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Pulling on the Green Jersey – the best fans in the world?

It was an incredible sight to see. It was a sea of green, jumping up and down rhythmically on all sides of the ground, backs to the play, singing and supporting their team. It was close to 30,000 Ireland fans doing the “Poznan” at the European Championship against Italy supporting their boys in green.

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There was a small pocket of Italian fans in the corner supporting the Azzuri. They probably had just 10% of the numbers supporting Ireland. At the end of the game the Italian players (as did the Irish players) showed their appreciation of the atmosphere generated by the Irish supporters during their lap of honour. It was clear from Italian captain Gianluigi Buffon’s expression that the goalkeeper was impressed by it all giving the Irish fans multiple thumbs up.

Spain, current World and European champions, could muster only a fraction of the Irish support in the game in Gdansk that will be remembered of course for the 4-0 result for Spain. It will also be remembered for the fantastic rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ by the Irish support at the conclusion of the game. The best supporters in the world they say. They may say it but I don’t believe it.

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While John Delaney, the FAI, the PFAI and the Green Army were out supporting the national team in Poland, at home another League of Ireland club ceased to exist, their results “expunged” for the season. Monaghan United went to the wall on Monday, not that too many noticed.

What other league in Europe has a club just disappear mid-season? The United Chairman stated the lack of a main sponsor and the dwindling support that forced their hand. Monaghan have been playing in front of average crowds of around 600 but had one game where less than 200 paid in. Over 25,000 Irish fans made it to Poland for the each of the three Ireland games. That 25,000 figure would represent the total gate over a whole 16 home game League of Ireland season.

Compared with every other squad in Poland and Ukraine, the Irish squad at UEFA EURO 2012 was unique in that we had no players from our own domestic league. I’m not advocating that we should have League of Ireland players in the squad for the sake of it but it does say something about the state of Irish football that there were no players from our own league.

People say they won’t go to the League of Ireland as the standard isn’t good enough with the league being “rubbish”. Results in Europe over recent years would dispute this and I’m not just talking about Shamrock Rovers’ qualification for the group stages of the Europa League. Six of the original squad called up by Giovanni Trapattoni played in the League of Ireland; Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Stephen Ward, David Forde, James McClean and the injured Keith Fahey. As an aside the last time Ireland played in Poland in 2005, the squad did contain one league of Ireland player, Jason Byrne.

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The fact is though that if fans don’t come through the turnstiles in sufficient numbers in Ireland the game cannot progress. The aim should be for players to emerge through the League and not just get farmed off to the UK at 15 in the hope that they will make it. If players are good enough, they will get the chance to play on higher stage like those players in the Ireland squad who progressed from the League. A certain Roy Keane began his playing career in the League of Ireland with a club, Cobh Ramblers, which have since dropped out of the league due to financial issues.

Just last month, I travelled up to Gortakeegan for my first and, as it now turns out, my last visit to Gortakeegan. Getting petrol in one of the M1 service stations I looked around and saw a car full of lads in blue track suits. Inside were a few more and then I spotted their manager, Roddy Collins. It was the Monaghan team travelling up from Dublin where they lived and trained for their home game in Monaghan. I was reliably informed that United had just one local player in their squad. Maybe this was one of the myriad of reasons the Monaghan public shunned going to see their recently promoted team in the Premier Division of the Airtricity League.

Clubs will prosper if fans come in sufficient numbers to see them. If they can produce their own talent and give a sense that this team represents the area, fans will invest their time and hence their money in the team. Clubs like Cork City, Sligo Rovers, Derry City, Dundalk and even Limerick FC have great potential outside of Dublin with their catchment areas and sporting culture.

The population of Dublin can certainly support a number of vibrant teams from the capital. Shamrock Rovers are the current success story in the League but that is being helped by developing roots in the local area of Tallaght. Having a manager and three of the playing squad from Tallaght is not a hindrance either.

