General football, Ireland, WFAI Cup, Women's football

Underdogs Wexford are top dogs

Underdogs Wexford Youths claimed the 2019 Women’s FAI Cup with a determined win over favourites Peamount United. The showpiece was a repeat of last year’s tense decider, however this year there were goals and chances aplenty.

Youth’s laid the foundations for this victory nearly a month ago – in the semi-final victory over Galway. On that occasion, they came from behind to book their place in the decider. Here, Youth’s took an early lead and although pegged back twice, their experience helped them to see the game out and secure back-to-back Women’s FAI Cup victories.

So Wexford

Double goal scoring hero, Lauren Kelly revealed the foundation plan. “For the semi-final, we were thinking of how we could change it up. They’re going to be expecting Rianna up top. It’s so Wexford, it has been going on for years. (The change of tactics) worked out really well against Galway so he decided we’d play like that again against Shels and it just worked out for the last few matches.”

Manager Tom Elms explained, “playing two up top, we knew that Rianna was going to take a lot of attention. I think they would have planned to put their two centre halves on her and we knew that was going to free up that second striker and you could see that with the first goal – the space that Lauren (Kelly) had. With the space we had it meant that we could begin on the front foot and get early support.”

Sea of green

Peamount had matched Wexford for most of this game, however, a 64th minute run by substitute McKenna Davidson setup the winner. Her run pulled centre half, Louise Corrigan out of position and created the space for captain Kylie Murphy to run onto and finish Rianna Jarrett’s layoff. It was harsh on Corrigan who had been commanding to that point. Murphy also reiterated the change in formation went some way to deciding the cup. “I really felt it hurt them, it felt like every time we went up the pitch, it felt like we were going to score. It wasn’t just turning around and looking up and seeing Rianna (Jarrett) in a sea of green, Lauren was there and I was joining in and think Tom got it spot on.”

Off script

Such was the day, even when Youth’s went off script, the ball ended up in the back of the net. Lauren Kelly revealed her lobbed finish in the 34th minute – to put Wexford back in front – shouldn’t have been, due to a prior meeting with Peamount’s goalkeeper. “We played Peamount a few weeks ago and usually Naoisha (McAloon) would play in goal, but Niamh (Reid-Burke) played that day. We were in on goal about three times and we tried to lob it over, but she’s just the type of goalkeeper you can’t lob. So, we went into the match, I was walking out with the girls, ‘shots go low, shots go low’ and then I lobbed it. I don’t know why I did that. It bounced awkwardly and hit it on the volley and thankfully it went in.”

Dreaming

It has been quite a few months for Kelly. In July, she netted a blockbuster of a strike for Ireland to defeat Brazil on the way to a fourth-place finish at the World University Games. Then in August, she scored in Youth’s Champions League campaign, where they won two out of their three games. “This whole year has been great for me, especially in Italy at the World Games, scoring against Brazil, stuff like that you dream of when you’re younger. Scoring in the Champions League as well, they’re things you dream of when you’re younger. It has been a really good year for me personally.”

Respect

Kelly couldn’t hide her delight at netting against Peamount, a club she spent three years with – only leaving to get game-time. However, you get the feeling there’s huge respect amongst the players, particularly when rivalries are put to one side and they pull on the green jersey for the likes of the University Games. “I have all the respect in the world for Peamount. I loved my time there, but when you’re not getting a game, you have to look after yourself. To go back and score against them, you’ve proved yourself in a way.” That respect carries through to her manager, Tom Elms and Wexford Youths, who she credits for taking her in and having faith. “Since I’ve come to Wexford, Tom has been very patient with me. I’m so grateful for Tom giving me a chance and having faith in me. It’s good to re-pay him and the girls as well, they’ve been so nice since I came to Wexford.”

Consistent Peamount had won 18 of their 21 league games this season but couldn’t shake the dogged underdogs. While Wexford built from the front with a little faith in their ex-Pea.

Andy Donlan.

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Bohemians, General football, League of Ireland, SSE Airtricity League

“I heard the crack at the time, so I knew it was a bad one”

Dinny Corcoran’s season was said to be over in May, however, he is plotting a return before the end of the season to fire Bohs into Europe for the first time since 2012.

