No one has been cast adrift yet, and Athlone are showing signs of life following an injury-hit opening third. Wexford Youths are improving now that they have a full season under their braces - Monaghan United and Kildare Town flatter to deceive, then don't deceive at all. They shall continue to offer only rare threats to the title chaser. Things are still in flux down in limerick - next season's name change may provide the fanfare for significant improvement - Mike Kerley was given little time to attract the kind of talent he covets to Jackman Park.

And the Premier shall be last.... pre-season predictions lay scattered and torn following the opening eleven series of games. There is still time for errant disappointers to turn the tide, but it will be a tall order for the likes of Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and Drogheda United to establish a foothold in the title chase now.

As with Dundalk, the sight of St. Pats screeching away from the starting line to open up a sizeable gap is a not unfamiliar one. As with Dundalk, the sight of that run ending in a single vehicle collision is a not unfamiliar one. That said, the Saints have weathered the absence of an entire backline well. This signifies a resilience that wasn't so apparent in 2007. Joseph Ndo's campaign of non-intervention has been forgotten thanks to the powerful form of Keith Fahey. Ryan Guy continues to improve - Michael Keane might be deemed surplus to requirements. A topscorers table surprisingly replete with midfielders, yet devoid of a runaway hotshot is totemic of where the Saints might suffer further down the line. There is little pressure on Messrs. Quigley and O'Neill - Glen Fitzpatrick's talents don't extend to overdosing on goals.

Pat Fenlon has brought a solid look to Bohs in a very short space of time. He has nurtured Neale Fenn back into the kind of form which tormented and confused centre-halves during his best years at Cork City. Fenn's return to the centre stage is a welcome one for any follower of the league. Sean Connor had established a reluctance to concede goals - it was clear all that the problems lay up front for the Big Club. While I am far from being Glenn Crowe's biggest fan - he too has been temporarily revitalised by Nutsy's presence. Jason Byrne sat on the bench against Cork City when he might have been sitting on the bench at Wembley Stadium. We haven't seen a lot of him - although his touch to set up Rossiter's matchwinner against Cork was excellent. We are unlikely to witness floods of goals at Dalymount Park - Nutsy's nerve-wracking 'one will do' strategy appears to prevail.

Derry City currently repose in third spot - this was unexpected. With rumours circulating regarding Pat McCourt's future it seems the Candystripes may soon be without their most gifted player. City are the chief beneficiaries of the unexpected form of Cork City and to a lesser degree Drogheda United. The Drogs are experiencing the difficulties of retention. The recent draw with Pats was a blow to their plans - the defeat at Bray the previous week bore mitigating circumstances. With Guy Bates, Fabio and Shane Barrett still to reach top gear, surely things can only improve by the Boyne.

Less optimism pervades around Turner's Cross. Alan Matthews maiden season has been beset with disappointment thus far. His side have looked defensively unsound; this has undone the quick settling in of Dave Mooney up front. There seems to be a lack of cohesion and direction at times when the Leesiders take to the field. Dan Murray is not his usual self; his sloppy clearance followed by sloppy marking, allowed Jason Byrne the freedom of Phibsboro last Sunday; freedom that Byrne used to set up the winning strike. Pat Sullivan and Cillian Lordan are decent centre-halves at best; that best is not good enough for a title challenge. Matthews may need more time to come to grips with the quality at his disposal - that will be too long in terms of their title challenge for the newly professional manager.

The Rovers would both have been anticipating a season of top half residency; maybe a Cup final to keep the fans happy. Paul Cook continues to win admirers for his unfussy work at the Showgrounds. He has introduced some exotica to the Northwest outpost in the form of Mauro Almeida and Romauld Boco. Both have been instant hits and the Bit O'Red possess greater strength in depth this term. Holding on to Faz is the next challenge for Cook. Pat Scully made sweeping changes at Tolka Park - they have proven to be unwise. Gone is the youthful energy that wore teams down in 2007; gone is the unquestioning work ethic, as battleworn journeymen began to populate the vacancies. The lure of 2009 and a return to Tallaght will keep the fans happy for a while.

