A TIME OF OPTIMISM FOR KENNY’S BOYS.

MAYBE A TIME FOR OPTIMISM ABOUT KENNY’S BOYS? 

International football seems to get mixed reviews these days. On the one hand, we all love a summer tournament like the Euros or the World Cup – even the latter is getting a winter berth this year – but on the other, many see it as a hindrance to the domestic league and European cups season. It’s a debate that never seems to get resolved. 

Being an avid follower of the Republic of Ireland team is not always easy. In fact, it never really is, but with the last few results, is this a time for a sense of quiet optimism. 

Over the last few years, the FAI has fallen into financial shambles. The antics of a certain Mister Delaney being the catalyst for the bulk of such trouble. That aside however, the decisions made to seek quick-fix solutions in the past led to an awful undoing. 

Huge money was thrown the way of Giovanni Trappatoni and while he did gather a number of important results on the field, including qualification Euro 2012, the style of play he adapted was overly-reliant on defense and general negativity. By the end of his tenure, a change was badly needed. 

Next up was Martin O’Neill who took in Roy Keane as his second-in-command. Again, there’s no denying that the Derryman led us to an impressive series of famous wins over the likes of Germany, Italy and Austria along the way, his spell also ended in fairly drab circumstances. An absolute mauing at home to Denmark in 2017 compounded that. 

Now thought, after much chopping and changing. Stephen Kenny, who succeeded a short dig-out spell from returning manager Mick McCarthy, seems to have gotten a bit of a foothold with what he wants to do. The last few results, of which included a friendly win over Qatar and decent draws against Serbia, Portugal and Belgium have shown this. Not forgetting the late win over Lithuania.

He seems keen to give as many players as possible a run-out and gain experience of playing in a green jersey. In the not too distant past, as the likes of Robbie Keane and Shay Given got older, it seemed as though it became harder to get out of playing for the Ireland team than it was to get on it. 

As a result of this overplaying of the tried-and-tested lads, younger players like Enda Stephens, John Egan and Matt Doherty, to name but a few, had to wait a lot longer to get their run in the side. Kenny seems to be aware of that situation and, going by his actions, he gives off the impression that he wants to start from scratch with the newbies. 

Last weekend’s draw with Belgium was earned with a spirited performance. Unlike previous years, it was refreshing to see Ireland get the ball on the deck and pass it around the field with a greater sense of purpose and deliberation. Chiedozie Ogbene’s overhead kick for the first goal got the headlines, but there was more brewing underneath the surface.

Not that I’m any sort of body-language expert but one could tell there was a sense of focus and steely determination amongst the players. What’s more, if their expressions at the final whistle are anything to go by, they look as though they truly enjoy playing for their country and that it’s not a needless distraction from their club commitments.

Of course, this was followed up with a 1-0 win over Lithuania. Far from a classic but a wonder goal deep in stoppage time from Troy Parrot will surely stick most in the memory of fans from that night.

The majority of our international players ply their trade in lower league football in England. Usually that’s a death-nail in the hopes of ever getting to represent your country for most national sides. Not for Ireland. And maybe that’s why they embrace the sights and sounds of a packed Aviva Stadium on a Saturday evening. 

It’s fair game to suggest that for too long, promising Irish talent was overly-reliant on getting spotted by high-flying English clubs. That trend seems to be fading. Josh Cullen is playing great stuff with Anderlecht in Belgium and a number of rising talents, such as Gavin Bazuna, have gained valuable experience from their League of Ireland days. 

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have players playing at the very top level. Caoimhín Kelleher being the toast of Merseyside – the red half anyway – when Liverpool lifted the Carabao Cup was great. Shane Duffy looks as though he’s back to his best since his return to Brighton, but at least we’re not as dependent on those élite clubs as we once were. 

SUPPORTING LOCAL AT THE HARPS.

Originally penned in December 2021

There’s an old saying that goes ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and with regard to supporting Finn Harps, that was true for me. In the pre-Covid world, I’d only occasionally scoot over to Ballybofey on a Friday night; often finding other ways to pass a Friday night with only sporadic checks on my phone to see how they were getting on. That’s all changed now. 

By Jonathan Foley.

During the days of games being played behind closed doors and having to avail of online subscriptions to watch them, something struck a chord with me with how much I took attending games for granted. When the turnstiles opened up again, I suppose I made a wee promise to myself to make a better effort to go and show my support for them that bit more. 

It’s a decision I’ve not regretted. Sure the evenings on the terraces can be cold and wet but there’s a charm to League of Ireland football that has remained despite all the changes to the modern game. It’s inexpensive, it’s a chance to have a casual chat with friends you may not have seen for a long time and, above all else, there’s a sense of community. 

