Sunday, November 3, 2013

League of Ireland Review 2013

Having seen the league title go West last year around, the Dublin sides were looking to bring the League of Ireland Premier Division title back to the Capital in 2013. Seemingly leading the line in this quest was Shamrock Rovers, who made a number of huge signings over the winter, including a new manager. Trevor Croly was instated as Rovers’ third manager in 12 months and brought in the likes of league heavyweights Jason McGuinness, Richard Brush and Mark Quigley from reigning champions Sligo Rovers, as well as James Chambers and Derek Foran from Saint Patrick’s Athletic and Dundalk respectively.
Mark Quigley would be Shamrock Rovers' biggest signing
Source: RTÉ

Having just about survived relegation the season previous following a playoff win over Waterford United, Dundalk’s manager Stephen Kenny set about making wholesale changes at the Co. Louth club, despite rumours of financial constraints. Only four players were re-signed from the season previous while Stephen O’Donnell was brought in on a free and instated as captain. John Dillon was another to leave Sligo and join another LOI team, and Richie Towell (on a free) and Pat Hoban (Mervue United) were other shrewd acquisitions, though the later having never been tested beyond First Division level, despite having spent a season at Bristol City.

Sligo showed the league why they were favourites to retain their title by racing into the league with a eight game winning streak. Eventually they were undone by Drogheda Untied in the Setanta Cup and dropped seven points in their following three games. Their expected rivals Shamrock Rovers were having a frustrating start to the season, they drew six of their first seven games, before taking out their frustration on an unfortunate Bray Wanderers side 7-0.

At the other end Shelbourne, with manager Alan Matthews, were really struggling. By the time they got their first win of the season (10 games and two months later against UCD 2-0)  they had been well cast adrift at the bottom and sinking further into the abyss of the First Division, with Shels faithful calling for the head of the former Longford Town manager. Down there too were Bohemians, who despite beating Shelbourne were sitting only four points clear of the bottom.

The Billy Dennehy free-kick which broke City hearts
Source: MSN Ireland
Cork City, who finished sixth in 2012, were suffering greatly from last minute goals. Having been denied 6 points in three consecutive games against Shamrock Rovers Drogheda United and Shelbourne through last minute strikes, the Leesiders saw a Setanta Cup final berth slip through their fingers via a late free-kick by ex-City player Billy Dennehy (Playing against his brother Darren) once again for the Hoops, to see Trevor Croly’s men through to the show-piece event.

Halfway through the season it looked to be between Dundalk and St Patrick’s Athletic for the league title, though Sligo were a constant threat despite spending most of the season six points off the top. Meanwhile in the first Division it was Longford leading the way ahead of Athlone and surprise package Mervue United. Title favourites Waterford were nowhere near the pace of the leaders, but secured themselves silverware in the shape of the Munster Senior Cup against Avondale United.

The most bizarre result of the season came in the Setanta Cup final between Shamrock Rovers and Drogheda at the Tallaght Stadium. Having beaten the home side last year in the League Cup final, Mick Cooke’s Drogheda would have been feeling confident going into the final. In front of over 4,000 in Tallaght Rovers tore apart their Leinster counterparts. Ronan Finn and Billy Dennehy both got braces as the home side annihilated the Drogs 7-1. Beginning a slide for the Co. Louth team towards the bottom end of the table as the month turned to June.

David Cassidy challenging for Drogheda against Malmo
Summer always brings European football to Irish shores and there were big hopes in Sligo Rovers and St. Patrick’s Athletic to carry the Irish flag. As it turned out, Drogheda would be the league’s best representative abroad, drawing 0-0 at home to Swedish side Malmo FF at home, but bravely losing the away leg 2-0. Sligo continued their atrocious record in Europe by crashing out against out-of-form Norwegian team Molde. Pats were most certainly the most disappointing of the lot though, losing out 4-3 on aggregate to Lithuanian side Zalgiris Vilnius, after losing the home leg 2-1. That marked the end of the most unsuccessfull European campaign by Irish sides in almost 15 years, possibly showing how the league has gone backward compared to others around Europe.

Despite the poor European performance, St Patrick’s Athletic were flying in the league. They beat Shamrock Rovers 4-0 away, and despite being knocked out of both cups by Rovers, were top of the table heading into the final series of games. Not far behind them were Dundalk, completely unrecognisable from last year’s team Kenny’s men had the likes of Pat Hoban, Richie Towell, Stephen O’Donnell and Peter Cherrie in flying form, and beat Shamrock and Sligo Rovers in quick succession to announce themselves at Pats’ main title rivals.

