Tag Archives: Derry City

Singing the Blues 2011 edition

After a hectic weekend of hurling which saw De La Salle become the it’s-a-pity-someone-had-to-lose team – and I challenge anyone to read Michael Ryan’s anguished thoughts and not feel sympathy – it’s time to draw breath and give some thought to less weighty matters. So let’s look at how the season is shaping up for Waterford United (cue abuse).

It’s been a traumatic winter for the League of Ireland. Bohemians made many headlines in their flirtation with oblivion and while I’m reliably informed that there was a spirit among its members to embrace the cleansing fires of relegation and start afresh free of the burden of trying to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League, the headlines were in themselves bad enough for a League seriously short of credibility. Then Sporting Fingal came along and demonstrated how right everyone who has been cynical about their existence was to be so cynical. To go from a new entrant to the League to promotion to FAI Cup winners to going out of business in the space of three years was quite something. When Lao Tzu observed that “the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long” he didn’t, contrary to the impression given by Tyrell in Blade Runner, mean it as a compliment.

On a less philosophical note, Sporting typified the obsession with money that can ruin even – especially – the smallest of competitions. A more telling example of the lemming-like charge for filthy lucre came recently from Drogheda United. Seemingly chastened by their financial traumas of recent years, Drogheda United were planning to run an entirely amateur setup in 2011. Yet when they found themselves elevated back into the Premier Division after the demise of Fingal, their first instinct is to go out and buy some more players! Do they put something in the Lucozade Sport for the League of Ireland that leads to such collective madness? One wonders whether the seeming unwillingness to accept that there is no revenue stream from being a League of Ireland club stems from a desire to not be anything like the culchies in the Gah. Whatever it is, if they can’t learn from a fiasco like Fingal then there is something hardwired into the collective DNA that leaves every club vulnerable.

As if all this wasn’t bad enough, we then saw the perversity of the licensing system which saw clubs who are broke like Bohemians and Drogheda given Premier Division licenses while a club that has adopted sensible financial policies for a number of years now like (say) Waterford United is given a First Division license. It seems this was down to Stephen Henderson not possessing a Uefa A licence, which is fair enough – why a job in soccer should be exempt from the requirement to have transparent minimum terms of employment is an argument best left to the type of person who think women don’t understand the offside rule – but given the financial traumas that have beset the League of Ireland you have to wonder at the attitude that sets the bar so low that the likes of the aforementioned Bohs and Drogs can clear it. One can’t shake the feeling that the decision was made as to who should belong in the top tier then the standards shaped in such a way to ensure those teams made it in.

Still, we are where we are, and Waterford should be able to look forward to a season free of visits by parachute. Since I started following the Blues in 2009, their fortunes have been bedevilled by the presence of teams who didn’t belong in the lower tier. Sporting Fingal in 2009 and Derry City in 2010 were clubs with Premier Division resources, and the Blues were always going to find it hard to compete.  Even the bête noire of last season, Monaghan United (played five, lost five) have been taken out of the equation, so the Blues should be ideally placed by events off the pitch to take advantage of events on it (Update: just been informed that Monaghan are back in the First Division. Hard on them. Harder on the Blues).

Then you look at the squad. Oh dear. The 2011 squad, shamelessly culled from BTID.net, looks like this:

Officially signed:
Kevin Burns
Josh Byrne

Kevin Murray
Michael Coady
Kenny Browne (from Sporting Fingal)
Seamus Long
Paul Carey
David Breen (from Athlone Town)
Lee Chin (Wexford Bohs)

Shane Barrett
Gary Dunphy
Keith Quinn (from Sporting Fingal)
Conor Sinnott (from Drogheda Utd)
Dwayne Wilson (from UCD)
Brian Nolan
Shane Dempsey (North End United)

Paul Murphy
Willie John Kiely
Michael Rafter (from Colchester United)
Gary Keane

Out
Chris Konopka, Liam Kearney (Dandenong Thunder, Melbourne), Paul McCarthy (Tramore), Alan Carey (Cork Co-op), Vinny Sullivan (Cork Co-op), James O’Sullivan, Timmy Purcell, John Kearney (Australia), Paul Walsh (Waterford Bohs), Kevin Waters, John Hayes

I freely admit to knowing not-very-much about the talent in the League of Ireland so I won’t comment on the players on the way in except to say that the return of Kenny Browne after his sojourn with Sporting Fingal is excellent news. On the way out though, the Blues seem to have lost out badly. It’s almost a relief to see the freak show that is Vinny Sullivan move on (there’s probably a peg being kept bare in the dressing room though) and there are a fair few who have had enough missed opportunities in the First Division that they can’t be taken seriously as Premier Division material. Liam Kearney will surely be missed, and it’s a little worrying that there is no marquee signing to replace last season’s marquee signing. Much more worrying is the loss of two of the standout performers last season, John Kearney and Alan Carey. Kearney had a delightful habit of popping up in unlikely positions which caused opposition teams no end of bother, while Carey’s two-footedness, coolness under pressure and thunderous penalties would be an asset to any team. At least the former has emigrated so won’t be coming back to haunt us. Carey, on the other hand, has flown to Cork City Chicken Coop. Did I say there were no moneybags teams left in the First Division? I suppose it’s easy to have money when you don’t pay your creditors.

Recently I finally got around to reading Moneyball. It’s hard to see how Billy Beane’s ruthless application of statistics in choosing his playing staff could be applied to the much more free-wheeling sport of soccer, but his philiosophy of trying to pick a diamond out of the rough is one that Stephen Henderson is clearly having to adopt if the Blues are to get out of the First Division. Tracking down a player in the Colchester United reserves feels like a real Hail Mary. Given the Blues’ propensity for failing in playoffs – spookily like the various hurling teams and semi-final. See, Ultras, we’re all the same deep down – we’ve got to operate on the basis that first is first and second is nowhere. Even three games shorter than last season, it’s going to be a long one.

