The Return of The SSE Airtricity League

It may not have goal line technology or have access to the new VAR system but what it does have is good old blood guts and passion. The weekend that has just passed saw the much anticipated 2018 season kick off and the excitement that had been building for the fans was just about to become reality. Following on from last season when attendances were up, this season could possibly be the best one yet. In the Premier League, Champions Cork City are there to be toppled and after their runaway campaign last season the other clubs have been building there squads during the winter break to try and wrestle away the title from the men who are based close to the River Lee. Cork City were magnificent last season and totally deserved a league and cup double. It is going to be a question of who can mount a challenge and sustain it throughout the campaign until the trophies are lifted at the end of the season.

Over the past few seasons it has been a case of who could win the title either Dundalk or Cork City. To make the league even more spectacular it needs more clubs to close the gap on the top two. Shamrock Rovers have been setting things up nicely and this season their fans expect to be a lot closer to challenging for honours than in the last few  seasons. I have been watching very closely to what is going on at the home of football in Dalymount Park and Bohemians Football Club have been slowly getting things right on the field under manager Keith Long who has gathered a very talented group of players. If they can get off to a good start this season and keep it going there could be good times around the corner for all those involved at the club. There is nothing better in Irish football than been sat in Dalymount Park when the home side are doing the business on the field and the team are been successful. There are a few other big clubs around the league that need improving on last seasons campaign, Saint Patrick's Athletic would be one of those clubs that need to turn things around because last year they really struggled and at one stage were in a relegation dog fight. As former Champions of the League, Saint Pat,s need a big season and manager Liam Buckley has to get right on the field or he could be in for a very hard time. There is no doubt that this season in the Premier League we are in for what one can only describe as a bumpy ride. At this stage it is hard to predict who will win the league but I will stick my neck out and go for Cork City to follow up on last seasons success and top the league again.

In England, the Championship is one of the hardest leagues in the world to get out of and in the SSE Airtricity League it is exactly the same. This season there are some big clubs trying to gain promotion from the second tier and as in England the favourites always seem to be one of the clubs that have dropped down from last years top tier. I feel that this seasons strong favourites to go straight back up are the team from the North West of Ireland Finn Harps under manager Ollie Horgan. One other club that need a big season are Shelbourne and their manager Owen Heary must hope for a bit of luck to go with his great management skills, to get this club back up where it belongs at the top table of Irish football. I have sat in the press box on many nights in Tolka Park and the positioning of the directors box is right in front where all the media boys and girls do their stuff. If there were points awarded for passion from the owners  of a club then Shelbourne would have a least twenty in the bag before the season even kicks off. I tend to compare Shelbourne with Leeds United in England because they have been on the same rocky road as the Yorkshire club for a couple of years now, ironically to add to this story is the fact that Shelbourne Chairman Joe Casey is a big Leeds United fan and regularly makes the trip across to Elland Road. There is no nicer and more genuine man in Irish football than Joe and if I were to grant him one wish I know he would want his beloved Shelbourne back in the Premier League.

It will be a long season in both leagues but it has the potential to be a cracker. There are going to be more games shown live on TV this season and this has to be a help for the promotional side of the league, but you can not beat the thrill of going to a ground each weekend to support your side. The fans in Ireland call it the best league in the world and I tend to agree with that. Over the next few months if it happens in the league I will be all over it letting you guys in the Football Family know what is happening in the SSE Airtricity League. All we can do now is let the games begin.

 

 

 

Surely Cork City Will Win It Now

I have mentioned it many times in my column that in my opinion, the SSE Airtricity League is arguably the best in the world.

This season has been no exception as the clubs have battled it out in both the Premier League and First Division for the honours. In recent seasons Dundalk have been the leaders and have produced a style of football that is easy on the eye. Stephen Kenny and his squad of players have been a credit to themselves and last season they also had the added bonus of a superb European campaign. Dundalk's performances have laid down a marker for other clubs to follow and this season Cork have taken up the baton and have certainly put in a monumental challenge for Dundalk's title.

