O’Neill helps launch the 2014 SSE Airtricity League season

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2014 SSE Airtricity League LaunchThe sun beamed down on the Aviva Stadium today as the new SSE Airtricity League season was officially launched. Managers and players from the 20 league teams were in attendance and they were joined by Republic of Ireland manager, Martin O’Neill, who is preparing for next week’s friendly clash with Serbia.

O’Neill praised the efforts of those involved with the league and also talked about his time playing in the Irish League. “As someone who played domestic football in Ireland, I understand the importance of the domestic game and congratulate all the managers and players here today for the tremendous work you are doing to develop Irish football,” said O’Neill.

He also discussed his attendance at league games this season. “I’m obviously going to try and take a few games in and hopefully, the managers might tell me to, over the course of the season. It will not be a PR exercise or anything like that, I would like to see some of the players come through and I think they will do,” commented O’Neill.

Eamon Naughton, Chairman of the FAI’s National League Executive Committee, talked about the excitement the league brought to its many fans around the country and hoped for an exciting season this year. Naughton said; “Last season was another exciting chapter of the league as St. Patrick’s Athletic bridged the gap of 11 years to win the Premier Division and Athlone Town ended a run of 18 seasons in the First Division by winning the title and automatic promotion to the top tier.”

Fran Gavin, Director of the SSE Airtricity League, talked of his excitement about the return of the league and seeing the players in their new gear reminded him of his days as a player. Gavin also praised FAI Chief Executive, John Delaney, on his development of the league.

The FAI and SSE Airtricty have joined forces to market the league with a new advertising game entitled “Powering Live Football.” The campaign will focus on the availability of live football in Ireland and will use the hash tag #LoveLiveFootball in it’s social media campaign.

RTÉ and Setanta Sports will continue with their live coverage of the league. RTÉ have commissioned a new show called Soccer Republic to replace the popular Monday Night Soccer that will cover the league each week throughout the season.

The prize money remains the same from last season with the league winners receiving €100,000. The winners of the First Division will receive €74,000 and the winners of the EA Sports Cup will receive €25,000.

The league kicks-off next Friday, March 7th, with a total of 330 league and play-off games to be played along with games in the FAI Ford Cup, EA Sports Cup, President’s Cup, Setanta Sports Cup, UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.

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Patrick O’Connell: From The Liffey to Camp Nou

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Patrick O'ConnellWhen we think of Irish football, the usual names pop up: Giles, Brady, the two Keanes (Roy and Robbie). They are the essence of our modern game and have given us treasured memories. One name that never appears is Patrick O’Connell, the man who saved FC Barcelona. His story is one of passion and enthusiasm for the game of football.

Patrick’s story begins on Mabel Street, Drumcondra in 1887. Born into a working class family, Patrick saw football as a release from the poverty suffered by his family in Dublin during the late 19th century. As a child, he played centre-half for Stranville Rovers and later, Liffey Wanderers.

The time spent with Wanderers helped O’Connell improve his game and in 1908, he earned his first professional contract with Belfast Celtic. He moved to Belfast with his wife, Ellen, and played one season with Celtic before transferring to Sheffield Wednesday with teammate Peter Warren for a combined fee of £50.

O’Connell constantly started for Wednesday in his first season. However, during the latter period of his time with the club he didn’t make many appearances and moved to Hull City. He made 58 appearances for Hull in two seasons there.

During this time, O’Connell made his debut for the Irish national team. He made only 6 appearances. Nonetheless, he was part of the squad that won the 1914 British Home Championship, which included victories against Wales and England. O’Connell captained the side that drew with Scotland with a broken arm.

O’Connell impressed during his time at Hull and caught the attention of Manchester United, who paid £1,000 for his services. United manager, Jack Robson made him captain after only six months, the first Irishman to captain the club.

Even though he was only with United for one season, O’Connell’s time there was turbulent. They had a poor season and one of the games that helped the club narrowly avoid relegation was a 2-0 win against Liverpool. It was said that members of both sides met in a pub the day before the game and agreed that United would win 2-0, a score that was an 8-1 bet.