The Bohemians striker cut a lonely figure when crumpled on the Dalymount turf, 13 minutes into a league game with Sligo. Having fractured a bone in his foot, he left the field on a stretcher after a lengthy treatment delay, hugging an oxygen tank. “I actually heard the crack at the time, so I knew it was a bad one. It wasn’t even that painful, I just knew it was going to be a lengthy one”.

Heartbreaker

Corcoran revealed the often under-discussed psychological aspect of a long-term injury. “It was more upsetting than anything else. I knew I’d be out for a while. Obviously at the time I didn’t know the extent of the injury or how long I’d be out for, but I knew it was going to be quite lengthy. It was heartbreaker, but look, that’s football, these things happen. I’m feeling good now.”

No doubt he had plenty to take his mind off the injury. Having appeared on hit daytime television show, Countdown earlier in the year, Corcoran would find himself with ample conundrum time during his slow rehabilitation. “The first six weeks was tough. I couldn’t do anything to be honest with you. I was in a boot, I was on crutches, I couldn’t drive. I was basically stuck to my couch for six weeks. I could do a bit of upper body in the gym but that’s kind of hard on the head mentally to stay motivated.”

Strength and conditioning

Six weeks before Corcoran’s injury, Bohs lost a key member of their backroom team, when Strength and Conditioning coach, Graham Norton, left to join Dundalk. The Gypsies brought in Remy Tang as a replacement, who had worked at Glasgow Celtic and the English FA and Liverpool youth setups. Corcoran admitted the loss of Norton was a surprise. “It was a bit of a shock to be honest. It came all of a sudden. Graham was very good. He obviously got a good offer at Dundalk, the champions of Ireland, which would be a hard one to turn down. Remy Tang has come in and done very well, he has impressed me a lot, he has filled Graham’s shoes.”

St Pat’s return

With three matches still to go and the race for Europe looking like it will go right down to the wire, Bohs, Derry and St. Pat’s battle it out for the two places on offer. Corcoran is out of contract at the end of the season and is sure to have many suitors. However, his immediate plan is to play again this season, despite being written off. “The last month or two have been good, I’ve enjoyed it being able to run again. It’s not 100% yet, but I’m hoping to maybe set a target for the Pat’s game, so hopefully I’ll feature.” On his immediate future, he hopes to hang around Dalymount too. “I’m hoping that I can get back for a game or two, prove myself and hopefully stay for another year at least.”

The countdown to Dinny Corcoran’s comeback is underway, however, with his contract due to expire in November, it will be more than the Bohemians supporters with a keen eye on the striker’s return.

Andy Donlan.

Cover photograph – Stephen Burke

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FAI Cup, General football, Ireland, Keith Long

Perception is not often reality

“We haven’t had a cup run at all in my time here. I’m pleased tonight that we’ve won, the attitude of the players was spot on, we’d like to enjoy tonight and next week look forward to the Rovers game,” beamed Bohs boss, Keith Long after their seven-nil annihilation of Wexford at Ferrycarrig Park on Friday night.

Having negotiated the first hurdle of the FAI Cup with relative ease, Bohs now go on to pit their wits away against First Division Galway – a team they knocked out of this competition in 2016. Premier Division Bohs will be favourites to advance to next month’s quarter-finals.

Hitting form

Standing in a now-near-empty and dimly-light Ferrycarrig Park, Long admits, “Our form since the break has been very good, except for the Sligo game. We went down to Waterford and drew 1-1 and should have won. We had beaten Pat’s the week before, so that’s been the only blip on our copy book since the break. Then we scored eighteen goals in the last four games and conceded two. I’ve said to the players, we’ve got to have that level of consistency, week in, week out, because I believe in them.” Prior to the League of Ireland summer break, goal-shy Bohs only averaged less than a goal a game.

Wing trickery

Their new-found ruthlessness in front of goal – albeit against sides ranked inferior – has seen them rack-up six, five and seven without reply in recent weeks. That is thanks in no small part to the implosion at Bray Wanderers, resulting in the arrival of tricky right winger Daniel Kelly to Bohs, coupled with the new-found confidence and directness of Kevin Devaney on the opposite wing. Older heads like Karl Moore, Paddy Kavanagh and Philly Gannon have moved on due to restricted first team opportunities, resulting in speedier attacks and a new-found incisiveness.