Last season Cork went so close, finishing second to a brilliant Dundalk, in a fact, that Dundalk side is arguably the best team ever to come out of the league. In last season's campaign, Cork actually beat Dundalk a couple of times and narrowly missed out on the title, but when John Caulfield's men were triumphant in the FAI Cup Final with a last minute winning goal in extra time you felt the pendulum was about to swing in Cork's favor. When we went into last weekend's fixtures Cork sat eighteen points clear at the top of the league, yes you read it correctly, eighteen points. If they wanted to now, they could possibly put out their reserve side for the rest of the season and still win the title. Dundalk is sitting in the second spot and to be perfectly honest, after losing three key players to new clubs they have been absolutely superb to regroup and get winning games again. To lose one player from a title winning side is hard but with three gone the whole dynamic of the squad has changed. Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan joined Preston and Ronan Finn went to rivals Shamrock Rovers. Stephen Kenny's men have hit form this season just at the right time with European games only around the corner, maybe just maybe they can repeat their European exploits from last season once again.

This season has been no exception as the clubs have battled it out in both the Premier League and First Division for the honours. In recent seasons Dundalk have been the leaders and have produced a style of football that is easy on the eye. Stephen Kenny and his squad of players have been a credit to themselves and last season they also had the added bonus of a superb European campaign. Dundalk's performances have laid down a marker for other clubs to follow and this season Cork have taken up the baton and have certainly put in a monumental challenge for Dundalk's title. Last season Cork went so close, finishing second to a brilliant Dundalk, in fact that Dundalk side is arguably the best team ever to come out of the league. In last seasons campaign, Cork actually beat Dundalk a couple of times and narrowly missed out on the title, but when John Caulfield's men were triumphant in the FAI Cup Final with a last minute winning goal in extra time you felt the pendulum was about to swing in Cork's favour. When we went into last weekends fixtures Cork sat eighteen points clear at the top of the league, yes you read it correctly, eighteen points. If they wanted to now, they could possibly put out their reserve side for the rest of the season and still win the title. Dundalk are sitting in second spot and to be perfectly honest, after losing three key players to new clubs they have been absolutely superb to regroup and get winning games again. To lose one player from a title winning side is hard but with three gone the whole dynamic of the squad has changed. Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan joined Preston and Ronan Finn went to rivals Shamrock Rovers. Stephen Kenny,s men have hit form this season just at the right time with European games only around the corner, maybe just maybe they can repeat their European exploits from last season once again.

When we went into last weekend's fixtures Cork sat eighteen points clear at the top of the league, yes you read it correctly, eighteen points. If they wanted to now, they could possibly put out their reserve side for the rest of the season and still win the title. Dundalk is sitting in the second spot and to be perfectly honest, after losing three key players to new clubs they have been absolutely superb to regroup and get winning games again. To lose one player from a title winning side is hard but with three gone the whole dynamic of the squad has changed. Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan joined Preston and Ronan Finn went to rivals Shamrock Rovers. Stephen Kenny,s men have hit form this season just at the right time with European games only around the corner, maybe just maybe they can repeat their European exploits from last season once again.

Stephen Kenny and his squad of players have been a credit to themselves and last season they also had the added bonus of a superb European campaign. Dundalk's performances have laid down a marker for other clubs to follow and this season Cork have taken up the baton and have certainly put in a monumental challenge for Dundalk,s title. Last season Cork went so close, finishing second to a brilliant Dundalk, in fact, that Dundalk side is arguably the best team ever to come out of the league. In last season's campaign, Cork actually beat Dundalk a couple of times and narrowly missed out on the title, but when John Caulfield,s men were triumphant in the FAI Cup Final with a last minute winning goal in extra time you felt the pendulum was about to swing in Cork's favor. When we went into last weekends fixtures Cork sat eighteen points clear at the top of the league, yes you read it correctly, eighteen points. If they wanted to now, they could possibly put out their reserve side for the rest of the season and still win the title. Dundalk are sitting in second spot and to be perfectly honest, after losing three key players to new clubs they have been absolutely superb to regroup and get winning games again. To lose one player from a title winning side is hard but with three gone the whole dynamic of the squad has changed. Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan joined Preston and Ronan Finn went to rivals Shamrock Rovers. Stephen Kenny,s men have hit form this season just at the right time with European games only around the corner, maybe just maybe they can repeat their European exploits from last season once again.

