Tag Archives: Stephen Henderson

Real life, real consequences

No sooner had I posted that Stephen Henderson’s time as Waterford United manager had run its course than the axe fell. It had to happen. Losing seven consecutive times to as modest an outfit as Monaghan United demonstrated that lessons weren’t being learned. But once it happened I had a curious epiphany – feeling sympathy for a sportsperson who had been made unemployed. GAA managers who lose their post don’t have to worry about a loss of income (ahem) and Liverpool managers who lose their jobs usually have no problem picking up a new job and have a fat severance payment to fall back on too. While receiving texts from a well-informed neighbour on how it all went down, it was odd to imagine Stephen Henderson being out there in the real world, wondering what he was going to do next. The market for ex-League of Ireland managers wouldn’t be a buoyant one at the best of times, and these aren’t the best of times. Then the feeling was compounded by this (h/t to Kirkham_Matt via Stephen Long on Twitter):

We’ve long known that being classy and being successful are not linked (see: Jose Mourinho, Alex Ferguson) and this only reinforces that. It should be noted that none of this invalidates the decision to sack him, nor should those who criticised him feel any guilt. But you’d want to have a heart of stone not to be moved by such a dignified reaction to events. Good luck to Stephen Henderson in all his future endeavours.

I never thought it would come to this

Tenuous link alert: one thing Waterford and Liverpool have in common over the years has been giving their managers ‘time’. It has become an article of faith that a manager should be given sufficient time to make his stamp on the county panel / club.  And another thing they have common is that eventually, in my lifetime at least, it almost always ended in tears. Only Bob Paisley got to leave in the manner of his choosing.  None of the managers of Waterford or Liverpool of recent vintage (NB Waterford’s recent history began in 1997)  can be said to have been failures, with the obvious exception of Roy Hodgson. All soared to heights far greater than where they had started out, and there were trophies galore. But when they failed to reach the ultimate height, that of winning the All-Ireland / Premier League, subsequent attempts to reach that height took on an increasing air of desperation. A point of no return was reached and because of the mythology of giving the manager ‘time’ it became doubly painful to let go.

Doubling down on the tenuous link , Waterford United find themselves in a similar position. Having gone through managers with the same regularity that most people change their underwear, the new regime under John O’Sullivan were clearly of the opinion that any new manager need to be given ‘time’. Any suggestion that the manager should be dispensed with would be greeted with references to Alex Ferguson – if he hadn’t been given ‘time’ . . . and if you’re going to stick with this philosophy then Stephen Henderson certainly won’t be leaving the club, despite rumours to that effect at the time of writing. Henderson might well feel aggrieved should he be sacked. His appointment made perfect sense given the miracle he wrought in getting Cobh Ramblers into the Premier Division in 2007 and he’s kept the Blues near the top of the First Division in his two years at the helm, reaching a cup final as well. He could reasonably argue that the current form is the exception and not the rule and that he has to given ‘time’ to stamp his vision on the club

But I can’t shake the feeling that Stephen Henderson is experiencing that sense of panic that engulfs a manager when he reaches the tipping point in his career. This feeling was particularly acute when Justin McCarthy’s time as Waterford manager came to such a shuddering halt. Having been hit by the hammer blow of losing to Limerick, the Waterford team must have felt a sense of ‘oh no not that aul thing’ when they went through their training routines in the spring of 2008. Even the most imaginative of  managers will have only so many tricks up his sleeve, and when the tricks begin repeating themselves with no discernible change in output you know the time has come to move on. I didn’t see it with Justin until it was too late. I’m seeing the same scenario unfolding with Stephen Henderson. Time to go before things get really poisonous.

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

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.

Football, eh? Bloody hell!

The words of Alex Ferguson after the fateful (for Liverpool fans) 1999 European Cup final were ringing in my ears last night as Waterford United contrived to throw away a two goal lead midway through the second half and lose 4-2 to Monaghan United, effectively ending any pretensions to finishing top of the division. With Derry drawing last night, the Blues would have been only two points off the top. Now the best case scenario is beating Shelbourne away in the final game, thus leapfrogging them into third and getting into the playoffs, which would be against Monaghan or Derry away. Some ‘best case’.

