In a change to our usual format, and to celebrate tonight’s opening fixtures in the 2018 SSE Airtricity League season, we’ve sent our incorrigible European football correspondentacross the Irish sea to preview the season ahead. Hopefully, for once, he won’t be relying on crass regional stereotypes and borderline offensive clichés in order to pad out his frankly pathetic grasp of the game.
“ Top of the mornin’ to ye! Oim here in Oireland to cast moi emerald oies over de’ soccer teams dat’ll be playin’ in de’ Oirish Premier League dis season. While Oim here oi’ll be makin’ de’ most of moi trip, meetin’ a few of de’ locals, who’ll no doubt be little fellas dressed in green suits wid big ole ginger beards, and of course oi’ve got to have a go on de ole Blarney Stone. Now if you don’t mind oi’ll be off to have meself a big ole plate of patayters, before dey run out.
(This is really sub-Partridge stuff…how much more of this waffle do we have to take before we can boot this awful shit off the payroll? Three months? Christ… – ED)
Ahem, well I’ve just had a call from my agent, and apparently my amusing accent and hilarious wisecracks vis-à-vis our Irish cousins isn’t going to go down well with the reading masses. Now I’m not one to say that political correctness has gone mad but, well, draw your own conclusions. You only have to pop your head into one of these dwarvern taverns and you’ve got someone desperate to offer you a pint of ‘the black stuff’. Not for me thank you very much. If you don’t mind I’ll be having a nice British pint of Weissbier if its all the same to you. Anyway, let’s get this hellish trip over with.
I’m here in Cork, where, would you believe, they send every bottle of wine in the world to be sealed. Marvelous isn’t it? Funnily enough I could do with a cork myself – bit of a ropey ham sandwich on the ferry over. You’ll find Cork on the south coast of Ireland in the province of Munster which has given me a great idea so, while I’m here, I’ll be trying to flog my ready-to-eat creamed potatoes. I’ve even got an idea for a television advert. Anyway, I’m not here to further my ambition of becoming the new Loyd Grossman, not entirely anyway, but I’m here to cast an eye over 2017 champions Cork City. The team is managed by John Cauldfield (best not to mention his son’s murder of John Lennon, eh?), and the captain is John Dunleavy – how delightfully parochial. I’m delighted to report that the squad is almost entirely Irish – you can’t beat some homegrown spirit, apart from a Scot in goal and the Englishman signed in the transfer window. Tobi Adebayo-Rowling arrived from Sligo Rovers off the back of two excellent seasons, and Cork will be hoping he can add some pace on the flanks. I hear his mother wrote those dreadful books about the wizard, but never mind. Karl Sheppard is the danger man up front, but they’ve also added Graham Cummins to their arsenal. Oh and look, Morrissey is playing in midfield. He never mentioned it at our last ‘Burgers and Babes’ meet-up. Though they may be current champions I’m not entirely convinced Cork City can go this distance this season. There’s stiff competition in this league, and I think the 2018 winners might be on the end of my next visit.
I’ve travelled to Dundalk, a sleepy little town in the North East of Ireland, and home to the current giants of Irish football. But before I delve too deep into their sporting prowess, I think I’ll have a little wander around the town and take in some of the culture. St Patrick’s Church, such a graceful yet powerful building, and a wonderful opportunity for me to say a few words to the man upstairs, and show my appreciation for all the luck he’s brought to my life. Saint Nicholas Church – same applies. St Joseph’s Church, another opportunity to fall to my knees and thank our Lord. St Bridget’s Church – again, the same applies, but this time with the added frisson of it being named after a lady. A castle! Marvelous! Perhaps I’ll pop in for a plate of chicken legs and a glass of mead. Cloghafarmore which, lets be honest, is just a stone. Magic Hill – apparently here the layout of the surrounding land produces the optical illusion that a very slight downhill slope appears to be an uphill slope. Sounds like my career! More castles. God it’s all very grey isn’t it? In fact at one point, having stood very still for ten minutes looking at one of these castles, I realised a group of tourists had mistaken me for a point of interest. I really must start taking those vitamin D tablets. Anyway, enough of that. Runners-up last season, Dundalk won the three previous league championships, and even enjoyed a foray into Europe. Would never have happened on my watch. The key man is former Celtic winger Michael Duffy who’s heading into his second season at Oriel Park having enjoyed a productive 2017. New signings Ronan Murray and Pat Hoban, embarking on his second spell with the Lilywhites, sound like the most Irish men you’ve ever met, and it’ll fall on them to score the goals that win Dundalk the league. They’ve incorporated a few Eastern-Europeans into the squad – undercutting the locals no doubt – but they’ll be hoping Romanian goalie Gabriel Sava is a result of nominative determinism, I know I am. I make them Champions.
