By Dermot Keely (@keelysbar)
Well the end of the season has come…..I think the League of Ireland teams can be proud of themselves. Attendances are up, the football has improved, and if you take out the antics of the FAI I’d say the product has definitely improved.
Dundalk were crowned League Champions for the 5th time in 6 years. This despite the departure of Stephen Kenny to International Football. You have to commend the efforts of Vinny Perth and his staff. It’s not an easy task coming in after such a successful manager. People say the team is already there, so it’s an easy task….Not so! It is so difficult to come in and perform at the standards which have been set over the past 5 seasons….the players have only to drop their standards a notch and another team will step up to the plate.
And that team will be Shamrock Rovers. They will benefit hugely from winning the FAI Cup. Beating Dundalk in the final will be a huge boost to their confidence and belief. To be considered a top side you must win a trophy to have a good season. Well Rovers did that on Sunday, and they thoroughly deserved their win. The fact that it was Dundalk they beat will give them the confidence and belief that they can win a league title. In fairness, next years league title can only go to Dundalk or Rovers.
I look forward to Shels being in the big League next year. I really hope they can consolidate their position in the top League. Progress has to be made slowly and I hope supporters give the team a chance and don’t expect miracles.
I have already written about the great job Keith Long, his players and staff have done over the past couple of seasons. To secure a European spot is a phenomenal achievement, especially when you consider they are basically a part-time team, while the teams around them are predominantly full time.
It’s easy to praise the top 3 teams, but for me there is an unsung hero that will probably be ignored completely when the awards are given out. His name is of course Ollie Horgan of Finn Harps. His feat of keeping them in the Premier Division matches any of the achievements of the teams above him.
I was really sorry to see Drogheda losing out in the play-offs, but delighted for Ollie who has done the impossible yet again, and will have to do the same again next year.
Just a brief comment on an All Island League. It came as no surprise to me that the IFA would not be supportive. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. There is no doubt that in an All Island League the suits lose. Why would they give up positions of power to join up with a league that has a dysfunctional management team?
I also believe that football in Ireland is not at a stage yet to merge. Even after 20 years of the peace process, can you imagine Linfield going to Derry/Dundalk and vice versa? I am not convinced that football fans have made the progress that the rest of society has over the past 20 years. Maybe I’m Wrong!!
You know you are getting old when your babies start to retire. May I congratulate Derek Pender on another magnificent season for him personally and for his club. He played for me when the game was played in a completely different fashion to how it is played now. He was truly formidable. To be able to adjust to the modernisation of the game so successfully says everything about the man. Happy retirement Detser – no more aches and pains on Saturday mornings after giving it all on a Friday night.
All the above sentiments are heartfelt, but this blog is a bit yo-ho-ho, Happy Holidays. I have left the final say on UCD to last. I was there when the “Doc” Tony O’Neill started the professional program in UCD. He wanted students on scholarships to have the benefit of playing with professionals. This policy came to early fruition when they won the FAI Cup beating a great Shamrock Rovers side in the final. The scholarship scheme has progressed now to such an extent that all the top clubs have players who have played with UCD and benefited from the education program. They were always different in that respect. This year they bowed to the pressure of their stakeholders and sacked one of the most talented coaches in the country. Shame on them!