Monday, August 25, 2008

Nuts and Bohs

With just 2/3 of their league programme complete I am prepared to honour Bohemians FC with the title of eircom League Champions for 2008. Wily professional that he is, there can be no doubt that Pat Fenlon would refuse to accept victory at such an early stage - his side still have 33 points to play for.

Even where his side to implode spectacularly in a blaze of angry Dundalk fans, the achievements of Nutsy's Class of 2008 have to be admired. Rumoured to bathe with bevvies of €50 notes during his tenure at the ill-fated Shelbourne FC, many were happy to point to the size of Nutsy's chequebook when it came to doling out praise for the Drumcondra based club's achievements. That said, many a football manager has been given money to buy players only to fail in a blaze of inglorious debt - Dave O'Leary is the patron saint that elite club. World football is littered with disastrous deals and misspent monies.

When Sean Connor - not to be confused with comedian Shaun Connors - took up the whip at Dalymount Park in 2006, he set about sorting out the Bohs backline. In came Liam Burns and Owen Heary alongside the emerging talent of Conor Powell. Jason McGuinness and goalkeeper Brian Murphy completed the line-up. Heary's organisational talents were hugely instrumental in the face lift. The Gypsys registered the best defensive record in the Premier Division for 2007 - 17 goals conceded in 33 games. However, their failure to find the net in seventeen of those fixtures undermined any dreams of a league success. Glen Crowe started all but one of those games and the club's record scorer found the net just eight times in league action - a poor return for a striker playing in a side which managed a third place finish.

So the oft quoted dogs in the street knew what was required to restore some pride and silverware to Phibsborough. Happy to see the back of the comedian, many were less than pleased to see his replacement enter via the cat-flap, but he is 2/3 of the way towards winning them over.

Neale Fenn was revitalised, Ken Oman was re-signed; the merry-go-round of central midfielders spun a little more. On jumped Glenn Cronin - Killian Brennan followed Oman from the Northwest Passage. Jason Byrne gave up his Welsh lessons. The season began with a 1-0 win at promoted Galway United, followed up by a narrow 1-0 defeat at home to St. Pats. That remains the only defeat thus far. Eight different sides have pierced the meanest defence in league action this season; none have repeated that feat. Soon players will be putting 'scored against Bohs' on their CV's. It is a phenomenal achievement in a division blessed with the nylony attacking football of the Saints and Cork City.

Glenn Crowe will never be a spring chicken again, but he has begun to look more like a free-range chicken after some time in the wilderness. Only on three occasions have the Gypsys failed to find the net - Fenlon can never be accused of playing an open game; the much travelled footballer is more concerned with winning than scoring. Brennan is oozing a confidence which is matched by his performances. The retirement of Kevin Hunt has brought tears, but few ripples.
The biggest disappointment this term has been their early exit from European competition; a league title will banish the pain.

Recent weeks have thrown up an injury crisis. The unglamourous but highly effective Cronin has been sidelined; with him outside the physio's room have been all three centre halves. This forced the manager to throw the recovering Thomas Heary in at centre half. Owen was to be his partner in a totally reshaped back-four; the league leaders glided through the challenges that came their way. A stern test in Turner's Cross failed to find a way past Brian Murphy. Burns is back now, which should allow Owen Heary to return to his familiar position.

Was that their crisis for this season, or is there a dip in form to come? Should the wounded Drogs hole them tomorrow there remains a seven point gap between first and second. Should Pats inflict a second defeat upon them at Dalymount Park there will still be four points between the pair with nine games remaining. In the meantime, Cork City St. Patrick's Athletic and Derry City return to Setanta Cup action. Doubtless the Phibsboro faithful are casting an envious eye in their direction but Bohs' absence from the all-Ireland competition offers them an advantage as the finishing line appears on the horizon.

Nutsy is weaving his magic again and Setanta Cup football will grace the turf of Dalymount Park in 2009.

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