Posts Tagged ‘League of Ireland|soccer’

It could all come crashing down after they play Sporting Fingal on Friday evening, but Dundalk's start to the new Airtricity League has been just as surprising as it has been refreshing.

Not only have The Lilywhites gone six games unbeaten, they have also played some of the best football thus far. Although it is still early in the season, it is never too soon to praise good football.

Ian Foster knows that there is a lot of football to be played over the coming months and many twists will come, however, he must be delighted with how things have panned out so far.

Dundalk sit on top of the Premier Division going into Week Eight and the real test for them will arrive now as other clubs start to see them as a real threat.

Systematic success

Foster may be the youngest manager in the top flight, but he has no problem switching between systems in order to get the best out of his team and exploit weaknesses in the opposition.

While his team usually set up in a 4-3-3 formation, it is not unusual to see them shift to 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 or 4-4-1-1. Anyone trying to keep track of the changes would be lost after just a few minutes.

However, the important thing is that each of the players knows exactly what their job is and with each game they are getting more familiar with how their team-mates play.

So it matters little what system Dundalk are actually playing if the team are not performing individually and collectively. So far they have struck the right balance in this regard, hence their unbeaten start.

Attacking threat is the key

There are a number of components which need to work in order for a team to be successful. A reliable goalkeeper, a solid defence, a hard-working midfield and a potent strikeforce.

Dundalk score high in each of those areas, but it is their attacking prowess that excites the most with Fahrudin Kuduzovic, Neale Fenn and Ross Gaynor acting as their striking trio.

Those three compliment each other perfectly as Fenn drops off to link play, Kuduzovic is the fox in the box who keeps defenders occupied, while Gaynor is the one who opens gaps with his runs and direct play.

Just behind them are players like JJ Melligan, Stephen Maher and Tom Miller who pop up with valuable contributions when the team attacks as a unit. And when both Alan Cawley and Tiaran Mulvenna return from injury they will have even more options.

If Dundalk are to stay near the top of the table and prove that they are good enough to mix it with the 'big' clubs in the Premier Division then their attack needs to stay sharp and keep leading the way.
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For the neutral (and Shamrock Rovers fans) the sight of Bohemians losing their first Premier Division game of the season brought a huge sense of delight.

That 1-0 defeat in Tallaght Stadium on Friday evening certainly opens things up as St Patrick's Athletic also lost their unbeaten record on the same night. But it is Bohs who will be hurting more.

The Tallaght hoodoo - zero points from three games there - continues for Pat Fenlon's men. Although he will be more concerned with his team starting slowly in games.

It was a feature last season for The Gypsies, but they stepped up a gear at the right time for it not to cripple their title assault. However, it is once again an issue that he needs to address.

Sticking with a settled team

Part from their defence and central midfield Bohs have tended to mix things up with their team selection. This has worked against them thus far as they are not yet sure what their best XI is.

The eight pre-season signings that Fenlon made added some extra strength to his roster, although that has also provided him with a dilmena of who to leave out each week.

He will argue that by giving players an equal amount (or something close to it) of game-time at this stage of the campaign that it will mean each squad member is up to speed whenever suspensions or injuries hit later in the season.

But there is no denying the fact that consistency in selection leads to consistency in play and results. St Pat's would be an example of that so far this year and it is something Fenlon should take on board.

Rediscovering that clinical edge

On paper Bohs have probably the best strikeforce in the top flight with Jason Byrne, Raffaele Cretaro, Paddy Madden, Mark Quigley and Aaron Greene.

With eight goals scored in six league games the champions have made a decent start on the scoring front, although it could be better and they know that.

Cretaro, Quigley and Greene are the new faces and they have all showed flashes of why they were snapped up with Cretaro, in particular, standing out. But more goals are needed and it is up to them to contribute.

If the strikers can start scoring on a regular basis then that would give the whole team a lift and help them in their fight to regain top spot.

It is still early in the season, but already it is clear that Bohs have to start games better, figure out what their best XI is and take their chances in front of goal. Plenty of work for them to do.

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It is always hard to predict what way teams will begin a new season, although the impact that St Patrick's Athletic have made after six games has left even casual viewers of the Airtricity League stumped.