In the first division things were really hotting up, Waterford were getting back into the race for the promotion playoff places, and despite it looking like Roddy Collins’ Athlone Town would coast to the league title, there was still plenty to play for. Mervue United, Longford Town and Waterford United all wanted the two places for a chance of reaching the Premier, and something was going to have to give.
Roddy Collins was doing a brilliant job with Athlone Town
Source: Athlone Town Club Website

The second piece of silverware for the season went to Shamrock Rovers again. It was a case of déja vu (though admittedly not quite as bad) when the 2011 champions scored two goals either side of half-time to coast to a 2-0 victory over Drogheda at the Tallaght Stadium. That was a poor consolation to the fact that it looked like Rovers would miss out on a European place for consecutive years, and following a 2-0 defeat to Limerick the pressure was mounting on Croly.

At the top Dundalk and St Pats, tied on points at the top, faced off at Richmond Park in what looked like being the title decider. A cagey opening saw the teams scoreless at half time. Chris Forrester opened the scoring for the Saints just after half time, and the score was doubled only a few minutes later. When Stephen O’Donnell was sent off for an off-the-ball incident with Pats’ Ger O’Brien, the game was Pats’. They now had the points and the momentum heading into the last 6 games.

Ciarán Kilduff scoring his fourth against Shelbourne
Source: RTÉ
The game of the season brought Cork City and Shelbourne together in front of the TV cameras. City, who had a frustrating season, had finally found some form following the sacking of former manager Tommy Dunne, and were top of the form table. Anything but a win for Shels meanwhile would leave escaping some sort of relegation battle virtually impossible, and automatic relegation very difficult. Two teams treated the crowd and the watching TV audience to a goalfest. Despite Shels’ good work going forward they were totally exposed and the five goals shipped owed nothing to their ‘keeper Lee Murphy. 5-3 it eventually finished, four to loan signing Ciarán Kilduff (Underlining his importance to Cork City) and it looked like Shelbourne’s short stint in the Premier Division was over.

The First Division came to a close with the question remaining as to who would grab those two playoff places. Anyone of the previously mentioned three could get themselves in. Waterford had arguably the easiest task against league re-comers Cobh Ramblers, who despite thumping Wexford Youths 5-0 in their first game were second from the bottom. The Cork side took the lead though, and then doubled it after half time, and despite a Ben Ryan goal on the hour mark the Blues couldn’t get the points they required. This left the door open for Mervue, who comfortably beat Wexford 4-1 to advance, while Longford beat local rivals Athlone to secure their place.

The FAI Cup semi-finals pitted the two Rovers’ against each other, while it was a Louth derby in the other game between Dundalk and Drogheda. Two ridiculous red card decisions by referee Anthony Buttemer saw Dundalk reduced to nine men in the first half and 1-0 down from the resulting penalty. Despite a fantastic effort from Kenny’s men against a very uncomfortable Drogheda (Despite the two man advantage) the Claret and Blues managed to hold off their rivals and triumph 1-0. The following game saw a very comfortable 3-0 win for Sligo, in a game in which the Hoops’ Conor McCormack saw red for a professional foul.

St Patrick’s Athletic were crowned champions in a rather fitting manner the following week: A fantastic strike from Greg Bolger and one almost from the following kickoff by Anto Flood saw the new champions take their crown from the old guard Sligo Rovers 2-0. Meanwhile Bray beat Limerick which meant things would be very interesting at the bottom for who would be the unfortunate Premier Division representative to the promotion/relegation playoff.

Killian Brennan with the league trophy
Source: INPHO/

So the final day arrived and it was down to Bohemians, UCD and Bray Wanderers to get the win which would hopefully see them clear of the relegation playoff. Bohs had the ball in their own court, while UCD’s superior goal difference over Bray Wanderers meant all they had to do was match the Seagulls result to survive. The Gypsies lost their game to Drogheda, meaning a Bray win would put one of Ireland’s most successful clubs in the playoff, with UCD beating Shelbourne. Despite Bray’s bravery, Dundalk proved to be too good, and Pat Devlin’s men were playing great escape once again.

