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volume 2 / issue 02 april 2015




Dave Galvin tells us the story of the little known ex-Poland international who won a league title with Waterford.

11 Editor / Kevin Galvin Magazine Template Gary Keating Photography / Graphics Barry Masterson Eye To The Grounds Comeragh Photo Padraig Devaney Contributors / David Kent Gerry Desmond Aaron Cawley Mícheál Ó hUanacháin Dave Galvin John Mulholland Aaron Doherty Karl Reilly Dylan Murphy Thomas Sargent Cover Page / Darren Dennehy sets up Cork City’s third goal against Derry City at Turner’s Cross 3rd April 2015 Credit: Colm McSweeney



Dylan Murphy looks at why attitudes amongst League of Ireland supporters needs to change.



Stephen Walsh interviews the Cork City youngster on balancing college life and his football.



Gerry Desmond fondly remembers Athlone’s Iconic ‘A’ strip and asks if they could have beaten Milan


IS THE SUPERSAINTS’ SUPERIORITY SLIPPING AWAY? Aaron Doherty investigates the difficult start that last year’s Cup champions have had.

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A FIELD OF NIGHTMARES Mícheál Ó hUanacháin gives us the latest from the ongoing saga at Limerick

THESE GO TO ELEVEN Karl Reilly investigates the best and worst ever starts to a League of Ireland league season.

AN ENGLISHMAN ABROAD Thomas Sarget gives his perspectives on the difference between the Football League and the League of Ireland

trouble brewing on the seaside, with Alan Matthews incredibly departing after just a handful of games, citing a few indiciduals who are hurting the Seagulls. Limerick’s young squad conceded eight gials in their first two games against Bohemians and Cork City, however the Shannonsiders have since battled to draws agaist Longford Town and Drogheda United, Martin Russel’s mn pulled off te shock of the league season so far recently, battling to a draw against a rampant Dundalk side.

Hello all once again and welcome to the latest issue of League of Ireland Monthly! To start with I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who read, liked, and shared our first issue of the season. It was a lot of work getting all of the logistics back in place to re-launch, but getting the fantastic feedback we did has made it all worthwhile. At the time of writing last month’s issue attracted over 1,000 readers and almost 6,500 impressions, no mean feat for a publication still in its infancy! In saying that though we are a long way still from where we want to be, and your continuing support will get us there. So the fotball is finally underway again, and in the Premier Division at least the forerunners and future strugglers have already become pretty clear. At the top last year’s champions Dundalk have made an impressive start, with four wins, and four clean sheets at the time of writing, and having wiped out Bohemians’ 100% start with a comfortable 3-0 win in the midweek game. Shamrock Rovers have arguably have had the more impressive start though, beating St. Patrick’s Athletic, Longford Town and Sligo Rovers in their first four games, the other, a drab scoreless draw against Cork City suited Pat Fenlon’s side down to the ground. The aformentioned City started with a tough away assignment in a windswept Sligo, but managed to escape with a point thanks to a late Ross Gaynor goal. John Caulfield’s men have five away trips in their first eight games though, so to come out of that with a decent start would put the Leesiders in a very strong position going forward. Whilst at the bottom it looks that it will indeed be Bray Wanderers and Limerick FC who will be scrapping for their Premier Division status, unless something drastically changes in the meantime. Bray managed to pick up three points against an all-out-of-sorts Sligo Rovers side, who now incredibly sit bottom of the table at the time of writing, but if reports are anything to go by there’s

Onto the First Division now and what a start for Cabinteely FC! You may remember that Stephen Henderson’s piece last month was advocting the controversial decision, and he’s been backed up, at least for the moment. Almost 1,500 packed into Stradbrook for the first game of the season, in which former Dundalk midfielder John McKeown scored a suitably scrappy goal for the frenzied occasion, and the Dublin outfit held on for the win. Even more amazingly, they dumped their southside neighbours UCD out of the League Cup in the following game, a UCD team much fancied for the First Division title this season. In stark contrast, the country’s oldest senior club, Athlone Town, seem to be once again on the brink. A few weeks ago the club issued what was a bit of a confusing statement, boasting at the beginning their squad which is ‘the best assembled in years’’, and then going on to say ‘in light of the composition of the First Division it is unlikely that gate receipts will suffice to enable the club continue to compete at such a level.’’ The club had to be bailed out a few years ago from stifling debt caused by the new stadium, but even more exasperating for league fans that this time around its due to a squad that the board knew they couldn’t pay for, and still carried on with, in some vein hope to return to the Premier and pay it back. This is frankly baffling given the history in this league of clubs getting it wrong, and once again raises the concerning issue of how llicences are awarded. Athlone will be covered in this month’s issue, but an altogether more bizarre topic! Meanwhile we have updates from Limerick, Inchicore; referees and the First Division are under the microscope, while Cork City youngster John Kavanagh’s under the microphone with Stephen Walsh A quick word to finish for our Social Media pages. @LOIMonthly on Twitter and LOIMonthly! Enjoy the read,

Kevin Galvin Editor.



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opinion | david kent

I genuinely thought we would go longer before the first managerial casualty of the season. But here we are, five games in, and Alan Mathews (alongside his entire backroom staff) have left Bray Wanderers. No goals scored, no points gained, and poor performances you would think would be the reason. But that only tells half of the story. In my first article for the magazine a month ago, I said that things were looking up for the Seagulls. Now, if Mathews is to be believed, they are on the brink. In a strongly worded statement, the backroom team stated that players and management had gone unpaid. It’s come out since that the majority of staff haven’t. So this seriously makes me question 1) Bray Wanderers supposed new owner, and 2) The Licensing System and the FAI. I talked last month about the situation with Darren Quigley and how he was claiming he was owed money. I criticised him for taking it into the public eye. But he was right. And he’s gone on the offensive now, rightly so. Bray released their own counter statement claiming that the money HAD been paid to the players and management, and that there had been a breakdown in communications. A telling thing for me is the reaction of Mathews. He was Cork City manager during their ill-fated 2008-9 season, when players went without wages. But he stayed with them. The fact that he has walked from Bray spells trouble. I have great respect for Mathews, but the club have