Last weekend Cork faced a tricky trip away to Derry and a point from the game is what was required. So with that in mind, manager John Caulfield must have been delighted that his squad came away from Maginn Park with all three points and had kept themselves clear at the top of the table. The chasing pack is been led by Dundalk and they took Finn Harps apart in Oriel Park, winning by four goals to nil. With such a big gap at the top of the table the story of this season could be developing at the bottom with former champions Saint Patrick's Athletic and Sligo stuck in real danger of been relegated. I mentioned it earlier in the season that three go down this campaign and unless both clubs get their acts together they could be for the drop. So as we go into the second half of the season it surely is Cork City,s title to throw away. One Cork player who has had a magnificent season is Sean Maguire and he has been signed by Preston, the team that seem to have a great scouting network keeping an eye on all the players in the SSE Airtricity League. Mind you with Simon Grayson now heading off to Sunderland I hope it will not effect those players careers. It is going to take a massive implosion from Cork City now if they are to fail in winning this years title. If and when they do as I fully expect, one man I will be delighted for is their manager John Caulfield, he is already a legend in the city for his exploits as a player and his legendary status will go off the richter status if his team can win the title. It can only be a matter of time now before we crown them champions and let them enjoy a long lap of honour.

Before this season kicked off, Division One was always going to be a dead rubber for a lot of clubs unless they were challenging for the one promotion spot. Every team going into this season knew what was on the table and in my opinion it has made a joke of the league and this is certainly something we do not want to hear. At the top it has become a three horse race between Waterford, UCD and Cobh Ramblers and the rest are just scrapping around for points to finish a season that has been over a long time ago now. Next season will be different for a lot of those clubs and I am sure they can not wait to see the back of this one. Waterford who sit top, are only four points ahead of Cobh Ramblers who are in third place and UCD are second, so you can see how tight it is and the run in could be very interesting. Whoever wins the place it will have been a very interesting journey to their achievement of league winners.

Eat Your Heart Out Mr. Beckham

Many supporters of the SSE Airtricity League call it the greatest league in the world and I totally agree with that sentiment. There have been occasions over the years when that statement sits well on the chest of most fans. Week in and week out, fans set out to see games and the unpredictability of the games throws everything up in the air. The weekend that just finished was certainly one of those to shout about and a few surprises were to be found as the results came in.

It has had a knock on effect for all sorts of reasons and people have lost their jobs over poor results and poor performances. This is all like a big melting pot and has all the ingredients that go into making something special on a weekly basis as we all watch the SSE Airtricity League.

The week that has just passed saw Sligo Rovers and Limerick part company with their managers. Dave Robertson left Sligo and Martin Russell walked out of the door at Limerick. The Sligo parting of the ways did not suprise me, as I feel Dave never really got it going at the Showgrounds.

I was astonished that Limerick and Martin Russell fell out of love as they have only been promoted to the Premier League and it is early days, but the form has not been great. Both these sackings, coming so early in the season just goes to show how worried owners are with three teams been relegated to the First Division this season.

On the field of play Bohemians played Saint Patrick's Athletic in a Dublin Derby and the away side took all three points after a four nil win, but the result although a shock, was not the story of the game. That came when Saint Pat's player Conan Byrne scored one of the best ever goals you are going to see in the SSE Airtricity League. Conan was just inside his own half when the ball fell lovely for him to have a long range shot which flew into the back of the Bohemians net. The goal has been shown over and over again this week on Social Media and TV and if you get a chance try and get a look at it. It was very similar to David Beckham's long range effort all those years ago against Wimbledon, but in my opinion the one scored in Dalymount Park last week was far better. There is no doubt it will be this seasons SSE Airtricity's League goal of the season as it will take some effort by somebody else to beat it. It was an astonishing win for Saint Pat's as they have had a rotten start to the season, a start they need to get out of their system and move on.

Elsewhere in the Premier Division there were wins for Bray Wanderers, Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers and Cork City. John Caulfield's Cork City still lead the league and sit six points clear, Dundalk are just sitting behind and it is shaping up to be a cracker of a season.