Philosophy

Others have blossomed too, youngsters Grant, Kirk, Lyons and Mageruson have come into the first team from the under-19s and haven’t been found wanting. All good for competition, as Long points out. “We’re building at the club. The philosophy – call it that if you will – is to promote the best young players. I think we’ve got quite a number of them throughout the club, our under-19 team are strong, so we’ve got lots of players who are ready to come in. It creates that environment and culture where there’s lots of competition for places, so it has been really good, but it has been built up over a period of time, it hasn’t just happened. It’s long hours of hard work with the players, recruiting and identifying the right kind of players and creating an environment that is good and the culture is rich in the club at the moment.”

Smallest budget – people don’t want to hear that

Generally, the promotion of youth is down to restricted finances, or under-performance. Bohs are no different, as consistency levels have seen them struggling and teetering above the relegation play-off spot for much of the season.

“Our league form – the consistency levels – need to improve and I believe some of the performances we’ve put in this season deserve more and the league table at this stage doesn’t lie, so it is what it is. People on the outside view Bohs as a big club, which it is, it is a big club with big history, but we’re operating off the smallest budget in this league. Fact. People don’t want to hear that, I’ve said that now for quite a number of years, but we’re doing well, we are boxing above our weight, year-on-year we’re doing really well and I think people should realise that we’re a part-time group and we’re giving an honest effort and we work extremely hard at our jobs at the club and it’s down to other people what they perceive, but perception is not often reality.”

Supporters want success

Past money-issues still linger fresh in the mind around Dalymount Park – an asset Bohs lost in property speculation only a few years ago. Long stressed, “Obviously we’d like to move things forward, but it can’t be at the detriment to the health of the club, which in the past – that situation has led us to where we are now – the overspending and so-on. We’re living with that, we are coping with it, we are doing our very, very best with the limited resources that we have. There are lots of good people at the club. There are lots of volunteers who give their time for the club, we are appreciative of all of that, but ultimately, I think our supporters want a little bit of success, they want to see us kick-on, but that takes finances, that takes resources, that takes a lot of different things coming together all at once.”

Different animal

Before leaving to return to the dressing room, Long adds, “I’m pleased tonight that we’ve won, the attitude of the players was spot on, we’d like to enjoy tonight and look forward to the Rovers game – we know it will be a much different animal next week”.

It is highly unlikely that Rovers will become the latest recipients of a Bohs mauling, due to the congested nature of this derby fixture, however, if the animal instincts of Long’s young group kick-in they may go for the kill from the off.

Andy Donlan.

Cover photograph – Stephen Burke

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General football, Ireland, League of Ireland, SSE Airtricity League

Dundalk return to league summit

Dundalk 2-0 Bohemians (Hoare 31’, Hoban (pen.) 51’)

Dundalk advanced to the summit of the SSE Airtricity League after a comfortable win over Bohemians at Oriel Park. Having led through Sean Hoare’s header at the break, Dundalk stepped up a gear in the second half and only thanks to the brilliance of Shane Supple in the Bohs goal, this would have been a more comfortable win. In the end, they could only add one second half strike – a debatable penalty – through Patrick Hoban.

The contrasting fortunes of these sides leaves Bohs to lick their wounds and prepare for Friday’s relegation six-pointer with Limerick, whilst Dundalk jet off to sunny-Cyprus to prepare for Thursday’s Europa League qualification clash with AEK Larnaca.

Bohs didn’t make it easy for the Champions in the opening half, with new singing Daniel Kelly proving a constant menace, although they needed net-minder, Shane Supple in inspired form after the break, keeping out Benson, Kelly and Hoban twice.

Bohemians made two changes from last week’s in 6-0 hammering of Bray Wanderers, with Oscar Brennan and Ian Morris in for Ward and Cornwall. Dundalk made one change from their Europa League stalemate with AEK, as Jarvis replaced Massey at full back.

The first half was a nip and tuck affair with Dundalk uncharacteristically off-colour in their play, however, they took the lead after thirty-one minutes. Green right fullback, Andy Lyons – in for his second consecutive start, replacing the suspended Derek Pender – conceded a corner to Duffy down the left. Winger, Michael Duffy sent in the corner, which Sean Hoare rose highest to meet and nod to the net to give Dundalk the lead.

With the words from Stephen Kenny’s half time team talk still ringing in their ears, Dundalk came out a different side after the break. They added their second through a soft penalty after Casey was harshly adjudged to have fouled Jarvis after his neat interplay with Duffy down the left. Back in March, Dundalk beat Bohemians 3-0 at this venue and just as it was then, Hoban scored the resulting penalty from a Casey foul – sending Supple the wrong way once again.