The League needs to continue to promote itself to try and attract new fans. No, we can’t necessarily compete with British football but we can attract some of that floating support to, in addition to watching their UK team from a barstool, get out and see some live football at their local club. We need to get the wider Irish sporting public to be patriotic, to pull on the Green jersey (or red, white, blue etc.) and support their local League of Ireland football club.

Roddy relished his Rovers return

http://extratime.ie/newsdesk/articles/7590/

It wasn’t exactly the result Roddy Collins wanted from the match against champions Shamrock Rovers on Friday night. However, speaking to extratime.ie after his team’s 3-1 defeat, it is clear how thrilled Collins is to be back where he feels he belongs and is relishing the challenge that faces him and his club Monaghan United.

“I’m absolutely delighted,” said Collins about being involved again in top flight Irish football. “I’m so happy, it is brilliant. I’m loving it and loving the players I have around me. I’m loving people saying that Monaghan will be the whipping boys.”

Following their 0-0 draw in their first league game of the season at home to Dundalk, it was a daunting trip for United to Tallaght Stadium on Friday, especially shorn of some influential players due to injuries to players such as Robert Bayly. It was a Rovers return for Collins who managed the Hoops in 2005, the season the club was relegated. In his team back then and on Friday night was Willo McDonagh who put Monaghan in the lead after only three minutes.

“It was great for Willo as he played here with me,” said Collins, “but we weren’t just thinking about coming back to Rovers. It was just good to play here as it’s a good arena and good atmosphere for the lads to play in.”

And what kind of reception did he get from the home crowd? “The more abuse you get, the warmer welcome!” joked Collins. “I’ve a great rapport with the Rovers supporters. Whatever comes from the terraces, they’ll have the craic. There is no ill intent from me. They know it is a bit of entertainment. It is only a game of football. If they get entertained slagging me, then so be it.”

Monaghan set out to try and frustrate Shamrock Rovers, who began the season with a 2-1 win the previous week against Drogheda United. Collins deployed a specific system to try and nullify Rovers’ attacking options.

“We had a go with two left wingers because I watched them last week against Drogheda and they destroyed Drogheda down that side. So it was vitally important to keep their right back (Kerrea) Gilbert defending.

“That allowed their centre halves to have the ball and they were always going to lump it long to Billy Dennehy. They didn’t have the balance to pass it through midfield and we stopped them four or five times. That was the plan.

“But they have the players to change it and we didn’t. We got away with it until the kid (Owen Humphrey) got injured and then the plan changed and it was a wing and prayer then.”

Three second half goals from Rovers meant Monaghan would go home empty handed from Tallaght and now have one point out of a possible six available to them in the league. So what are Collins’ expectations for the season?

“Stay in the league. If we can get one point more than the last team, we are guaranteed a play off and we are good at play offs. That is all.”

Shamrock Rovers 3 – 1 Monaghan United (match report)

http://extratime.ie/newsdesk/articles/7576/

Shamrock Rovers were made to work hard for their victory in Tallaght on Friday night, trailing at half time to Willo McDonagh’s early goal for Monaghan United. However, three second half goals from Killian Brennan, Billy Dennehy and Aaron Green were the difference on the night for the league champions.

Monaghan manager Roddy Collins, on his return to face his former side, won’t have been too happy with his team’s second half performance where they were not helped by the
fact that they played the last twenty minutes with ten men.

The champions flag had barely been raised at Tallaght Stadium, with it being the first home league game of the season, before the Hoops were 1-0 down in the game. After just three minutes Monaghan United won a free kick which was floated in by Darragh Reynor. Willo McDonagh, the former Shamrock Rovers player, got on the end of it and his flicked
backwards header found the top left corner of the net for the opening goal.