United went 1-0 ahead in the game when they were rewarded a penalty. What made the situation suspicious was the fact that O’Connell took the penalty. His attempt went well wide of the goal. Later on in the game, O’Connell started the move that resulted in the second goal. A commission later investigated the match but found no evidence of match fixing.

O’Connell’s United career was cut short due to WWI and spent time at Dumbarton and Ashington, where he would become player-manager. This would also be one of the last times he would see his family as he drifted apart from them to further his football career.

In 1922, Patrick made the move to Spain, where he succeeded Fred Pentland as manager of Racing de Santander. In seven years at the club, O’Connell guided the side to 5 regional titles and fought for the club to be a founding member of La Liga.

O’Connell went on to manage Real Oviedo between 1929-31 before making the move to Real Betis. He guided Betis to the Segunda División title in 1932 and on the last day of the 1935 season, Betis needed to defeat Racing de Santander to win the title ahead of Real Madrid.

The night before the game, O’Connell visited the Racing players in their hotel and attempted to persuade them to allow Betis to win the match. However, the players told their former manager that their president was a Madrid fan and had offered 1,000 pesetas per player if they won. Betis went on to beat Racing 5-0 and claim the title, the club’s only La Liga title.

Patrick’s managing style and winning ways didn’t go unnoticed and was offered the manager’s job at FC Barcelona. In his first season at the club, O’Connell’s side won the Catalonia Championship and reached the Spanish Cup Final, where they lost 2-1 to Real Madrid.

Unfortunately, in the summer of 1936, war broke out in Spain. O’Connell was in Ireland at the time and received a letter from club president; Josep Sunyol saying that there was no pressure to return. Patrick received this letter a few days after Sunyol was assassinated by fascists. O’Connell decided to return to Barcelona as he had a contract with the club and felt it was his duty to be there.

In 1936, FC Barcelona found themselves financially unstable. O’Connell and the players agreed to a wage cut. Then in early 1937, Mexican businessman, Manuel Mas Soriano, offered the club $15,000 to play exhibition matches in Mexico and the USA. Barcelona agreed to the offer, as it would help save the club.

Sixteen players along with O’Connell, club secretary Rossend Calvet, team doctor Modest Amorós and groundkeeper-turned–physio Ángel Mur made the trip. Barcelona went on to win 4 of the 6 matches in Mexico. They then made their way to America and played (and won) 4 games in New York. Only, eight men returned from the trip: O’Connell, Calvaet, Amorós, Mur and four players.

On his return from Mexico, Patrick left the club. He returned to Spain during WWII and managed Sevilla before returning for a second spell with Racing de Santander. O’Connell then went to London where he lived in obscurity in run-down lodgings until his death on the 27th February 1959.

As Gerry Millar, former editor Daily Mirror in Northern Ireland, said in the TG4 documentary Paddy Don Patricio, “The Irish often make little of our greatest heroes but in Catalonia, he was revered as much as Pepe Guardiola.” He was correct in his statement regarding how the Irish see some of their heroes; after their initial success or fortunes they are soon forgotten. For a life that led from the Liffey to Camp Nou, it’s time to honour Don Patricio once again.

Monaco and PSG battle for supremacy in Ligue 1

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Monaco vs PSG

It was the meeting of the mega rich and the top two teams in Ligue 1, as Monaco welcomed league leaders Paris Saint-Germain to Stade Louis II. The meeting between these two sides is now considered the top fixture in French football and it didn’t disappoint in what was an entertaining 1-1 draw.

Before the match, Monaco manger Claudio Ranieri played down the significance of this fixture, saying “PSG are the finished product, while we are a work in progress.” However, Ranieri was probably modest in his statement, as the history books show that Monaco are unbeaten in their last 8 encounters with PSG in the league with 3 wins and 5 draws. New signing, Dimitar Berbatov was on bench after completing his loan move from Fulham, but came off the bench on the 63rd minute to make his debut replacing Valère Germain.