On the field-of-play, Harps have arguably had one of their best seasons. They played with a sense of confidence and adapted progressive and forward-thinking tactics. They often passed the ball very well and showed that they had players who could find the net on a regular basis; Adam Foley and Tunde Owlabi in particular. 

Even when they go for the long ball approach nowadays, it seems that they are actually trying to pick out a player in an advanced position as opposed to the more traditional plan of hoofing the ball anywhere and everywhere. The players played as a cohesive unit and worked well together and never really left fans leaving the ground bemoaning their lack of effort and commitment.

Whether or not many of those same faces will be at the club next season remains to be seen. Séan Boyd and the aforementioned Foley have already said their farewells for pastures new, but things like that are an annual conversation amongst the Harps fanbase at the end of every season, but one thing that is for sure is that the supporters will remain and possibly even grow.

It’s been great to look around the stands of the ground and notice how many young people are choosing to spend their evenings, boys and girls, at the matches. During the recent clash with Derry City, a friend pointed out to me how an aging, but young at heart, parish priest still comes along to the games to cheer the side on. Never descending to any choice language, of course. 

Parents are bringing their kids along in greater numbers than before and, while that may not look like much, one cannot forget how special any family event really is. It’s an endearing sight to see a parental figure share a greasy bag of chips and a mineral while cheering on the team from the sidelines.

Friday nights are an ideal time for a game too. It gives you something to look forward to during the working week. Monday to Fridays are consumed with early morning rises, trying to eat well during your lunch breaks while still making sure you take time to get some form of exercise during the evenings. 

On a Friday night on Navenny Street though, you can get that reward feeling on the go. 

After you’ve draped the blue and white scarf across your shoulders, there’s a sense of anticipation as you make the drive towards Ballybofey. Usually, the Highland Radio DJ will take a breather from shouting out requests to let us all know that “we’ll be going over for live coverage of the Harps at eight o’clock, so stay tuned for that. Now back to the tunes.”

The next major question is where the best parking spot would be. After much deliberation, I personally want to thank the staff at Scoil Mhuire primary school for not adopting a clamping system even though their sign reads that the car park is for staff and church-goers only. Cheers folks. 

As you see the lights of the ground peering over the rooftops when you ascend the bridge that runs across the River Finn in Stranorlar, the temptation of the chippie draws ever closer. It’s the start of the weekend so all sense of guilt is swiftly eradicated. Owing to the fact that you have the car means that it’s only a fizzy drink or a non-alcoholic beer in ‘Cheers Bar’ on the corner. 

You’d never know who you’d meet here. Last time I was in, the noise that greeted me when I walked in the door was from a pair of Scousers attempting the “we’re really on our way” chant. While their vocal chords were a little raspy and their knowledge of the lyrics wasn’t great, you had to admire their enthusiasm. 

After all, they’d flown over from England to watch their brother play. 

Not long later, it’s time to make the short walk down Navenny Street where the noise of the drum bangs slowly in the distance. “Are ya for the shed side or the Aldi side the’night?” might be a question. You gotta love that there’s still a place in twenty-first century football where you can choose so easily where in the ground you want to watch the match from. 

Not only that, but even at the halftime interval, the fact that you can temporarily vacate the ground to nip for a halftime coffee and bar of chocolate in the Centra shop across the road is just something that you can’t do at matches in most other parts of the world anymore.

As alluded to earlier, it’s all part of the charm of League of Ireland football. And what’s more is that you’re home in no time afterwards.

@johnnyfoley1984 @armchairfanatic

‘The Gorbals Irishman’ – Charlie Gallagher.

Last month, Celtic FC bade farewell to one of their heroes from the past. Charlie Gallagher’s cortège made its way past the front door of Celtic Park itself so that supporters could pay their last respects. But what did we know of the man? 

By Jonathan Foley

Charlie Gallagher enjoyed a 12-year stint at the famous Glasgow club between the years 1958 and 1970; making 171 appearances and scoring 32 goals in the process. 

More than that, he acquired a clean sweep of Scottish domestic honours and, although he wasn’t on the field that day in Lisbon, he was an instrumental figure in Celtic’s 1967 famous European Cup success story. Although to say his successes came overnight couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Born of Donegal parents, Dan and Annie (Gaoth Dobhair), Charlie also became the first Scottish-born player to represent the Republic of Ireland. In a 2017 interview with TheCelticView, Gallagher discussed how he had grown to love west Donegal, having spent many of his summer holidays there when he was a child. 

