Saturday 25 November 2017

Too many red cards, too few fans - Seven talking points from the Airtricity League weekend

Airtricity League kick-off throws up plenty of talking points

John Sullivan celebrates after scoring for Galway United against St Patrick’s Athletic David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
John Sullivan celebrates after scoring for Galway United against St Patrick’s Athletic David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

In the sporting world, it is always dangerous to draw snap conclusions on the basis of one weekend. This is particularly true at the start of a season.

The League of Ireland often operates by a different set of rules, however, and the opening round of matches threw up quite a few tales that are a stock feature of every campaign.

Here are the stories that should ring a bell.

Why all the red cards?

Five players were sent off over the weekend - four in the Premier Division and one in the First Division. Sligo Rovers had two men sent off at home, which meant that the officials ended up at the centre of the drama. Roberto Lopes (Bohemians) and Curtis Murphy (Bray) were sent off for picking up two yellows in scrappy games that were peppered with mistakes in the dying stages. In both cases, the referees could justify their verdict.

Still, while the League of Ireland is physical, there are times where the card count could fool outsiders into believing that it's as volatile as Colombian football in the 1990s.

Ex-Bluebell player shines

Bluebell United of the Leinster Senior League have somehow become synonymous with reviving the flagging careers of Irish youngsters recovering from a rough time across the water.

Keith Fahey and Richie Towell both spent time in the unlikely setting as a stepping stone to rebuilding their career in the League of Ireland and getting a second chance in the UK.

Brandon Miele followed in their footsteps and looks set to be another success story. After a fine first season with Shamrock Rovers, he kicked off his year with a stunning free in Sligo on Saturday to get off the mark.

The technically gifted Miele, who was on the books of Newcastle as a teenager, could profit from Towell's departure and become the hottest property in the country.

There's always an excuse for an underwhelming crowd

It was ridiculously cold on Friday and in the parts of the country where attendances fell below expectations, this has been put forward as the explanation.

Maybe it was unseasonably warm in Donegal, but the reality is that the Finn Harps-Derry City derby captured the imagination and that's why it sold out - the elements don't keep people away when it matters.

The same comments can apply to TV matches; they only really have a dramatic impact on games that the casual fans are not too fussed about missing in the first place.

Wexford didn't get near to the 2,000 crowd they had targeted for their Premier League debut at home to Longford.

With all due respect to the Midlanders, it might have been different if the newcomers were given a slightly more established opponent. Then again, that's veering into excuse territory.

A story of redemption

In a league packed with players that have suffered some form of rejection in their career, there's always somebody with a point to prove.

New Cork striker Sean Maguire bagged a brace to down Bohemians and after coming home from West Ham and then spending a spell on the periphery at Dundalk, he is is determined to put things right.

"Scoring the last few games here has given me a bit of confidence," said the 21-year-old. "John (Caulfield) has shown faith in me."

Ciaran Kilduff spoke in similar terms about Stephen Kenny 24 hours later.

Colourful post-match tweets

Part of the problem for James McClean when he moved to England was that huge numbers of people were suddenly paying attention to his posts. Local players can be a little ballsier without needing to worry about some over zealous press officer clamping down on them.

It means that a player might tell the assembled hacks after a game that he is happy with the three points but not getting carried away and then get on the team bus and post something far more enlivening.

Step forward Galway's John Sullivan, who refers to himself as 'the truck' and was in good form after scoring in the surprise win at Inchicore. "The truck came - The truck saw. - The truck f*****g conquered!!," he wrote, "When I say I'll score I'll f*****g score!!"

High expectations in Cork

Cork's first half display against Bohs was poor, with manager John Caulfield suggesting that his players had left their "brains in the dressing room".

He hinted that it could be related to getting caught up in what he deemed a local over-reaction to the President's Cup win over Dundalk. "There was a lot of pressure. Cork being Cork, all of a sudden from not even playing a league match you've won the league. Nonsense stuff."

Wins for Kenny and Fenlon

The rivalry between the Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers managers has been a staple of the past 15 years.

They've collected eight league titles between them with five going to Fenlon but his problem at Rovers has been a proliferation of draws.

It should change this year, and it will have to if the Tallaght side are going to keep pace with Kenny's three-in-a-row chasers. With no love lost between the respective benches, their meetings are guaranteed to be lively.

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