treated both him and fans shamefully. The official Facebook page is deleting questions, the new website isn’t being updated, and club chairman Denis O’Connor on Today FM during the week dodged away from the questions. The McGettigan group are the people in charge of the club (apparently), but did they really have any interest in the football? They are a hotel company, how much can they seriously know about the league? It’s going to be harder and harder for the players to continue without being paid,. Their next three away games (at time of writing) are to Oriel Park, the Showground’s and the Brandywell, with a visit from Shamrock Rovers in between. Already setting records, it’s about to get even worse. Their fan base is almost non-existent. I was at the Carlisle Grounds for the visit of Cork City on Saturday, and I can estimate that there was less than 300 people there. Bray simply won’t survive until the summer with those kind of numbers coming into the ground. It’s more bad press for the league if another club has to pull out, but that is seriously looking likely unless the owners get the house in order. They are facing two legal battles (one with Quigley, one with the management) before getting the place straight. Which brings me nicely around to the FAI. Again going back to last month’s article, I questioned the Licensing system for clubs to get into the league,


and this latest shambles have made a farce of it. The FAI didn’t want to get involved with the Bray situation at that time, but they are facing the real possibility of being forced to now. How were Bray able to get a (delayed) license to play in the Premier if the FAI knew they were in such bad shape? The FAI would’ve had to have known what was going on behind the scenes in Wicklow, so why did they say everything was OK? It’s like a cover up by John Delaney and co. Brush it away under the carpet there, no one can see it, and everything is grand. Bray were in trouble after one game. The mind boggles as to either the amount of lies told by the higher powers at the Carlisle to the FAI, or the ignorance of John Delaney and Fran Gavin to these problems. It makes a mockery of the league to see any club in trouble, and it is a mockery of the licensing system that the season is barely a month old, and we’ve already had financial troubles with three different clubs. Limerick and Athlone appear to be fixing it, Bray are in dire straits. No one ever wants to see any club go bust mid-season, but it’s looking awfully like we’ve another Monaghan United situation on the cards. Maciej Tarnogrodzk is their new caretaker coach and he has a hell of a job on his hands to keep this club in the Premier Division for as long as he can. A drop down to the First Division will kill off Bray Wanderers



Particularly in recent years, a number of Polish born players have lined out on the League of Ireland stage. To the best of this writer’s knowledge however, of these, only Piotr (Peter) Suski has the distinction of winning full international recognition with the Polish National side, the Biale Orly or White Eagles. A one club man with home town club LKS (Lodzki Klub Sportowy) Lodz, for virtually his entire career, Suski did however make one brief footballing journey away from his native shores, an unexpected, and largely unexplained, spell in the colours of Waterford during the early months of 1973. Then aged 31, and some years on from his his international career, the midfielder stayed on Suirside just long enough to help the Blues, who were then very much the dominant force in the domestic game, to a sixth and to date last, League of Ireland title.

Born on 29th June 1942 into what was the horror of Nazi occupied Lodz and growing up close to the LKS Lodz Stadium, Piotr joined the LKS Academy at a young age and displayed such early promise that his senior debut in Liga Pilki Nozney (now the Ekstraklasa League, the top flight of Polish Football) came as a 17 year old in 1959. At that point LKS Lodz were the reigning Polish champions having had three points to spare over rivals Polonia Bytom the previous season. Indeed, this was the first ever time that Piotr’s home club had finished a campaign as champions, and such has been LKS Lodz’s many struggles in the interim, that 1998 marked the only other occasion on which they have won the title, exactly half the number of wins secured by their great city rival’s Widzew Lodz. Even during Suski’s time as a player Lodz’s up and down existance meant relegation to the second tier of Polish Football just a few short years on from that first title win. Nevertheless, their star man soon captained the club back again to the top flight. More recently, LKS Lodz were actually declared bankrupt as recently as 2013! For Irish fans of a certain age, its likely that the two most recognisable LKS Lodz names are both remembered as having had a starring role with the swashbuckling Polish side which finished third at the 1974 World Cup finals in West Germany. Goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski, famous for his display at Wembley in denying England a place at those same finals, spent the bulk of his career at LKS Lodz. The elegant midfielder Kazmierez Deyna meanwhile, who also starred in the 1978 finals in Argentina, and who later line out for a time with Manchester City, began his senior career at the club.

Such has been LKS Lodz’s many struggles in the interim, that 1998 marked the only other occasion on which they have won the title 8

Despite Lodz’s tribulations, Suski, who stayed loyal to his hometown club despite rumours of favourable offers from such giants of the Polish game as Legia Warsaw and Gornik Zabrze, soon gained international recognition having established himself as one of the top midfielders in the country. He made his full international debut in a 3-1 friendly win at home to East Germany in October 1961 and went on to play in prestige friendlies against the likes of Brazil (twice), Argentina and England (twice) between 1961 and 1967. Indeed, prior to Sir Alf Ramsey’s charges setting out on an adventure that would ultimately lead to World Cup glory in July 1966, England’s final warm up game ahead of the finals was a 1-0 win against a Poland side which included Piotr Suski, a game played at the home of Slask Wroclaw in western Poland. Suski’s final three appearances for the national side came in 1967 in the qualifying stages for the 1968 European Championship Finals in Italy against France (twice) and Belgium. The second of those encounters with the French, a crushing 1-4 away defeat in September 1967 signalled his final senior outing in Polish colours. Later that

same year Piotr also played in home and away Olympic Games Qualifiers against the Soviet Union but neither the Olympic Games Finals nor the Euro’s Finals were destined to be added to his footballing CV. All told, and excluding the aforementioned Olympic qualifiers, he lined out 17 times for Poland. Having transferred to the very different environment of Kilcohan Park, Piotr made his Waterford and League of Ireland debut in what was a largely uneventful and run of the mill 1-0 home win against Sligo Rovers on Sunday 11th February 1973. At this point Shay Brennan’s Blues had just 7 league games remaining and the title race was set to go right to the wire. Despite losing to their nearest challengers Finn Harps at Finn Park in the penultimate league outing, a vastly experienced Waterford side with five title wins in the previous six seasons, kept their nerve to ease out the Donegal men by just a single point and secure yet another championship success. As for the vanquished Finn Harps, in more than four and a half decades of LOI football, this is as close as the Donegal outfit have come to winning the top division of the domestic 9