With three European places up for grabs (until I get my hands on the system that is), there’ll be plenty of sides hoping they can finish in the top four and book a trip to sunny Israel. I’ve come to Tallaght in South Dublin to take a look at Shamrock Rovers (hold on a minute, I thought we said no stereotypes?). The name Tallaght comes from the Irish for plague-pit, so you can quite imagine that hundreds of years ago the whole town was shrouded by a festering putrid smell, and its my pleasure to be able to recreate it today. The club themselves were actually founded in Ringsend which, thanks to those inventive folk in Cork, I’ve been well acquainted with during this trip. Rovers hold the record for Irish league titles with 17, but they haven’t won one since 2011 thanks to those wiley chancers of Dundalk. I’m not sure their squad is strong enough to win it back this year, but in Brandon Miele and Gary Shaw they’ve got a couple of sharpshooters that will cause defences trouble. The addition of Ally Gilchrist from St Johnstone adds backbone to their defence, while Joey O’Brien brings Premier League quality, having played for West Ham and Bolton Wanderers. If they show up in the big games, there’s every chance the hoops could spring a surprise, but 2018 might be a year too soon for their up and coming squad. Also who names a football team after a ruddy plant? Whatever next? Hornwarts Athletic? I mean really.
Another side looking to bother EU airspace is the Bohemian Football Club. Please excuse me while I roll my eyes 360 degrees! The last thing this league needs is a bunch of layabout student types, smoking marijuana, jiving along to Slade, and telling everyone to “chillax”. How’ve they even made time to form a football team? Haven’t they got essays to be writing? It’s no wonder Ireland, which is basically Britain, is going to the dogs. Anyway, since they’re based in Dublin and we’re already here lets have a look at them. Their key player is midfielder Keith Ward, who doesn’t sound like much of a Bohemian if you ask me. Sounds more like an accountant. Anyway, Wardy (he’ll love that) is Bohs goalscoring midfielder and they need all the goals they can get, having been the second lowest scorers outside of the relegation zone last season. Goalkeeper Shane Supple sounds like a stripper, and I’m fairly sure Cristian Magerusan recently did my loft conversion…err, I mean, my neighbour’s loft conversion. Left-wing Nazi that she is. If they can find goals they’ll be well in the reckoning come the end of the season. If not, then good. I don’t like the cut of their jib.
To look at a couple of the more useless teams in this league I’ve made the much anticipated journey to Limerick. Seriously I’ve wanted to come here since I was a boy – I do so love their witty ditties! However after four hours of trying to find one their famous poets I appear to have drawn a blank. Fortunately I had one prepared. Ahem. ‘There were three old women of Kent/Who took a young man in their tent/The dirty old witches/They pulled down his britches/And pulled at his knob till it bent’. Haha! Wonderful. Though I should say that’s a completely true story. My mother’s sisters were quite, quite mad. And let me tell you, they still haven’t paid the fee for my reconstructive surgery. Always a subject of tension round the dinner table at Christmas. Probably why I spend it alone these days. Now then Limerick have a football team, if you can believe that. The captain is “Hacksaw” Shane Duggan, who’s been digging in the Limerick midfield for a few years now, and still he’s yet to find his pot’o’gold – the team haven’t won the league since 1980. They’ll be hoping young Danny Morrissey – presumable Steve’s brother – can fire the goals that seem them safe, but I wouldn’t count on it. No I think the League of Ireland will be saying a fond farewell to the poets this season.
Finally, its back to the coast to cast my eyes over the only side promoted last season who, in my very humble opinion, will be heading straight back down this season. Waterford, named so because the town is on the coast and…the first car here…was…a…Ford. (Seriously…this is abysmal journalism – ED) The Blues’ chairman is former Norwich City striker Lee Power which is, I don’t know, interesting? Maybe? He’s also the owner and chairman of Swindon Town, which is probably slightly more interesting, but lets stick to Ireland. The bad news for Waterford is that they’ve lost their two top scorers from last season – Mark O’Sullivan has hopped over to Limerick, probably in search of some bitching rhymes, while David McDaid has gone to Larne. Not a great start to the season’s preparations. Fortuantely they do have a very mean defence – conceding just 17 goals last season – and they’ve added some continental flair, with Frenchman Bastien Henry arriving from Limerick, two Belgians coming in from the Lowlands, and Nigerian striker Ismahil Akinade. Very exotic. Even so, I can’t see them having the strength in depth to stay up. Sorry chaps.
Well it’s been absolutely dreadful trawling my way around the luscious landscapes of Ireland and meeting so many friendly people. If you don’t mind I’m going for a long lie down in a darkened room. Then I’ll be getting to work on that wall. As you were!
He’s only got three more of these to do. Then we’re booting him onto the scrapheap and never mentioning this terrible idea again.