Alan O’Brien Follow @alanob2112
Spot the part-timers. Bohemians dare not dream of matching the financial clout of their fiercest rivals. But, under manager Stephen Bradley, Shamrock Rovers will never be more than rag-ordered also-rans. Full-time.
It is difficult to understand why Rovers have persisted with Bradley. Rank indiscipline, and shoddy organisation, produced a side much lesser than the sum of its 2017 parts. Recent years have seen the Tallaght club make swift off-field progress. But what’s the point in laying a solid foundation, if nowt but an Iced Gem haircut sits at its apex?
Shapes thrown in the media about challenging the hegemony of Dundalk and Cork are hilariously misplaced, if this game is anything to go by. Nothing has changed at Tallaght Stadium in the off-season. This is still the same side that lost nine away games last year, a league-high.
This is also still a side devoid of attacking width, employing a style of football completely anathema to target-man Gary Shaw. But, then, both clubs were guilty of that sin on Friday evening.
Compression was very much the name of the game, with both defensive-lines keen to push an aerially-dominant striker away from goal. Rovers, who edged the possession battle, responded by kicking balls in behind for Shaw to run onto. Dinny Corcoran, who took his first penalty-area touch in the 45th minute, was faced with much the same task. Optimistic, to say the least.
With the effective playing-area reduced to a mere sliver, only Rovers’ Greg Bolger enjoyed any real time on the ball. But diagonals were not an option for the former Cork man, as both Brandon Miele and Joel Coustrain tucked in on either flank.
Paddy Kavanagh and Kevin Devaney did much the same for Bohs, and none of the four full-backs on show advanced beyond the halfway-line. Safety first was the name of the game. A shared tally of six corner-kicks underlined the game’s chronic lack of width.
Needlessly to say, this congestion made for a dreadfully poor spectacle, both for those watching on the terraces and on TV. Not the advert for Irish football the league needed, in the wake of some unprecedented recent hype. And, for newcomers, the number of players with body-fat percentages way above the level required of a professional footballer would not have helped perceptions either.
Only Graham Burke looked capable of deviating from the agricultural norm. Ronan Finn’s goal, from a deep free-kick, owed much to the 24-year-old’s improvised acrobatics. Shaw won the first ball, out-jumping Dan Casey to highlight an aerial duel the ex-Longford man won all ends up. But it was Bradley’s disorganised troops that really struggled at set-pieces.
Of the six genuine chances afforded to Bohs, a whopping five stemmed from dead-ball situations; including their first and third goals. Note to sides due to face Rovers in the coming weeks: back-post marking is optional in Tallaght.
Allowing Corcoran to take Keith Ward’s back-post free-kick on his chest, in the lead up to Casey’s second, was laughable. But the former Pat’s striker had already found himself free as a bird, in a similar position, from Kevin Devaney’s 19th-minute corner — only to kick air.
The goalkeeping of Kevin Horgan, caught in no man’s land for that insurance goal, must be questioned too. Favoured to the error-prone, punch-happy, Tomer Chencinski here, his performance calls into further question Bradley’s already perplexing transfer market maneuvers.
The performance of Coustrain, rejected by local club Limerick in recent months, will only rack up more question marks. As will the decision to opt for Dan Carr, last seen in England flopping at level seven of the football pyramid, over Eoghan Stokes.
Stokes at least tried to offer some width, upon replacing Devaney in the second-half. And it was the former Leeds United man who initiated the attack that led to Casey’s corner-kick equaliser.
Consecutive overlaps, such a rarity here, from Darragh Leahy and Derek Pender, also helped in that regard. By successfully abandoning their manager’s initially ultra-defensive approach, Bohs showed the kind of flexibility that canny coaches like Long, and Trevor Croly, can engender.
Alas, in ‘Bradser’, Rovers have anything but. Dreams of troubling the on-field big boys will never come to fruition while he sits atop the Tallaght tree. Meanwhile, across the city, at a fraction of the price, Messrs. Long and Croly will continue to work wonders. Those are two pre-season predictions you can take to the bank. ‘Tis the season, after all.
Follow the author, Alan O’Brien, on Twitter: Follow @alanob2112