The demoralising thing about the manner in which the Blues’ season has unfolded is that Monaghan’s year is a mirror image of Waterford 2009 campaign: bobbing around in the top three, having a good FAI Cup run and losing the League Cup final. A mirror image, that is, right up to the denouement of the league season, because while Monaghan are powering away into the top two and probably winning the division outright, Waterford are falling apart just like they did last season. While it’s dispiriting that Monaghan United (Est. 1979) are running rings around the venerable old Blues, one should learn to accept that Waterford United long-running woes have meant we are no more entitled to Rodney Dangerfield-style respect than Monaghan are – Waterford United might was well have been est-ed in 2010 for all the attention I’ve given them. But what is going on that the current generation of Waterford United players seem to implode when going gets tough? I have no insight into whether Stephen Henderson is capable of providing an answer to that question. But we’re going nowhere if it isn’t.

Shrieking the Blues

It’s been a while since I visited the subject of Waterford United. Work commitments, holidays and visits from people who really wouldn’t appreciate the value of a trip to the RSC have meant that I haven’t been to see the Blues in months, and tonight against Wexford Youths will maintain that pattern. The next likely date is September 3 against Derry City. Hopefully I’ll be so broke after shelling out €70 for some event in Dublin that I won’t be able to go to that either . . .

Not going for various reasons is one thing. Not commenting is another matter, and there’s no point in pretending that the manner in which the Blues’ season has imploded hasn’t helped keep the interest levels up. At the time of writing the Blues have 38 points from 22 games. When you consider that they took 18 from their first 6 games, you can see just how badly things have gone since that flying start. Having already fallen outside the playoff spots, something that didn’t happen to them until the last few games of last season, it’s going to take something pretty extraordinary to salvage anything from this campaign.

It’s doubly galling for fans of the Blues because underlying all interactions is the hope that things would get better if someone got the cheque book out. When I started following Waterford United again (not that I ever followed them with much gusto at any point in the past), the priority was to be financially prudent. Looking at the manner in which Liverpool have sailed so close to Leeds United-style penury – and they ain’t clear of the storm yet – it was crucial that the Blues not engage in any splurges. To their credit, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that the Management Committee have done this. But the temptation to do that, and particularly for the fans to demand it, must be overwhelming. No club in Ireland has greater untapped potential. Spend the money now, get the fans through the turnstiles, reap the rewards later – right? Wrong, as the experience of Bohemians in Europe will tell you, but that won’t stop people dreaming when the fiscally sound model isn’t working, as it clearly is not working at the moment.

(It’s easy to say this at the moment now that Waterford are competitive – Wexford fans would probably not feel the same way – but it does make you kinda grateful for the GAA’s model. When it comes to supporting a team you have to play the hand that your place of birth has dealt you. That has its own set of frustrations, but at least expectations can’t be inflated by the possibility of Roman Abramovich riding to the rescue.)

There’s an increasingly frantic air to the behaviour of the Blues management team, best exemplified by the signing of Daryl Kavanagh. Kavanagh has a decidedly chequered past, one that has antagonised a lot of the Ultras (read the last post on this page to see the charge sheet, so to speak). You could argue that the manager shouldn’t concern himself with the concerns of a handful of cranky fans, but when you only have a handful of fans it is utter folly to get on their wrong side.

And the manager is right to be worried. If there’s not a lot of money sloshing around, and it’s reasonable to assume that Monaghan United and Limerick aren’t rolling in it, then the chess pieces that the manager moves around the board take on a greater significance than in (say) England where a player can sell a pawn and buy a queen. Nearly two years in and Stephen Henderson has shuffled the pieces with regularity but doesn’t look any closer to a successful formula. So should he be made walk the plank? Sacking him now would probably run counter to notions of building something enduring. When he took over after a decent stint at Cobh Ramblers, he could have fairly assumed that he was going to get more than a couple of years to work the oracle. The first year is usually going to be a bust as the deadwood from the previous regime is removed and new players added. And while there is no evidence of improvement in year two Henderson could plausibly claim that the presence of Derry, effectively a Premier Division team after their enforced relegation, has severely reduced the scope for success this season. If Waterford United betray an attitude to any new manager that you’ve got two years to get promoted, there won’t be many takers of note.