Isn't this the same team that struggled for survival in the Premier Division last year and had one of the worst defensive records in the whole league? Yep, but they are much, much different now.

Pete Mahon has masterminded the turnaround by getting his players to focus on doing the basics and building from that. He began with the defence as a starting point, where he wanted them to defend as a unit, hold their shape and anticipate danger erupting.

The result of his many hours preparing the defence is clear to see with just one goal conceded after six league games. Hats off to Mahon and his assistant John Gill for that.

Although, it hasn't stopped with the defence. St Pat's are now solid in midfield and a threat up front - they are finally a team that works well for each other and could be good enough to challenge for the title.

Faherty bursts into the spotlight

Along with his undoubted coaching skills Mahon also has an eye for a player. He knows who fits where, what type of personalities are needed and how to get the best out of them. So it was curious to see the players he recruited this season.

Altogether, Mahon brought in 13 new faces and many of those have settled in straight away. One who has stood out so far has been Vinny Faherty, who notched his third goal of the season in the 1-1 draw with Bohemians on Tuesday evening.

The 21-year-old will be known by many as the young striker who Galway United used as a battering ram last year, although is now showing that there is a lot more to his game as he continues to improve.

In the game against Bohs he dropped deep to get involved in play, linked up well with his strike partner Paul Byrne, hassled and tackled every ball that dropped to opposition defenders, and finished his goal superbly.

There are still areas where he can improve, but the early signs suggest that he could be in for his best season yet in the domestic game as he aims to play a big part in St Pat's new-look regime.

Defensive solidity is the key

It would be rude not to direct some praise towards the experienced midfield duo of Stuart Byrne and Dave Mulcahy, who have been outstanding in every game this year and really set the tempo for how The Saints play.

However, it is the defensive line that deserves a closer look. After shipping so many goals last term (46 in 36 games), Mahon knew that changes needed to be made. He kept hold of keeper Gary Rogers, veteran Damian Lynch and youngster Noel Haverty, but brought in new additions to fill the other slots.

Dan Connor, Derek Pender, Conor Kenna, Shane Guthrie, and Ian Bermingham might be new to the club, although it has taken them little time to make a difference (with the exception of Connor who has featured only briefly thus far).

The centre-back partnership of Kenna and Guthrie already looks to be amongst one of the best in the top flight. If they can stay injury-free, then surely Mahon's side will add plenty more clean sheets and help to keep the Inchicore outfit up near the top of the table.
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After winning the First Division last year, UCD stunned almost everyone connected to the Airtricity League by finishing ahead of Sporting Fingal, Shelbourne and Waterford United.

Now that they are in the top flight, they are continuing that trend of upsetting the odds and defying expectations. And they are doing it by playing a brand of football that many lazy pundits would describe as being 'Arsenal-esque'.

Martin Russell's young side (an average age of 20) have picked up two league wins so far, although they face possibly their most gruelling test of the campaign so far when they travel to Tallaght Stadium on Friday to face Shamrock Rovers.

While they have already met champions Bohemians - narrowly losing 2-1 - that was at home. It is a different when playing away, as they experienced in the 3-0 defeat to St Patrick's Athletic.

But that doesn't mean they will be fearing Rovers. In their four games played, it was only in the St Pat's match that they perhaps let the occasion get to them. Those big-game nerves are something they will have to get used to though.

Talent factory in full flow

UCD have a history of producing talented players. From Conor Sammon (Kilmarnock) to Darren Quigley (Sporting Fingal), they help to develop players before they move on in their careers.

The Premier Division is currently littered with former graduates from the Belfield institute of slick football and many within the class of 2010 look destined for bright futures in the game.

Midfielders Greg Bolger, Stephen Roche and Danny Fallon have caught the eye this season, while big things are expected of Paul Corry, who was recently courted by Burnley.

Although the star player so far has been striker Ciaran Kilduff. Able to hold play up, quick to spin away from his marker, comfortable in possession, useful in the air and deadly in front of wonder Premier League scouts are flocking to see him in action after his three goals scored.