game. For Suski meanwhile, his 7 league outings over the course of three months was added to with a further 3 appearances in the FAI Cup where Waterford lost out following a replay to the eventual winners’ Cork Hibernians. This was the year that the replay of the final ,where Hibs defeated Shelbourne, took place at Flower Lodge in Cork, the only time such an occasion has taken place outside of Dublin. Piotr Suski’s very last League of Ireland appearance coincided with the final day of the league campaign, again against Cork Hibs, where Waterford celebrated yet another championship success, with a 2-0 home win over their greatest rivals of that era. On foot of this triumph however, there was to be no hanging around for Suski , so that by the time the end of season Top Four Competition kicked off barely a fortnight later, the midfielder had already returned home to Poland.

as player coach to the Wlokniarz Pabianice club before returning to his beloved LKS Lodz in a variety of coaching roles. He passed away on 31st January 2009 aged 66 and his death was marked by Waterford United with a minutes silence prior to the clubs’ home fixture with neighbours Wexford Youths in March 2010. (With thanks to Niall Doherty and Michael Butler/Waterford United programme for additional information)

Back on home ground Suski initially acted




Three phrases that should be immediately removed from every League of Ireland fan’s vocabulary. Most Irish football fans will agree that we must do everything we can to attract new supporters, however, sometimes our passion can obstruct this sentiment. A minority of us unintentionally deter people from giving our league a chance by sanctimoniously lecturing Premier League fans and branding them as ‘not real supporters’. These disparaging comments only serve to reinforce the stereotypical image of a League of Ireland fan being a pretentious snob and does nothing to promote the domestic game. Shoving the League down people’s throats will only trigger their gag reflex. The League needs to be presented positively and encouraged gradually. Irish football would benefit from adopting 12

the optimism of Pat Dolan who would talk positively about the future even as a noose was being hung around his neck. Despite what you may be lead to believe, the League is not terminally ill, it’s brimming with talented youngsters, blessed with a vibrant fan culture and establishing a financial prudency amongst clubs. Indeed it ranks as the most competitive league in Europe with 8 different winners in 10 seasons. These ingredients make for thrilling matches and captivating off field drama.

We must remember that nobody is obliged to support our league and we can neither guilt nor shame people into attending, we need to encourage people to come to our matches and eradicate the fatal culture of them versus us. The League has been graced by so many legends of the game including the likes of Roy Keane, George Best and Bobby Charlton, these 11

figures have added to the vivid history, this history is best shared and not kept to an esoteric few. Some people maintain that it is unpatriotic to support an English team and sharing this view dissuades these fans from attending a domestic game. There’s nothing wrong with supporting a foreign team in the same way that there’s nothing wrong with supporting an Irish one. Just as people who ignore their local clubs are missing out on the unique thrills of live football so too are people who restrict themselves to only watching Irish domestic football. It is natural for a fan of a sport to have an interest in the highest level of that sport just as it is normal (in most countries anyway)

Just as people who ignore their local clubs are missing out on the unique thrills of live football so too are people who restrict themselves to only watching Irish domestic football 12

to have an interest in your nearest club. In an ideal world everyone would support their local team but expecting people who have followed an English team for decades to suddenly drop their interest in that club is absurd. Far more likely and achievable is a situation where people who watch the Premier League continue to do so but also take an interest in their local team. It should never be a choice between one and or the other because there’s only ever one winner in that scenario. The League of Ireland has an abundance of detractors we don’t need to be adding to this group. Overly sensitive supporters frighten off Premier League fans, who may be frustrating at times but are a prime target for conversion to the League of Ireland. Some are beyond even considering attending a football match in Ireland but others, with a genuine passion for different types of football, could be swayed into just trying a match. They are interested in the beautiful game and that’s half the battle, we should think not of them as barstoolers but as potential fans.


JOHN KAVANAGH CITY’S SPORTING STUDENT John Kavanagh has achieved a lot for a 21-yearold. Underage success with Ringmahon Rangers, a plethora of National Leagues and Cups at U19 level with Cork City’s elite team, two of which won as captain, a league runner’s up medal in only his second senior season. On the pitch Kavanagh is fighting to secure his place in a trumendously competitive squad assembled by John Caulfield for the coming season, hoping to shine and attract attention from across the water. The 21-year-old is fightig a battle on two fronts though; having entered UCC this year, the fresher is now discovering the difficult challenge of balancing studies with his football.

While this season’s Cork City team may have a more experienced flavour; the marquee signing of 34-year-old Liam Miller joining 35-year-old Colin Healy in the middle of the Rebel Army’s midfield, it’s been City’s youth progression that has been the most impressive since the club reformed in 2010. At U19 level the Leesiders won an unprescidented threein-a-row from 2011-2014, picking up two National Cups in the process to achieve an historic double-double. Those teams were littered with now established League of Ireland names like Garry Buckley and Danny Morrissey. John Kavanagh is another who’s enjoyed plenty of first-team football on the back of youth success. The full back was thrust directly into the right-back spot in Summer 2013, directly after the first double success, and performed admirably in a team that struggled throughout the season. The 21-year-old completed the FAI/ FÁS soccer academy course last year, before commencing Sports Studies and Physical Education in UCC; one of a dozen 13

connections between the club and the college, who recently completed a clean sweep of Intervarsity titles to add to their Munster Senior League crown from last season. The youngster is adapting to the difficult challenge of combining full-time education and League of Ireland football, but at least has Rob Lehane, also currently studying at the University, for support: “It’s going well so far to be honest, some areas are a bit hard but it’s a case of just putting the head down and getting through it.” Kavanagh saw his game-time slightly reduced last season, but still made an impressive 22 appearances, contributing massively to what in the end, despite losing out on the last day, was a hugely successful season on Leeside. The full-back knows that patience is needed, given the strength and depth of John Caulfield’s squad, and


isn’t one bit put off by the challenge. “The whole team wants to build on last year. We have a strong, experienced squad who want success. I haven’t been involved in the last few games but it’s important for me to stay focused and keep training hard as it’s a long season ahead and over the season there is bound to be opportunities so it’s important for me to make the most of them. “We’re just going to have to go one step further as a team for this season and hopefully at the end of the season we’ll have something to show for it.” For the first time since 2008 the Rebel Army will be representing the league in European competition. Thanks to their second placed finish last season City will take their place in the First Qualifying