Elsewhere Munster rivals Limerick and Cork City were fighting for sixth position, which could potentially earn them a Setanta Cup spot. Limerick faced the long trip to Derry, while Cork City took on newly crowned champions St Patrick’s Athletic, knowing a win would see them safe. At half time in Turners Cross the Rebel Army led 3-0 (Kilduff bringing his tally to eleven in fourteen games with the Leesiders). Meanwhile, in Derry, the score was 1-0 to the home side, but only a minor miracle would see Pats get anything out of Turners Cross. The Supersaints thought they had found it through Ger O’Brien’s spectacular 35 yard thunderbolt which smashed into the top right hand corner of the net. That saw the score to 3-2 and City on the ropes, could they lose 6th place? The answer to that was a resounding no. The Candystripes woke up in the second half and fired a further five into the Limerick net, finishing off the season with a resounding 6-0 win, while back in Cork Danny Morrissey wrapped up an excellent 4-2 win after some great work by Neal Horgan down the right hand side in a late cameo.

Elsewhere on the night, Mervue and Longford played the second leg of their Playoff game to decide who would face off against Bray Wanderers. With Mervue leading from the first game, Longford managed to turn things around and were leading by a goal in extra time before a Paul Sinnott goal in the 122nd minute forced the game to penalties. The Galway side couldn’t re-create that moment in either of their first two penalties, and Ryan Connolly slotted home the decisive spot-kick for De Town, seeing them through to the Promotion/relegation playoff the Wanderers.

As Halloween approached it looked like Jason Byrne would be Longford’s executioner. In the first leg he fired a quick brace to put Bray 2-0 up at half time. Tony Cousins’ men rallied though and two goals after the half hour mark restored parity heading into the deciding matchup in the Midlands. There were a further five goals and two sendings off in the return decider, Longford restored parity a further two times having seen Bray take the lead, but eventually it took a Kevin O’Connor goal five minutes from time to see Bray safe in the Premier for another season before an off-the-ball altercation saw a man from both side sent off.
Kevin O'Connor's late goal retained Bray's status
Source: RTÉ

So with everything decided in the league, the focus now switched to the Blue-Riband event of the season. The Aviva Stadium once again hosted the FAI Ford Cup final, and for the fourth time in five years Sligo Rovers were featuring. This time Drogheda United stood in their way, hoping that third time would indeed be lucky having already lost two cup finals in 2013. After a cagey opening, Drogheda took the lead. Paul O’Connor finishing off a fast counter-attack. Sligo were really struggling and looked more like the side who were making their first trip to the Aviva Stadium. The introduction of Danny North in the 70th minute, last year’s second highest scorer in the league, changed Sligo’s setup, and the game as a whole.

Eight minutes after his introduction he was wheeling away in delight from scoring the equaliser. Then, after referee Paul Tuite (reffing his final match) controversially allowed play to go on from a quick free kick having previously told the Sligo players to wait on the whistle, North capitalized on a cheeky Joseph Ndo scoop to smash the ball into the net. Drogheda captain Derek Prendergast was then sent-off for a second yellow card following his protestations and it looked like the game was all but over. But eight minutes of added time were announced and two into them Ryan Brennan was fed by Shane Grimes and powered the Drogs level.

It was always North who was going to have the last laugh though, and his magical shoulder set Anthony Elding up to turn and hit an unstoppable volley into the top left hand corner. Fitting too, that Elding, the man that blitzed the league early on (Scoring 6 goals in the first 6 games and winning the player of the month award) would be the one to bring it to a close, in the 94th minute of an incredible final. It was a frantic final fitting of a strange season, and with uncertainty even over the structure of the league next season, it promises to be just as crazy when we start it all again on the 7th March 2014!
Another year, another trophy for Sligo!
Source: RTÉ

Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Sortez les Sortants!"

Why are the French so obsessed with immigration?

Leonarda Dibrana with her father
In a country with less than 150,000 of them in a population of over 63.5 million (compare that to Great Britain’s 500,000/62.2 million) the issue of immigration is one that constantly dominates the French political scene. 70% of its citizens said in an opinion poll conducted at the start of the year that they believe there are too many immigrants in France - while another conducted by the French opinion poller BVA (Brulé Ville et Associé) saw that Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right French Front National party, polled above current President François Hollande.

With local elections having just taken place, once again the topic has risen its head, and stirred a debate which provokes fanatical patriotism in a country that feels it’s culture is being lost in a swamp of cosmopolitanism. Two weeks ago, Leonarda Dibrana, a 15 year old Roma girl was detained on her way to school and deported with the rest of her family back to Kosovo having not attained asylum status.