The game started well for PSG who kept possession amongst themselves for the opening few minutes. Their passing seemed perfect as they attempted to make their way up the field. The first major incident came on the 7th minute as Silva appealed that Germain handled the ball in the box. It did seem to graze his arm unintentionally and worthy of a penalty.

It didn’t matter in the end for Les Rouge-et-Bleu, as Motta whipped the corner around nicely towards Alex, who made the leap to head the ball down towards goal. However, it was deflected by Toulalan and landed straight into the path of Javier Pastore, who made no error in heading it into the back of the net. The goal ended a scoring drought for the attacking midfielder, which lasted over 20 hours.

Monaco didn’t take long to reply, they sent the ball towards the visitors’ end and attempted numerous shots at goal, but couldn’t trouble the keeper as the PSG defence were solid and held off the attacks.

The visitors didn’t work on their lead and for the 15 minutes after their goal, the play was sloppy and they lost possession on numerous occasions. Monaco worked some magic in an attempt to get an equaliser. Kurzawa played a lovely flick over two defenders towards Oscampo, who couldn’t get the ball down. Verratti lost possession outside his own box and Ocampos took advantage with a shot, which was parried by Sirigu. The ball landed to Rivière, however it is too fast the forward, who only gets a tip of the ball before it went wide.

PSG came into life as van der Wiel crossed in a ball perfectly towards goal. Matuidi lunged towards it but Subašić was there to make the save, which summed up his performance that earned him man of the match.

The game then heated up as a list of names entered the book in the space of four minutes. Carvalho and Rodríguez picked up yellow cards after both catching Ibrahimović with late challenges. Verratti was then given a yellow card after he got into an aerial challenge with Rodríguez, turning his back into him, with Rodríguez going down with the challenge and seemed to make the most of it.

Before the end of the half, there was a penalty appeal from Monaco. Rivière tried to turn around towards goal, goes down but is quickly on his feet, as Fabinho takes a follow up shot that is deflected wide by Silva.

Monaco started the second half well and looked for an equaliser. However, PSG started to gain a bit of momentum and Ibrahimović made a fine effort with a 26 metre free kick, making Subašić work for the save to his bottom right.

There was some show of skill from PSG, with Maxwell and Lucas flicking the ball to each other before sending a cross to Pastore, who headed the ball wide. Lucas also made Subašić work as he took a nice placed shot outside the box, which the keeper couldn’t keep his hands on.

The home side went onto trouble the visitors, with the substitute, Kondogbia, having a shot heavily deflected and Sirigu made a mess of it as Rivière tried to get a touch on the ball. Silva seemed to barge into him as he attempted to go for the ball, which would normally end up as foul if it were to happen outside the box.

Monaco’s pressure paid off at Fabinho ran up the wing with the ball and attempted a low cross into the box, only for it to be deflected in by Thiago Silva. A terrible own goal to concede, especially for a player who had been playing well for the previous three quarters of the game. Monaco had an attempt to win the game, as Ferreira Carrasco sent a  through ball to Fabinho into the box but he couldn’t get the shot right and Sirigu saved it.

It was then the visitor’s chance to win the game, a cross sent towards Ibrahimović, who controlled it nicely but hit it straight into Subašić. However, Abidal couldn’t clear the ball and gifts possession to Lavezzi, who nearly pokes the ball home, but it just went wide of the post.

It was a well-fought battle between these two clubs, with both sides having numerous chances to get the win. It was probably a fair result for both sides, although PSG will be disappointed they couldn’t have made more of the chances that were handed to them. However, their five point lead at the top is still intact.

Laurent Blanc, will be happy with his team’s performance, including a great turnout by Lucas Moura. However, he will be disappointed that his side are not putting away the opportunities that were given to them on the night. A worrying thought, considering the next stage of the Champions League is just around the corner.

St.Kevin’s Boys Club to bring Europe’s finest to Dublin

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This is the first article I have EVER written. The opportunity to do this came courtesy of The LOI Blog (see the original article here) and it was an honour to attend this event and interview the Chief Executive of the FAI, John Delaney. I have to admit, I was nervous meeting the man, as you hear so many things about such a high-profile figure. However, I found him to be very pleasant and he was more than happy to give little old me the time of day after having a chat with some top sports journalists who also attended. John even praised my efforts after our interview, which was pretty cool.