Round, which has recently seen a cash injection to the tune of €80k for each club in each round. The thought of going back to Europe, where City have achieved remarkable results in the past against the likes of Bayern Munich, Malmo, and Apollon Limassol, is generating a huge amount of buzz around the City, Kavanagh was 14 when City crashed out of their last continental adventure with a 4-0 loss to Finnish side FC Haka, but holds no such reservations heading into this year’s campaign. “I can’t wait for it like it’s been seven years since we were last there so it will be a new thing, a new experience and it is something that I’m really looking forward to playing.” It was under current Galway United manager Tommy Dunne that Kavanagh made his breakthrough with the team in July 2013 in a 2-1 defeat away to Shelbourne as the opportunity arose due to an injury and suspension crisis in the squad. He was a number of young players the Dubliner bled into the squad over time, and Kavanagh, like many in the City camp, is grateful for the work he did. “The manager Tommy Dunne gave me my chance up in Tolka for my debut when we’d a few injuries and suspensions so he was a positive influence on my career in the short spell I played under him.” “It’s often said it’s the best night out in Cork and I’d agree with them.” For Kavanagh, like all young stars doing their apprentice in the league, England is the eventual dream. Kavanagh has already seen his Ringmahon clubmate Alan Browne make waves at Preston North End, and senior teammate Gearóid Morrissey play at Old Trafford against Louis Van

Gaal’s Manchester United, and wants the same for himself. “Well the big ambition is to go to England and see how I’d do but obviously that opportunity has to arise and it will only happen through hard work. If I didn’t get

England I’d hope to still be playing with Cork City having won a few medals over the years.” For the moment though Kavanagh’s future is bright; national titles already under his belt, experience of getting to the top with the hunger to want to go one step further, playing in a City side that have already started this season strongly, and contributing to what the Mahon boy himself calls “The best night out in Cork!”

Photos: Comeragh Photo 15


ATHLONE TOWN SHIRT MYSTERY BY GERRY DESMOND When I was a young lad, which is a long time ago now, my first ever love affair was with the League of Ireland. Not too many people would make this confession in public, or in print, especially after the mature reflection made possible through the passing of several decades, without the fear of having to wear one of those curious jackets that tie at the back. But that’s the truth of it anyway, and nothing has changed since; I am still hopelessly in love with the League of Ireland. I loved the football, naturally enough, and growing up in Turner’s Cross meant that I was blessed to have it right on my own doorstep. But there was so much more to love than just the matches or the colourful cast of characters that bestrode them; LOI football was – and remains, in my view


– irresistibly quirky. Cork Celtic was my team back then, long before Cork City was ever even dreamed of. Celtic had a central defender in the ‘70s called John McCarthy. John was known as The Postman. This was not a heroic title, however, as it would be in England, say, or Italy (Il Postino!) where it would signify his unfailing ability to deliver the goods. No, John McCarthy was known as The Postman because he was, well, a postman in real life. He usually delivered the goods on the pitch as well, to be fair. And of course there were others, such as Gerry ‘Mala’ Myers. I often wondered if he was a mala in real life, or what a mala might be. It was all very curious and quirky.

Celtic were amazing when I followed them: brimful of contradictions and relentlessly exasperating, as any true lover should be. The club always seemed to be sellotaped together, invariably snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Yet Celtic won a league title in style after losing 7:0 against Bohemians and subsequently attracted the incomparable George Best to its ranks, albeit briefly. Today’s equivalent would be Ronaldo or Messi signing for Cork City at the age of 26 or 27: that’s not an exaggeration, either - just think about that for a moment. It wasn’t just George Best, though; Celtic also bagged the only player ever to net a World Cup final hat-trick, Geoff Hurst. Not content with that, they also signed West Germany’s most legendary (pre-Gerd Muller) striker – Uwe Seeler, who had skippered his country against Hurst in that famous 1966 decider at Wembley. And for good measure Bobby Tambling, until recently Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer, wore Celtic’s colours for a few seasons and managed them too. That was the Celtic I knew and adored – barely able to pay the electricity bills, but capable of luring the game’s greatest names to Turner’s Cross. We also had Jimmy Barry Murphy! Now all of that is fairly hard-to-beat quirky, by any measure.

unsurpassed – of pure League of Ireland quirkiness. In 1974-75, a time before sponsors’ names on football shirts were even heard of never mind commonplace, Athlone Town wore (very pale) sky-blue jerseys bearing a large ‘A’ on the front. LOI football shirts were plain as plain could be till Athlone changed everything with this unprecedented, wackily courageous move. Numbers on the back, or an occasional crest: that had been it for football shirts in Ireland up to then.

“Non lo credo!”, Nereo Rocco Later, in January 1976, Kettering would have exTown attempted to become the claimed to Giovanni first British club to carry a sponsor’s name – Kettering Tyres, it Trapattoni in the was, anoraks – but the English FA, in a combination of shock, matchbox-sized outrage and a tut-tutting overdugout, bemused, load, banned the club’s efforts. however, had confias his team reeled Athlone, dently promoted the letter ‘A’ all over Ireland, free from nasty FA before his eyes

The League was relatively steady way back then, for a few years at least. Grounds, of course, were appalling pretty much everywhere but, save for the loss of dear old Drumcondra in ’72, membership was the same each season and nobody was bothered tinkering with top six/bottom six experiments, or thinking of forming a second division, or planting teams in Kilkenny, Wexford or Monaghan, or inventing play-offs. League of Ireland life was simple. We stood on grassy banks in the sunshine, unless it rained and then we stood drenched on treacherous, slippery grassy banks. But we were young and didn’t care and I soaked up regular doses of quirkiness book-ended by Celtic’s swagger, incompetence, character and colour. Then, in the mid-70s, Athlone Town quite unexpectedly provided a brilliant example – possibly

