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.

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.

The Famous FAI Cup Weekend

Last weekend we saw the FA Cup Final between Crystal Palace and Manchester United. It was also the 2nd Round of the FAI Cup in Ireland. At this stage of the competition the Airtricity League clubs get involved. It is the blue riband competition of Irish football and all roads will lead to the Aviva Stadium for the final later in the year. The final is a great day out for all Irish soccer fans and even the neutral will turn up. This years 2nd Round saw only one all premier league clash between Bohemians and Galway. The atmosphere around all the grounds is so different to your normal league weekend. You get a great sense of anticipation in and around the grounds, as fans of each club involved start dreaming about a good cup run. One club who who would love the luxury of a cup run are Bohemians, as so far their season has been a bit of a disaster. So with that in mind my destination on Friday night was to head to Dalymount Park to see how they got on.

When I arrived at the ground you could feel that famous FAI Cup atmosphere I mentioned earlier. But this time it was slightly different for Bohemians, as they could put their league form to one side for at least weekend. They have had a bit of a nightmare of a start to this season and not only are they not winning games but they are also failing to score goals. It has been tough going for Bohemians manager Keith Long as he has tried to shape his team for a good season. The style in which his team play is to be commended, but so far this campaign it has not worked. Keith even had to sit in his dugout a few weeks back and watch as bitter rivals Shamrock Rovers came to Dalymount and destroyed his team four nil. So as referee Neil Doyle blew his whistle to start the game you could feel a little bit of tension in the air. Galway are no slouches and manager Tommy Dunne has them well drilled. In fact in the league they are a full ten points ahead of Bohemians and that certainly would not have been predicted before the start of the season. Any nerves that might have been in the Bohemians players legs went after ten minutes when Paddy Kavanagh scored a screamer to give the home side the lead. The goal was welcomed by the fans as if it was the one that had won the FAI Cup outright. It brought to an end the eleven and a half hour goal drought that all the Bohemians had been hoping for. A second half penalty by

doubled their lead and pretty much sowed up the game. It you looked at the Galway threat, there was only really one good chance by Vinny Faherty which stood out. We often hear managers going on about victories kick starting a season, well in this case Keith Long will feel there is plenty to build on and most importantly they are through to the next round of the FAI Cup. The victory will calm things down and get the fans back onside as some were starting to wonder if Long is the right man to take this famous club forward.

Elsewhere in the 2nd Round there were wins for Dundalk, Limerick, Wexford, Rigmahon Rangers, Cobh Ramblers, Saint Patrick,s Athletic, Sligo Rovers, UCD, Janesboro, Longford Town, Cork City and Shamrock Rovers. Meanwhile Athlone Town and Letterkenny and Derry City and Drogheda must meet again during the week in the only two ties that ended level after ninety minutes. The big shock of the weekend was junior club Crumlin knocking out Premier League club Finn Harps. It was made all the sweeter by the fact that Crumlin were the away side and the trip to Ballybofey can sometimes be a long journey. Crumlin secured a victory with a goal from Greg Moorehouse after 49 minutes and in fairness they deserved their victory. Finn Harps were reduced to ten men after 64 minutes when Barrry Molloy was shown two yellow cards within three minutes. When Molloy got his marching orders, the hopes of Finn Harps disappeared down the tunnel with him. Over the whole weekend the fans were treated to some great action and those of the sides who won can now look forward to the next round. Depending on how the future draws go, one can only wonder who will be the two teams that line out later in the year at the Aviva Stadium for the final.

By David Meier

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 )

2015 FAI Cup Final

All roads lead to the Aviva stadium today for the FAI Cup Final between Dundalk and Cork.

The blue riband event of Irish soccer could not have asked for two better participants who have battled through the earlier rounds to reach this stage. In fact, if you have been following the Airtricity League of Ireland this season you will know that these two clubs have finished first and second.

Everyone at the FAI headquarters are over the moon with the prospect of this game, as it will show off the quality of the league and a big crowd is expected.

Traditionally this is a day for Irish soccer fans, not just the ones from the participating teams but all fans around the country which will bring a great atmosphere on the day. The FAI have priced tickets at €10 and this to me is a master stroke . It will give the fans a chance to get to the game and be part of what could possibly be the best cup final in years.

 

On the field it should be a tight affair between the two sides. Cork will be hard pressed to keep a close eye on Dundalk's goal machine Richie Towell. If they can put the shackles on the Dundalk striker,well then they will have a fair chance, as he has been banging in the goals all season.

I am sure Cork manager John Caulfield has been drilling it into his players all week how important an FAI Cup Final victory is for the club.

A successful Cork team is great for the Airtricity League, as they have a huge following and it brings great revenue to other clubs when the boys from the  leeside arrive.

A Dundalk victory clinches the double of league and cup, and I am sure manager Stephen Kenny is already looking forward to another crack at Europe after securing the title.

All in all it has the prospect of a great game, and as I said earlier, a good day out. I myself shall be in the press box and I do hope the game delivers a great cup final to remember.

David Meier

Dundalk Champions

Following on from the historical result against the Germans on Thursday night, all eyes returned to the focus of the Airtricity League on Friday night and in particular the game that could see Dundalk crowned champions if the result went right for them. The team from county Louth have been miles ahead of what the rest have had to offer this season and their nearest rivals have been Cork City. In fairness the league has been over for sometime now and it only needed Dundalk to make sure mathematically that no one could catch them to become champions. They wrapped up the title on Friday night with a one all draw away at Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium.

 

The Airtricity League runs during the summer and right from the off, the men of Dundalk looked like they were prepared for business to  win back to back championships. Manager Stephen Kenny is a man who knows how to win and tactically he prepared his squad excellently for a season that was going to be a tough one, as in every league the previous seasons champions are always there to be taken on. But in this case you have to admire the way that Stephen and his players went about their business. To win the league with three games to spare is a rarity in the Airtricity  League of Ireland and it just goes to show the dedication shown by Dundalk players and staff. The title race is over but the focus now turns to the bottom of the league and the battle for survival. The bottom three are Limerick, Sligo and Drogheda United. This will go right down to the wire and at this stage with three games to go it is to hard to call. One thing is certain, nobody wants to drop into Division One, the difference between the two leagues is unbelievable. The club that drops out of the league will have to make many cutbacks because the money in the Premier League is tight,but in Division One it is non existent.

 

Actually in Division One the league is  wrapped up as well, and Wexford Youths have been crowned champions. This league is rarely ever mentioned in the media as it only consists of eight teams, that statement pretty much sums up that league. I really feel the time for change has come in the Airtricity League.

A few years back the league changed to summer soccer so as to try and give the teams a chance when competing in European football. It worked for a while, but since then, gates have suffered and standards have dropped. I feel we need to go back to a traditional season and I am sure the gates will improve and with that the standards will also rise, because there will be more money in the game. It is something the FAI need to sit down and really consider, after all this is the top league in our country and apart from the football fans on the island of Ireland not a lot of people know much about it.

There is a golden opportunity on November 8th to put the league right into the shop window, as the FAI Cup Final will be held in the Aviva Stadium between Dundalk and Cork. These two clubs have been the best and most consistent and if I was lucky to be on the organizing committee for that game I would promote it to the world. What is required on the day is a super game with wall to wall coverage in the media, it is something I do not think the FAI are capable of.

To be perfectly honest with you, in my opinion I think the boys in suits would struggle to organize a drinks party in Guinness's.

 

David Meier