By Aaron Clarke (@Aaron_c91)
On Friday evening, Stephen Henderson watched on as his side leapfrogged UCD AFC into second place in the SSE Airtricity League First Division thanks to a late Matthew Whelan goal 11 minutes from time, and after the game he spoke to the assembled media.
“I thought the first-half was UCD’s” he said. “A lot of that was down to us, our passing was terrible, but we worked extremely hard. I think in the second-half we got our passing a little bit better so we had our work rate and we passed the ball a little bit better and we got a bit more width, we got a few more crosses in and that was an unbelievable goal from Matthew Whelan. He’s only 19 years of age and the strength he needed because I’m telling you he was getting dragged, he was getting kicked, but he managed to stay on his feet and what a fabulous finish.”
“So, second-half, I thought we probably deserved it, first-half was all UCD, but obviously a 1-0 win in the Bowl is fabulous.”
After Whelan bagged his fourth goal of the season Henderson was quick to praise both his team and the forward, but he also admitted he is nervous about the possibility of losing the talented youngster.
“He’s a fine young talent, but all our lads are fine young talents because we base everything we do on work rate and we work together as a team, some days we pass the ball really well and we’re very good to watch, other times we are a bit nervous with it and we give it away similar with what we done in the first-half.
“But overall all our players work extremely hard and when they click they’re very good to watch and Whelan, as you say, he’s one for the future and I’m a bit nervous now because somebody will start sniffing him on me.”
After Limerick ran away with last season’s First Division dropping only nine points, many people expected Waterford to follow suit after the investment of Lee Power during the off-season, but after 13 games the Blues currently sit just two points clear of Henderson’s side. He explains that he believes UCD are the best team in the league, and he expects many more twists and turns for the rest of the season.
“I think UCD are the best team in the league to be honest, so they are going to be there or there abouts. This is going to keep changing, the only thing that hasn’t really changed is Waterford. Another 1-0 tonight, so hopefully their luck can change at some stage. I just think it’s fantastic both ourselves and UCD are still so close to Waterford. Wd are nearly half way through the season and we are still tipping away at them. I think that’s a credit to both of these clubs.”
On Wednesday afternoon, The Sun’s football correspondent Neil O’Riordan revealed that the Premier Clubs Alliance (PCA), along with the FAI, are in the process of examining the possibility of changing the First Division playoffs when the league increase to ten teams. The Rams boss who has been vocal on social media in recent times explained that all discussions should be done with all 20 clubs and not just the PCA.
“Once you mention the PCA, my heart sinks to be honest. For League of Ireland football to progress it takes the 20 clubs, it’s as simple as that, and anyone who thinks they are arrogant enough to go and make decisions, they haven’t got a clue what happens in Cobh Ramblers. They don’t know what we go through 12/24 hours a day to try and keep that club going.”
“The effort that is put into it and for them to just sit up there in their ivory chairs and make decisions based on our future I think is disgraceful. It’s a 20-team league, that’s only 20 teams. Let’s be honest, that’s 20 people who need to sit down and have a conversation, and say this isn’t about self-preservation, this is about the league of Ireland.”
“How do the 20 clubs grow it together? Everybody has great ideas, these egotist on the PCA look intent on destroying all the good work other clubs are doing. I think it’s disgraceful.”
Prior to Friday’s game against UCD, John O’Sullivan, a columnist for the42.ie revealed that he’d be open to chairing a First Division meeting of the eight clubs to discuss how they create their own alliance. However, Henderson was not keen on the idea, instead he did reiterate that O’Sullivan should be chairing a meeting of all 20 clubs instead of only the eight First Division sides.
“But then you’re separating it again,” he said about the idea of the First Division forming their own alliance.
“That’s another potential division in terms of people, that’s two groups that are going to come up with two different ideas, there’s going to be controversy there. They’re going to cause more fighting, I think what we need to do is get the 20 teams working together, and I could think of no better man than John O’Sullivan to chair something like that because he’s a man I’ve a lot of time and respect for. He knows the League of Ireland inside and out. He was a huge part of the success of Cork City.”
When told that O’Sullivan had heaped praise on the Cobh boss, a delighted Henderson explained the feeling was mutual and he couldn’t understand why the clubs were not utilizing a person like O’Sullivan, a man of great integrity.
“I’d like to think so because I love this league, I love football in this country and I want nothing more for the League of Ireland to have the respect that it deserves, but when you have these people going off and making decisions, it creates divides.”
“John O’Sullivan is a man with huge integrity, huge knowledge about the game and to be honest, I can’t understand why he’s never been approached and asked what are your feelings on this. He’d be a fabulous man to sit down, bring the 20 clubs together, let’s put your club thoughts aside and just think this is league of Ireland, how do we make it work?”
“It sounds simple, but it really is. It’s down to the basics of thinking about putting the league and supporters first and putting up a structure that creates drama, creates tension, creates excitement and all that brings crowds.”
Despite the league structural changes that will see only one team being promoted to the Premier Division next season, the First Division has produced some excellent games, however, it fails to gain the exposure it truly deserves and the Rams boss explains many people are reading too much negativity about the First Division before they ever experience a game.
“They don’t because all they see is negative stuff, they go onto their websites and their forums and all these people have an opinion on First Division football and most them haven’t even been to a First Division ground.”
“It’s all this graveyard nonsense that they call it. The reality of it is the division is very good, there’s a lot of quality young footballers in the league, of course you have some terrible matches, but let me tell you I’ve been to some horrendous matches in the Premier Division and I’ve been to some horrendous matches over in England.”
“Of course you’re going to get them, but I think there tonight you have seen a lot of mixture of skill, hard work, integrity, organisation and that was a really good game of football. It had it all, us scoring late on too. Shels are a very good side, we’re a very good side, UCD, Waterford and Longford on their day. There’s good teams down there, we play good matches and it’s exciting for the crowd, but we don’t get the publicity that we want because everybody thinks it’s all happening in the premier. Give it three or four matches and I guarantee you will change your perception on football in this country.”