Monaghan didn’t just sit back on their lead and threatened the Rovers goal sporadically during the first half. Owen Humphreys played most of the half pushed right onto the Rovers right back Kerrea Gilbert, which created a hole in the middle for Monaghan’s midfield runners to try and exploit. This tactic went someway to preventing Gilbert going on the offensive. Gilbert was able to link up with Killian Brennan occasionally down the right wing but there wasn’t enough end product for strikers Gary O’Neill and Gary Twigg to capitalise on.

As early as the 18th minute, there was a Monaghan booking due to a spot of time wasting. Mons ‘keeper Chris Bennion stepped away from a free kick well outside his area to allow Darragh Reynor to take it but referee George Kelly ran out of patience and produced the yellow card for Reynor when maybe it was Bennion that should have been booked. It was a decision would have an influence on proceedings later in the game.

Monaghan forced the Rovers defence into conceding a number of first half corners with Craig Sives and Conor Powell having to clear their lines. However, poor deliveries meant United couldn’t add to their first half lead.

On the half hour mark Rovers had two great chances to get the equaliser. Killian Brennan’s shot seemed destined for the top left hand corner of the goal but the midfielder’s effort was pushed around the post by the head of Alan Byrne. The Monaghan captain then almost turned villain straight afterwards as his slip presented the ball at Gary Twigg’s lethal feet. However, Twigg’s curling left foot shot flew just by the left hand post for a goal kick.

Monaghan’s Tony Griffiths had the first chance of the second half but his tame shot on 47 minutes was gathered by Oscar Jannson in the Rovers goal before Stephen Kenny’s men came very close to scoring a minute later. Billy Dennehy won a corner off Stephen Maher and, as Killian Brennan swung it in, Craig Sives downwards header was cleared off the line by Maher.

It was from the next corner on 55 minutes though that Rovers got the equaliser. Billy Dennehy swung the ball in towards Brennan who was running away from goal. To the delight of the home fans his back heeled volley found the back of the net.

On 64 minutes Rovers were in front. After a nice passing move, Stephen Rice fed Dennehy the ball 25 yards from goal. The Kerryman took a touch and then let fly with a stunning strike to find the top left hand corner of the goal. Now behind in the game, Monaghan soon found themselves reduced to ten men. Reynor went in with a heavy challenge on Stephen Rice and received his second card from referee Graham Kelly and was off.

Ronan Finn really should have scored for the home side after 75 minutes when Twigg played him in on goal. However, Bennion was able to save Finn’s low shot with his feet. Rovers then began to exploit the space available to them due to the sending off. Another fine passing move came to Billy Dennehy on the wing and his cross was met by Brennan, but the cross bar prevented Rovers getting a third at that time.

Twigg next went close following a build up involving Turner and O’Neill but the Scotsman couldn’t keep his shot down. Aaron Green, a late second half substitute, wrapped it up
for the Hoops in injury time, getting on the end of Gary McCabe’s through ball to make it 3-1 with virtually the last kick of game.

Shamrock Rovers: Oscar Jansson; Kerrea Gilbert (Chris Turner, 68), Ken Oman (c), Craig Sives, Conor Powell; Billy Dennehy, Stephen Rice, Ronan Finn, Killian Brennan (Gary McCabe, 87); Gary Twigg, Gary O’Neill (Aaron Greene, 85).
Subs not used: Lee Steacy (GK), Graham Gartland, Stephen O’Donnell, Daryl Kavanagh.
Bookings: Powell (52), Dennehy (66).

Monaghan United: Chris Bennion; Stephen Maher, Conor McMahon, Alan Byrne (c), Darragh Reynor; Michael Isichei (Conor Murphy, 60), Willo McDonagh, Keith Quinn, Jordan Keegan; Tony Griffiths (Jason Marks, 65), Owen Humphrey (Daniel McGuinness, 46).
Subs not used: Michael Schlingermann (GK), Roddy Collins, Bobby Ryan, Shane Dunne.
Bookings: Reynor (19), Willo McDonagh (40), Keith Quinn (65).
Sendings Off: Reynor (71)

Referee: Graham Kelly
Attendance: 3,100
Extratime.ie man of the match: Killian Brennan

Shamrock Rovers -v- Monaghan United preview

http://extratime.ie/newsdesk/articles/7562/

Published: March 08, 2012

SHAMROCK ROVERS:
Stephen Kenny has utilised his Shamrock Rovers squad extensively already this season. After Rovers’ 2-1 win in Drogheda on the opening night of the Airtricity League, Kenny made seven changes to that line-up in their 2-0 win earlier this week against Cliftonville in the Setanta Sports Cup.