(or even FAI) interference, well before that. Still, you’d have to wonder, why? Like, why ‘A’? Was there a company in Athlone called ‘A’? Or possibly ‘A1’ - did someone just run out of 1’s for the shirts? Or did the Midlanders refuse to accept the ‘1’, claiming it had not been included in the original deal? Was it a way of escaping a fine, to carry an abbreviation rather than an entire company logo? Bizarre! Baffling! Quirky! Maybe an Athlone director had been influenced by some hit US teen movie where college sweaters with ‘G’ or ‘W’ or ‘S’ were de riguer? Or were Athlone, in fact, the actual (but not credited) inspiration for the American action/adventure TV series, The A-Team? One way or another, it’s a riddle unsolved to this very day: The Great Athlone Town Shirt Mystery. Of course, you can’t ask the club’s commercial manager of the time, so you can’t, as commercial managers weren’t invented until the 1980s. Athlone’s trail-blazing capital letter trend didn’t catch on, sadly, so we never witnessed Bohemians proudly sporting a bold ‘B’ or Dundalk a defiant ‘D’ or Harps a flowery ‘F’. As a result of Town’s pioneering work, however, ‘A’ became the most instantly recognisable alphabetical unit to LOI


fans everywhere that season. You knew your ‘A’s’ when you saw one, so you did, and if you didn’t, well, you couldn’t fault Athlone Town for it. I quite liked that groundbreaking Athlone shirt – can you imagine the collector’s item it would be today? It was quirky. It epitomised the League for me. And some decent players ran out bearing those ‘A’ shirts – Karl Humphreys, a gifted Cork lad who had previously played with Hibs and Celtic and Waterford, was one. Then there was Johnny ‘Minno’ Minnock, another class act. Others that I can easily recall even now were Dougie Wood, Noel Larkin, Terry Daly and lunatic goalkeeper Mick O’Brien. Well, ok, Mick didn’t actually qualify for an ‘A’ shirt for some reason. In case the former custodian’s legal team gets to read this, the term ‘lunatic’ is used only to reference his cat-like agility, unquestioned bravery and obsessive hatred of Oriel Park crossbars. This was also the era of long hair and moustaches, though that has little to do with my tale really. The following season Athlone somewhat rashly discarded their could-be-cult ‘A’ shirts, opting to change to their by now traditional blue-and-black stripes. This proved a colossal mistake, in my humble opinion, as Athlone, in the wake of the confusion caused to successive opponents faced with ten chests (lunatic goalkeeper exempted) emblazoned with giant ‘A’s’, had qualified for the UEFA Cup. That’s just my theory; several football historians believe the Midlanders had a really good team that season. The Town soon created a slice of history, nonetheless, with their new ‘A’-less, striped shirts, becoming the first LOI club ever to win its debut European tie on aggregate. Norwegian club Valerengens – as they were known then – were comfortably put to the sword to set up an unbelievable pairing with mighty AC Milan in the second round (no bloody ridiculous qualifiers or seeding in


those happy, carefree, quirky days!). But this is the point where those mystifying shirts could have sealed the most famous result in Irish football history, had they been retained. This is exactly where the fateful decision to dump the ‘A’ shirts finally came home to roost. Much has been written down through the years about Athlone’s scoreless victory over the Italian aristocrats at St Mel’s. ‘Minno’ even squandered a penalty kick, trickling a faint effort into Albertosi’s easy reach, but the Town were far from flattered by their 0:0 win. However, I firmly believe that Athlone could have put the entire tie beyond all doubt in that first leg, had they been brave enough to resurrect the ‘A’ shirts for the occasion. Can you imagine the confusion of the ill-atease Milanese? Already out of their comfort zone due to St Mel’s’ rusting corrugated iron, strong smells of fresh paint and brillo in the dressing room, and six-inch layer of mud, they would have spent the ninety minutes wondering just what the hell the ‘A’ thing was all about. Was it a halfhearted ‘AC’ tribute, for instance? Or, were these Irish upstarts attempting to insult Serie A? “Che cos’é?”, Romeo Benetti would have asked himself, arms in supplication, each time Humphreys sped past. “Non lo credo!”, Nereo Rocco would have exclaimed to Giovanni Trapattoni in the matchboxsized dugout, bemused, as his team reeled before his eyes. Instead, AC simply pretended that Athlone, as Inter-lookalikes, were the dark enemy and drew inspiration from that to claim the tie with late, late goals at the San Siro. It may seem a silly notion today with advertising everywhere you look, but I remain convinced that Athlone could have quite easily chalked up a nonchalant 3:0 or even 4:0 win on the strength of those quirky, mysterious shirts playing on the suspicions and superstitions rattling around fragile Italian minds on a mucky, windswept, glue-pot pitch. Nobody will ever persuade me otherwise.


IS THE SUPERSAINTS’ SUPERIORITY SLIPPING AWAY? BY AARON DOHERTY In just a short space of time Liam Buckley transformed St Patrick’s Athletic into a well-oiled machine. He was the manager when the Inchicore side last won the League of Ireland trophy and the Saints fans were optimistic about the future ahead. Liam Buckley was a fantastic player in his time; playing in Spain, Belgium and even United States, bringing plenty of experience to his managerial career. He won the FAI Cup in next-to-no time while in charge of newly formed Sporting Fingal, an incredible achievement. But with their demise, came St Pat’s gain. The former Shamrock Rovers manager likes a particular passing philosophy that he tries to imbed into his teams, and in St Pat’s he’s found the right subject. In 20

his first season Pat’s finished third, just six points adrift of champions Sligo, and beaten in the final of the FAI Cup. They played with a style that was easy on the eye, a breath of fresh air to the league. With Conor Kenna and Kenny Browne marshalling at the back, a energetic midfield containing Greg Bolger, James Chambers and John Russell, and goals from Christy Fagan, they had the artillery to succeed. And while Liam Buckley was unlucky not to come away with anything that season it was clear that he was only warming up. The following season brought new players, new objectives and a new plan. In came Killian Brennan, Conan Byrne and squad players including McFaul, Gannon and Jordon Keegan. The midfield

