Blues boss confident his players can hold their own in Premier

By Matt Keane

Following on from Waterford United’s invitation to return to the Premier League, despite being controversially demoted by the 12-man Independent Assessment Group in December, plans are now in place to try and make the Blues a force to be taken seriously in the top flight.

However, everyone at the club knows there will have to be a marked improvement on last season’s wretched performances, which saw the club forced into a two-legged ‘relegation-promotion’ play-off with Dundalk.

The fall-out from those two ties – which Waterford lost on aggregate – ran on right into the New Year and came to a head when a Dundalk supporter, Maxi McCann, threatened to burn himself alive in the headquarters of the FAI in Merrion Square, Dublin.

Supporters in Waterford were also up in arms as many believed it was impossible for Waterford to be relegated going on their displays over the past five seasons.

It was one of the most extraordinary periods ever known in the domestic league, and last week’s developments added to the saga. Waterford United’s surprise invitation back into the Premier League was brought about by the Licensing Committee’s decision to demote Shelbourne due to their horrific financial situation.

Even that decision has brought controversy because the man who headed up the licensing committee, Dan Moggan, resigned as he felt Shelbourne should be removed from the league completely and not placed in the First Division.

Without doubt the past three months have been nothing short of incredible, and all for the wrong reasons and there is no doubt that the FAI, who have taken full control of the league since the merger with the eircom League, have been battered and bruised by the events of the past 12 weeks.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the recent past, Waterford United have now found themselves back in the Premier League and now it’s a case of buckling down and preparing for season 2007.

On Wednesday of last week the Waterford United manager Gareth Cronin faced a ‘Questions and Answer’ session with Blues supporters in Grimes Bar, Johnstown, and he was in an upbeat mood when looking ahead to the new season.

The Cork man has had an amazing 18 months in football and it came as no surprise when he admitted that he was looking forward to stability during the coming month. He won promotion as coach with Dublin City in 2005. A couple of months later the Vikings went burst and made a hasty exit from Irish football.

When Cronin took over from Mike Kerley as manager of Waterford United the club were doomed despite his efforts to turn things around (21 league games played and not one single victory) and despite a belief that there would be no relegation, the local club were removed from the top division and placed into Division One.

Then came last week’s developments and once again Waterford United, more by accident than design, found themselves back in the Premier League. Those facts mean that Gareth Cronin has been promoted, liquidated, relegated and promoted once again all in the space of 18 months!

Need to be realistic

Needless to say Gareth Cronin was delighted to be back as a manager in the Premier League and he made that point clear at the outset of last week’s Waterford United Supporters Club gathering. ‘Any manager worth his salt wants to be in charge of a team playing in the Premier League, and I am no different to anyone else. The same applies to players and I can tell you all tonight that the guys with the club right now are chomping at the bit to play in the Premier division.

‘Following the decision to remove us from the division in December I got straight down to work building a new squad, a squad which was mine and not that of another person. Of course had I known we would be playing in the Premier League I would have sought a few different players but nevertheless I am very happy with the players who have signed for me to date.

‘I was chasing a number of former Waterford players but to be honest I got the run-around from a few of them and they went off and signed for other clubs. That sort of thing goes on in football all the time. With only two weeks to go until the deadline for signing new players there is not a lot of time to bring in more new players, but that fact does not worry me because right now I am happy with the players I have.

‘I am aware that it is hard to compete with full time outfits like Bohemians, Cork City, Drogheda United, Derry City and other clubs like St Patrick’s Athletic and Sligo Rovers, who have large budgets to work with, but if we can finish just behind the full timers this season then we will have done well, and that’s being very honest.

‘There is no point is saying anything else. You have to be realistic. I am happy with the players I have and with the staff and I believe we will hold our own,’ he added.

Style and surface

Many different topics were raised on the night and Gareth Cronin answered all questions posed without any hesitation. When quizzed about the playing surface at the RSC he was confident the venue would be fine come the opening game of the season against Cork City on March 9th.

‘The pitch was poor at the end of last season and it did take a lot of getting used to and as a result we had to change our style of play at times. I know that people are working on the pitch right now and I am reasonably confident it will be fine this season.

‘I have brought in two wingers, Ray Scully and Shane Harte and it will be vital that those two players will be able to take the ball down, run with it and get quick balls into the penalty area. A lot of the other teams have big defenders and I am well aware that our strikers are a little on the small side and it would be pointless pumping ball’s down the middle to them because they would be sniffed out.

‘The only big striker we have is Robert Brosnan and heading is not his strong point, so we will have to get the ball wide, especially at home.’

When asked about the local structure, i.e. Waterford Schoolboy and Junior League, Gareth Cronin admitted that he has work to do in that area. ‘I came here to try and keep the club up and I have not really had a chance to take in what is happening on the local scene. The management committee have good relations with the Schoolboy League and that is great.

‘I do take in Junior games in Cork when I get back home and I also take games in Dublin, but in time I will be looking carefully at Junior soccer in and around Waterford.’

Good start, and pride

The Waterford United manager made a heartfelt plea to all Blues supporters to get behind the team from the opening game of the season. ‘Waterford United gave me the chance to become a manager and I am very grateful to them for giving me the chance.

‘At times it costs me money (he was answering a supporter who asked how much he was earning) due to the amount of travelling I have to do but that does not bother me in the least and I can honestly say I am not in this job for the money.

‘We will need a good start and if we start like we did last season then we will be in trouble. If we can finish just outside the top five or six we will have done remarkably well. The players and the supporters must get the pride back into the jersey and be proud to wear the blue shirt.

‘Talking about the overall structures is fine, but it has to be a case of first things first. The people of Waterford, city and county have got a second chance to get behind a club in the Premier League and they must take that chance with both hands. Hopefully the business community will also row in behind the club’.

The Blues boss also gave an insight into his no nonsense approach when he was asked why local player Stephen Grant has not figured in his plans in recent times. ‘Stephen was aware of the rules I brought into the club when I arrived. Players were asked to wear suits and ties on home match days and mobile phones were not allowed in the dressing room before games.

‘Stephen broke those rules and despite effort to resolve the matter things did not work out. I did not bully Stephen, contrary to reports, and I wish to state that clearly that I am not a bully and I wish Stephen well for the future’.

It was a very interesting night to say the very least. Roll on March 9th.

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