Thursday, May 29, 2008

Armraiser

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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