It’s a bloody long season, following these soccer teams. And seeing the expectations of a successful season die by a thousand cuts over nine months is excruciating. Again, it makes you grateful for the event-junkie design of the GAA inter-county season. Then again, we could see Waterford slide back into Wexford levels of success in the next few years, at which stage I might be grateful for a team with more wins under their belt than losses. And the season isn’t over yet. When a last-minute charge sees us finish third in the division, beat Monaghan in their own backyard then thump Drogheda over two legs thus overturning two decades of history, we’ll all be smiling. You read it here first.

Waterford United 0-1 UCD

Is there a wackier club in any sport than UCD? So poverty-stricken are their supporter numbers that the usual appeals to the referee have an unusual aspect. Early in the game there was a kerfuffle in the Waterford box and the cry of ‘penalty!’ went up. From one person. On the UCD bench. Cue gales of laughter. What a hopeless bunch!

But they can play soccer, or at least they can play it to the extent that they took Waterford to the cleaners last night, the 1-0 result completely flattering the Blues. When UCD deservedly took the lead with 20 minutes to go, sweeping a clearance in to the box for David McMillan to score from close range, the silence in the ground was deafening. You almost felt sorry for the players. Then again, it does mean they don’t have to put up with this.

Having got that dose of self-pity out of the way, it falls to me to ask how the Blues got it so wrong. Talking to people around me, they agreed that the second half of our – can I say that? – win at the Belfield Bowl (?) was one of our best performances of the season. And when Kevin Waters whipped in a cross in the first minute which was frantically cleared by the UCD defence, it looked like Waterford were picking up where they left off. It is not an exaggeration to say that this was as good as it got though.

It started with an effort from forty yards that just cleared the top of Michael Devine’s crossbar. Speaking of Mick – can I say that? – Devine, he has a reputation as being one of the League’s top goalies but I must confess that on the previous occasions I’ve seen him (the notorious Ipswich game and the replay in the FAI Cup against St Pat’s way back in 1999, I think it was), he has dropped the ball right on the toe of the opposition striker. So it was perversely marvellous to see what all the fuss has been about as Devine kept the Blues from being completely stuffed. One save in particular, getting low to his right to save a strike from all of 12 yards out, was the stuff of fantasies. Apart from that there was two flying saves to shots from distance and a firm gathering of the ball under pressure when the defence really should have taken responsibility to deal with it. A flawless performance all round.

Why did he have to be so good though? Liverpool fans are well familiar with the problem of not getting ball wide. For Waterford, the opposite was the case. Everything was either a hoof for Graham Cummins – a sometime centre back it seems – to try and gather or galloping down the wings. The quality of the crosses was uniformly excellent, but it was rather predictable. Compare this with UCD who repeatedly ran at the Blues defence who repeatedly backed off allowing UCD to repeatedly shot from distance forcing Devine into those flying saves and on two occasions seeing shots fizz past the post which everyone was convinced were in. Half time couldn’t come soon enough.

Yep, this was all in the first half. The second half got off to a great start for Waterford when Greg Bolger was sent off for a two-footed tackle. It looked a wee bit harsh at first blush but the manner in which the ref whipped the red card out with venom suggested he may have seen some extra intent in the tackle and conversations later on with people better placed would confirm this.

With rain having made conditions very heavy underfoot this was a good time (not that there’s a bad time) to be a man up. Incredibly though the Blues failed to push on. Indeed there was only one short period in the middle of the half when they kept UCD on the back foot. The only clear cut chance was a fluke, a swirling corner that the UCD goalie flapped at. In the subsequent confusion it looked like the ball had gone in but it was only the goalie trashing around in the net and there were only muted appeals from the Blues. UCD always looked menacing on the break and this was even more apparent after they took the lead, one mazy dribble almost yielding a second goal and generally keeping Waterford pinned back in their own half when they should have being laying siege to UCD’s penalty area. There was one mad scramble late on when the ball somehow stayed out but there was no pattern to Waterford’s play and UCD ran out deserving winners.

So to go back to the beginning: how did the Blues get it so wrong having got it so right in Belfield? I’m tempted to say that UCD learned more from the defeat, adopting a strategy that neutralised whatever it is that Waterford got so right that day. Hopefully Stephen Henderson will have spotted the flaw and react accordingly, because this was a seriously flawed performance.