The story drew massive press and a mixed response from the public. Many of Dibrana’s age were outraged, and the incident sparked two days of protests from ‘Lycée’ students. On the other hand, some were totally in favour of the move, believing the family deserved the treatment given their status, and reinforcing the idea of many as Roma’s as second class citizens.

In the aftermath, Hollande offered Dibrana the chance to return to France, without her family, and finish her studies, a move which inevitably fell flat on its face. The offer sparked outrage from the French public, for its complete lack of a political and moral compass as much for it’s ridiculousness. Le-Pen criticised the President (The irony missed on her of the fact that she was involved in a protest movement against deportation) for his words, while the teenager herself called him ‘heartless’.

This egg-on-the-face moment for Hollande coincided with the report into the incident, which showed Dibrana’s father Reshat as a wife and child-beater, as well as unemployed and showing no interest in assimilating into French culture. Not only have these revelations seemingly justified the Government’s decision, but have (rightly or wrongly) casted a further bad light on the Roma community, reinforcing stereotypes that have existed for years.

Samia Ghali
While all of these discoveries about the father are well and good, the man was deported back to Kosovo weeks before the incident with Leonarda happened, and though President Hollande conceded that the operation could have been done better, his interior minister Manuel Vallis defended the decision; speaking to French periodical ‘Journal de Dimanche’ he said “We should be proud of what we are doing, rather than feeling sorry for ourselves...Nothing will make me deviate from my path. The law must be applied and this family must not come back to France”.

While all of this is happening, Samia Ghali, a Senator of Moroccan descent running for the position of Mayor of Marseille, France’s second biggest city, was defeated in the race to become the Socialist Party’s leading candidate. While massively popular in the poorer Banlieus défavorisées’, Ghali could not apply this popularity to the greater ‘Marseilles’ á la Barak Obama, and ultimately lost out on Sunday the 20th despite the huge media storm following her in the build up to the elections.

That was yet another hammer blow to the minorities, who have undoubtedly been targeted in the last 15-20 years. Despite the press holding an open view towards immigration, the massive (and swelling) popularity of the Front National, and its leader, shows that this openness isn’t necessarily reflected in French culture. While figureheads like Ghali serve as pin-ups to aspiring second generation immigrants, the case of Leonarda Dibrana shows that there are many hurdles for immigrants to still overcome.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Waking Up When September Ends

On a wet and windy September afternoon, with temperatures dropping and the days getting shorter, the University College Cork Olympic Handball Club has begun its first steps towards another season in the Irish league. The four remaining members from last year’s team sit down with an iPod flickering images of the 2012 Olympic final. Next to it sit about three or four sheets of paper, probably one of the most important documents the team will have all season. They’re not league registration papers, or orders for new equipment; these sheets contain information far more valuable than any of these things, names.

Coach Carlo Hefner (Left) and Captain Harry Tracey (Right)

Due to the nature of the University setup, players come and go at a frightening rate. Player turnover is alarming; with perhaps one or two Cork natives providing continuity from the season previous. The rest of the side is made up of students visiting the college, primarily as part of the ERASMUS programme who stay for a maximum of nine months. This makes for a truly international team, which has both its perks and pitfalls; depending on how trips are organized for these visiting students, a team for Saturday’s game might be obliterated with players-cum-day trippers off taking in the scenery of the Cliffs of Moher or being entertained at Temple Bar.

On the flip side, the University nature of the team brings some hugely talented players who have come to Ireland not even realising they would get the chance to continue where they left off at their clubs. In the last few years ‘UCC OHC’ has welcomed a number of semi-professional players to their ranks, bolstering the first team, and also improving the native players’ skills.

What a difference a year makes: The team in 2012
The club has fallen at the final hurdle in the National Cup for the last two years. The national league meanwhile is somewhat of a sideshow for the team, whose visiting students have long gone home before the final playoffs in the middle of June, something that is hoped to be changed this coming season. Finishing second place in the Cup enabled UCC to qualify for the EHF Challenge Cup, despite being unable to compete due to the expenses required, made prohibitive by the lack of funding for a sport that doesn’t register in the Irish consciousness.

Despite this, the niche sport has grown in the country due to the hard work and dedication of a handful of individuals, who have endeavoured to not only strengthen but also expand the game on a countrywide level. They have seen the fruits of their labour flourish over the past few years, with new clubs sprouting up, as well as an establishment of a women’s national side.