Bray Wanderers had a recent rush of blood which surprised many - Sligo brought them back to reality last time out. Eddie Gormley has finally managed to instil some self-belief into some talented players, but midtable safety looks like their highest hope this term. A similar outcome would suit UCD - worryingly for Pete Mahon that eternally 'difficult to win in' venue has become equally difficult for his side to win in. 8 points and one win is a poor return for the Students who need to convert ones into threes before long.

Jeff Kenna's revolution at Galway United means that bottom spot is again up for grabs - United again are struggling to win at home - in the short term any win will do for the Westerners. The new boss has steadied the ship, Cobh and Finn Harps - along with UCD- are hovering into their crosshairs. It's difficult to see anything other than a season of struggle for the division's newcomers. A long list of injuries undermined Harp's hopes of a good start - they are now working from a position of adversity and that brings added pressures. Both sides have woeful away records coupled with no more than adequate home hauls. Cobh are in danger of believing the weekly hard luck stories.

What's it all about? Points. What do points mean?

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

What Not To Wear

Last week it Sligo Rovers' shorts; midweek it was the U-23 international sides' hosiery. Our problems with clashing clothing make for frustrating reading; although not nearly as frustrating as being forced to wait for almost twenty five minutes while both camps argue over the wrongs and rights of who wears what.

Already, men are in danger of achieving homo erectus status in both the home and the workplace as we find ourselves continually submerged into a politically correct world which prevents us from behaving like ignorant schoolboys when we feel the need. One of the last bastions - fading fast - is the secure anonymity offered from within a crowd of football supporters.

There existed a time when my male work colleagues discussed ad nauseum the minutiae of whatever football had been broadcast on TV the previous evening. No football? Golf, even cricket FFS. I can handle tennis; the ladies game is well worth any red-blooded males' afternoon, regardless of the prevailing outdoor conditions.

Strangely, the more football that was available, the less people seemed to watch it - an unscientific observation I know. The creeping disease that is the soap opera began to take a grip; Coronation Street replaced ManUre; Eastenders stood in for West Ham. I must point out that we were still in the dull ages of eircom League presentation here and live eL games were non-existent. Constant ear bashings from me stood no chance against the commands of the Remote Control Queens.

In the meantime we have been - and are - trying to attract families to football. In truth, we won't turn anyone away - Cork City are exempted from this - but families usually contain females. A natural progression follows.

Fashion & celebrity bestride lowbrow television nowadays - the indolent masses absorb shiteloads of the stuff. This obsession has produced a spin-off; fashionistas make comfortable livings off the back of clueless dressers. You need to wear this sort of top, that length of shorts - stripes not hoops. You can't put this colour with that - it's a fashion no-no.

It has been alleged that referees have been receiving instructions from Trinny & Susannah - the high priestesses of 'What Not To Wear'. Be afraid, then be afraider - next they will be telling us what to wear when attending matches. The 'I'm wearing this because it hides the sauce and beer stains' school of fashion will be mercilessly washed away by a tsunami of taste and wardrobe essentials. You have been warned. Our match officials will be striding onto the pitch with all the bodysway and swagger they can muster. Seductively waving the matchballs around in synchronised movements - forget about mascots. Elegant poses will be struck by lineos as they hold their flags aloft. Referees will be demanding better twirls from those players whose shirt numbers they need to note.

Whether or not they will have time to hone their observational skills remains to be seen - or should that be unseen? Referees, like great artists, see the world through different eyes.

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Fulltime Draw

Shamrock Rovers - six games without a win - this after a start which produced wins at Drogheda and Galway, a draw in Cork and victory over Bray Wanderers. Derry City - four games without a League goal - this after a start which saw them take maximum points from Drogheda United and St. Pats, while securing a draw in Cork.

So where better to spend a balmy Friday evening than at Tolka Park watching two out of form sides attempt to reignite their flailing fortunes? That is a rhetorical question. There is still plenty of optimism around Shamrock Rovers - even if all is not living up to expectations on the field of play, there is good news off it. News that there will be a bevy of bum cleavage around the Tallaght Stadium from May 12th has clearly excited Hoops supporters; that energy was palpable as the newly inducted mascots shook hands with sundry and all as both sets of players went through their prematch routines.