In Division One, Shelbourne manager Owen Heary is really getting things across to his players and they are starting to put things right on the pitch. They are now four games unbeaten and last Friday they beat Wexford two nil. As we know momentum can mean a lot in football and Shelbourne certainly have that at the moment. It was a convincing two nil win and their goals came from Derek Prendergast and Dayle Rooney. The men from Tolka Park failed to win a game in their opening four matches but they now seem to have the belief that they can bag the one spot up for grabs in the promotion race. Waterford are sitting on top of the Division and are going to have their own challenge and in this league anything can happen.

So there we have it, another weekend gone in the greatest league in the world and the excitement levels are still on the way up. It is hard to work out at the moment who is going to win what, but in the Premier League Cork City are really putting on a great show at the moment and who knows it might just be their season. There is a long way to go this season in both leagues and if the early part of the season is anything to go by, it will be tense exciting and absolutely bloody mad if you are a supporter in the SSE Airtricity League.

Best League in The World is Back

Last Friday night saw the return of the SSE Airtricity League, like a lover who had gone missing it was great to have her back. Fans from all corners of the country fans made their way to stadiums in far away places to give support to the clubs they have grown up with and whom they hoped could give them a good start to the season. There is no doubt that the fans at this time of the season have high hopes for the months ahead and feel their clubs can go on and win trophies, sparking the mood for celebration. There is a long way to go before the medals are handed out and a lot of water will have to go under the bridge before then. The SSE Airtricity League as we know is technically a summer league and it would make you laugh that last week on the eve of the 2017 season we had storm Doris in Ireland. I saw a lot of photos from around the grounds showing a lot of problems within the stadiums, but with hard work from ground staff and management we kicked off on time and what a very interesting first weekend we had.

On the opening weekend in the SSE Airtricity Premier League there were victories for Derry City, Drogheda United, Bray Wanderers, Limerick, Cork City and the champions Dundalk. It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend and there were plenty of goals to be seen, in the six games played we had nineteen goals. The biggest victory of the weekend came in Limerick as the newly promoted side put five past Sligo Rovers. It was a magnificent result for the newly promoted side and their fans have found a new hero as their Brazilian striker Rodrigo Tosi scored a hat trick. Two further goals from Lee Lynch and Ian Turner added to Sligo,s woes and manager Dave Robertson has a huge job on his hands to raise the morale of his players after this defeat. Morale will also be a problem in Dalymount Park after the home side Bohemians were beaten four one by Derry City. It was a bad defeat, there is no doubt about that. I was extremely disappointed for Keith Long and his players as they were well beaten by what looks like a very good Derry City team. This could turn out to be a long season for the men from Dublin 7 and they will need to get things going in their upcoming games or they could be one of those clubs fighting to stay out of the bottom three this season. Champions Dundalk started off were they finished last season and won a tough battle against Shamrock Rovers. Stephen Kenny's personnel may have changed but his winning system is still working and they edged out Rovers by two goals to one. Although they lost the game, Rovers looked really impressive and I feel they will be the Dublin side that puts in a challenge this season for the title. All in all, the Premier League has started with a bang and it has the promise of an excellent season.

In Division One there were wins for Athlone and UCD with the other two games ending all square between Shelbourne and Longford Town and Cobh Ramblers and Wexford. The big game was the one played in Tolka Park between Shelbourne and Longford which ended in a nil all draw. Although it ended scoreless it was a superb game and neither side deserved to lose. I have no doubt these two will be fighting it out at the top end of the league this season. One other game that caught my eye in this division was the clash between Cobh and Wexford. The home side who are managed by Stephen Henderson, a lad who I have an awful lot of time for, really must fancy their chances having missed out in last season,s play off. It looked like they were cruising to all three points when Lee Duffy equalised for Wexford very late in the game. Cobh had taken an early lead in the game when Dean Swords scored a cracking free kick from about twenty five yards out. It was certainly two points dropped by the home side, but knowing Stephen as I do he will drill it into his players the need to compete and stay focussed to see out games like this.

So there we have it, the first weekend is over and done with. It gave us some great games and many questions to be answered and we will have the SSE Airtricity League back with us now until October. That is something I am delighted to say.