And a year later in 2013, only three surviving from the first photo
As the lights of the gymnasium were turned on and the balls pumped up, the side began their first training session in a typically haphazard fashion. Semi-professional players lined up alongside native Irish who had never held a handball in their life as the troupe began their warm-up. There’s something heart-warming about this levelling of the playing field though; whatever reputation and ego a skilled player has made at home is left on the plane as they adapt to life where the word ‘handball’ is used to describe a totally different game altogether.

With the first training session over there is lots on the horizon: Long bus journeys around the country will be endured, games will be won and lost, and UCC will be hoping to finally take home glory this season. Whatever happens, the long list of names on the sheets at sign-up day shows the future is bright for Olympic Handball, not only in University College Cork, but Ireland as a whole.

Friday, September 13, 2013

All-Ireland Final Replay Preview

As Domhnall O’Donovan slotted over the match-levelling, career defining point, the 81,651 watching in Croke Park, and the many more on TV let out a final gasp of many during the course of one of the most astonishing finals ever seen in any sport.

A loss would have been rough justice for the Banner, who by all accounts were the better side on the day; but Cork’s efficiency in front of goal saw them close down a six point lead in the remaining fifteen minutes. Goals from Conor Lehane, goalkeeper Anthony Nash from a 20m free, and then Pa Horgan in the second half saw a dramatic shift in momentum on a balmy Sunday afternoon in Croker, forcing a replay which given the occasion was unusually usual.
It's a long long way to All-Ireland final day!

Backtrack five months and a freezing Gaelic Grounds in Limerick hosted the same two teams in a league relegation battle. Having lost to Clare earlier in the season, Cork were on the verge of dumping their Munster rivals out of the division after a late goal (sounds familiar, eh?), but two points in as many additional minutes forced the game to extra time. The Banner took the momentum in  the added period though, and powered ahead to win despite a late Cathal Noughton scare.

Momentum has been key between these teams; not so much who has it but how the team who doesn’t deals with it. Davy Fitzgerald’s Clare side had it for virtually the entirety of the first half and only led by two points. Cork meanwhile had it for fifteen minutes and made up seven on their Munster rivals. The difference between the two was execution, particularly in the final third of the field. Pa Horgan’s goal followed an inexcusable miss by Banner’s Podge Collins, a game-changing minute if there ever was one.

One excuse the Clare forward might have looked to is the soccer style slide tackle employed by Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash, which should have seen a free-in for the Western county. That was one of a string of controversial decisions given in favour of Jimmy Barry Murphy’s Cork side. Controversy naturally was the centre of a thrilling final. Cork’s Shane O’Neill let out a palpable sigh of relief, having slashed his hurley down the back of Darach Honan’s helmet, while Anthony Nash felt his effort on goal should’ve been retaken in the first half after Clare netminder Patrick Kelly rushed off his goal line.

Controversy has already gripped this game, particularly with it’s scheduling. While last year’s replay saw the Ladies Football Final moved to accommodate the unforeseen extra game, the GAA have decided this time to have the All-Ireland final on a Saturday, a first for the sport of Hurling, and something which Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy subsequently slated, believing Sunday to be the only reasonable option

The 5pm throw in has also proved an unpopular decision; with purists due to the fact that it will have to be played partially under floodlight conditions, but also with fans of both sides who will be forced to return home from Dublin in heavy traffic under darkness, something which Championship supporters consider unfamiliar territory.

The first ever All-Ireland Hurling final under lights
Expect controversy to take centre-stage on the pitch as well on the 28th, particularly given the fact that this will be the fifth time these two sides will have met competitively this season, a record seldom seen. There were signs of the antagonistic feeling between the two at the start of September; apart from O’Neill’s outburst, there were handbags following Nash’s goal. Given the cagey start to that game, one must conclude that both sides will be keen to gain the advantage early, both on the scoreboard and the battleground. Expect skirmishes across the field on Saturday.

Anthony Nash strikes a goal
While the conspiracy theories of fixed draws by Cork fans left a bad taste in the palette following a spectacular final, it cannot be denied that the result is somewhat of a coup for the association, who, to their credit, again reduced ticket prices for the rerun, as with a year previous. It’s estimated that All-Ireland final day is worth around €4 million to the association including sponsorship, and TV revenue as well as revenue from the gates. The 28th will also be an added boost to the pubs in both counties.

