Andy Gray and Pat Dolan entertained a large crowd on Thursday last at the Granville Hotel. The event was held to raise funds for Waterford United and it proved to be an extremely enjoyable night.
Gray, the Sky Sports pundit and former Wolves, Aston Villa, Everton, Dundee United and Scotland striker proved to be highly entertaining, especially during the second half of the evening. Pat Dolan, who is now a presenter on Setanta Sports, will always have a special place in the hearts of Blues’ supporters following his extraordinary two months with Waterford United back in 2005 when he took the club from the bottom of the league right into a mid-table position when relegation looked a formality for a very long time.
The former St Patrick’s Athletic and Cork City manager talked with passion about Irish football and the game in general. Both men took questions from the floor and they also posed for photographs, signed autographs and did anything that was asked of them during their three-hour stint on Suirside.
It was a memorable night, especially for the large group of members from the Waterford branch of the Everton Football Club. Loyal members such as Paul Elliott, Tom Beglin and Michael ‘Dixie’ Deegan loved every minute of Gray’s presence. Prior to the dynamic duo’s appearance on stage the two guests talked freely in room 142 of the Granville Hotel, and aired some interesting views on the current state of the game.
Andy talks about …
“No one is surprised that the big four are once again leading the way in the Premiership. I am certainly not surprised. To be honest I cannot really see any other team breaking that stranglehold for some time to come. I know it gets a bit boring at times but that’s the way it will stay for a while to come. Having said all that all of the other clubs are within a few points of each other and that is good. A team near the bottom can move quickly up the table if they manage to string three or four wins together. I suppose you could take Spurs as an example this season.”
When asked about referees, Gray admitted that he was worried about the number of decisions they get wrong. “When they make a bad decision it is really looked into big time and rightly so. I have no problem with a referee getting a free-kick wrong or a throw-in wrong but in recent times they are making match-defining mistakes and those mistakes are costing clubs big time.
“I work for a company who tried out technology in goalmouths ten years ago and it was great but the FA did not take up on it. It is used in cricket, tennis, rugby union and rugby league and it has been a huge success. The time has come for it to be used in football, of that I have no doubt.”
Andy is a proud Scottish man and he finds it hard to understand why Stephen Ireland has refused to play for his country during the past few months. “Nothing in life gave me more pleasure than pulling on the Scotland shirt. There is not a better feeling in the world than playing for your country. I don’t really know the full extent of Stephen’s situation so perhaps I should not say too much. It happens from time to time for one reason or another. Duncan Ferguson and Chris Boyd have refused to play for Scotland but that is because they had a fall-out with the manager.
“I do feel Stephen Ireland should play for his country. He is a top-class player and I cannot get my head around why he wont, but look he may come around in time.”
The League Cup is a competition which is close to Andy Gray’s heart and clubs fielding weakened teams does not sit easy with him. “I played in a final [1980 v Notts Forest, scoring Wolves’ winner] and it was always a competition I had great time for. Fans can be fickle about their clubs when they lose in this cup. During the week both Liverpool and Chelsea lost and the supporters of those clubs were up in arms. What did they expect when it was reserve teams went out to play?
“Supporters will just have to accept the fact that the competition is third in the pecking order of many of England’s top clubs. I don’t really agree with that policy but sadly that is the way things are.”
Some years ago he was linked with the manager’s job at Everton but he did not go forward for an interview. He has no regrets about not taking that route in his career. “Everton was the right club alright, but unfortunately at the wrong time. I am very happy at Sky Sports, a company that has some wonderful people working there. Perhaps, just perhaps, when I am sitting in my rocking chair in 20 or 25 years’ time I will sit back and wonder what would have happen if I went forward for the manager’s job but right now I have the best job in the world, writing and talking about the best sport in the world,” conclude Gray just before he made his way to the main stage in the Tapestry Room of the Granville Hotel.
Pat Dolan was happy to be back in Waterford once again. “I have some great memories of Waterford and the eight weeks I spent here with Waterford United and Brendan Rea. I felt is was a no-brainer to keep Brendan Rea in the job because he has a vast knowledge of the game and he was the man to take the club forward but that was the right of the club to take whatever path they wanted.
“I certainly hope the club can become a force once again. I would make them a South East team because there is a hell of a lot of talent in and around this area.”
Like a lot of people in Ireland right now, Pat Dolan is worried about the current state of the League of Ireland. “The time has come to rip up the current plan and start all over again. People are clinging on to power and there is a kind of apartheid in Irish football right now. Irish people who love Irish football are frowned upon. The newspapers have been full of the Andy Reid situation and the Gary Dempsey betting saga but we must somehow get to grips with the problems all of our clubs are experiencing.
“New ideas would work because selling football is pretty easy. Irish people want to support Irish soccer. We do however make it impossible for them because we don’t understand what the real debate should be about. Right now we are an embarrassment so the time has come for everyone to knuckle down and start to make things better. We can make our dreams happen.”
Apart from the League of Ireland scene, Dolan also had his views on the recent selection of the Irish squad to play Poland. “I think it is disgraceful that Noel Hunt was not selected. The Hunt brothers are two terrific lads, an inspiration to all. They give everything for their club and they are two fine guys to have around a club. Noel has been on fire for Reading since he joined them and it is difficult to understand why he is not in the squad.
“We have a manager that we are happy with. He has a wonderful record. No one can take that away from him but he does not go to club matches, so that is another area which is strange. Players in the League of Ireland certainly don’t come into the picture. Brian Murphy is a very good goalkeeper but speaking to Pat Fenlon the other day he reckoned that his goalkeeper would be about 11th choice when it came to the Irish team.”
As Pat prepared to join Andy Gray for the evening of chat and laughter, he refused to be down-hearted. “I believe someone will crack the system here in Ireland very soon. Our history and heritage will see to that. Players like Keith Fahey are leaving the Irish game to play in Britain and I don’t begrudge him or players like him if they earn more money over there – but playing in Ireland should not be a barrier. That sort of thinking has to stop, and stop now.”