There were several changes to Pat Scully's first eleven - some forced - others chosen. With hari-kari defender Pat Flynn ruled out through a self-inflicted suspension and Danny O'Connor failing a fitness test, it fell upon the relatively untried shoulders of Corey Treacy to defend Rovers' left flank. Tadhg Purcell was another absentee; Eoin Doyle stepped into his boots to partner Padraig Amond up front. Stephen Rice was moved onto the right hand side of midfield, with Darragh Maguire protecting the silken touch of Eric McGill in the centre. The erratic endeavours of Sean O'Connor were consigned to the bench as David Tyrell made his seasonal bow; taking up a position ahead of fellow debutant Treacy. Barry Ferguson was ushered in to partner the recuperating Aidan Price at centre half. Elsewhere Ger O'Brien and Barry Murphy filled their customary roles.

The visitors were recognisable, if not at full strength. Pat McCourt's absence is always a boon to the opposition; Owen Morrisson filled the wide left berth, with Niall McGinn wearing his L plates - I think they're called P plates in Sterlingland - on the opposite line. Connor Sammon was partnered by Mark Farren in the place they call up top. With Ciaran Martyn still ruled out, it was Ruairdhi Higgins who provided City's fulcrum alongside Barry Molloy. Eddie McCallion was taking up space on the bench; Gareth McGlynn was taking up his position on the grass. Delaney, Hutton, Gray and Doherty were in their established positions.

7.58pm - enter the gladiators - Scully gets a good reception from the loyals. The prematch niceties must be completed before Alan Kelly permits the game to get underway. Stephen Kenny's wingers are walking the chalk. McGinn tests Treacy with an early probe; the full-back seems about to fail his early examination, but recovers well to eliminate the threat. The opening forays consist of speculative efforts at either end as both sides enjoy a good feel. Amond's close range effort is driven low and hard, but Doherty has his angles covered and gets down well to block as the hosts win their second corner within a minute. They are showing plenty of energy and enterprise.

Doherty's punted free drifts above all but Barry Murphy and the optimistic run of Farren. The pacy striker is almost rewarded for his sunny demeanour, but just fails to connect with the dropping ball. There have been rumours circulating that the usually exemplary rovers 'keeper is being called Barry 'no thumbs' Murphy in uncertain circles. There was no uncertainty about his confident catch in the 20th minute, and it set the tone for a welcome return to form ahead of next week's U23 encounter with Northern Ireland.

Around the halfway mark it was Sammon who impressed as Aidan Price dithered over a harmless ball that should have been comfortably defended. Like a bus driver returning to the garage after his last run, he horsed the metres between himself and the defender to put price under intense pressure and win the Candystripes a free-kick. As the visitors sought to gain capital from their deadball award Barry Ferguson intervened to flatten Farren - referee Kelly allowed the advantage and Morrisson's subsequent shot provoked a fine save from Murphy.

It's worth noting that both sets of supporters agreed, as always, on just one thing. Speculation on the sexual proclivities of Alan Kelly concluded that he prefers the intimacy of a one-man show. This was mentioned on several occasions by the vocal and tireless fans at both ends of Tolka Park.

Derry fans felt compelled to proclaim their feelings when Padraig Amond's strike was blocked by an innocent arm in the box. The compulsary calls for a peno fell on hearing ears - it was a harsh penalty to concede. The Carlow-born striker took the responsibility of placing the ball on the
spot; he took the responsibility of addressing the ball; he took the penalty; he hit it low and to the 'keepers left - would Matt Gregg have saved it? He was too busy at Richmond Park to speculate upon such things. The net rippled - just the sort of break a struggling side needs. With 27 minutes gone the Hoops are 1-0 up.

Another lofted ball calls Murphy from his line to - he rises above all others to enact another confidence boosting catch as Stephen Kenny's side attempt to undo the perceived injustice served upon them. As the half hour mark passes, Farren is again left face down - with penalty shouts now in vogue the City faithful clear their throats - Kelly has his deaf ears on now. Cue that song again.