In reality though this is a mute point to a final that promises to be as exhilarating, enthralling, captivating, and heart stopping as before.  Both sides have had their backs to the wall and chips on their respective shoulders since the season began in May, both sides additionally will be out to prove a point not just to others but also to themselves. To predict a winner would be foolish but if the first game teaches us one thing it’s watch it right to the end!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Standing Up for the Simple Simulator

Much like hard-core gamers are in the real world, simulators are seen as the social outcasts of the gaming world. While other games are shooting people’s faces off, beating up prostitutes and travelling through fantasy lands; simulators are all about getting from where you are to where you want to go as realistically and efficiently as possible. In short, simulators (and in particular transport simulators) are considered the ‘boring’ side of gaming, and therefore the most unimaginative. That being said, the market is thriving at the moment with a shedload of (mostly rubbish) simulators flooding the shelves of every high-street gaming shop in Ireland, and indeed the rest of the continent, already adding to the established Flight and Train simulator titles from Microsoft. So what’s the draw?

In all bloody fairness!
Before I answer that question I must first refer to these new ‘simulators’, who aim is now to imitate every mundane facet of our day-to-day existance. You can’t look through a selection of games without finding some half-rate game with ‘simulator’ slapped onto the end of the title, Garbage Trucks, Street Cleaners, Tow Trucks (now with even more verbal abuse!), you name it there’s a simulator for it. This complete over-saturation of the market has taken away from whatever respectability the genre had. At least the old titles, while niche in their nature, were made to be as realistic as possible, while offering a level of detail that made the player feel like he actually was flying a 747, or at the head of a Japanese Bullet Train.

One exception to this trend is that of the Truck Simulator series, developed by SCS Software, a tiny game development company in the Czech Republic who started with just four employees. First they created 3D engines for games like ‘Deer Hunter’ (A massively successful arcade game) and the ‘Duke Nukem’ series. From there they set their sights on making full games of their own, and with a team than less than 20 they created the first in the 18 Wheels of Steel series in 2002, which received an average score of 7.5 on IGN, between review and user evaluations. Fast-forward a few titles and 16 years to the birth of Euro Truck Simulator, which has really brought the series to the forefront and shop shelves. Over 300,000 copies of the game were sold in Europe, while the graphics in its sequel ETS2 would be worthy of a developing giant like EA, given SCS’s stature it’s a phenomenal achievement.

Isn't She Lovely?
Going back to my original question we must now talk about the most popular simulation series of them all, a game that I’m sure you all have tried at one stage in your life, I’m talking of course of the Microsoft Flight Simulator series. Admittedly the game has a much steeper learning curve than other simulators, and breaking into Fort Knox would be easier than trying to land a jumbo jet with keyboard buttons. But casual gamers who get frustrated about the user unfriendly nature of Flight Sim have only scratched the surface of a game which offers so much. Okay, a bit of googling is required, but the sense of achievement of knowing exactly how to fly such a complicated piece of equipment, as well as putting it back on the ground from 36,000 feet matches any cup or league I’ve won in FIFA or Madden I can assure you.

Might as well be real life!
Moreover, flight simulator has a massive online community, both in terms of multiplayer flying, and added content. Scenery can be found for nearly every single town, city, and airport in the world, totally free and easily installed. Airplanes from every era, use, type and airline can be downloaded in a single click. There’s even a full time radio station that hooks up with the game to keep the near 45,000 active pilots entertained while flying! There are virtual airlines which track your progress, offer community forums, and allow you the chance to recreate what the real world pilots are doing up in the sky. It really is as close as you can get to being an airline pilot without the €60,000 journey to get a commercial pilot’s licence. And if you like you can be playing your xbox or browsing the web while your autopilot does most of the work!

While other games try to drag us away from our everyday lives by creating new worlds, simulators show us the extraordinary ones lived within our own. In one day you can fly a plane from Cork to Paris, take the tube to Leicester Square, deliver important cargo by truck from London to Berlin, and still have time to manage a few games with Manchester United whilst never leaving your living room. Truly well-developed simulators give us an understanding and appreciation of everyday things which no other genre can provide, and for that they’re as valid and justifiable as any other type of game being produced.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Same Story, Different Year

The League of Ireland has been getting to know the Justice system a little too well these days. More and more fans now have pocket law terminology phrasebooks, the phrase 'winding up' given a far less amusing connotation, and Irish clubs find themselves in courtrooms more often than a crack affectionate serial killer with bad parking habits.