Irish Football - Time To Look Back 2016

As we move closer to the start of the 2017 SSE Airtricity League, it would not be correct of me to let last year disappear into memory without sharing a few thoughts on a year that was incredible in both domestic and International football for this little country of ours. At the start of the year a lot of people were so excited about a trip to France for the 2016 European Championships and many fans were visiting their local credit unions so they could get finance to go and enjoy the big party. It was also a time to look forward to the domestic clubs taking part in European competition. As the year closed out, everyone had to admit that 2016 would go down in history as a major leap forward in this country at all levels. It has been led by two managers who have had their sides focussed and well prepared. The two men in question are Irish boss Martin O'Neill and Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny. These two guys have gone about their jobs with great passion and have taken their sides to the next level. They have both succeeded in their own different ways, so let us start the new year by looking back at the old one, a great year for Irish football.

At International level, in my opinion I am not sure what Martin O'Neill thought his squad could give him. By the end of the year he surely must have been delighted with the way things had gone. His teams magnificent performance in the European Championship must have given him great satisfaction and pleasure. The highlight of the tournament was the win over Italy and the last sixteen performance against hosts France. If I am to be totally honest, to lose to the hosts although disappointing, it was not a nightmare of a tournament as which the Irish had in 2012 when they did not win a match. As we came to the end of the year the squad kicked on and they now sit top of their group for qualification to the World Cup Finals in Russia next year. The highlight of the campaign so far was the one nil victory in Austria, a truly superb performance on the night. It was regarded here as the best away result for Ireland since Jack Charlton's squad went to Scotland in 1987 and beat the home side one nil. Three players have grown up at this level over the year and the boys who have become men are Seamus Coleman, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady. To have one good player in your squad is great news but to have all three now playing comfortably at International level is a huge bonus for O'Neill. Next up for the Irish is a home game against Wales and if they can win that, they will not only strengthen their own position in the group but it could also eliminate the Welsh. Overall it was a brilliant year for Martin O' Neill and a lot of credit has to go to his back room staff made up of Roy Keane, Steve Walford and Steve Guppy as well. Let us all hope that this year ahead can be even more successful and the Irish fans can get their visa application forms in for a trip to Russia.

The domestic game here at times does not get a lot of positive publicity, that is a story for another day, but the season just finished has been an exception, due to one club's exploits in Europe. Dundalk FC took what can only be described as a major step forward in European football last season. Champions League qualifying games against FH Helsinki, Bate Borisov and Legia Warsaw saw the fans flock to stadiums in their thousand,s to get behind what was fast developing into a great story. They were unfortunately unable to qualify for the group stages of that competition but that was not the end of the story. Their performances in the Europa League have now gone down in Irish football history. Alkmaar, Zenith Saint Petersburg and Maccabi Tel Aviv stood in their way of qualification for the knockout stages and what an amazing effort Stephen Kenny and his squad put up. Although they failed to get out of the group the whole campaign was a success. In the FAI Cup Final it was Cork City who were victorious and by winning the cup it stopped Dundalk doing the double. It was a superb season overall and Cork City pushed Dundalk all the way in both the cup and league. It was fitting that the Cork won the cup as they stepped up to the plate to challenge Dundalk.

As we go into 2017 everything is going along nicely in Irish football. I have no doubt that this year Martin O'Neill and his squad will push on all the way in the hope of qualifying for next year,s World Cup Finals. I feel in the domestic game Dundalk will still be up there to be knocked off their perch. I expect them to go well again in Europe and fully expect Cork to join them with a bit of a run. Shamrock Rovers could be the big threat to the top two and at the moment are building a nice little squad in preparation for the challenge. No matter what happens it all starts again in February and I for one can not wait.

Shelbourne and Cork City are Cup Kings

If you are a football fan in Ireland, the one day of the year you do not want to miss is FAI Cup Final Day.

It is a day when no matter who you support, you put on a warm coat and hat and head to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. The atmosphere in and around the ground can be something very special. The teams involved bring their own supporters and you also have a mixture of supporters from the other clubs in the Airtricity League.