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Waterford United 1-0 Derry City

How do they do it? The fanatical fans, I mean, following the team through a long, gruelling season. This isn’t just about Waterford United fans. When living in Liverpool, there was many a day / night where the thought of a cosy night of trashy TV or curled up in front of the fire with a good internet forum book seemed far more attractive than hauling butt up to Anfield. The only thing that stopped me was the thought that I’d already paid £30+ for the ‘privilege’. No such monetary chain tying me to the Blues.  One of the joys of the inter-county GAA scene is the sense that most games are important. Yea, even the spring games where you need to be winning all the time to sustain the League challenge. Then there’s the Championship, of which no more need be said.

So thank heavens for the occasional marquee soccer game which help remind you what’s at stake. This day eight years ago, I sped up to the ground in anticipation of a great European night. It would be fair to say that expectations were not only met but exceeded. And Derry City are the kind of club that if you can’t get the blood up for, you’re dead. The Candystripes have been at the heart of much that is good about the League of Ireland over the last quarter century. Deprived of senior soccer for so long by the Troubles, the enthusiasm they brought to the League was a wonder to behold. They had an exoticism which went beyond bringing players with names like Nelson da Silva and Owen de Gama to these shores. They were Nordies, carrying with them a whiff of that sulphur. They appealed to the GAA type, decrying the partitionism of the domestic game. And they were quite successful.

Derry, in short, are among the heavyweights of the game. Then again, so should be the Blues. And perhaps it was that clash of potential titans that led to such an entertaining game. It needs to be emphasised – this was a cracking spectacle, with two teams committed to attack and playing attractive soccer. Factor in the utterly evil conditions on the pitch and the quality was nothing short of miraculous. Truly you won’t know unless you go.

It was Derry who hit the ground surfing, getting two chances in the first six minutes where the Derry player only had to hit the target and it was in, but both were thankfully skyed. You tell yourself when watching soccer that they’ll regret such profligacy and so it proved after eleven minutes when some nifty one-touch passing saw Vinny Sullivan put in space on the corner of the six yard box with a clear sight of goal. What is it with Vinny Sullivan, the dreaded ‘cult figure’ (see: Erik Meijer) of fable? Asking someone in the know, it seems he can string together a run of seven goals in five games then not score in twenty. This was a gilt-edged chance to make it three-from-three but he dragged the shot waaay across the face of the goal. It looked wide from where I was but the ball struck the post and came back to Liam Kearney who had the simple task of tapping it in against his former club.

A great start, and it almost got better as a long range free kick was parried by the keeper but in a remarkable stroke of luck for Derry managed to find not a single Waterford player. Then Vinny was put through again only for him to miss the ball, hit his standing foot and actually force the goalie to make a decent save. After that initial flurry of Derry attacks the game settled down into a more traditional setup where Derry tried to hit Waterford on the break. The Blues looked well cool in defence, Alan Carey in particular making all the right decisions whether it be shepherding wingers into dead ends or putting himself between strikers and the goalie. At one point I noted how well he was playing, and was informed that his parents were sitting in front of me. Which was nice.

Having piled up the praise for LoI fare, now to bury it. Okay, not quite, but it was noteworthy how flat the start of the second half was after the effervescent first 45. It was understandable given the shock of having to go back out into that proto-monsoon after the comfort of the dressing room, but it’s not a phenomenon I observed during my sojourn in Liverpool. It’s reasonable to assume that highly trained professionals find it easier to get back up to speed than the semi-pros of the domestic game. This is perfectly understandable so spare us the flame war, BTID’ers.

Maybe it was the mystical this-game-needs-something-to-spark-it-to-life, maybe it was an event in the game’s journey back to the realms of the high-octane. Either way, the game was sparked back to life when Derry actually managed to hit the target, an inswinging free from out of the right eluding everyone but goalie Konopka who flung himself to his right to push it around the post. It was a routine enough save and mutterings in the stand that he isn’t all that are hard to ignore at the moment, but at least he dealt with the danger.

The game was back on now and the Blues continued to look the more threatening, Liam Kearney twice getting clear on the left forcing one excellent last-ditch clearance in one instance and dragging it behind the onrushing attack in the other. Derry had another clear sight of goal which was spooned into the stratosphere, and it’s not premature with only two goals from three games to suggest they may have problems in that department  this season – expect a bid for Graham Cummins any day now.

At the other end, Vinny Sullivan continued to terrorise their defence which kept them constantly on the back foot. Sadly it didn’t yield a goal and we can now expect another goal some time in September. There isn’t a striker on the world that doesn’t need a tap-in now and again to keep confidence going, and poor old David Grincell will doubtless be reflecting on what might have been when the ball fell to him in the penalty are after more great work by Kearney. He had enough time to take a touch and slam the ball home but, perhaps feeling that pressure that afflicts all strikers, opted to hit it first time and was betrayed by the conditions, falling on his backside and letting Derry clear. It would have spared us a few minutes of nerves, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find I was nervous, but the Blues held out for a great win. The bellow of delight from the Ultras and chairman John Sullivan’s reaction as the players came off showed how big a deal this was – no one would have dreamed of three wins from the first three fixtures when Cork and Derry were pulled out of the hat. Back in the winter on 1997 I was in on the ground floor when the Waterford hurling revival began. Maybe in the wintery conditions of 2010 we were looking at the start of something big for Waterford United.