Another in the long list of creditors
to League of Ireland clubs
Following in the footsteps of clubs like Cork City, Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians (literally, they could barely afford shoes), Waterford United have joined the illustrious list of clubs in the courtroom. The latest creditor looking for his money was ex-Blues manager Stephen Henderson, formerly of Cobh Ramblers (yet another team wound… oh you get the picture), who was owed exactly €37,600 from the previous December, due to unpaid compensation following his sacking.

That is seven months to come up with 37,000 euros, for a football team. Notwithstanding that, the side sold one of its brightest talents, Sean Maguire, to Premiership club West Ham and received compensation. One must presume with a club of West Ham’s stature and finances (Paying over £4 million annually for the services of Andy Carroll remember) would be obliged to cough up a lot more money than required to pay off Henderson, especially when one considers the Blues snapped up two Cork City players at the start of the season in the shape of Gavin Kavanagh and Vinny Sullivan.

This season most certainly hasn’t matched expectations on the field for United. Having only missed out on promotion in a playoff tie last season, the Suirsiders started 2013 disastrously, losing to Ramblers in the League Cup and then a shock 4-0 defeat at the hands of Mervue United. Following that was a trip to the High Court in March which reminded the Waterford board of their responsibilities towards Henderson, but as in the case in all of the examples we’ve already spoken of, this warning was not heeded.

Henderson was probably wondering where the money was being spent himself, before finally losing his patience and turning the screw. This started the chain of events we’re so used to seeing in the league: The initial breaking news followed by the tut, sigh, and murmurs of ‘same old story’ etc. Then the social media campaigns to keep the club going with fans inevitably called on to dig into their own pockets and bail out the inadequacy of those at the top (where have we seen that before?). The case goes to court, gets adjourned a few times and tests the patience of the judge and the creditor, the bottle of the club officials, and the nerves of the fans. Texts and calls fly around from agitated supporters while hearsay and rumours keeps everyone second guessing before a decision is eventually made.
The League of Ireland
Courtroom Cycle

In the end Waterford were saved by the dedication and generosity of their fans. Once again the ordinary punter is left to clear up the mess by those in charge; that generosity combined with the patience of both Henderson and Judge Laffoy (Not the first time for the latter party either) saw another League of Ireland heartbreak avoided.

That’s not where this story ends though, as Waterford have just signed yet another Cork City player, Danny Furlong, on loan for the next six months. So two days after being bailed out by the skin of their chomps at the last minute, the team has now taken another wage on board. The club has tried to justify it through the sale of another youngster overseas, but surely with a payment, so apparently substantial they waited seven months before being forced to pay it in the high court still hanging over their shoulders, the thought of taking on another expense would be ludicrous. Obviously not in the heads of these directors.

The fundraising will go on, and people will continue to dig deep into their own pockets for the causes they love, but the gross negligence at the top must stop. Only by standing up and refusing to accept the status quo can we eventually see the League progress, and for people to finally say ‘Different story, different year’. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Betting Challenge Day 2

I didn't think there was going to be much to say as the England game crept towards a final day, but with the Aussies valiant final wicket survival undone by Graeme Swann a few balls before the end of the day, it gave me an opportunity to put down some money on the second day!

Scrolling through in-plays I decided to opt for Flora Tallinn's reserve team, who were 2-1 up on bottom placed Kiviõli Irbis in the second tier of the Estonian League with about a half an hour left.

Flora Tallinn to win @ 2/11 - 5.65 returns 7.05

Thankfully my Estonian friends scored right at the end to settle my nerves heading into injury time, and my record remains intact!

Next up was an in-play from Belgium between Cercle Bruge and OFI Crete. As I clicked Crete had a corner, but the wait to see it peter out cost me from 1/9 to 1/11.

Cercle Bruge & OFI Crete draw @ 1/11 - 7.05 returns 7.69

Crete then put a total spanner in the works, having a man sent off in the 89th minute, and now they had to hang on. After a pulsating few minutes they just about did, leaving me up again.

Next it was to Mexico, to back Pumas UNAM to hold onto their 1-0 lead against Pubela in the first game of the new season there.

Pumas UNAM to win @ 2/11 - 7.70 returns 9.10

Alas an 88th minute goal from Gustavo Alustiza cost me my money, and this challenge. Ending prematurely unfortunately but worth a go none the less!