This season competing in the two Cup Finals for both women and men where Shelbourne and Wexford Youths in the FAI Continental Tyres Women's Cup Final and Dundalk and Cork City in the men's FAI Daily Mail Cup Final. The men's Cup Final would see the top two in the Airtricity League clashing which on paper promised a cracker. It was also a day where we saw a repeat of last years finals when all four clubs battled it out as well, now that was something you do not come across very often. Over twenty five thousand fans  turned up to watch what were two excellent matches. It all kicked off just after midday and wrapped up just before seven in the evening. Over six hours of totally absorbing football from four great clubs. Let me below unravel what went on, so you can get a feel of what a great day it was.

First up was the clash in the FAI Women's Cup Final,  Shelbourne against Wexford Youths who got the party started. It is not very often the FAI get things correct but the decision to play both Cup Final,s on the same day in the same stadium was a great boost for the Women,s game. It puts it on a par with the Men,s senior final on a day that is all about the fans. On the day there was only going to be one winner as Shelbourne ripped their opponents apart and ran out five nil winners. It was a day Shelbourne,s  Leanne Kiernan will never forget as she bagged a hat trick. To score a hat trick is a great achievement but to do it in your senior cup final is something special. Her performance helped her win woman of the match and with three goals no one would disagree. I myself would like to give a special mention to the Shelbourne goalkeeper Amanda McQuillan who in my opinion made two world class saves to keep Wexford out. The two vital saves came when her side were one nil up and then again when they had added a second, if either of those two efforts by Wexford had gone in, the story could have been so different. It was sweet revenge for Shelbourne, who lost last season's final against Wexford but on the day this year they were just to strong.

By the time the Men's Cup Final was ready to kick off there was a smashing crowd inside the ground and the atmosphere was superb. Dundalk and Cork City took to the field having finished first and second in that order in the league. It was to be a game where both sides had the same amount of chances and either side could have won. Both sides got stuck into each other right from the start and referee Rob Rogers had to use all his experience to keep a tight grip on the game. Once the players realised the referee was not going to be messed about we had a great game. The two heavyweights of the league put on a great battle and the game was extremely tight. A couple of good saves by both keepers kept the game at nil all and the game went the distance and into extra time.

It was in the final minute of extra time that Cork scored to win the cup, but it looked for so long that the game would go to penalties as both sets of players were on their knees. The goal came from a long throw in from Steven Beattie that fell to Sean Maguire who hit a shot that deflected off a Dundalk defender and spun into the net at an agonising slow pace. From my seat in the press box I could clearly see the ball was heading wide before it took the deflection. It was a cruel way for Dundalk to lose out on a possible double double, but these things happen so often in football. For Cork it was revenge for last years final when they lost against Dundalk.

It was a tremendous day to finish off what has been a superb season of football and everyone already is looking forward to next season. Dundalk have two more huge games left in the Europa League and they will have to pick themselves up after this result. Next up is AZ Alkmaar and if they can produce the goods in  that game this loss will not feel so painful. Congrats to Cork who are closing in on Dundalk and with this victory it will give them so much encouragement for next season.

Airtricity League Dynamite

As we come into the final lap of this season's Airtricity League, I have to report it has been the most exciting and entertaining in many a long year, no matter what club you support.

In the past the league has been branded a "Problem Child " by FAI Chief Executive John Delaney, a statement I found very strange at the time, but I do hope this season he is swallowing his words as the weeks have gone along. The players and the supporters have not let themselves down as we have trawled through this summer festival of football, though to be quite honest I prefer the winter football myself, nothing beats a Friday night in Dalymount or Tolka Park under the fllodlights to get the hair on the back of your neck standing up. But quite a few years back the powers that be, decided to switch to summer football to try and give the Irish clubs a better chance in progressing when they have qualified for European competition.

Let me below bring you right up to date with everything that is going on and where I think the trophies and honours are going to end up this season, with one little extra special mention to champions Dundalk who are on a run in Europe, yes an Airtricity League side is causing ripples in Europe.

In the Premier League it has been a two horse race between Stephen Kenny's Dundalk and John Caulfield's Cork City. Those two teams have been technically the best two sides I have seen in the league in years.

