Sunday 18 March 2018

From Armenia to Zilina

Soccer Correspondent Daniel McDonnell offers the A-Z of the year in Irish football

Armenia -- Ireland's win there in September was the most significant result of Giovanni Trapattoni's year. It offered his side a great platform to build their Euro 2012 campaign upon. Alas, a poor return in October's big games checked the momentum, but Slovakia's loss in Yerevan put the achievement of the opening day success in context.

Bench -- an unpopular destination for top Irish players in the latter half of the year. Shay Given and Robbie Keane can be found there on a regular basis, while Stephen Ireland is unlikely to even make the Aston Villa bench in the coming weeks, with Richard Dunne also in the same boat.

Cunningham -- the emergence of the young Manchester City left-back Greg was a promising development in 2010. Ireland desperately need a long-term option in this position, and a loan stint at Leicester will further the education of the affable Galway lad.

Desperation -- unfortunately, the only tactic remaining for Bohemians as they went to supporters with the begging bowl in the autumn. Drogheda United and Galway United have also made similar pleas, while the future is uncertain for Sporting Fingal.

Endemol -- the people who brought us Big Brother were the company who had a rights-based agreement with the FAI which prevented Barcelona visiting Limerick during the summer -- even if the FAI seemed unsure about the specifics of the deal at the time.

Formation -- a nation debated the merits of Trapattoni's chosen system after ritual humiliation at the hands of Russia for 70 minutes in October. Expect little deviation from the norm in 2011.

Gary -- Shamrock Rovers stormed to a first League of Ireland title since 1994, and they were inspired by the goals of Gary Twigg, who has found a new lease of life in this country with the support and encouragement of Michael O'Neill. He delivered on the final day in Bray despite a hamstring complaint.

Hughton -- took a basketcase club from the Championship and endeavoured to make it a normal, well functioning Premier League outfit. Accordingly, he paid the price. You don't do such things with Newcastle.

Inspiration -- what Seamus Coleman provided to Blackpool in the final weeks of the Championship campaign when David Moyes allowed him a temporary stint away from Everton. The loan club were promoted -- the parent club realised they had a star in the making.

Juventus -- the Old Lady of Italian football may not be the force of old, but they had serious pulling power around Tallaght when they visited Dublin 24 for a Europa League tie in the summer. Shamrock Rovers stuttered at home, but did themselves proud in the second leg in Modena.

King -- Noel King steered Ireland's U-17 girls to the European Championships and, from there, they secured a place in the World Cup in Trinidad & Tobago. They won plenty of fans with their performances on the world stage; King was chosen to replace Don Givens as Ireland U-21 manager.

Lost In Translation -- a phrase that is still a regular feature of the Trapattoni era. Did he really mean to say that? With his desire to plough on and ignore his interpreter, nobody knows. Evident when he appeared to suggest that Darron Gibson needed a new club.

Mischievous -- the description for reports in Scotland which suggested that James McCarthy might revert to the country of his birth after Craig Levein's appointment. The unfailingly polite McCarthy has taken a lot of abuse and showed a lot of courage to go down the Irish route in the first place. He was always going to stand by that decision; it is insulting and inaccurate to state he would be cynical or petulant enough to switch back after missing a few squads.

Near-Death Experience -- an accidental collision in an Irish senior training match in May put the life of rising Everton star Shane Duffy in danger. Quick thinking from the FAI medical team and skilled staff in the Mater Hospital saved the day. And put all other quibbles in perspective.

Obvious -- no matter how mature everyone tried to be about France's travails at the World Cup in South Africa, it was natural that the majority of Irish people took great pleasure from their desperate plight. Their implosion was spectacular.

Penalties -- the first FAI Cup final at the new Aviva Stadium drew 36,000 spectators, a bigger turnout than the international friendly with Norway three days later. Little-known 'keeper Ciaran Kelly sprung to prominence in the decisive shootout, stopping four Shamrock Rovers spot-kicks to deliver cup glory to Sligo Rovers.

Questions -- delegates at the FAI AGM, gathering in a year where the association's finances hogged the headlines, chose to ask none of these when they convened in Wexford. Why? Only they know. Great bunch of lads.

Roaming -- Irish footballers showed a welcome wanderlust in 2010, with Aiden McGeady's move to Spartak Moscow looking like a positive step in his development, while Cillian Sheridan now plies his trade with CSKA Sofia and Padraig Amond made the leap from Sligo Rovers to the Portuguese top flight.

Semi -- as in, semi-professional, the direction which the League of Ireland is heading again with a dearth of full-time contracts available in 2011. Ironically, in a time where players would probably work for €30,000 a year as opposed to €3,000 a week, this would be a prime opportunity to experiment.

Train -- all aboard the train. It's leaving for Zilina in 10 minutes. The drinks are on John Delaney, but he didn't tell you that of course.

Unbelievable -- a word which featured in the following sentence: "I have been discussing this unbelievable situation with our football managers this afternoon." A line in a letter from a high-ranking Barcelona official to Limerick and the FAI after the Catalan giants were, effectively, refused entry to Ireland.

Vantage -- the name the FAI gave to the club for 10-year ticket holders at the Aviva Stadium, a club where the membership was supposed to be so big that it would finance football's contribution to renovating the venue. Instead, the FAI sold less than a third of their ridiculously overpriced seats, and those who bought them found the elite area overrun by kids and people on freebies. No danger of another v -- value -- appearing in a review of this annum.

Wages -- a hot topic around Abbotstown in the closing months of the year. The CEO took a huge dent in his wages, and Trap and his crew also felt the pinch. But they weren't the worst off because over a dozen people were told they would be out of a job in 2011, with former Ireland 'keeper Packie Bonner the most high-profile casualty.

X-Factor -- Roy Keane always had it, but his star has waned over the past 12 months, with his presence failing to inspire Ipswich to great deeds. His team ploughed through the snow to deliver a badly needed victory against Leicester after a run of six consecutive defeats, but there is no rush to extend his contract, which expires in May.

Youth -- in Ireland, we are always convinced that the next generation of players are going to be superstars. So, in addition to Cunningham and McCarthy, the individuals to be burdened with expectation for 2011 are Conor Clifford (Chelsea), Robbie Brady (Manchester United) and Duffy.

Zero -- everyone in Irish football is engaged in a guessing game related to the size of the numbers that come before the six zeros to make up the FAI's total debt. Only the banks know.

Irish Independent

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