Thursday, June 19, 2008

Football's Coming Home

'Brilliant Orange' - The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football; the title of a wonderful football book by David Winner; is a phrase which has sprung to my lips a few times recently. It was oft said that if the Dutch inhabited Ireland they would feed the world. However, our fair isle ended up with the Royal Dutch - that too has the ability to produce neurotic genii.

Like a teenage boy wrestling with his hormones, I tend to avoid watching football other that eircom League, preferring to immerse myself in our beautiful game. I shelve this purgatory for the last 16 of the Champions League, the World Cup and latterly any games for which I can wrestle the remote from the Hollyoaks fans. Maybe it's a personality flaw, but once I have experienced the glory of full-fat cream I suffer withdrawal symptoms when returning to the slimline variety.

The Dutch apart, Euro 2008 hasn't reached those heights for me yet - but as a longtime fan of total football I become myopic in the presence of Brilliant Orange. Given our brief vacuum it could have been easy to be roped in by the glamour & glitz of the billiard table surfaces, modern stadia replete with colourful supporters and the flashes of footballing excellence. Oh and the new ball of course.

But the eL is back this weekend. Again I will inhale the atmosphere of Dalymount when Rovers or Pats are in opposition - Tolka, when one of the above visit the Hoops - anywhere where the Drogs, Derry or Cork are playing. Close to the pitch; close enough to hear Scully screaming, Nutsy losing his cool, Johnny Mc going hoarse - its like interactive football. Then away at half time to do a Wii.

The stuff beamed from Switzerland and Austria is a world or two removed from the fare served up from Finn Park to Terryland Park to Kingspan Century Park to Ferrycarrig Park - a footballing version of Quiddich, where almost anything seems possible and every angle is covered by a camera. we are close enough to wonder why Domenech hasn't plucked his nasal hair.

Then there's Richmond Park. Set in the unassuming 'hood of Inchicore, this is where Total Football Ireland is most often served up. The return to match-fitness of Joe Ndo is a huge boon to the Saints; how Johnny Mc would fit him into the team was the biggest problem it presented. With Keith Fahey ablaze and Gary Dempsey dovetailing nicely while Michael Keane scrabbled around the wastebins of Inchicore for 'Buy One-Get One Free' vouchers, all was well in the Pats central midfield area. Conveniently McDonnell was baled out by Fahey's injury last time out, but he has a decision to make this weekend.

Whilst the Inchicore side have played an attractive brand of football a la the Orangemen, Bohs have reflected the efforts of Germany. Generally effective, rarely breathtaking and impossible to discount - their stoic ways have taken them to the summit.

As always there are surprises - we wouldn't bother to watch football if it didn't throw up regular disappointments and bewildering outcomes. Throw in the unexpected and unavoidable and you end up with Shamrock Rovers languishing, Bray Wanderers floating and Galway United sinking. We are fast approaching the final throw of the dice - the knockout stages if you will; beleaguered bosses searching for wayward players whose careers they can resurrect without parting with large chunks of watermarked paper. Bemonied bosses diminishing the opposition threat by plucking the finest fruit from their squads, keeping the second tier where they belong in football's survival of the fittest.

Is Faz finally leaving Sligo? The People's Favourites can no longer dream of cup success. The league marathon favours the big squads - they will require an inordinate amount of good fortune to progress into the top four at season's end - Croatia could win Euro 2008, but they had just 3 league games to play before the winner takes all of the knockout stages. The countdown continues.

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