trio of Bolger, Russell and Brennan was the best in the league, they were simply unstoppable and coasted to the championship in emphatic style. The football on show was outstanding to watch, playing out from the back with confidence, players constantly moving and creating space. The philosophy instilled by Buckley was paying dividends, not only for St Pat’s but also for the league. Liam Buckley set out his teams in the same style, no matter what the opposition. If he was in trouble however, he would go 4-4-2 or 3-5-2 with the hard working Anto Flood coming off the bench to help out. Flood isn’t the most skilful or technically gifted, but the midfielder was hardworking and very effective, and he was loved at Inchicore by the Supersaints faithful. Buckely never really had the resources to match the squad of Shamrock Rovers, but every single player in the panel contributed to make up the team as a whole. With the energy and pace of Flood and Jake Kelly, control and bite from McFaul and Maher it really was an entire effort built on the back of the hard-working attitude forged by Buckley. In 2014 came the defence of the league crown and the winter signing of Ireland International Keith Fahey, a huge coup for the champions. Trying to retain your

own title in any respective code is always more difficult; supporters’ and boardroom expectations increase, other teams now target you trying to take down the team that beat them all last year, and for Liam Buckley, 2014 was the year where injuries began to hit hard. Upon winning the league in 2013, he built his side on a rock solid defence but suddenly they began to drop like flies due to ailments, and clean sheets became a problem. Buckley tried to bring in some new faces to steadfast the backline but they were still leaking goals. In the previous off-season, Liam Buckley signed Ken Oman, Derek Foran and Conor McCormack from a struggling Shamrock Rovers side. They didn’t settle into Buckley’s way of playing and it would inevitably cost the Saints in the league. They lost Kenna, Kelly, McFaul, Flood and Russell due to injury. Moreover Keith Fahey failed to produce what was expected and Killian Brennan couldn’t replicate his form that made him player of the year in 2013. Despite the league form, St Pat’s went on to end their massive 53 year FAI Cup drought by beating Derry City thanks to two Christy Fagan goals, capping off what was a fabulous season for the striker. At the moment, St Pat’s are struggling to compete with the likes of Dundalk, Cork City and Shamrock Rovers in 21

terms of personnel. Keith Fahey has left without been replaced; Ken Oman and Derek Foran have also left the club, with Jason McGuinness and Lee Desmond replacing them. There is competition upfront between Kilduff and Fagan which is a good battle between two excellent strikers. The style hasn’t gone flat for Liam Buckley but the argument could be made that calibre of player has changed, and that the Inchicore outfit may struggle from their lack of variety going forward. As evidenced in the earlier part of this season, Pat’s freeflowing, fast, passing game of before hasn’t been present. Instead the lack of midfield movement has forced longball from the back, a tactic which hasn’t worked so far for Buckley’s side. The option of starting again with the keeper seems to have gone and it’s now a game of territory against the bigger sides. The days of a settled back four isn’t there, or the high-line pressing from a player like Russell is not an available option in this year’s squad. In the opening four games, St Pat’s have invited teams on themselves, but without the pace to deal with an out22

ball it’s a baffling tactic to say the least. Will Liam Buckley regret not trying to break the bank for Ronan Finn or Richie Towell? It remains to be seen. There won’t be any panic setting in at Richmond Park and with a fully-fit squad the Supersaints remain a force very much to be reckoned with. Most can agree that Liam Buckley’s men will likely finish within the top 4 despite their slow start; the problem for Buckley himself is how to get the better of the top three, with Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk already defeating his side in the opening four games. Dundalk looked 5/6 levels above them in the previous league meeting and against rivals Shamrock Rovers they never really threatened. A home game against Cork City is on the horizon and it’s already shaping up to be a pivotal clash.

A FIELD OF NIGHTMARES Getting back to the Markets Field is proving a little more difficult that even the gloomiest Limerick supporters expected, writes Mícheál Ó hUanacháin More than a month into the new season, most of the direst pre-season rumours and predictions have been dying down, and performances on the pitch have largely taken over as a topic for the chattering supporters. Something of an exception is Limerick, where disputes between the club and fans and the much-delayed re-opening of the Markets Field form a discouraging backdrop to a poor footballing start for 2015. Chairman Pat O’Sullivan, widely admired for his generosity to the club since he rescued them in 2009, announced, worryingly close to the opening fixture, that his pockets are not bottomless. With his assistance the club achieved

promotion to the Premier Division in 2012, for the first time since the early 1990s, and there were hopes that they would almost simultaneously return to their historic home in the Markets Field. In 2011, JP McManus had donated money to the Limerick Enterprise Development Partnership to buy the Markets Field and redevelop it for the club, with announcements in tbhe media that it would happen in 2012 - and it didn’t. Not only did it not reopen the following year either, but neither Jackman Park nor Hogan Park (Rathbane) could meet League rules and the club were forced to relocate - at considerable cost - to Thomond Park, where their small attendances rattled around in the 26,000 capacity.


Why this is important is a question Shamrock Rovers fans would find silly: of course it’s important. It is unsettling for a club to have no home. And it’s even more unsettling to have the promise of a home and nothing materialising. And if your promised home is your historic home, an option that was never available to the Hoops, then every season you are denied it is a season not just homeless but as exiles. The Markets Field has been a key sports venue in Limerick for well over a century. Originally destined to be taken over on a long lease for housing, in the 1880s, that plan fell foul of legal issues. In the later 1880s, the GAA and the Irish Cycling Association got together to run a series of sports meetings, rentimng, and for many years after that it was a key athletics facility. It also hosted many GAA matches, including Munster Finals, from the ill-starred 1890 event, when Laune Rangers of Kerry and Midleton of Cork were the football finalists. The game was 57 minutes old, with the sides scoreless, when the ball burst. There was no spare ball, and the match had to be abandoned, to be refixed for Banteer where the Cork team won the day. And we mustn’t forget the infamous 1913 Limerick Senior Hurling Final between Fedamore and Ballingarry. A minor skirmish between two players saw dozens of spectators join in, and according to a contemporary report, the field “was turned into a regular battleground and the disgraceful scenes lasted for twenty minutes. It surpassed in savagery and brutality the old faction fights which took place in bygone years.” The writer feels it “was a miracle that there was not some lives lost”, and then ends laconically “The match resumed, Fedamore won, and Martin Hayes was sent off the pitch for ‘rough play.’”


