O’Neill Refuses To Look Past Gibraltar


Republic of Ireland Team

Original article appears on Pundit Arena.

Punch-ups, voicemails and a ‘f**king p***k’ were the talking points this week in the lead up to the Euro 2016 qualifier between the Republic of Ireland and Gibraltar. Thankfully, this was not a bust up in the Irish dressing room rather it was the spicy details leaked from the Republic’s assistant manager, Roy Keane’s new autobiography that has overshadowed the preparations for this game.

However, manager Martin O’Neill refuses to indulge in questions about the former Manchester United skipper’s book. He would rather talk about Saturday’s match, a match in which he hopes to win ahead of the trip to Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday where they will meet World Champions, Germany.

O’Neill is refusing to look ahead though. He is adamant that his team’s focus is purely on the minnows. He knows that with a lack of focus there could be an almighty upset. “We have to win the game, it’s really just as simple as that. We have to win the match. This is very important for us. There are three points on offer, we have to go and win the game,” stated the Derry man.

O’Neill discussed how his Polish counterparts were ‘relieved’ to get the first goal in their game against Gibraltar. It had been a shaky start but the Polish really came into their own after taking a 1-0 lead into the break, they went on to win 7-0. Commenting on that game he said, “They found it difficult. They scored a host of goals towards the end of the game but they said they’d found it difficult. And I wasn’t sure what they meant until I watched the game. And, honestly, Gibraltar did cause a problem or two.”

There will be plenty of thought in regards to who makes the starting 11 on Saturday. One of the positions that will be of interest to fans and pundits alike is at right back, after Seamus Coleman was ruled out with a hamstring problem.

20 year-old Hull City right back Brian Lenihan was drafted into the squad as his replacement. It is dizzying times for the Cork man. Only a few months ago he was playing in Turner’s Cross for Cork City now he has signed with a Premier League side and could potentially make his debut for the Republic of Ireland senior team. However, the manger may be cautious to throw the new boy into the mix even though he stated that the Hull defender doesn’t look out of place in the training sessions.

Daryl Murphy will be another player looking to state his claim for a starting place at the Aviva. The Ipswich striker has scored five goals in six games, which has helped his team move into sixth place in the Championship table. The 31 year-old hasn’t started a game for the Republic since his debut against Ecuador in 2007. Since that occasion he has only made appearances from the bench, losing out to Shane Long and Kevin Doyle in partnering the perennial Robbie Keane.

With Germany ahead of them and the desire to qualify for 2016, the Irish squad will recognise that this is an important three points on offer. A slip up on Saturday for a draw, or dare say a loss, will undoubtedly dent the confidence ahead of the clash with the World Champions on Tuesday night.


The 2014/15 Premier League A-Z


Manchester City Premier League 2013/14It’s that time of the year, where the banter amongst mates is proclamations of knowing the final positions of favourite clubs come next May, top signings during the transfer window and that nostalgic feeling when talking about the ups and downs of the previous year. Yes, it’s the start of a new Premier League season.

Each year we see previews of the 20 teams vying for the top spot in English football and where they may end up come the end of the season. Well, I decided to go a different route – the A-Z of what you need to know ahead of the Premier League kick-off on Saturday.

A is for Arsenal – Two pieces of silverware in 85 days, Alexis Sánchez and Mathieu Debuchy. Arsenal fans will hoping to be celebrating at the end of the season.

B is for Bolasie – The Crystal Palace midfielder was one of the stars in the incredible 3-3 draw with Liverpool at the end of last season. His performances on the wing last season put him in the top 5 dribblers. Should he repeat these performances, he’ll surely be one of Palace’s key men this season.

C is for Champions League – Arguably, the second biggest battle in the league after the title chase, there will be a handful of teams looking to break into that top four with Manchester United still reeling after last season. Time will tell who will make the challenge but nonetheless it will be great entertainment.

D is for Didier Drogba – The King has returned to Stamford Bridge. Drogba will be seen as adding vital experience and leadership to a squad that has lost some key veteran players. Having scored 28 goals in 64 competitive club games since leaving Chelsea, fans are hoping that he can recreate some of the magic that made him an icon.

E is for Enner Valencia – One of the key players in the Ecuadorian World Cup squad (and perhaps their best), Valencia will add desperately needed firepower to The Hammers, something that became evident during pre-season with the club only scoring four goals in six games.

F is for Fired – The sack race has already begun with Tony Pulis leaving Crystal Palace. The question is: Who’s next?

G is for Gerrard – The Liverpool captain will be looking to put a dreadful end to last season behind him and lead Liverpool to glory. A heartbreaking slip during a back pass meant that Liverpool’s title chances all but disappeared and an awful World Cup performance from England lead by Gerrard, followed.