The busy Supple made two further saves to deny Hoban, before extinguishing a shot from Benson on seventy minutes. Both managers tried to freshen things up from the bench and it was one of Bohemians’ substitutes, Keith Ward who almost got his side back into the game. His shot on eighty-eight minutes hit the inside of the post. Then, after the ball was cleared and sent back in by fellow substitute, Danny Grant, Ward shot past Rogers, but captain Brian Gartland was back to clear off the line.

Supple again thwarted Dundalk two minutes later, when he saved one-on-one from Georgie Kelly, but it’s Dundalk who go to Cyprus in high spirits, whilst Bohs must pick themselves up for Friday’s relegation battle at Dalymount.

Dundalk: Rogers; Cleary, Gartland, Hoare, Jarvis; Connolly (McEleney 59’), Shields, Benson (Chvedukas 75’), Duffy; McGrath; Hoban (Kelly 85’).
Subs not used: Sava; Mountney; Massey; Murray.

Bohemians: Supple; Lyons, Morris, Casey, Leahy; Kelly, Buckley, Brennan (Byrne 56’), Lunney (Ward 59’), Devaney; Corcoran (Grant 75’).
Subs not used: Bohan; Kavanagh; Kirk; Stokes.

Attendance: 3,139

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General football, Ireland, UEFA Women's Champions League, Women's football

Killeen hoping to make the hard yards count in Belfast

As the ear-piercing crescendo of jet engines deafened overhead, Shelbourne Ladies trained at the AUL Complex next to Dublin Airport, ahead of their UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifiers, which begin today. In a way, it’s a cruel location for the players to warm-up, as their normal training venue of the Morton Stadium was sacrificed for the AUL’s artificial surface, as they aimed to mimic match conditions in central Belfast this week. They could have been heading off to sunny Cyprus, Croatia, Montenegro or the Estonian holiday resort of Parnu this week, instead they’re making the short journey north to Belfast and the compact home of Crusanders FC. Football can be cruel at times.

Not so green grass of home

Shels begin their round-robin mini tournament campaign today against group favourites, Medyk Konin, followed by close second favourites, PK-35 Vantaa on Friday, before facing bottom-ranked home side, Linfield on Monday. Flying Shels winger, Siobhán Killeen outlines the difficult task facing her side. “From looking on paper they’re both very experienced (Medyk Konin of Poland and PK-35 Vantaa of Finland), a lot of international players, they’ve played in Champions League a lot, every year they’re expected to do well and get out of the group. I know we’re in for a tough challenge, they’re very physical, technically very gifted, especially PK-35, so I know it’s tough but we’re all capable because we’re a great team and we’re very skilled as well.”

Whilst she is positive about Shels’ footballing chances, she laments the fact that the youthful Dubliner’s won’t be able to strut their stuff on a lush grass surface, as all three of their games will be played on Seaview’s 4G artificial pitch. “That’s probably the thing that’s going to be toughest about the tournament, playing on the 4G pitch because we’re used to playing on grass pitches here in tough weather conditions. You’d probably try and like to get PK-35 or Medyk Konin onto a pitch like that because the 4G will move quick. You just have to try and prepare as best you can, like tonight, that’s why we’re here training on the astro (at the AUL) and we’ve also been training at St Anne’s Park on the astro. It is very different, we just have to try and get used to it.” Shels have had pitch problems already this season. When they arrived for a routine league fixture at The Watershed Sports Centre, in May, Kilkenny’s playing surface issues were clear and present.

Pitch issues

Killeen vented her dissatisfaction by posting photographs on social media during their pre-match inspection, showing the extent of the damage to the dangerous divot-strewn surface. Kilkenny had been using the venue this season, after leaving Buckley Park. The photographs told their own story.  Sand and sods filled ditches at the patchwork sports and leisure centre pitch. “It was shocking to go down there and see the pitch, the state it was in. We are supposed to be the top players in the country. When you are growing up playing football as kids, this is the level you want to try and reach and then you travel down (to see that pitch). A lot of us work weekends and we give up shifts from work, we’re only amateur players, so that was very disappointing.” Kilkenny duly issued a grovelling apology, the FAI ordered the fixture be rescheduled and reversed and Shels doled out an unmerciful 11-0 hammering in Dublin.