The Markets Field also hosted rugby from an early date, and being situated in Garryowen naturally enough the local side were based there for sixty years from the 1880s. In 1905 the Field saw the first visit of the touring New Zealanders, whose new nickname “All Blacks” was just becoming known. They beat the Munster team 33-0 at a time when a Try was only three points. But by the 1930s both the GAA and the rugby clubs were developing more up-to-date facilities, and the attractions of the Markets Field were fading. It had played host to carnivals, circuses, and even wrestling matches, but its charms were looking distinctly outdated. The GAA were in the process of moving to the Gaelic Grounds, while the Rugby Union had bought Thomond Park. Enter soccer and greyhounds: the emergence of Limerick FC in the late 1930s was timely for the continuation of the Field’s role in Limerick sport, but greyhound racing had begun there in the early years of the decade, and would continue until the early years of this century, the Markets Field hosting the Irish St Leger, one of the top races of the year, from the early 1940s. And from 1937 for almost fifty years, the venue was the home to the city’s association football representatives at national league level: Limerick, Limerick United and Limerick City were all in turn based there until the last-named moved out at the end of the 1983/4 season - and what proved the beginning of a long period of decline and difficulty. By the time the club - now just Limerick again, after a short period as Limerick 37 - regained Premier status in 2012, its home in Jackman Park was unfit to be granted a Premier licence. Step forward Pat O’Sullivan, who in 2010 had announced that after talks with McManus he was proposing a redevelopment of the Field, to a capacity of 8,000. It would be ready in 2012, he


be ready for 2015.

McManus duly made the money available for the LEDP to buy the ground from Bord na gCon, who had moved their operations to the new Limerick Greyhound Stadium on the Dock Road. They, too, said it would be ready in 2012.

The earlier drawings sort of disappeared, and supporters and media were left wondering exactly what was now planned, and how much of it would be delivered before the club moved in. Estimates of the probable capacity of the new facility differed widely, but somewhere in the vicinity of 3,000 seems now to be generally expected.

In 2012, however, the club had to make do with Thomond Park for their return to the Premier. As they had again in 2013. At the end of that year, the LEDP reported it had committed “additional funds for application on the drainage, relaying and sodding of the pitch with the purpose of ensuring that the pitch will be playable for the FAI 2014 season.” In Spring 2014, nonetheless, the club once more headed for Thomond Park. The LEDP had made little progress on redevloping the stadium by the end of 2014, apart from publishing some less than ideal architect’s impressions of what was planned. Suddenly, however, in tandem with a visit from FAI CEO John Delaney, last December they announced contracts and that the stadium would

Weeks passed, and despairing posts on bulletin boards reported little activity on the site. The LEDP said the pitch had been laid two years ago and was now in peak condition. They had little to say about the building work. An acute observer got sight of the planning board outside the grounds just before the 2015 season opened, and read the small print, which indicated that the contractors were expecting to be on the site until the end of April. And if things go according to the usual Irish pattern, it could be the end of summer before the Markets Field is ready for occupation again - if it reopens this season at all.


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THESE GO TO ELEVEN Karl Reilly investigates the best and worst ever starts in the League of Ireland


‘Somebody must kidnap Sligo Rovers’, screamed the headline of the Irish Press. Despite finishing a lowly tenth in the Shield before the start of the league season, Sligo would hit the ground running in the 1936-37 Free State League Championship with a 100 per cent record at the half-way stage. It was an Englishman, Harry Litherland, whose name was on everybody’s lips. Litherland scored 19 league goals in his first season for Sligo, a total not beaten until Eoin Doyle scored 20 in 2011. He scored a brace in a club record 9-0 win over Dolphin and the following week the former Everton centre-forward got another two goals in the 6-1 victory over Shamrock Rovers at Milltown. Sligo’s run crashed with a terrific thud by losing 8-2 away to Waterford in January 1937. Although their form dropped slightly after that, the Westerners took their first title by 10 points, which remained the highest ever mar-

Shamrock Rovers rather deservedly emerged narrow winners on a snow-covered pitch at Milltown. Sligo goalkeeper Finbarr Flood watched almost in amazement as Johnny Fullam hit a 25 yard free kick straight into the corner of the net after 28 minutes. Six minutes later Shamrock Rovers were two up when Frank O’Neill, always a menacing figure on the right wing, sent over a chipped cross for Bobby Gilbert to head home his 9th league goal of the campaign. Three minutes after the interval and with the snow falling heavily, Jimmy Burnside pulled a goal back for the Bit O’ Red with a great hooked shot over his shoulder to keep the home supporters worried until the final whistle. The talking point of the game, however, was the penalty in the second half that never was.

Referee Billy O’Neill, the target for many an accurate snowball when he managed to get within range of spectators at either end of the ground gin in a two points for a win system. In 1965, Shamrock Rovers won the Shield for an impressive seventeenth time. Rovers were given a bye into the second round of the Fairs Cup and the Hoops went out of the competition rather gallantly on a 3-2 aggregate scoreline to Real Zaragoza.

To the crowd it was a staggering sight to see Liam Tuohy head the ball for the corner of the net and Sligo left-back, Paul Dowling, unable to reach it with his head, dive, and with his hands extended, turn the ball around the post without being penalised.

Rovers made a storming start to the league season and on 16 January 1966, from ten matches played, they were five points clear with not the slightest blemish on their run. In a strange twist, the team trying to foil the Hoops of 11 wins in a row was Sligo who had accomplished the feat 29 years earlier.

Referee Billy O’Neill, the target for many an accurate snowball when he managed to get within range of spectators at either end of the ground, said after the game: ‘I saw Dowling dive with his hand out but I thought the ball beat him. There was a strong glare with the snow and the white ball, and now everybody tells me I was wrong’.