H is for Heroes – Every season there are always players who stand out, heroes and villains that define a season. Whether it’s the youth player you’ve heard so much about breaking into the first team and becoming a wunderkind or if last season’s worst player is still going to ruin your club and questioning why the manager has stuck with him despite all the poor displays. These questions will remain from kick-off on Saturday until the final whistle in May.

I is for Ince – Tom Ince was in the news early in the summer as he exercised his right as a free agent to talk to other clubs. There were murmurs of Inter Milan and Monaco. A deal was allegedly offered to the former Blackpool player by Inter. A chance to follow his father’s footsteps in the San Siro. A dream to some. Not to Tom though, his dream was Yorkshire and Hull City.

J is for Joe Cole – Hoping to reignite his stalling career at Aston Villa, the 32 year old will be looking to help supply key man, Christian Benteke and help Villa obtain a reasonable position this season and steer away from the relegation battle, no easy task.

K is for Krkić – Probably one of the oddest transfers of the summer. Once regarded as one of the top emerging talents in Europe, Bojan Krkić has joined Stoke City from Barcelona. His career stalled after spells at Roma and Ajax and it will be interesting to see how he plays into Mark Hughes’ squad.

L is for Leicester City – It’s been a long 10 year wait but the Foxes are back in the big time. Nigel Pearson’s men secured automatic promotion from the Championship with six games to spare and then went on to win the title with two games left to play. The club will most likely be in the relegation mix but Pearson will be hoping his side can face the challenge of England’s top tier and survive.

M is for Magic Spray – One of the big talking points of this year’s World Cup in Brazil is coming to the Premier League. One can only suspect that the Premier League bosses will be looking to Gillette as a sponsor.

Magic Spray

N is for Newcastle United – Plenty of changes at St.James Park but Alan Pardew will hope that it will help the club improve on last season’s 10th place finish. Also, with Joe Kinnear gone, Pardew has the freedom to purchase players that suit his needs.

O is for Odemwingie – It wouldn’t be Transfer Deadline Day without seeing Peter turn up at some random Premier League ground. Granted, it has only happened once but it will stick with him for the rest of his career no matter what he does on the pitch.

P is for Pochettino – The Tottenham manager is chairman Daniel Levy’s third manager in two years. However, should the Argentine be given the opportunity to apply his game plan he could well be a success with Spurs.

Q is for QPR – ‘Arry is back! And he has brought Glenn Hoddle with him. He has also made a few signings that will strengthen his side’s chances of surviving relegation. Rio Ferdinand is a key signing who has much experience and Steven Caulker is also a good signing and could form a solid partnership in defence with Ferdinand or Richard Dunne.

R is for Ross Barkley – The midfielder was one of the best players in Everton’s successful squad last term. Having signed a new contract in the summer he will be hoping to build on his boyhood club’s position last season and bring Champions League football back to Goodison Park.

S is for Southampton – What seems to be the feeder club to Liverpool these days, The Saints have lost a number of players but at least manager Ronald Koeman has seen the funny side. His tweet (below) at his first training session showed his funny side and won some fans. He will be hoping to keep those fans by proving that despite the loss of players, Southampton are still a force to be reckoned with.

T is for Transfers – There have been a host of names that have come and gone during the summer and this will more than likely last until 11pm on Monday, September 1st aka Transfer Deadline Day. Cue Harry Redknapp hanging out of his car door window.

U is for Underdogs – Some teams are always written off before a ball is kicked off (Think of Hull City in the 2008/09). Burnley have already been condemned to failure and return to the Championship at the end of the season. They will be hoping to look at the likes of Hull or even the 2009/10 Burnley squad lead by Owen Coyle, who performed well and seemed safe, until he left the club.

V is for Van Gaal – The man with the Golden Willy (well according to Arjen Robben anyway) comes to Old Trafford to clean up the mess left behind by David Moyes. He has already stamped his mark on the team, criticising the squad’s trip to America and telling new £30m signing, Luke Shaw that he needs to lose weight to make the team. It will be interesting to see how well the Van Gaal experiment works this season. Top four is the goal and it could well be achieved.

W is for Webb – The Premier League’s senior referee has retired to take up a position with the Professional Game Match Officials Limited where he will analyse controversial refereeing decisions. One assumes he will be defending all pro-Old Trafford decisions.

X is for X marks the spot – OK I’ll admit I’m getting desperate now! 1,052 goals scored in the 2013/14 season. Let’s hope this season matches that, if not betters it.

Y is for Yaya Touré – The Manchester City midfielder must have been given the cake he yearned for as he will be staying put at the Etihad Stadium. It will certainly be a relief to City fans who hope the Ivorian can, this season, replicate the form from last term that has made him so popular.

Z is for Zaha – One of the final acts of Sir Alex Ferguson’s successful career at Old Trafford was signing the highly rated Crystal Palace winger. After being kept in the dark last season by former manager David Moyes, he will be hoping to kick-start his career under Louis Van Gaal or move elsewhere.

Patrick O’Connell: From The Liffey to Camp Nou


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.