Archive | December, 2014

My Footballing A-Z for 2014!

30 Dec

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A is for Aiden. I watched Ireland beat Georgia in September while on my holidays in Kusadasi. In the 90th minute, Aiden McGeady’s world class goal almost resulted in my overturning the bar table in delight, wonder and relief. I got some strange looks but not a shit was given. One of the goals of the year.

B is for Brazil. The 2014 World Cup was held in the country that gave us probably the greatest international team of all in 1970. Sadly the 2014 version and the country itself went into meltdown in a 7-1 semi-final humiliation by eventual winners Germany.

C is for Croly. Trevor Croly’s 2nd year in charge of Shamrock Rovers proved to be a massive disappointment. Negative and unattractive football, bizarre after match comments and an early petering out of the League of Ireland challenge saw Croly depart before the end of a dismal season for Rovers fans.

D is for Delaney. The CEO of the FAI covered himself in own goals in November. From overseeing a ticket shambles involving Irish fans for the match in Glasgow, to having his association threaten legal action against publications denying it was himself murdering the ballad “Joe McDonnell” in a Dublin bar, for which he soon admitted it was his “singing”, to his bully-boy tacticts towards the “best fans in the world” who dared protest peacefully over his performance, to moaning about invasions of privacy despite allowing camera crews and social journalists follow and report his every move, the myth of John the Baptist was beginning to look more like John the Gobshite.

E is for Euro Qualifiers. Ireland began their quest for Euro 2016 qualification with four matches between September and November. Two wins, a draw and a defeat leave Martin O’Neill’s team in a challenging position for the two automatic places for the party in France. A reasonable haul given the opening four assignments.

F is for Fenlon. The only real choice to succeed Croly above as Rovers’ Manager towards the end of the 2014 season. Rovers’ demanding fans will expect a proper challenge for the title in 2015 after three successive flops since the 2011 title win under Michael O’Neill. Fenlon will acknowledge the expectation.

G is for Glasgow. A cracking couple of nights on an Ireland away trip was softened by Ireland’s defeat at Celtic Park against Scotland in November. Celtic Park’s roar usually has me joining in, but ex-Celtic’s Shaun Maloney’s goal brought the roar from the Tartan Army and not the Boys in Green. It was a sickening moment.

H is for Hoodoo. St Patrick’s Athletic finally ended a 53 year FAI Cup hoodoo by finally lifting the silverware by defeating Derry City 2-0 in the final. The hoodoo baton now lies a few miles up the Naas Road to Rovers.

I is for Idiotic. The FAI’s Gestapo-esque disciplinary regime, meaning that players who accumulated four bookings in 2014 will miss the opening game of the 2015 season.

J is for Jay. Jay Beatty, a young Celtic fan became an internet sensation after he was filmed on Live TV being carried around Celtic Park at the end of the 2014 season lap of honour by his hero, Celtic’s Georgios Samaras. The Greek FA continued the friendship by inviting Jay to see Samaras in the World Cup and Jay and Samaras were further honoured with an award by the Greek Sports Journalists in December. A real feel-good story in 2014 this.

K is for Keane. There’s only one Keano goes the song. Er not quite! Robbie continued to accumulate his record goals tally for the Irish team while Roy continued to attract headlines for being involved in a hotel fight prior to the Scottish game, rumours of player bust-ups at Aston Villa and the release of his second autobiography also. Keanos, Keanos, Keanos……….

L is for Laughing Stock. The Rangers FC. Nothing to add.

M is for McGinley. This is football and golf. Paul McGinley’s outstanding captaincy of the European Ryder Cup golf team led to a convincing victory of the Americans. That I was lucky to play schoolboy football with McGinner from Under 9 to Under 16 and that I can still see him selling “Soccer Reporter” at the Milltown Road end of Glenmalure Park in the 80s is what gives this the football angle.

N is for Neil. Neil Lennon departed Celtic after a pretty successful first stint at football management. That he did so despite being assaulted on the touchline by a Hearts fan, being sent bullets and other threats in his mail, being told he brought it on himself by Scottish journalists only made my admiration for the guy even higher. Thanks Neil. Has ended 2014 with a very impressive early spell at Bolton in The Championship, this guy knows his onions.

