Monday, 31 August 2015


From 1988 onwards, Ireland have enjoyed about a two decade-long love affair with the beautiful game. That relationship is disintegrating and it may even already be dead.

 D. Ray Morton, 31st August 2015.


The decline of the Irish twenty-something

For the past four years, this writer used to play six-a-side football on Monday nights. The games were played in a new facility, a lovely artificial grass surface in a suburb of Cork City. As a weekly activity, the games brought a lot of fun and were a nice way to get through the gloomy fog of a Monday evening. After a long run of games, the weekly match is slowly unravelling to nothing, the player numbers simply no longer available. Whether off to Dublin, London, Toronto or Sydney, the young people have left. Some frightening statistics illustrate this with a massive exodus of twenty-somethings leaving the country in their droves. Adding to this, the teenagers are not interested in soccer any more and the lads in their 30s and 40s don't take good enough care of themselves to run around for an hour a week. A small tale of tragedy but an indicator of a bigger picture.

The Republic of Ireland went mad for football from 1988 onwards. They qualified for their first major tournament that year and trips to the World Cup in 1990 and 1994 added to the hysteria. Irish players were of a high level. We had a world-class centre-back in Paul McGrath and midfielders as talented as Ronnie Whelan and Roy Keane. The likes of Damien Duff and Robbie Keane followed. Unfortunately the supply line has dried up. If James McCarthy is the future, that is one worrying future.

Once upon a time, Ireland used to produce players capable of winning the PFA Player of the Year award. Those days are over

Ireland play Gibraltar in a Euro 2016 qualifier this Friday in a game no-one really cares about. Then they play at home, after a big GAA weekend, Monday against Georgia. The attendance could be embarrassingly low. The League of Ireland is hanging in tatters, arguably no better than it was in the '90s as some of Europe's other minor leagues develop through sensible investment and advancing through the earlier rounds of UEFA's club competitions. Ireland remains in a quagmire.

Rugby, with the success of the Irish national team, has become the sport of the common man now. This was not always the case as rugby is something of a specialist sport in its own right. It is not as if the average man is fifteen stone of bodybuilt muscle. The sport of the people is a sport played by giants. Not a sport where size, see Lionel Messi, necessarily matters. Despite the fact that thousands still watch the Premier League and the Champions League, Ireland are on the periphery feeling the effects of the more globalised English game that once allowed many Irish, Welsh and Scots to dig out successful careers.

The end is nigh for football in Ireland and it may take many, many years or something extremely radical to change that. Over to you, John Delaney.

Saturday, 1 August 2015


Cork City's Mark O'Sullivan demonstrated just why he is one of the League of Ireland's finest strikers with a brace at Turner's Cross in a 4-0 win against Bohemians last night, a dominant performance. He may not be the most glamorous of players, but for Cork City fans, he is their local hero.

D. Ray Morton, 1st August 2015.

Like last season, Mark O'Sullivan has forced his way into first-team football to the delight of the Cork City faithful

He may be in his thirties, has played amateur football for most of his career and is nothing like a fashionable "false 9" but in Mark O'Sullivan, Cork City have themselves a folk hero. City lie second in the SSE Airtricity League and are six points adrift of defending champions Dundalk and if they are to close the gap and provide a true title challenge, Mark might be their man. Direct, strong in the air and incredibly brave, since O'Sullivan forced his way back into City's starting XI, their form has improved considerably.

They hit a low point some weeks back after being eliminated from the Europa League by KR Reykjavik. After the final whistle went in a disappointing 1-1 first leg draw, O'Sullivan, having come off the bench, got stuck in winger Billy Dennehy who had been particularly wasteful on the night. The tension was evident and such matters should not spill out in public but the passion was definitely there. Dennehy has since been dropped, has looked for a move away and may end up sitting on the bench for the rest of the season. City played their best game of their campaign last night with new right-winger Steven Beattie impressing in Dennehy's stead.

But this game was all about O'Sullivan, the fan favourite. A roofer by trade who was playing for local club Avondale two years ago, manager John Caulfield took a chance on him and when given a run of games, he has consistently delivered. He opened the scoring after only two minutes with a beautifully improvised close-range finish thanks to good work from Beattie out wide. He extended the lead before half-time with a placed indirect free-kick that flew through the shoddy Bohs defensive wall. On top of this, he hit the woodwork twice and was unlucky not to come away with a hat-trick.

There is a tendency in Irish football to look at the elite level of the game and to try and copy it. O'Sullivan is quite the opposite of this. He is very much the traditional, old-fashioned centre forward. A player that kind of does everything. He is neither a target man or a poacher. A grafter, a battler and a goal threat. More Alan Shearer than Alan Patrick and that is what City fans like about him. At the beginning of the season, without Marky (as he is affectionately known), it was too intricate and it did not work. Now they look dangerous again and could feasibly catch Dundalk with twelve games to go. O'Sullivan should be at the heart of that title assault.

