Our Own All-Stars
Every Game An Away Game by Bluebeard
(first published in the August 2011 Limerick FC match programme)
Limerick’s visit tonight almost rounds off the second series of games, and we’ll be looking to avenge our earlier defeats at Jackman Park. We have changed manager and improved our squad considerably since then, and had a little bit of a run so will enter the game with optimism. Limerick too have improved their side with some big name signings, not least of which is former international Joe Gamble.
Gamble is just back with the Limerick squad after his part in last weekend’s games in the Dublin Super Cup against Manchester City and Celtic, one of just two members of Damian Richardson’s squad who are currently playing in the First Division. A lot of fans of clubs in the First were dismayed at such a poor representation, especially when most of the players of both Rovers and St Pat’s were withdrawn for more important European ties. Certainly, there are a number of players who might be disappointed to not be called up including our own Kevin Murray and Limerick captain Pat Purcell, while with only two “strikers” listed in the squad with a week to go, and an injured Jason Byrne called up to supplement them, surely Graham Cummins and Philly Hughes must be wondering what they did wrong. For all four, it must seem as though their place on the First Division team of the year last year was an illusion.
The Dublin Super Cup sits nicely into this year’s mid-season gap, a filler for the weekend that no teams have a game. The break was initially sold in case of Ireland making a World Cup and attendance at games plummeting owing to a clash. However, I believe that one of the chief reasons for the break is also to give players who are also parents a chance to have a family holiday – indeed, it was at one stage the case that players were not allowed to play in the two week period, something that led to a small amount of difficulty for us scheduling a Munster Cup clash one year. It does strike me as kind of odd that this year during that break, there are actually more games fixed for some of the better players.
Over in the United States, the baseball playing Yanks had their scheduled mid-season break of sorts a couple of weeks ago when all club games were cancelled for a few days. For those few days, a couple of big events in the baseball calendar take place, most significant of which is the annual All-Star game. In the case of baseball, fans register with the official website and vote on their favourite players for the various positions for the two leagues. The winners of the online poll line up at the stadium of one of the league teams and play. The game also decides which league gets first home advantage in the World Series later that season. While a bit of a fluff game, it is generally pretty popular, and for all the online ballot stuffing (I tip “A Nation Once Again” to make next year’s cut), the teams seem to be well considered by fans.
For most of us footballing fans, the making of Best XI teams is almost a daily task – the endless permutations. Which one of us has not mentally decided before the game today what eleven you would put out on the pitch, and in some case what team you think Paul O’Brien will pick, what team you would pick if all players were available, and what’s the best team of players with surnames beginning with the letter K who have played for us since 1986. We do it all the time.
Beyond that, we have a more scientific, and reasonably respectable selection of the best teams of the year than the US, with the PFAI Teams of the Year for both divisions. Last year’s First Divisions team featured two Blues –Murray and Alan Carey, plus another two former Blues in Cummins and Purcell. Last year’s Premier side was dominated by the two Rovers contributing eight of the eleven, (including ex-Blue James Chambers). Being in this team is a fine honour for these men, but beyond naming the team, little else comes with it. If former Blue Eric Bradley won an All Star with Wexford Gaelic Footballers this year, he would be assured of a free trip next year with the side: last year, the All Stars footballers went to Kuala Lumpur, while it was Argentina the year before for the Hurlers, supposedly for exhibition games.
As some kind of reward for their performance last year, it would make sense to have built the squad for the Dublin Super Cup on last year’s Premier team of the year. Unfortunately Rico’s choice for his squad was much hampered. Of last year’s Premier XI, four were gone from these shores by the start of the season, the fifth a fortnight ago, and the rest of the team unavailable owing to forthcoming European ties. Sadly, it appears that last season’s team of the year from November will never get to play together. However, almost all the First Division team of the year is still playing in the country, but disappointingly only two are in the squad.
The 2011 Dublin Super Cup was suggested in press releases as being the inaugural tournament, suggesting that many more are to come. Seeing as many League of Ireland supporters are highly aware of what is going on around the League, and have strong views on what the best XI in the country are, I think that the idea of a voted upon “mid-season” All Stars could be the ideal way forward – Premier and First Division teams (if both still exist) combining. There will still be drop outs, but that is where the manager comes in, selecting on a discretionary basis to create a squad of 25. It would be an excellent way for the FAI to connect with the League supporters, and may even create a lasting interest in the competition among the fans of the domestic game.