O is for O’Shea. Scorer of THAT goal in Gelsenkirchen in October. If my delight at McGeady’s goal on my holidays was palpable, O’Shea’s goal sent me completely berserk on my couch as he steered in our equaliser in the 94th minute against World Champions Germany in his 100th Irish appearance. I screamed the living room down, sent the dog running for cover, climbed my other couch and probably had my French next door neighbour ready to call the Gardai for noise pollution. Moment of the year.

P is for Protest. Further to D above, Irish fans decided to hold a peaceful protest at the USA friendly match in November at Lansdowne Road as a result of the Glasgow ticket shambles. The FAI saw fit to send in heavy-handed stewards and Gardai to “quell” the protest. Despite the protest banners not contravening Stadium regulations, banners were confiscated and faced with stadium regulation leaflets, stewards tore them up in front of angry fans. John Delaney subsequently stated he didn’t have an issue with fans making their feelings known.   Make up your own mind about that gem from Delaney.

Q is for Quinn. Stephen Quinn had an excellent 2014 under Martin O’Neill and was testament that if you keep plugging away, recognition can and will follow. Quinn’s parents both passed away in his early 20s and he almost quit the game, but at the age of 28 finally got his first competitive start in that September victory over Georgia. He is now very much a Premier League player at Hull City and the Clondalkin lad’s honesty and perseverance a real example to others in his profession.

R is for Roche. Stephanie Roche became not only an internet sensation, but has been voted into the Top 3 goals of 2014 alongside James Rodriguez and Robin Van Persie for her wonder goal while playing for Peamount United. She will attend FIFA’s Balon D’Or award ceremony where the decision on whose goal was voted the finest will be announced. She could well win it and should really.

S is for Stevie G. Stephen Gerrard’s slip in a crucial Premier League game against Chelsea became an iconic image in 2014. With Liverpool pushing for their first title since 1990, Gerrard slipped in possession of the ball 30 yards from goal, allowing Chelsea’s Demba Ba to score a crucial goal. Liverpool lost the match and their momentum, Gerrard’s slip has become a song taunting the hapless Liverpool skipper.

T is for tickets. The FAI’s utter incompetence in allocating the 3,200 or so tickets to Irish fans for the Scottish match in Glasgow became a real sore point for fans. People with 100% away attendance records, people with season tickets that supposedly gave them “priority” for away games and people promised tickets by FAI officials, saw themselves left to source tickets from the SFA instead. Despite fair and reasonable questions being put to the FAI over this affair, none of them were answered and CEO John Delaney sought to blame the SFA instead, despite the SFA granting the usual 5% to the visiting nation. Some people were granted tickets who hadn’t even been to a home game before! You couldn’t make this shit up, it could only be done in Abbotstown.

U is for Unstoppable. Cristiano Ronaldo deservedly took that accolade as his incredible scoring feats in La Liga took Real Madrid to their tenth European Cup/Champions League triumph. While he disappointed with Portugal in a dreadful World Cup performance, his power, pace and goals were just unstoppable in 2014. He’ll be around for a while yet.

V is for Villain. Luis Suarez almost single-handedly drove Liverpool to the brink of Premier League glory. He also became World Cup villain when he bit Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini in a World Cup Group match in Brazil. His antics were truly appalling, leading to a hefty and proper punishment from FIFA given it was his third proven bite on an opponent. A smashing footballer, but a headcase.

W is for World Cup Winners. Germany deservedly lifted the World Cup in Brazil thanks to an extra-time winner from Mario Goetze in the final against Argentina. Germany’s young team had promised much in 2010 and they delivered four years on, with their 7-1 dismantling of hosts Brazil in the semi final being notable both for Germany’s ruthlessness and Brazil’s brittleness. They are worthy World Champions.

X is for X-Rated. Whether it’s x-rated tackling or language from the terraces, football isn’t the place for the faint-hearted. If you’re a linesman at Tallaght Stadium or most League of Ireland venues, one mistake and a flurry of x-rated abuse will come your way. Roll on March!