Derry are doing a nice line in fun-sized right backs. Rovers are trying to exploit Tyrell's height advantage on the left wing, but Gareth McGlynn rises defiantly to win the ball on each occasion that he is put to the test. Derry threaten again - this time Farren slips the ball behind the Rovers backline for Sammon to chase - it's quick and neat, Murphy is too. Sammon finds himself out on the right with the ball bouncing before him; his driven cross finds Barry Molloy in a central position on the six-yard line. The battle-hardened midfielder doesn't even have to jump to meet the ball, but his headed effort is weak and wide.

Derry continue to press for an equaliser before the interval - Sammon is again central to their efforts when he sets McGinn up for a dipping volley. Murphy has to drop to smother, the ball squirms free, the 'keeper is first to react. The whistle doesn't blow for half time - the referee blows it.

There are 15 minutes allowed to us for queuing, eating, drinking and contemplation. Both managers restate their positions to thirsty players. The time passes quickly and we are poised to restart. No changes on either side.

The Hoops have regrouped, refocused. They begin apace. Amond extracts a foul from Delaney on Derry's right had side. A deep delivery finds Price unmarked on the far side of the box; the ball arrives at an awkward height for the defender but he manages to get his effort on target. Doherty can only parry and the press corps are checking their stopwatches to see what time Eoin Doyle scores Rovers' second goal. The howls of disbelief that greet his stabbed effort suggest that the score remains the same.

Two minutes into the second half and we have just seen Rovers miss their best goalscoring opportunity of the closing forty-eight minutes. Barry Molloy's injury forces Stephen Kenny into a reshuffle - McCallion ousts McGlynn at right full. McGlynn slips into Molloy's berth. Derry are not being allowed into this half as Rovers' frantic workrate denies their opposition time and space all over the pitch. They take a moment off from such duties to turn a dispossession into a goal threat. O'Brien and Rice combine to good effect down Rovers' right to set Amond up - there's another penalty shout - Kelly ignores it on this occasion. While all around are putting in the kilometeres, Darragh Maguire looks lazy in the central battlefield - closer inspection uncovers consistently well-timed interventions and cover. But there are signs that some of the clockwork Hoops are tiring.

Scully introduces his first substitute - Soccy replaces Tyrell midway through the closing half. Immediately Niall McGinn threatens down that side of the field and efforts produce a corner for the Candystripes - it's their first threat of the half. The visitors are beginning to creep ahead in terms of possession and territorial dominance as the Hoops wilt. Scully interrupts their rhythm with a substitution. Doyle is withdrawn in favour of Dessie Baker. Kenny counters and Kevin McHugh enters the arena in lieu of McGinn. Derry seem to switch to a 4-3-3 set-up as the newly-introduced attacker pushes in alongside his fellow strikers. The visitors are clearly superior now; Gareth McGlynn's twinkling toes adding sparkle to their lustre as the hosts struggle to keep apace.

Scully needs to stiffen up the central midfield area, as his side are beginning to fall back- it seems simple to move Rice in and let McGill drift into the calmer waters of the wide areas. It doesn't happen.

With about quarter of an hour remaining, McGlynn's produces a strike which sparks Barry Murphy into emergency action. The ball rebounds from the crossbar onto the incoming pate of Sammon; the Rovers netminder produces a save akin to Barry Ryan's clawed effort against Cork City a week earlier and Hoops fans holler with admiration and delight. So too do the Derry fans. The referee's assistant is indicating a goal. Hoops fans holler in horror and derision; Derry fans holler with delight and admiration. The sides are level. Just the sort of break a struggling side needs. Alan Murphy replaces Amond as the hosts react to their disappointment; they force two corners in rapid succession. The response ends tamely however with Darragh Maguires' speculative overhead effort.

Both sides are going for the win - Derry break at speed - the ball finds its way into the path of Sammon, who not for the first time in the game, is showing a clean pair of heels to the chasing pack. If all goes well, Sammon could score here. It doesn't. The angle is narrowing as he begins his descent on goal; all the while the Rovers defence is descending upon him and the opportunity evaporates. It's Rovers who next break at pace. Sean O'Connor has just raced past border patrol on the halfway line when Stephen Gray decides to take him out with a callous foul - it should warm the heart of an eL fan to see a professional exact a professional foul. The card was worth it; there can be no doubt about that.