The hard work both managers have put in, has brought their clubs to a new level, it is actually a joy to watch both sides either in person live or on TV. Dundalk have opened up a seven point lead at the top of the table and at the time of writing, Cork City have a game in hand. The run in over the next couple of weeks will be both exciting and nerve racking for all involved. Dundalk's run in the Europa League is giving them extra games and this has given Cork a real chance to claim this seasons title. The cherry on the top of the cake is the fact that both sides have to meet again this season and that game could be billed as winner takes all. One aspect of this season,s Premier League which has disappointed me is the fact that none of the Dublin clubs have put any sort of a challenge together. Saint Patrick's Athletic, Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians have been hugely disappointing and the gap between them and the top two is huge in terms of ability and technique and this is not acceptable from a fans point of view. Things got so bad at Shamrock Rovers, that half way through the season they parted company with manager Pat Fenlon, news that came as a bit of a shock to the supporters of this once great club.

At the bottom of the table are Longford and I can not see anyway out of trouble for them, they sit six points behind Wexford Youths and it will take a monumental effort to get out of trouble now. Wexford themselves have a possibility of getting out of the relegation play off spot as they only sit four points behind third bottom side Finn Harps, who are on a downward spiral at the moment. It will be a few more weeks before all the winners and losers will be sorted out, but in my opinion without a doubt this has been a season to remember.

As I wrote earlier, the teams from Dublin have been very disappointing this season and it would be nice to see them put together a challenge next season. One side who are putting things together on and off the field are Bohemians, they plan to have huge improvements to their ground and in my opinion they could be a force next season. This season manager Keith Long has them playing beautiful football and if next season they can find a bit of cutting edge they could be real contenders. The back room staff that Keith Long has put together is probably the most experienced one in the league. Alongside Keith there is Graham O'Hanlon, Fred Davis and Dave Henderson, a group that has more years than I care to remember in Airtricity League experience. If the team from Dalymount Park can bring in a strong centre half and striker, we could have lift off. This seasons Leinster Senior Cup winners are a huge club and have under achieved for to long now, if Long and his squad can put in a good shift next season, who knows where they could end up. The Airtricity League is superb if you ask any supporter and if the top clubs keep developing over the coming years,you will have the fans flocking to the games.
( All point gaps correct at the time of writing)

Dundalk Complete The Double

Last Sunday over 25,000 Irish soccer fans headed to the Aviva Stadium in Dublin to see the 2015 FAI Cup Final. This was an incredible number considering there had been torrential rain falling in Dublin's Fair City all morning. The fact the numbers were so big just tells you how much interest there was in this years final. In prospect, was a game between the top two sides in the country, Dundalk and Cork City. Dundalk were hoping to complete a League and Cup double and the only thing ready to stop them was Cork, themselves hoping to get their hands on silverware to finish off a pretty good season. The buzz was amazing around the ground before the match and in the many public houses, the pre match discussion was all about how the game would go and who would be the match winners. Would it be the men from Dundalk or could it be the men from alongside the River Lee who would end up victorious.

On the pitch it was always going to be a tight affair and it proved just to be that way. Chances were at a minimum and in fairness neither side took control of the game. It looked to me as if Cork had come to dig in, park the bus and hit Dundalk on the break. A negative tactic but a tactic all the same. With this tactic applied by Cork this game was always going to go the distance and head towards extra time. This indeed it did and as we gathered ourselves for the final thirty minutes of the season, it was always going to take a special moment to clinch it. That special moment came in the 117 minute of the game when Dundalk duo Horgan and Towell combined to create a chance for Towell to score his twenty ninth goal of the season. His class showed through as he took one touch, moved into space and buried the ball past McNulty in the Cork goal. The traveling Dundalk fans went berserk as they knew how close they were to their first double since 1988. The goal pushed Cork into coming out and playing but it was to late, they created nothing to get an equaliser. On referee David Mckeons final whistle the celebration could start and the Dundalk fans could start to party. After the game Dundalk manager Stephen Kenny paid tribute to his players and words could not explain how he felt about their commitment to a fantastic season.

One sad note on the day was the report after the game by the police, that during the celebrations Dundalk fans ripped up thirty seats. It was a black mark on a great day for Irish football and hopefully these thugs can be found charged and banished from future games.

 

( By David Meier )