He was well regarded for his ability to pickout pinpoint crosses from wide areas and set-pieces. One of his most famous assists is probably the delivery he sent in for Billy McNeill to rise up over Alex Ferguson to head in Celtic’s opener in the 1969 Scottish Cup Final rout of Rangers. As we will see, that was just one of many famous set-ups for his captain. 

He was also the cousin of another former Celtic player, Pat Crerand, who was well-known for his precocious talents and aggression on the field for such other teams he played for, including Manchester United and Scotland. And if the local rumblings speak true, some will tell you that Crerand also played in a number of summer cup games for the Gweedore sides under a pseudonym, but hush, no more. 

When Charlie Gallagher joined Celtic, the club was deep in transition. Rangers were utterly dominant and success was proving to be very elusive for the Hoops. Legendary figure and all-time leading club goalscorer, Jimmy McGrory, wasn’t enjoying the same successes as a manager, but such was his reputation, very few fans were calling for his head during this period of drought. 

Frustrations were more so aimed at the board, then chaired by Robert Kelly. 

In 1961, Gallagher made his debut in a League Cup victory over Raith Rovers and come the end of the season, aged just 21, many would’ve been expecting him to collect a Scottish Cup winners medal. Celtic went into this showpiece event as huge favourites against Dunfermline, but the Pars, managed by a certain Jock Stein,  threw the script out and rejoiced in a surprise 2-0 win following a replay.

For success, Charlie Gallagher would have to wait. 

Celtic were trophyless in the early 1960s and Gallagher was regularly rotated in and out of the starting eleven. His finest performances came in 1964 when he put in a dazzling display in a Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final victory over MTK Budapest. 

The Hunagrains would overturn the tie in the second leg, however, and Gallagher openly claimed that this night as the most disappointing of his career. He would put in another stirring performance five months later though when Celtic pulled off an unexpected 3-1 win over Rangers in the league. 

One year later, 1965, Jock Stein returned to Celtic as manager and Gallagher became something of a regular in his early sides. Despite a lowly eighth place finish in the league that year, Celtic did reach the final of the Scottish Cup again where they would meet Dunfermline for the second time in four years. 

Many fans still regard this game as a pivotal turning point in the club’s history. 

Having twice trailed in the match, Celtic levelled each time and eventually won the encounter courtesy of a 3-2 scoreline. Charlie Gallagher’s superb ball in from a corner set up McNeill’s winning goal and, alas, the Hoops ended an eight-year barren run of no trophies. Following that, Celtic FC were about to embark on something truly special in the following years. 

They became the dominant force, not only in Scotland, but across the European continent as well. 

Having played much of his time in the midfield area alongside Bobby Murdoch, Stein’s remoulding of Bertie Auld’s role – often regarded as one of his managerial masterstrokes – meant that again, Gallagher’s appearances became a bit more sporadic. Celtic were roaring, both domestically and in Europe, so getting into that team would’ve been a task for anyone. 

With Auld and Murdoch holding the midfield and Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Lennox taking up the wide areas, this was the most famous midfield which Celtic ever had. When he was called upon though, Gallagher was also more than capable of lending more than just a little help for the cause. 

In the New Year meeting with Rangers in 1966, Gallagher thundered in a wonder-strike as the Bhoys routed their old rivals 5-1. A season later, in the quarter-final of the 1967 European Cup run against Vojvodina Novi Sad, his stoppage time cross found McNeill’s head (again) and his majestic finish sent the famous Parkhead stadium into raptures of delight. 

In a time when only one substitute was named on a team-sheet and where he could only be deployed in the event of an injury, Charlie Gallagher did remarkably well to stay in the plans of Jock Stein as Celtic embarked on, what is still, the most successful and revered period in their entire history. 

He was there that day at the Estádio Nacional when Celtic famously beat Inter Milan 2-1 to become the first team from the northern half of Europe to lift the famous trophy. Although he didn’t get a run out on the field, his role within the camp was regarded as important as anyone else’s. 

He was known to have been very proud of the fact that he got to represent Ireland on the international stage. The country of his ancestry thanks to his Donegal heritage. He may have only got two caps during his career, but it must be remembered that he was competing with none other than the talents John Giles (Leeds United) for that position in the team.

Following his departure from Celtic in 1970, Gallagher finished out his career with Dumbarton before hanging up the boots in 1973. He would return to the East End of Glasgow to work as a scout between 1976 to 1978 and was often spotted still attending games and club functions right up until very recent times. A Celtic man, through and through. 

Charlie Gallagher, ‘the Gorbals Irishman’ 1940-2021.