Despite any doubts over today’s fast-playing surface, positives in the form of home support will be an added bonus for Shels, as bus loads of supporters and family members make the 160 km journey north. As well as that, the in-camp togetherness and team spirit – which seems evident when Irish underage women travel for tournament football – should be another major plus. “Like on international trips, you could be away for a week or two, away from your family so we are used to staying in that close environment with your teammates, training everyday. So they should be well prepared for it and know what they’re getting themselves in for. There are a good few buses of our underage teams coming up – it will be like a home draw, but when you’re away, you feel like you’re away from all other commitments, so it’s nice. We were hoping for an away game but, Belfast is only up the road, so you feel like you’re not in Dublin, but at least up in Belfast you feel like you’re away, you’re in a camp – if it was in Dublin, some of the girls could work from home.”

Family support

Family support also plays a big role in the women’s game in Ireland, where dedicated relatives make-up large sections of the weekly league attendances, up and down the country. Killeen will be hoping there’s a double celebration, come the final whistle – where her mother will provide support from the stands, as she celebrates a landmark birthday today. “It’s my mam’s birthday, quite a big one as well.  So she’ll come up with my brothers and their families will also come up, so it’ll be nice. It’s only up the road so it’ll be nice.”

Training four nights a week in the lashings of rain

There is a quiet confidence about Siobhán Killeen and you get the sense that she truly believes in the synergy of Shelbourne’s star underage individuals. “The girls have all succeeded at underage level with Ireland, so they’ll be hoping to repeat some of that, but with their teammates who they’re training with four nights a week in the lashings of rain, so it’ll be nice for them.”

The self-assured attacker and her teammates will need the mother of all performances to advance as group winners or as best runners-up in this campaign. They’ll hope that their bond and togetherness, mixed in with a little help from the weather – in the form of the tail-end of Hurricane Gert – and some family support can see them through. If the virtuous side of football prevails, then the young Shelbourne players can afford to look skywards and wonder which country they’ll be flying to in the first round of the UEFA Women’s Champions League in October.

Andy Donlan

UEFA Women’s Champions League Qualifying Group 4 kicks off on at 14:00 today in Seaview, Belfast when Shelbourne Ladies play Medyk Konin and continues through to Monday 28 August [view full fixture list].

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Continental Tyres Women's National League, General football, Ireland, League of Ireland, UEFA Women's Champions League, Women's football

Maher: preparation is key to European success

On a footballing time clock, video analysis, strength and conditioning and nutritional awareness are all relatively new concepts to a game that has existed since the mid-nineteenth century, though it feels like they’ve been around for some time.

These were alien concepts when Shaun Maher made his Bohemians debut in European competition, over twenty one years ago. He recalls, “My first game against Dinamo Minsk, the food was absolutely awful. I don’t think any of us ate anything before the game for two or three days”. When Bohs returned to the Belarussian capital seven years later led by Stephen Kenny, they arrived with their own chef, Irish football was evolving.

Nowadays, those concepts, coupled with logistical planning and meticulous preparation and organisation are key building blocks to European success. Maher’s Shelbourne Ladies players should have no food or preparation problems in central Belfast next week, where they visit to compete in the mini-tournament UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifiers.

Experience

Reliable footballing centre-half, Shaun Maher is now part of the coaching ticket at Shelbourne Ladies, who make their Champions League bow against Poland’s Medyk Konin on Tuesday on Crusader’s 4G artificial pitch in Seaview. Maher, who is head coach to Mark Leavy’s double champions, has a wealth of experience as a player at Champions League and UEFA Cup (Europa League) level. He competed in European competition with three different League of Ireland clubs, progressing through a round on three out of six occasions – only going out on away goals in his first tie and then losing by a 4-6 aggregate score to a slick-skilled Maritimo side in his final involvement, accounting for two of those exits. A more than decent achievement in League of Ireland terms, especially considering he was part of teams who beat Aberdeen and Kaiserslautern away and ran heavy-weights, Dinamo Kiev oh-so-close.

In reminiscing over European ties against the likes of Maritimo, Aberdeen, Kaiserslautern and Dinamo Kiev, he fondly recalls when a newly full-time Bohs were drawn to play Aberdeen in then UEFA Cup (now Europa League). If you are thinking his recollections are centred around his 81st minute bullet-headed equaliser in the historic away win, you’d be mistaken. Perhaps it is because he’s on the other side of the white wash in the technical area these days, but he recalls Bohs manager Roddy Collins’ approach to that first leg in Scotland.