More players will surely stand out over the coming months with the more games that The Students play and don't be surprised if a lot of them end up playing for some of the 'bigger' clubs this time next year.

Freedom of expression

A lot of teams are wrongly credited with playing an entertaining style of football. This can happen if a team is successful or if a manager tricks people into seeing their team in a different light.

There is no such sideshow happening at UCD. Instead, they simply go out to play with a short passing game that is designed to break on the counter attack and keep hold of the ball.

Pete Mahon, now in charge of St Pat's, helped to hone this style, but Russell is now bringing it on to a new level with his current crop of youngsters and he should be applauded for it.

Weaknesses are easy to spot at times, although it is refreshing to watch a team continually try to play in a way that can entertain even the most casual of football supporters. This boils down to the freedom of expression that Russell has granted his players.

It won't work in every game, especially in the Premier Division, but it is admirable that UCD are looking to win games by playing the way that got them in the top flight. Long may it last.
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Last summer brought Tadhg Purcell to a crossroads in his career after he was suddenly frozen out of the Shamrock Rovers set-up despite enjoying a relatively successful first part of the season.

The Dubliner had been with The Hoops since 2006, so it was quite surprising when manager Michael O'Neill decided that the tricky attacker was no longer part of his plans.

That was a huge blow for the 25-year-old, but it also gave him a chance to reflect on what direction his career was going in. He used his time in exile to reassess and refocus.

So when the offers came flooding in from Airtricity League clubs, he had the confidence to turn them down and take up an option that nobody expected him to after he joined the worst club in English football.

Of course, that is not Darlington's official nickname, but their struggles this season - where they have spent almost the entire campaign bottom of League Two - meant Purcell was not linking up with a club who were in flying form.

Making the most of an opportunity

Purcell knew what he was doing when he penned a short-term contract with The Quakers. He was fully aware that relegation was a possibility and that he would be on the losing side more than on a winning one, but he still agreed to move to the north-east of England.

The cunning striker planned on using his time with Darlington to attract the attention of other English clubs. And that is exactly what he has done with eight goals in 15 games so far.

While the season has been one to forget for Quakers fans, it has helped Purcell to relaunch his career. But the credit should go solely to the player as he has made the most of his chance in League Two football.

After he was released by Rovers, he spent a lot of time working on his fitness and that has paid off since moving to the Northen Echo Arena. He is now back in demand.

Wandering Irish in search of new home

Purcell is not the Irish player that Steve Staunton convinced to sign for Darlington. Shane Redmond, Simon Madden, Richie Byrne and Gary Dempsey were also wooed by the former Ireland manager's offer of first-team football.

Redmond, who is the current Ireland U-21 keeper, has stood out just as much as Purcell, although it hasn't helped his cause that his team have shipped so many goals this term.

Madden, Byrne and Dempsey have clocked up some valuable game-time, although it is not yet clear if the scouts from rivals clubs spotted at their home games are there to watch them as much as they are to catch a glimpse of Redmond and Purcell.

By moving to a team stuck to the bottom of the Football League each of the Irish players took a gamble. It looks to be one that will pay off for some, but perhaps the others will have to start over and follow Purcell's example of reassessing their options.
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The new Airtricity League season may only be three games old, but there are worrying signs for Shamrock Rovers as they slumped to their second successive defeat on Sunday afternoon.

Expectations are high in Tallaght following a runners-up place last year, although their potential title assault looks a long way away right now after yet another dreadful performance.

Michael O'Neill asked for a reaction from his team following the defeat to St Patrick's Athletic and even though there was a slight improvement in their overall display it was simply was not good enough.

Rovers fans will point to the absence of their main striking duo of Gary Twigg and Dessie Baker as one of the reasons why they are failing to fire, but the problems are more deep-rooted than that.

A quick-fix is needed to get them back on track. Once they have that first win of the season then the pressure will ease somewhat and they can focus on the reasons why they are just not clicking.

Watch out Galway, here they come

The Hoops travel to Terryland Park on Friday for a game that will be live on RTE 2. This could be when they pick up that victory as the frustrated sighs from their home fans will not be quite as heavy whenever they give away possession or miss a chance.