I hope you enjoy the article and interview. I am open to any feedback you may have.

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St. Kevin’s Boys Club today launched their annual Academy Cup Tournament in The Skylon Hotel, Drumcondra. In attendance were FAI Chief Executive John Delaney along with Former Republic of Ireland International player and manager John Giles and board members of St.Kevin’s.

The tournament has become a staple for St. Kevin’s since 2009 when the inaugural event was set up to celebrate their 50th Anniversary. This year has promised to be the best tournament organised by the club as the club host prestigious clubs like Real Madrid and Ajax from the 18th – 20th April. They will be joined by current holders of the Academy Cup, Celtic, two-time winners, Arsenal, and last year’s runners-up, West Bromwich Albion.

Speaking at the launch, Ken Donohoe, Director of Football at St. Kevin’s, commented on the progression of the tournament and what it meant to the club. “We started it off (Academy Cup) on a low key basis and each year since then, we have raised the bar in terms of attracting better teams, raising the standard of play and giving an opportunity to young boys in our club to sample and pit themselves against the best that we can attract to this tournament,” said Donohoe.

Donohoe also expressed the ambition that St. Kevin’s hold for this tournament and making it one of the best schoolboy tournaments not just in Ireland but Europe. “Through our efforts over the weekend, we hope to make this the best and most exciting schoolboy tournament that has ever been run in this country. We also have to justify ourselves to the likes of Real Madrid and Ajax and show them that they are not coming to compete in a two-bit tournament in Ireland and that they are coming to a tournament that can compete with the best of the tournaments that they’ve played in throughout Europe,” commented Donohoe

John Giles praised the efforts of St. Kevin’s in hosting such a prominent schoolboys tournament. “When I was a kid playing football there was none of this. I had to wait until I played in the European competitions to play against these teams. I think it is great, the progress that schoolboy football has made. When I was playing back in the 40’s and 50’s there were only two teams with their own ground.”

Giles went on to praise the progression of the club and its resources in Whitehall. “The facilities that St. Kevin’s have there are absolutely brilliant. It is a credit to the people who run the club and it’s a credit to the schoolboy game. It’s great to see the progress that has come over the years,” continued Giles.

FAI CEO, John Delaney, was delighted with the level of football that would be coming to Dublin this April. “It these types of tournaments that allow the best play against the best and when the best play against the best, you can improve yourself.”

Delaney also went on to praise St. Kevin’s for organising the tournament and ranked them as one of the best schoolboy clubs in the country. “I have to compliment the club. They are always thinking of the next step forward,” said Delaney.

The tournament should be a great spectacle of youth football and it will hopefully give fans a look at the future of Irish football, as well as International football. You never know, there may just be a future Damien Duff or Liam Brady among the ranks lining up for St. Kevin’s against Real Madrid or West Brom come April.

SKB Academy Cup 2014

Group 1: St. Kevin’s, West Brom, Real Madrid
Group 2: Ajax, Celtic, Arsenal

Friday April 18th

Game 1 – 10:30am St. Kevin’s V West Brom
Game 2 – 12:00pm Ajax V Celtic
Game 3 – 4:30pm West Brom V Real Madrid
Game 4 – 6:00pm Ajax V Arsenal

Saturday April 19th

Game 5 – 10:30am Arsenal V Celtic
Game 6 – 12:00pm St. Kevin’s V Real Madrid
Game 7 – 4:30pm Winner Group 1 V Runner-Up Group 2
Game 8 – 6:00pm Winner Group 2 V Runner-Up Group 1

Sunday April 20th

Game 9 – 10:00am 5th/6th Play-Off: 3rd place Group 1 V 3rd place Group 2
Game 10 – 12:00pm 3rd/4th Play-Off
Game 11 – 1:30pm Tournament Final

Games 1-10 are 50 minutes – 25mins each way
Games 11 is 60 minutes – 30mins each way

Presentation of prizes takes place at 3:00pm
Full tournament details on www.skbfc.com