Monday, 27 July 2015


Manchester have pressed on heavily in the summer transfer market with a lot of chopping and changing at Old Trafford. Some big name individuals have been offloaded and there are plenty of new faces around but will this improve on last season's fourth-placed finish?

D. Ray Morton, 27th July 2015.

Louis Van Gaal, soaked in beer, will be reunited with Bastian Schweinsteiger for the new season both hoping for more trophies and celebration

With Ed Woodword behind the scenes at Old Trafford scanning lists of Louis Van Gaal's recommended targets, it's all-change at the Theatre of Dreams. Typically, finishing fourth in the Premier League would not be any Manchester United fan's dream, so expectations need to rise for the coming season. Established stars have left opening up some salary space and the marketing revenue keeps coming in. This gives United an unusually strong platform to build off despite not competing in last season's Champions League.

Van Gaal has managerial credibility, something David Moyes did not. His oft-mentioned "philosophy" is being carried out and this involves major restructuring of a squad. It needs to be streamlined and certain, more individualistic, players must go. Everything must fit the part in a Van Gaal team. Nani and Robin Van Persie are gone. At their best for United, they could be match winners. Angel Di Maria is close to a Parisian switch. David De Gea could still go to Real Madrid in a saga that might get to deadline day of this transfer window. Chicarito's future hangs in the balance with him being deemed surplus to requirements last campaign.
Angel Di Maria's Manchester United struggle looks to be coming to a close with a move to Paris St. Germain soon to be completed
Confirmed acquisitions are Memphis Depay, Morgan Scheiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Matteo Darmian and just lately, goalkeeper Sergio Romero. Barcelona's Pedro has been heavily linked. These signings, with the possible exception of potential superstar, Depay, are all very systematic players. Their two central midfielders beginning with "Sch" are known for their sturdy positional sense. Matteo Darmian is an unusually disciplined modern full-back known for defensive work rather than acting as an auxiliary winger. Romero is, well, a goalkeeper.

Memphis Depay is certainly the flashiest of United's signings so far but can he step up from the mediocrity of the Dutch league
Out with the unpredictable and in with the predictable. Romero, if he is indeed, United's No. 1 next season, has big shoes to fill. His YouTube blooper reel is not very encouraging and may remind some fans of Victor Valdes' unconvincing cameos last season. Nani, Di Maria and Van Persie were (and maybe still are) players who could change a match in an instant. That ship has sailed now. What we will see once we get a few matches deep should be a very different animal indeed.

Thinking United supporters will have doubts unless they are still in the belief that Van Gaal's philosophy is gospel. The second season is always a test of a manager's true ability and despite his trophy-laden history, swords will be out if they do not look like putting on a title challenge. With over €200m spent, it is time to move to the next level.

Friday, 10 July 2015


Rumours are emerging this afternoon that the Football Association of Ireland are happy to allow Martin O'Neill to vacate the Irish manager role to return to Premier League management with his old club Leicester City. Perhaps this is the best arrangement for both parties after an uninspired two years in charge at the Aviva Stadium.

D. Ray Morton, 10th July 2015.

Martin O'Neill looks likely to step down from the Ireland job after only joining in 2013

This afternoon, The Guardian are reporting that a bookmaker has halted bets on Martin O'Neill becoming Leicester City's new manager after the sacking of Nigel Pearson over a week ago. This means that he will vacate the Irish manager job likely leaving Roy Keane in charge of their failing European Championship qualification campaign.

Since O'Neill took over in 2013, his tenure in charge has seemed utterly uninspired. Irish fans expected O'Neill's tactics to be conservative but they felt he would bring an air of authority to the team after the shambles of Giovanni Trapatonni's last World Cup qualifying campaign. We got the conservative tactics part but we never got the inspiration. O'Neill completely failed to get anything positive out of his willing, albeit limited, squad. It all felt a bit like Paul Lambert at Aston Villa. Decent manager, terrible situation.

Failing to convince Jack Grealish to play for Ireland aside, O'Neill persisted with a deeply negative 4-5-1 system as Scotland, our main rivals in qualification, went with attacking football which ultimately outdid us over two close fixtures. Currently Wales are ranked 10th in the FIFA world rankings. Ireland are not even in the top fifty. This would have been unthinkable some years back but we really have been overtaken. We live in an era where the small teams of Europe are emerging, yet Ireland stays stuck in the mud. This is across the board too. Last night, Cork City FC were knocked out of the Europa League by an Icelandic (Iceland themselves looking a good shout for Euro 2016 qualification) team. The League of Ireland has never been considered hugely competitive but being outdone by minnows like KR Reykjavik was an unwelcome extra kick in the teeth.

Back to Ireland and O'Neill though. The current campaign, let us face facts, is done. Keano will preside over a series of dead fixtures but is unlikely to stay on as a permanent manager. The FAI will have a lot of time to come up with the new guy. They have to get this right or else Ireland will continue to sink. We will be 4th seeds in the draw for the World Cup qualifiers after the Euros. This is a pretty terrifying prospect. Thinking hat on, John Delaney.