Blues lose final game and now face Dundalk

Drogheda United 1 Waterford United 0

Report by John O’Connor

Waterford United were narrowly defeated in their last scheduled league fixture against Drogheda United on Friday night last in a game that saw the home side qualify for European competition and the Setanta Cup.

Unfortunately, even if they had managed to beat Drogheda, Waterford would still have ended up on the bottom rung of the table and fans can only hope for a favourable outcome in the double-leg play-off against Dundalk and then wait for the League executives to deliberate on the make-up of the Premier Division next season.

Shamrock Rovers drew 1-1 with Cobh Ramblers on Saturday night and were crowned First Division champions. The Hoops will be fighting hard to be included in the Premier Division next season but, this year, the final rankings, in either division, do not guarantee promotion or relegation.

Instead, the league rankings will be taken into consideration by an Independent Assessment Group that will recommend twelve clubs for membership of the new Premier Division. The Group members will also take into account such factors as each club’s financial situation, facilities at their grounds, etc..

Sadly, our friends in Kilkenny City were hammered 5-1 by Galway United in their last game and they also finished bottom of their division. Considering that the is one of the hotbeds of Junior Soccer in the country, it is quite unfortunate that both the region’s National League representatives fared so badly this season.

Waterford United’s first-leg game against Dundalk will be in Oriel Park this Wednesday night and the second-leg will be played at the RSC this Saturday night with a 7pm kick-off. Away goals will not count as double in the event of a tie but extra time and, if necessary, penalties will be used to determine the winner.

In fairness to the manager, players and officials of Waterford United, the statistics do not give an accurate picture of how the campaign ended. The damage was done in the early months of the competition and the team then went twelve games without winning a single point.

But, in their last six games, United played all of the top-four teams and the losing margin was never more than one goal. It was extremely hard luck that the Blues didn’t manage to get above Bray Wanderers in the table but that is all behind them now and the club must look forward to the future.

The play

On Friday night last, Drogheda United were intent on securing a place in Europe and a place in the lucrative Setanta Sports Cup and they were successful on both fronts. However, the Boynesiders were the first to admit that their hard-fought victory took all their reserves of strength and energy because United’s performance totally belied their league position.

Following a scoreless opening half, Drogheda broke the deadlock with a goal on the hour. Shane Barrett created the opening for their top scorer, Declan O’Brien, who guided the header home.

It certainly wasn’t all one-way traffic and former Waterford goalkeeper, Dan Connor, had to be on his toes for the home side in the opening minutes of the game to turn Alan Cawley’s wind-assisted free from thirty yards over the bar.

At the other end, the usually reliable Pat Flynn erred with a too casual back- pass to his goalkeeper and Ben Spicer had to race off his line to reach the ball. He got there first and although his clearance rebounded off the in-rushing Glen Fitzpatrick, luckily for the Blues, the ball went wide.

With 11 minutes gone, another Cawley free from slightly closer in troubled Drogheda again but his powerful shot was narrowly wide of the upright. Three minutes later, Barrett raced in on goal but Spicer was alert and managed to block the ball.

Just before the half-hour mark, Drogheda went close to unhinging the Waterford defence when O’Brien raced onto a defensive clearance. He skilfully scooped the ball over the head of the advancing Spicer but it took an unkind bounce and rolled wide of the target.

Cawley close

Nine minutes from half time, Waterford won a corner that was taken by Cawley from the left. He swung the ball across the crowded goalmouth and, although the ball was eventually cleared back to him, the striker’s rasping effort was finger-tipped away to safety by Connor.

The second half was only three minutes old when Barrett raced down the left and cut into the box only to fire his shot well over the bar.

Then came the game’s only goal and, after that, the home side finally got on top and controlled matters to the final whistle.

Drogheda United: Connor, Lynch, Gray, Gavin, Gartland, Robinson, Whelan, O’Brien, Fitzpatrick (Ristila 87), Keegan, Barrett.

Waterford United: Spicer, O’Flynn, Hedderman, Keeley, Browne, Hayes (Reynolds 63), Chambers, Kavanagh, Brosnan (McCarthy H/T), Cawley (Pender 50), McCarthy.

Referee: Mr. D. Hancock (Dublin)

Blues bid to stay in Premier – on merit

By Jamie O’Keeffe

Waterford United, who lost their final Premier Division game away to Drogheda last Friday to finish bottom of the table – five points behind Bray – will travel to Dundalk tonight (Wednesday) for the first leg of this season’s Eircom League ‘relegation/promotion’ play-off.

The Lilywhites beat Finn Harps 1-0 on Sunday (the game having been put back 24 hours due to the waterlogged Ballybofey pitch) to secure second spot in the First Division, just 3 points behind Shamrock Rovers and 2 ahead of Galway United – a remarkable turnaround given that they lost their first four games of the season.

Last Wednesday’s play-off draw

the eircom League offices gave the Blues first pick – and they opted for home advantage in the second leg next Saturday (7pm).

Farcically, it’s still up in the air as to whether the play-off winner will be part of next season’s new-look ‘Premiership’ – with its make-up to be decided by a panel based on both playing and administrative criteria.

Waterford will, in all probability, still be in the top flight next season – regardless of the play-off result. However, Gareth Cronin’s side will desperately want to beat Dundalk, rather than retaining their Premier status by default.

Coincidentally, both Cronin and Dundalk boss John Gill had spells as assistant to Dermot Keely, at Dublin City and Kildare County respectively,

before becoming managers in their own right.

Live on WLRfm

Tonight’s (Wednesday) first leg in Oriel Park will be broadcast live on WLRfm from 7.40pm. Matt Keane and Ray Scott will provide the commentary and the broadcast is sponsored by Cresthaven Ltd. Kick-off is 7.45.

Mac is back

Ireland legend and former Waterford United ‘director of football’ Paul McGrath will sign his new autobiography, ‘Back from the brink’, in the Book Centre, John Roberts Square, Waterford, on Thursday, November 30.

For full story see The Munster Express newspaper or
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