The players and the coaching staff of Waterford FC were in fine form last week as they prepared for the long visit to Ballybofey to play Finn Harps and next Friday’s home game against UCD.
The game against the students (already relegated) will bring the curtain down on what has been an extraordinary season in many ways. Optimism was high when the season kicked -off against Shamrock Rovers at the RSC on Friday, February 15th. Although the Hoops won that contest 2-1 the following week saw the Blues defeat Cork City in Turners Cross (2-0) and we were up and running. The players were also of course looking forward to playing European football but at the 12th hour St Patrick’s Athletic lodged an objection (which was upheld) and that fact hurt and upset everyone involved with the local club.
Matters were never quite the same after that setback and the club lost out on at least a quarter of a million euro in hard cash. Following that decision Aaron Drinan, who was on loan from Ipswich Town departed after scoring seven goals and he was followed later on by Bastien Hery who signed for Linfield and Izzy Akinade then left the club in the strangest of circumstances.
Following the mid-season break it was a different set of players who took to the field and results were rather inconsistent to say the least and the team began moving downward rather than upwards and relegation back to the First Division was being muted by the loyal supporters. The turning point came on Monday, August 19th when Shamrock Rovers returned to the RSC and ran out easy 5-1 winners. That was a bleak night and we left the venue downcast and bitterly disappointed. The following Saturday Glengad provided the opposition in the FAI Cup and they were defeated 2-0 but then it was back to the league and another game against Shamrock Rovers, this time in The Tallaght Stadium.
Again it was the Dublin outfit who came out on top (2-1) but the Waterford players were terrific on this occasion and were it not for the fact that Karolis Chevedukas got sent off for a silly and rash tackle in the first half Waterford would have taken at least a point from that match. We did not know it at the time but the players had called a meeting between themselves following the 5-1 home defeat to Rovers and they made a vow to buckle down and start doing better. It went to prove that they cared for the club and the supporters and ever since that meeting they have been quite impressive and relegation talk was binned many weeks ago.
Away victories in Cork, in Dalymount Park against Bohemians, in Richmond Park against St Patrick’s Athletic and an easy home win over Sligo Rovers saw the team climb up the league table and they also played superbly against Dundalk in the FAI Cup and were unlucky to lose by the only goal of the game. At training last week three players and first-team coach Franny Rockett gave their opinions on what has occurred during the past two months.
Franny Rockett; “We have been fantastic in recent weeks and we can take a lot of positives from those games. It has been a difficult season in many ways but looking ahead to next season if everything works out this current squad would do very well. They are a super group of lads and hopefully we can do the business in style against UCD in our last game. We would love to win our last game of the campaign against UCD and I believe we will.”Shane Duggan (midfielder); “We have been in great form during the past six to seven weeks and it’s a pity the season is coming to an end. We had a lot of difficulties at the start of the season and suspensions and injuries meant we never had a settled team from one match to the next. Since the team more or less started picking itself we have been really good. Considering the bad start and then a poor middle part of the season we are happy enough with how we have finished and we will do all in our power to bring the season to an end in style against UCD.”
Kevin Lynch (defender); I was looking at a league table which took in the games of the past two months and we are right up there with Dundalk. We met as a team after the bad home lot better and really we have not looked back since that meeting. If we had played like we are doing at the moment during more of the campaign we could have qualified for European football. I am convinced of that. I have enjoyed it here with Waterford despite the fact I was out injured for almost four months. It’s a dreadful pity we did not have a full settled squad during the course of the season but it is what it is and a big performance against UCD will hopefully give everyone confidence ahead of next season”
Tom Holland (midfielder); “I have not been here as long as the other players. It’s just over three months since I came but I have loved it. The standard is very high in the league. The form of the team was a little low when I arrived but we have been really good in recent times and I am sad the season is coming to an end. No one has a clue at the moment what will happen next season so all we can do is wait and see what happens. We are a happy squad right now and it would be wonderful to play well against UCD and end this campaign on a high.”