Against Monaghan United this Friday, the starting eleven will likely see the return of Killian Brennan, who missed the Cliftonville game due to suspension, and Gary Twigg, who scored both of Rovers’ goals in that league win over Drogheda United. It is also the chance for new Shamrock Rovers club captain Ken Oman to pull on the armband for the Hoops for the first time in a league game at Tallaght Stadium. Definitely missing for Rovers will be Ciarán Kilduff, Conor McCormack and Conor Winn who are all out due to injury.

It would be a shock if Stephen Kenny’s men failed to pick up their second win of the league campaign but the Rovers manager has been stressing the importance to his players that they need to earn the win against Monaghan. “Every single victory this season will be hard fought,” said Kenny. “I think the idea that you might have easy games is naïve. You have to fight for every single point you put on the board in a season, and our players are more than aware of that; they know they have to work hard every week.”

“We can’t drop our standards for anyone or we will get turned over, that is the same as it is for any team. This is our first home game of the season, and we will be looking for a win from that. From our point of view, we’ll have gotten our season off to a strong start if we get three wins from three in a week.”

MONAGHAN UNITED:
Monaghan United, who opened their league campaign with a 0-0 draw at home to Dundalk, face a tough first away game of the season against the back-to-back league champions. Manager Roddy Collins has a much changed squad from the one who were promoted last season. Collins handed six competitive debuts in their hard fought draw on opening night. However, defensively they have continuity in their team with three of last year’s back four (Aidan Collins, Conor McMahon and Alan Byrne) playing in front of new goalkeeper Chris Bennion. If United can keep another clean sheet this week, they would head back to Monaghan quite happy with that outcome.

For Roddy Collins, it is a return to Rovers, a club he managed back in 2005. Collins was relieved of his managerial duties towards the end of that season, a season that Rovers ended by being relegated for the only time in their history. Willo McDonagh is also returning to Rovers where he played under Collins’ management. Both the manager and player may be in for an unfriendly reception in Tallaght as McDonagh’s disciplinary record and Collins’ managerial record are not remembered fondly by the Hoops faithful.

Monaghan may well have to do without another former Rovers player Robert Bayly due to injury. There are also injury concerns over Aidan Collins, Gareth O’Connor and Shaun Maher but they do have the boost of midfielder Keith Quinn being available for selection this week.

Referee: Graham Kelly

MATCH STATS:
The teams last met in a pre-season friendly at Tallaght Stadium in 2011 which ended in a 0-0 draw.

Their last competitive meeting was in 2006 when both sides were in the First Division. Back then Rovers’ 2-0 win over United in their penultimate home game of the season went a long way to securing that year’s First Division title for the Hoops.

It is ten years since the teams played each other in the Premier Division when Stephen Grant got an 86th minute winner in a 3-2 win for Shamrock Rovers.

BETTING:
Shamrock Rovers 1/5; Draw 5/1; Monaghan 11/1

PREDICTION:
Hard to see beyond a home win for the Hoops: 3-0 to Shamrock Rovers.

Shamrock Rovers Injury News: Ciarán Kilduff (broken metatarsal), Conor McCormack (ankle ligament injury), Conor Winn (back).
Shamrock Rovers Suspensions: None
Monaghan United Injury News: Robert Bayly, Aidan Collins Gareth O Connor, Shaun Maher (all doubtful)
Monaghan United Suspensions: None