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Irish contingent lead relegation fight for Staunton at 'Darlo'

IT'S A League of Ireland old boys club -- and it's proving to be a very popular club for fans of Darlington, struggling for their lives at the foot of the fourth tier in English football.

Last night's draw for Darlington at home to Lincoln City was not the most earth-shattering of results from around the world in the last 24 hours. Only 1,697 paid to see the game. Darlo fans thought that when Wexford native Gary Dempsey put them in front late in the first half they might hold on for a rare win, but Lincoln nicked a goal, and a draw, in the last minute.

It leaves Staunton's side five points adrift at the bottom and 11 points away from safety, with 20 games left. Not the stuff dreams are made of. But the influx of Irish players into the club since the opening of the January transfer window is the main reason that long-suffering Darlo fans have for hoping that Staunton's side can avoid relegation.

Dublin-born striker Tadhg Purcell (below) is the club's leading scorer this season, though the fact that he's played just five games and scored three goals shows how badly the side were doing before he arrived.


Wexford lad Dempsey, who had a tough time on and off the field with St Pats last season, got in on the scoring act, netting the goal against Lincoln last night.

Simon Madden has added some steel to the defence and while Byrne has yet to make his debut, his experience (almost 100 SPL appearances as well as his service to Rovers) will also be an addition.

"We have our own little place here, it's like our own little Irish house and we all look out for each other. Just recently we signed Richie Byrne, who I remember playing for Rovers when I was starting out, and we have Simon Madden from Rovers as well," said Purcell, who signed for Darlington having left Shamrock Rovers midway through last season and who has become an instant hit.

"Some new players have come into the side in the last while and we have come with a clean slate. The gaffer told us to try our best and try to keep the team out of trouble. We have beaten the likes of Rotherham, who were in the top four, so we can beat anyone."

Last night against Lincoln, Darlo had four Irish-born players in the starting XI: keeper Shane Redmond, defender Madden, midfielder Dempsey and Purcell, and Byrne on the bench.

Redmond is currently the Ireland U21 keeper, having won his 15th cap in the last outing for Don Givens' side, a dismal 4-1 defeat by Armenia late last year.

Dempsey had spells with Bray Wanderers, Waterford United and St Pat's, Purcell had a superb scoring record for Kilkenny City and Shamrock Rovers, while Byrne had a three-year spell with Shamrock Rovers before moving to the UK, joining Dunfermline, in 2003.


"The position we are in, anyone who comes in and scores a few goals in the first few games will be a bit of a favourite but we have to get results over the season," added Purcell, enjoying his first spell in cross-channel football.

"The tempo is a bit higher in the League of Ireland. But the facilities are different class, the training facilities, the stadiums, the buses you use, the stuff you deal with every day as a player while often in Ireland, the stuff you had to deal with was substandard.

"Steve Staunton is a person who has played at the top level for so long and this move here to Darlington was a big opportunity for me to learn from him. It's good to work with Kevin Richardson too, he's the assistant manager here and he's a great coach, you'd be foolish not to listen to what they say. I know Steve got some unfair stick at home because of what happened with the national team, but he's been top class here and hopefully I can continue to learn from him."

Confidence is in short supply for Darlo players and they are running out of games, but their Irish contingent are giving fans hope that they can pull it off this season and stay up.