“He was playing his own mind-games in the press with the Aberdeen manager – Ebbe Skovdahl. If I remember correctly, he was putting advertisements in the Aberdeen Echo looking for players two months beforehand, so you can see how much planning and detail has gone into that. It was a great distraction. It was really intelligent and clever. It took the pressure off the players completely. Thankfully it worked and it helped Bohs progress.”

Fast forward ten years to Maher’s final European game with Sporting Fingal, where preparations were drastically different for their visit to the archipelago of Madeira, located just off the Moroccan coast. “The last game in Madeira against Maritimo, we were there for nearly a week to acclimatise. When I travelled to Minsk with Bohs, it was three planes just to get to Minsk, where as in Mederia you’re in and out. That’s how things improved.”

Preparations

He points to improvements for the women’s double winners, Shelbourne, as they now have modern tools at their disposal to assist in their Champions League preparations.

“There’s a lot more preparation now and things have progressed as time has gone on. That’s not having a go at anyone, that’s just how times have improved through the science of the sport, coaching philosophies and so on. Everyone else was preparing the same way at that time. For instance, nowadays, we’ve got match analysis and we’re able to see match opposition from months ago, to a couple of weeks ago. That wasn’t available back then, they had to make do with what they had.”

Opposition

First up for Shels, they face the fancied Poles in a four-team round-robin group. Medyk Konin rule the roost domestically as they go in search of their fifth consecutive league title, having finished first or second in the last nine seasons. Indeed they hammered Wexford Youths 6-0 when they hosted the round-robin mini tournament at this stage in 2015 and are favourites to progress from this group, ahead of technical Finnish outfit, PK-35 Vantaa. Hosts Linfield complete the quartet.

“Medyk Konin win comfortably domestically most weeks, they’ve got talent all over the pitch, a bit of experience as well and they’re a threat. They’re full-time, they’re strong, they’ve strength in every area, but so have we. When time presents itself, we’ll try and exploit where our strengths are. We don’t want to over-awe the players either, in terms of what they’re facing but at the same time, you’ve got a responsibility to make them aware that things are going to be tough, but as long as we stick together and we stay physically and mentally strong throughout that period.”

Build-up

The excitement in the Shels camp is palpable, with young squad members milling about the AUL Complex ahead of their training preparations on the all-weather surface near Dublin Airport. “The build-up is still very exciting. It’s new to all of the players and it’s new to me as a coach because I’ve been involved in European competitions as a player, but as a coach, it’s slightly different. There’s a lot more responsibility on you as opposed to a player where you are focused on yourself in your own role in the team. As a coach, with the rest of the staff, you’re trying to think of everybody and everything. Every box is ticked and every angle is covered. So there’s a lot more involved and it’s different. It’s not the same as a player, it’s a lot more enjoyable as a player, I wish I was a player, I wish I was still out there, but unfortunately that’s not going to happen.”

Enjoy it

Whether Shels manage to progress or not, it won’t be for the lack of effort or preparation in a sport that’s underfunded and underdeveloped in comparison to some of their opponents next week. “I remember Derek Swan saying to me on my European debut, ‘Enjoy it, because it goes like that…’. That quick and if you don’t enjoy these opportunities, you’ll always regret it because they don’t come around every week or even every year.”

Shaun Maher may not be able to power home a bullet header or make a goal-saving tackle and you probably won’t see him place advertisements in the Belfast Telegraph looking for players. However, he may find that he’ll get more enjoyment through success of the players, having laid the foundations in their preparations, as Shelbourne Ladies look to conquer Belfast next week.

Andy Donlan

UEFA Women’s Champions League Qualifying Group 4 kicks off on Tuesday 22 August at 14:00 in Seaview, Belfast when Shelbourne Ladies play Medyk Konin [view full fixture list].

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FAI Cup, General football, Ireland, League of Ireland, Stephen Kenny, UEFA Cup

Stephen Kenny reveals he was asked to sign his successor at Bohs

Friday 28 July 2004 marks a strange anniversary of sorts. On this day, 13 years ago, Stephen Kenny was sacked as manager of Bohemian Football Club, following their elimination from the UEFA Cup at the hands of Levadia Tallinn. Kenny recently made a startling revelation about the circumstances in the lead up to the tie and ultimately his departure from the club.

