As sports fans go I like to think I’m pretty reasonable, or at least reasonable enough to know the limits of my own reasonableness (er . . . ) The knucklehead mentality that assumes referees are out to get you grates on my nerves. Incompetence is one thing, bias is another. Referees are routinely duped by players yet fans hypocritically blame the man with the whistle – don’t want to have to point the finger of blame at one of your own players when they engage in a spot of on-field thesping, do you?
The performance of Derek Tomney on Saturday should be viewed through this prism. He had two major decisions to make in the first half and as far as everyone in Blue was concerned he got both wrong leading to a tsunami of abuse being poured on his head as he left the pitch. How could he sleep at night? Watching MNS the other night, the answer was ‘pretty soundly’. The first decision, the handball for the free that produced the first goal, was a blatant handball. Sitting where I was it looked like it struck a Bohs player, but it was definitely Kevin Murray. The second decision, the penalty, was much more contentious. Watching it again there was minimal contact between the luckless / foolish Murray and the Bohs forward, and you can almost imagine the Bohs players winking at his team mates as he received their high-fives. But the ref can certainly say with an utterly straight face that it was a penalty. More importantly, what he would have seen in real time would have looked like a penalty. Most of the other decisions he made regarding potential Waterford frees and handbags at five paces were all individually justifiable. Yep, Mr Tomney wouldn’t have needed any sleeping pills that night.
Whether the ref has a record in screwing the Blues is not something I’m qualified to comment on. A less emollient assessment of talents can be found here.
What was extraordinary though is the fact that Derek Tomney is from Dublin. Some might suggest that that’s too much of a GAA perspective, that a fan of (say) Shamrock Rovers is going to love nothing more than putting the boot in to Bohs. And instinctively one must assume that it would be difficult to stage a League of Ireland match if you were to exclude all Dublin refs from matches involving Dublin teams, a point alluded to in this thread.
But difficult isn’t the same as impossible, and the appearance of impropriety is what matters here. Mike Dean was initially selected to referee the 2006 English FA Cup final, but had to be removed when Liverpool ended up getting through because a native of the Wirral was considered to be closer to Liverpool than was comfortable. The nature of the relationship between Liverpool and the Wirral (‘over the water’) is something I am qualified to comment on. In a nutshell, they’re not that close. If a fellow native of Heswall like Jim Bowen can end up supporting Blackburn Rovers, then you can see that the ties that bind the Wirral to Liverpool are not that strong. But the suggestion of impropriety was enough. By allowing Dublin refs to take charge of games involving Dublin teams, the FAI isn’t doing the likes of Derek Tomney any favours.
I doubt that many people can claim to have been to a final of both the English League Cup and the Irish (FAI) League Cup. So before we look at the Blues’ efforts in the EA Sports Cup, let’s refresh our memories on how Liverpool did when we saw them in the 2003 Worthington Cup.
Hey kids, bet you didn’t know that that Michael Owen played for Liverpool back in the day!
Sticking with the history lesson, the 74,000 people at Cardiff may not have much in common with the 4,000 (?) who were at the RSC. But both competitions have always been the subject of much scorn. The English one was ridiculed as ‘Hardaker’s folly‘ in its early years and things haven’t improved since with a race to the bottom from managers to see how inept a team they can enter. The Irish one doesn’t seem to be much better regarded, a recent blog entry on eleven-a-side.com capturing a certain indifference among the League of Ireland faithful.
For all of that, only one manager – Arsene Wenger – can maintain the indifference when faced with being 90 minutes away from the silverware, and Pat Fenlon couldn’t walk the walk as he decided to field a full strength side (it says here). And while I may not know what players on the Bohemians team would be their top players – God be with the good ol’ days of Gino Lawless – it was the clear from the start, a flying break down the wing which led to a corner, that Bohs were of a different magnitude of quality to St Patrick’s Athletic. Their fans were confident enough to give a rendition of the Fields of bleedin’ Athenry before they had their first real opening, a dubious offside flag saving the Blues from an early goal.
It couldn’t save them for long though. After eight minutes the ball popped up in a melee just outside the Blues penalty area and struck a hand. Initially I thought it was a Bohs player but it wasn’t clear enough for me to be able to contradict the decision to give it the other way (not that that stopped everyone around me). Up stepped Killian Brennan who clipped the ball over the wall and Michael Devine could only help the ball on its way into the net. There wasn’t much pace on the ball and you were left wondering whether Devine could have done better in getting across.
At the risk of being pounded for chastising one of the real stars that are still playing for Waterford, one of the biggest differences between the teams were the goalkeepers. Countless times the Blues would send a well flighted ball into the box, and invariably the ball would stick like glue to Brian Murphy’s gloves – continental coaches don’t put great stock by that kind of thing, their attitude being that they’d rather you punched it rather than taking the risk of dropping the ball into the mix, but when you consider how much cross-channel pundits fetishise being able to catch the ball (“why didn’t he CATCH it?!”) I’m surprised that such a talent on Murphy’s part hasn’t seen Daddy Football League come calling.