The game attracted a magnificent attendance under the adverse weather conditions which prevailed on the south side of the city and

The line-ups on that Sunday afternoon were as follows. Shamrock Rovers: Smyth; Keogh, Courtney, Mulligan, Nolan, Fullam, O’Neill,


Tyrell, Gilbert, Tuohy, O’Connell. Sligo Rovers: Flood, Murray, Dowling, Quinn, Pugh, Dunne, Millington, Turner, Burnside, Corcoran, McDonnell. Rovers had completed the first half of the season without dropping a point and established what looked an unassailable lead but in just three weeks the table underwent a remarkable transformation. Their winning streak was brought to a halt with a 3-2 defeat at home to Bohemians and on February 6th a record crowd of 24,000 packed Milltown to see Rovers play their nearest challengers Waterford, who won the game by a single goal. That was to have a vital bearing on the destination of the title and an incredible run of 13 straight wins would catapult Waterford to the top of the table by March, a position Paddy Coad’s men would not relinquish. It was to be the beginning of a new order in League of Ireland football. It was widely reported that an all-time record had been shared by the two Rovers teams, and subsequently broken by Waterford, but neither of these claims were true. The newspapers were seemingly unaware of the fact that a Bohs side in the 1920s had won their opening fifteen games of the season.

with clean sheets since Derry City’s run of six in 1991-92. The stats serve as a warning though to those reading too much into it – Derry did not win the title that season, same as Cork City (1998-99) and Sligo Rovers (2013) despite getting off to a flier with eight wins. At the other end of the spectrum, Bray Wanderers became the first club in League of Ireland history to lose their first five matches without scoring. Only three other top flight sides have failed to find the net after five played – Cork Celtic (1966-67), Galway Rovers (197778) and Bohemians (2012). Interestingly, Cork and Galway didn’t have to apply for re-election in the end nor were Bohs relegated. Eamonn Deacy scored Galway’s first ever league goal against Thurles Town on 2 October 1977 and the Tribesmen’s top scorer that season was none other than Tom Lally – the goalkeeper! In 2014, Athlone Town lost each of their first 10 games (the worst top flight start to a season in nearly 80 years) but they did manage to take it all the way to the final day of the season, when a 1-1 draw at home to Bray wasn’t enough for the Midlanders to avoid the drop.

Mick Cooke photo courtesy of Padraig Devaney

Fast forward to present day and defending champions Dundalk are the first club to win their opening five Premier Division games


With the League of Ireland constantly comparing itself to its larger overseas offering, Thomas Sargent, a Grimbsy Town-turnedSt. Patrick’s Athletic supporter, describes his experiences as...

AN ENGLISHMAN ABROAD I am now in my third season of following the League of Ireland as a paid spectator (I had previously only taken a passing interest as a general football fan) and feel I have watched enough of it to compare it to my previous football experiences. 30

I am a Grimsby Town supporter, we currently ply our trade in The Football Conference – the fifth tier of English football – and I have actually seen Grimsby play at least two seasons at every level above this except the Premier League. We regularly hear people on Off the Ball, Soccer Republic and other media outlets speculate as to what level League of Ireland clubs could compete it if thrown into the deep end of English football. I think this is a very interesting debate, after all, we do it with the big two Scottish clubs all the time, so why not with Irish clubs? As a second year season ticket holder at Saint Patrick’s Athletic I’ve had the fortune of seeing them embark upon a title defence and win the FAI Cup. The FAI Cup is the first major trophy I have ever seen a club win in person, having previously had season tickets at Hibernian, Paris Saint-Germain and Saint-Étienne (I missed Sainté’s League Cup win in 2013 following Grimsby in a doomed play-off attempt). So far, it’s all been rather enjoyable; they win more often than they lose, they are consistently among the pre-season favourites for every domestic competition, and there’s even the potential for a European jaunt.

of Ireland matches. Most Irish people I have spoken to profess an allegiance for an English team first and only confess their Irish team when prompted, if they have one at all. As a lower league English supporter it’s both understandable and bizarre. It’s understandable because plenty of people follow lower league English teams and, regrettably, follow a top flight team as well. It’s bizarre because we are abroad, and there is a good standard of football locally available at a much cheaper price. No flights, accommodation or over priced tickets required for Old Trafford or Anfield. In fact, League of Ireland football is very consistent from a supporters’ point of view. I have never been charged anything other than 15€ to get in, whether I sit (should the option be available) or stand. Most clubs have some kind of ‘ultras’ section, where people participate in vaguely choreographed singing and generate a bit of atmosphere. Most grounds are fairly central to the town or city centre and it’s very friendly.

I remember my first impressions being that the standard of play was actually quite good. Most teams try to play a passing game, the fitness levels of 95% of the players are of a good professional standard and it’s covered fairly widely in the national media on TV, radio and in the written press.

The friendliness and locality of it all is what makes it most like following lower league English football. Many clubs have a clubhouse which away fans can drink as well – Dundalk being a good example of this – and there are always lots of children at matches enjoying the match-going experience. In the Dundalk clubhouse at the recent President’s Cup match, I even got to pose with the trophy and it was eventually passed around the Dundalk supporters filled up with beer!

When I first arrived in Ireland, you would think this is not the case. I am the only person in my office who attends League

The standard of play, for me, is comparable to the top end of the Conference and League 2. I know we have 31


former internationals such as Liam Miller and Keith Fahey playing but when you look at the players who come across from England, this is generally the level they have been playing at. Danny North and Anthony Elding spring to mind here, as a Mariner. This is by no means a criticism, I thoroughly enjoy watching this level of football and sports science, advances in coaching and general management have shown that clubs at this level can compete with those at the top. The excellent European results achieved in Poland and Croatia by Pats and Dundalk, respectively, underline that fact.


I really enjoy watching football and supporting Pats has given me the opportunity to see a bit more of Ireland than I would have done otherwise, engage in my local community and I get my football fix at least once every other week on top of that. If you haven’t been to a League of Ireland match recently, or at all, you really should because it’s jolly good fun!

League of Ireland Monthly: April 2015  

Volume 1, Issue 2 has plenty of history, humor, and a little bit of venom. Make sure to check it out!

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