Earlier this year, he sat down with Eamon Dunphy for a revealing, in-depth and at times emotional interview for, The Stand. During the interview, Kenny revealed. “At the time, I got asked… I sorta never revealed this. It was suggested to me that I sign Gareth Farrelly – who played with Everton and Bolton – just to play in the European game.”

Mixed success

During Kenny’s period at Bohemians, the club had achieved mixed success in their battle with Shelbourne to establish themselves as top dog. He and the club invested heavily in top players in a bid to re-invigorate the club after the indifferent tenure of Pete Mahon, following the euphoria of the Roddy Collins era in Phibsborough. Kenny’s reign yielded the league title in 2002/03 – at the home of the champions – a famous European victory over Bate Borisov, but also crushing defeats to an already relegated Dundalk in 2002 FAI Cup final and to Levadia Tallinn in the UEFA Cup first qualifying round.

In the UEFA Cup tie, Bohs were expected to progress, having blasted their way past similar opposition in Bate Borisov in the previous years’ Champions League. They had also comfortably seen-off Levadia at the same stage in the Champions League qualifiers in 2001 – when they were named Levadia Maardu. In addition, Bohs had secured a solid first leg goalless draw in Tallinn. Although strangely, Ken Oman, who produced a commanding man of the match performance at the heart of the Bohs defence in that draw, completed the second leg as an unused substitute, whilst Colin Hawkins, who missed the first leg through injury, started at centre half.

Levadia, having weathered a Bohs storm, hit on the counter-attack and ruthless punished Hawkins’ lack of sharpness, rounding out a 3-1 victory in Dublin. Bohs had never lead in the tie. The catastrophic collapse – from the first leg to the second – marked the only time a League of Ireland side had succumbed to Estonian opposition, in the five ties and ten games to-date.

That went against everything I was about

On the build-up to the tie, Kenny went on to reveal his response to the suggestion of signing and playing Farrelly. “Well, I said, ‘This team had won the league for me and I’ve got really good players here who’ve won everything, winning the league and doing really well’. They said he’s not going to play in the league, if you just sign him for those couple of games, you know? That went against everything I was about really. I said, ‘I wasn’t going to do that’. So we lost the game and they made Gareth manager. That’s what happened really, Gareth came in as manager immediately after that.”

In fact, it was one month later when Farrelly took the reins, after caretaker, Gary Howlett had guided Bohs to two league draws and an FAI Cup third round exit to Kildare County. Farrelly watched his first game from the stands, as Bohs trailed arch-rivals Shamrock Rovers 0-1 at half time in Dalymount. Farrelly’s inspired team talk saw his team rip into Rovers, twice breaching their rearguard in the first three minutes of the second half, eventually running out 3-2 victors.

Farrelly, 28, was far and away the league’s youngest manager at the time. Stephen Kenny, ironically, holds the record for being the league’s youngest manager, when he took over at Longford Town, aged 26.

Forgettable period

In the main, Farrelly’s period at Bohs was a forgettable one, for footballing and off-the-pitch reasons. It was blighted by cut-backs to the playing budget, a point’s deduction for fielding a suspended player, the release of top-scorer Dominic Foley in dispute over payment and towards the end, divisive supporter protests.

Thus, two years and two days after the ecstasy of that 3-2 victory over Shamrock Rovers, Farrelly suffered the indignity of missing a penalty at a crucial stage of an FAI Cup replay at home to the same opposition – who were then a First Division club. Bohs and Farrelly parted ways the following day.

Decline

Stephen Kenny’s exit had marked the beginning of the decline of Bohemian Football Club, although Pat Fenlon’s trophy-laden four-year spell re-invigorated the club, it was all built on a mountain of debt and tied-up in a property deal, which collapsed in the economic downturn. In 2015, Bohs finally resolved major debt issues, sold Dalymount Park to Dublin City Council and unveiled a five-year strategic plan, placing the club back at the heart of her surrounding communities.

Stephen Kenny who had refused to comprise on his guiding principles when asked to parachute Farrelly into the team for the big European games, may have lost out in 2004. However, those uncompromising, core footballing principles brought him unparalleled success with Dundalk in bigger European games, twelve years later. He may find it tough to talk about now, but that incident laid the foundations for subsequent success and deserved praise from all quarters.

Andy Donlan

Listen to Eamon Dunphy’s fascinating interview on Stephen Kenny’s career to-date, in its entirety on SoundCloud.

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