Or maybe they have and he doesn’t feel the need to go because he’s already earning big bucks with Bohs, the kind of bucks the Blues can only dream of. Joseph N’Do, who I was informed at half time had played for Cameroon in the World Cup, was having the freedom of the left wing and the Blues were doing well to snuff out much of the neat interplay that was threatening to cut them open, Seamus Long doing particularly well to clear a ball that had pinged up into the air. The Blues were relying completely on set pieces which as mentioned already were being handled by Murphy with aplomb. The only chance the Blues got in the early stages with this tactic was when a defender headed the ball to Vinny O’Sullivan who blazed a difficult chance over the bar.
The desire to carve out those set pieces led to one blatant dive by Vinny O’Sullivan, the non-award of the free kick bringing a cacophony of boos from the Ultras behind us. The inadequacy of referees is a common refrain over on BTID and this seemed to be confirmed a couple of minutes later when a Bohs forward crumpled over the in the box. Now, the moment he got the ball heading away from goal with John Kearney behind my wife leaned forward and said “he’s going to dive!” and down he went. It looked blatant, his knees buckling and arms flying up in the air. Reading reports on the match later on, they all seemed to agree it was a push and a needlessly conceded penalty. At the time though (and not having seen any replays, the feeling still lingers despite those reports) it looked like a dive and I couldn’t believe the ref, who hadn’t fallen for Vinny’s dive, had been duped. Brennan rolled the penalty into the corner and the Blues ‘ goose was cooked.
At this point you feared a massacre. I felt most sorry for the committed fans, not just because it was inherently depressing that the trophy was slipping away but because they must have been yearning for a barnstorming performance to keep the day trippers coming back. The Blues were fortunate not to concede anther penalty not long after the goal, John Kearney going flying over the top and injuring himself in the process. This was more of a penalty than the one that was awarded but the ref stopped play for the ‘injury’. Any feeling of gratitude was snuffed out when the ref insisted the Blues kick the ball back to Bohs. The aura of uselessness clinging to Derek Tomney was emphasised when Dave Warren got involved in some handbags with a Bohs player. Result? Bohs free. Thank for nothing, mate.
You wondered all through whether Bohs had something in reserve. This feeling was heightened when they had a two-on-one break. It should have been a goal but the Bohs forward opted to shot from about thirty yards out. Such self-indulgence would have been punished by a just God. But the universe is unfair, and this was demonstrated moments later when Neale Fenn tried one from a similar distance. It was a decent effort but Devine had it covered all the way – right up to the point of impact when his effort to prevent pushing it over the bar only saw him fall back in to the net and the ball followed him in.
Darn. Couldn’t really exclusively blame the ref now, not that it stopped us at half time (ho ho). The Blues needed to hit the ground running in the second half to prevent an exodus and they certainly started with greater purpose, Graham Cummins shooting over and then earning a corner which was gathered by Murphy. As they threw caution to the wind it was inevitable that they’d leave more gaps at the back though. Kenny ‘Fletch’ Browne’s penchant for side-stepping attackers is handy in situations like this as it unsettles defenders not expecting the ball to be sent back to them so soon. This is great until it goes wrong when it’s not so great. Stephen Grant needed to go hareing to the rescue at one point, and the offside flag / a brilliant Devine save helped out on another. The Bohs fans had found their voice at this stage, which showed that the Blues weren’t doing any lasting damage.
Bohs were content to try and get a fourth on the break and it was going to take something spectacular or a gaff to get Waterford a goal. Willie John Kiely tried the spectacular from a cleared corner, a bicycle kick flying over the bar. John Kearney also tried the spectacular on a few occasions, galloping from defence like he was going to go all the way on his own. It was from such a break that Cummins was able to tee up Vinny O’Sullivan but he blazed his shot over the bar when he really should have scored.
But like Robert the Bruce’s spider, try try try again. Combine a Kearney break with – finally! – some less than authoritative handling from Brian Murphy from a free and you have Kearney playing the ball back in for Kenny Browne to smash the ball home from close range. This should have been the cue for a grandstand finish, and Bohs did wobble for a couple of tantalising minutes. A pile up in the box after a corner eventually led to an opening for Vinny but his shot was well saved by Murphy. Then we had a playground charge towards the box which ended up in what looked like another dive, the sort that probably would have led to a free had a Bohs player done it. Soon after Willie John Kiely found himself in space in the box with his back to goal but he seemed caught in two minds as whether to shoot or lay it off and ended up playing a harmless ball wide. A couple of Waterford headers in injury time rounded it all off comfortably enough for Bohemians in the end.
I was convinced the Blues were going to win before the game. It’s meant to be, innit? The gap between a team who a few months ago were aspiring to play in the group stages of the Champions League and one who, well, had no such aspirations was too great though. Everything needed to go right for the Blues and with unhelpful refs and goalkeeping clangers it was a case of nothing going right. It was a gallant effort, and perhaps the softer opposition in the Cup represent a more realistic prospect. That would be some consolation.