It's end to end stuff - yet another Rovers shout for a penalty - haven't they realised yet that they won't be getting another one? McGlynn again raises his profile, with a good shot on goal. THE REFEREE'S ASSISTANT HAS INDICATED THAT THERE WILL BE A MINIMUM OF THREE MINUTES ADDED TIME. Kevin Deery strikes a welcome sight, on a football pitch again. He enters the 2008 season in place of Farren. The final acts of this ceaseless action involve the tireless legs of Ger O'Brien.

The defender is coaxed into supporting his midfield with an energy sapping run on the outside - he collects the ball and runs at the retreating Derry defence. Swinging inside the goal is coming into view. O'Brien drives low, but wide. A couple of minutes later, with Kelly checking his notes for the end of game whistle tune, the ball is headed in the direction of O'Brien and Morrisson. The former nicks it away from the latter. He heads for the endline and produces a cross of great quality and accuracy. It's arrowed low and hard towards the near post. A kaleidoscope of red, green, white and black arrives at the appropriate post - the danger is averted. The game is over.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Case For the Attack

By now, Pat Fenlon will have refocused his attentions on the demands of his day job, following his unveiling of the U23 squad for the upcoming game with David Jeffrey's Norn Iron side. Football is all about opinion; one man's stocking is another man's star; and Fenlon has been tasked with tattooing his views onto this representative squad.

It can come as no surprise that his own club supply the greatest cohort - four of the twenty players named - with league leaders St. Pats, and Shamrock Rovers, managing three. Many name Rovers as the best young side in the Premier Division; that may have been the case last season, but Pat Scully has released quite a lot of his talented youngsters.

Wisely, Tadhg Purcell was one of those whose talents were retained. The former UCD and Kilkenny City striker is one of the eircom League's finest young players and it is difficult to comprehend how he can have been omitted from Nutsy's chosen 20.

Look at the competition - Dave Mooney is a fair choice, the outright goalscorer option. Mark Quigley, likewise - a proven goalscorer with pace and an indefinable slipperiness about him. Ger Rowe - hmm. On his day Rowe is one of the best around; there were signs during his tenancy at Shamrock Rovers that those days were going to become more regular occurrences, sadly they are reassuming the regularity of Bank Holidays. The circumstances surrounding his dismissal from Pat Scully's gallery of pleasures were murky, the hand of Nutsy never far from the conversation. It goes then that Fenlon is an undoubted admirer of Rowe's undoubted, but too often unapplied, talents.

Then there's Denis Behan - the battering ram. There's always room for an alternative approach, and Fenlon is right to prepare for such an eventuality. Sometimes the heft and unsettling physical presence of a well-fed six-footer is required to disturb a comfortable backline. Denis Behan has fulfilled such a role with too much familiarity for Cork City over the last few seasons, unable to nail down a starting position under el Rico or currently, Alan Matthews.

Purcell fulfils such a purpose, and more for the Hoops. He's not an out and out goalscorer in the vein of Mooney's recent successes. That said, he netted 12 times from 27 starts as the Hoops swept to the First Division title in 2006 - it seems a long time back already. The transition to Premier Division defences should have provided him with a sterner challenge. The striker matched his First Division tally, this time from 22 starts. When one takes inflation into account this has to be taken as an increase in the scoring rate.

What it underlines is the upward trend in the learning curve. Even I'm getting bored now - he's getting better, improving & learning all the time. Anybody who watched his one-man show versus the Pats defence last weekend can't but have been impressed by his talent. That Stephen Paisley was motivated to return a performance, which served only to remind us of his latent talents, was testament to the torrid time the one-man show delivered upon him.

Purcell knows not what fatigue is; he will run himself into the ground week upon week - creating space, mayhem and eliciting errors from shaken centre-halves. His ability to retain possession, his ability on the ground and his awareness of what is occurring around him all lead one to predict a glowing future for him. That future should include U23 international caps, for he has no betters in his position. Purcell for Ireland!

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