Y is for Years. Twenty seven now to be precise since Rovers won the FAI Cup. The term “cup specialists” looks pretty silly now. That the 1987 win over Dundalk remains so vivid in my mind to complete a third successive League/Cup double for Rovers only adds to frustration of such a barren Cup run. The drive for 25 continues in 2015!

Z is for zzzzzzzzzzzz. The abiding memory of watching Rovers under Trevor Croly, or your emotion reading this.

Happy New Year all!

Phelim Warren, 30th December 2014

@freewheeler12

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Ireland Team Report: A Good Year, not a Great One.

17 Dec

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So another year has slid by in the blink of an eye. A much anticipated and hugely enjoyable World Cup in Brazil ended with worthy champions in the form of Germany. That Ireland missed out was of course disappointing but the scars of Euro 2012 carried into a very disappointing World Cup qualifying campaign under Trapattoni, who paid for our missing out on Brazil with his job. Martin O’Neill took up the reins as we know in 2013. So how was 2014 for the still new Irish regime?

O’Neill had to remain very patient for the opening nine months of the year as only friendly matches were available to him until the Euro 2016 matches kicked off in September. It was very hard to gauge where O’Neill’s team was going in the friendly matches we witnessed and many of the players remained from the Trapattoni era.

One notable change in those friendlies however was O’Neill’s inclusion of Wes Hoolahan, who was so disappointingly snubbed for almost all of Trapattoni’s tenure. Wes responded very well in most of those friendly matches, with eye-catching performances and being given leeway by O’Neill to show us the ability we all knew he possessed.

Two successive Dublin defeats however (both 2-1 to Serbia and Turkey) led to some early impatience among fans, but a hugely impressive 0-0 draw against World Cup bound Italy in London would have given O’Neill real encouragement. Excellent individual performances from Anthony Pilkington, David Meyler, Geoff Hendrick and Hoolahan hinted that the new era would exorcise the dreadful World Cup campaign as O’Neill then took his charges Stateside for two games against also World Cup bound Costa Rica and Portugal.

A bad-tempered 1-1 draw with Costa Rica was followed by a 5-1 slaughtering by Portugal and given what befell both nations in the subsequent World Cup, it still remained very difficult to assess how O’Neill’s team was taking shape. Costa Rica excelled in Brazil, while Portgual bombed and with only one more friendly match at home to Oman ahead of the opening qualifier, it was proving difficult to accurately predict O’Neill’s likely starting XI for the Euro qualifiers, not that it’s easy to second guess the Derryman’s mind anyhow.

Oman were despatched 2-0 in a boring enough encounter at Lansdowne, so O’Neill’s record in the seven friendlies in 2014 read two wins, two draws and three losses, enough for some pessimism among some fans and enough for the optimists to maintain that friendlies are no real indication of what will happen in competitive games.

The real business began in September, the opening Euro 2016 qualifier as Ireland headed to Tbilisi to play Georgia, always a difficult place to go at the best of times. Georgia were coached by former Newcastle United player Temuri Ketsbaia.

As stated above, it is very difficult and probably futile to predict what Martin O’Neill’s team selection would be and so it proved in Tbilisi. Despite the excellence of Hoolahan’s friendly match displays, he didn’t start in Tbilisi and O’Neill opted for a 5 man midfield of Jon Walters and Aiden McGeady wide and a central trio of Stephen Quinn, Glen Whelan and James McCarthy. Robbie Keane was the lone striker.

Ireland won 2-1 thanks to a McGeady double, with the second goal worthy of winning any game such was the breathtaking nature of McGeady’s skill and finish. The overall performance however was patchy, with a fine opening 20 minutes followed by a shaky last 20 minutes in the first half; little was happening in a dull second half until McGeady’s brilliance sent the travelling fans bananas in the 90th minute. Three points was three points however, job done. O’Neill’s tetchiness in the face of the post-match interview was disappointing and certainly misplaced, but as a results game, the perfect start.