Of course, the supporters have every reason to be miffed. With the squad, the manager and the resources available to them, Rovers should be at least in the top three of the Premier Division - instead they are third from bottom.

With Twigg and Baker nursing injuries, they have tinkered with different formations (4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-4-2) yet none have led to them bringing any fluidity to their play. They should just stick with one system and focus on getting the players to lift their respective games.

After the defeat to St Pat's, O'Neill had 'more than a few words' with his players afterwards. He was back in the same position on Sunday, although this time he spent even longer in the dressing-room making his feelings known to his squad.

That extended post-match dressing down suggests that Rovers will be fully fired up when they take on Galway United this week. It could be the turning point of their season.

Style of play is an issue

It is clear that O'Neill wants his team to play an attacking brand of football that is built around a short-passing game. However, it is questionable whether he has the right personnel for that.

Yes, there are plenty of ball players in midfield like James Chambers, Stephen Bradley, Robert Bayly and possibly Chris Turner if he eventually joins. But in defence there problems.

Whenever the ball is at the feet of their defenders it usually ends up being launched forward with an unnecessary punt up the pitch. That is probably being a little unfair on full-backs Pat Sullivan and Enda Stevens, but it is certainly the case with the centre-backs.

Can the centre-backs change their ways? They will need to if Rovers are to click as a cohesive unit, because right now the midfield are playing a different game to the defence and the forwards are often just ignored.

It is only a matter of time before Rovers find a style that suits them and put their bad start to the season behind them. But if they don't do it quickly then they are in danger of watching the title race pass them by.
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As they prepare to host their first home game of the new Airtricity League season, Galway United have a chance to get their 2010 campaign underway.......properly this time.

The Tribesmen were suffered a cruel blow in last week's opener against St Patrick's Athletic when midfielder Stephen O'Donnell was sent off after just 17 minutes. That brought an end to any sort of contest at Richmond Park.

However, now that they are starting with 11 versus 11 again in their clash with Bray Wanderers, they can look to truly get their season started and a home win should be expected.

It will be Sean Connor's debut at Terryland Park, so he will be eager to convince the Galway fans that he is right man to guide the club into a new era, where expectations will be slightly higher than previous years.

Controlling the midfield battleground

Even though they have stripped back on their finances, the Connacht-based team have made some impressive signings with Connor working his magic by bringing in the likes of Thomas Heary, Ben Ami, O'Donnell, Bobby Ryan and Karl Sheppard.

He will be the first to admit that he could do with a few more faces in his squad, especially another striker, but if the former Dundalk boss is forced to work with what he has then he will look to midfield as the area where his team can make their mark.

O'Donnell - a former Arsenal trainee - is a superb signing, while the return of Ciaran Foley after a year out is a big boost. And on top of that, the recruitment of Gary Curran and Tom King from Longford Town were shrewd moves.

Perhaps a five-man midfield would suit Galway best as that would allow them to get the most out of their wingers - Ryan and Derek O'Brien - while also having a strong core with O'Donnell, Foley and one other (possibly Curran).

There is no doubt that the team's main tactic this season will have to be making things difficult for their opponents. The best way of doing that is by dominating in midfield, so expect Connor to place a lot of emphasis on how they play in that area of the pitch.

Sheppard could be a real find

While he wasn't given much service to work with in the 2-0 defeat to St Pat's, Sheppard showed glimpses of just why he was once a highly-rated youngster on the books of Everton.

The 19-year-old made some clever runs down the channels, controlled the ball well with his first touch, attempted to open up gaps in the opposition defence and even tried his luck with a rasping shot late on in the game.

If Galway can supply him with plenty of crosses, something that Ryan and O'Brien are experts at, then Sheppard may just bag himself a decent return of goals and prove to be a key player for Galway this season.

With just Jason Molloy and the currently injured Alan Murphy as his only strike partners, the Dubliner will know that it is up to him to make chances for himself and that his team will be relying on his ability to find the back of the net.

This will be a tough season for Galway, although there is no reason why they cannot finish higher than last year if Sheppard can score the goals, they can dominate midfield and Heary can help organise a solid defence.

For now though, they will want to just get off to a good start with victory at home to Bray.
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