Gibraltar were next up in October in Dublin. Matches against so-called “whipping boys” usually prove frustrating for Irish teams, but there are whipping boys and there is Gibraltar. Seven goals was a decent return (with Robbie Keane scoring a first half hat trick) with most of the talk again revolving around O’Neill’s selection as Germany away were next up three days later.   O’Neill made five changes from the Georgia game (Coleman and McCarthy were injured, with Quinn, Walters and Whelan “rested” ahead of Germany), with O’Neill again stating those rested wouldn’t necessarily return in Germany.

All those latter three did return as O’Neill sprung a real gamble by choosing McGeady in a role behind lone striker Keane to accommodate James McClean out wide (who had impressed in the Gibraltar rout). The McGeady gamble didn’t work, although the selection worked elsewhere as Germany never really opened Ireland up the way it was feared and Ireland looked quite comfortable despite Forde making one excellent save in each half.

Germany’s Kroos did however force O’Neill’s hand in the 70th minute when he scored from 25 yards with Hoolahan sprung from the bench (Hendrick had replaced the injured Whelan before the hour mark and Gibson replacing Keane prior to Kroos’ goal). Two of the three subs would play a huge part in a dramatic Irish equaliser as Hoolahan’s cross was deftly volleyed back across goal by Hendrick for John O’Shea to steer a glorious shot past Neuer in the German goal in the 93rd minute.

So a priceless point was stolen at the death from the World Champions, 7 points from the opening three games was a very fine haul for O’Neill and his team and the euphoria from that German game led to huge interest in Irish people looking for tickets to the November match against Scotland at Celtic Park.

The scramble for tickets has been well documented on this blog (see Archive for November) and the idiotic failings of the FAI in this regard. The match itself never really happened from an Irish point of view, as it seemed O’Neill’s mindset was to frustrate Strachan’s Scots and play for a point. Shaun Maloney’s 74th minute goal was the least Scotland deserved on a hugely disappointing night for O’Neill’s team.

So the four competitive games have resulted in 7 points, possibly what we would have expected when the draw was made (we would have written off getting anything in Germany) and our group remains extremely close at this point in time as we can see below.

Euro 2016 – Qualifying Group D – Latest Standings
Nation Played Won Drew Lost Goals F Goals A Points
Poland 4 3 1 0 15 2 10
Germany 4 2 1 1 7 4 7
Scotland 4 2 1 1 5 4 7
Republic of Ireland 4 2 1 1 10 3 7
Georgia 4 1 0 3 4 7 3
Gibraltar 4 0 0 4 0 21 0

I think as fans we can be reasonably happy with that state of affairs, but that there is serious room for improvement in general play and approach. After the bravery and delight at the point in Germany, the defeat in Glasgow was a bitter pill to swallow and the manner of it was worrying in my opinion. Ireland’s philosophy relied far too much on lumping balls up to Shane Long (who was deployed as the lone striker) and hoping that Walters would pick up loose ends, with McGeady and McClean helping from wide. None of that happened. By the time Keane came on after Maloney’s goal, Scotland sensed we were already a beaten team and we got what we deserved on the night, nothing.

The Scottish game was followed four days later by a convincing 4-1 win over USA with eye-catching debuts from David McGoldrick and Cyrus Christie in a much changed XI so the year finished on a relative high for O’Neill and it is hoped those fringe players who impressed will remain in Martin’s thinking in 2015.

So 2015 is a huge year now for Martin O’Neill and this group of players. O’Neill wasn’t helped by the absence of James McCarthy in Glasgow, but all international managers are hampered by unavailable players. What O’Neill needs to nail down is a recognisable playing identity among this current group and a consistency of performance for 90 plus minutes. Forget the Gibraltar games, everyone will slaughter them. Four of the next five games are in Dublin. Ten points would be great, nine is completely essential if we are to hope to reach the French Soirée the Summer after next.

I believe we will make it, but will give ourselves plenty of grief getting there!

Happy Christmas to you all and Peaceful 2015.

Phelim Warren, 17th December 2014.