Thursday, March 23, 2017

It was a massive week for us at Hartlepool as we ended a bad run of results to grab victories at home to Crewe Alexandra and Exeter City. Both teams had been in fantastic form coming into the games, especially Exeter who are in the play-off places, so that makes the wins even more impressive for us.
The two wins put us six points clear of the relegation zone and they were wins we badly needed. They have now given us a massive shot of confidence which was very evident on Saturday when we came from a goal behind at half time to win 3-1.
I scored in both games to get my 12th and 13th goals of the season which I am very pleased with so hopefully my good form can continue between now and the end of the season. This week we have a massive six-pointer away to one of our relegation rivals Notts County. They were beaten last weekend so if we could get a win this weekend it would really help us in our quest to stay up.
Before the game at the weekend I relaxed on Friday evening by watching the League of Ireland fixture between Shamrock Rovers and their arch-rivals Bohemians. It was a very good game and I was really impressed by Rovers. They had some very good young players on show and the future of the club looks very bright.
There manager Stephen Bradley (a former teammate of mine at Shamrock Rovers) isn’t afraid to give youth a chance and he likes to play the style of football he played himself and he grew up learning at Arsenal from Liam Brady and Arsene Wenger. In fairness to Rovers, it has been a few years since they won the league title under the guidance of Michael O’Neill but the club are doing all the right things on and off the pitch to try and win the title back. They have some great experience around the first team and underage systems with Damien Duff, Stephen McPhail and numerous ex-title winning players looking after the U17 and U19 teams. It’s great to see clubs doing things like that and it’s not only Rovers who are working hard in this regard.
The league gets a lot of negativity but it is a fantastic place for young players to learn their trade. If they move on to England, well and good, but if not it keeps the league strong. You just have to look at what Dundalk have done over the past few years and their performances in the Europa League to see the talent is there. I know they lost two of their best players – Andy Boyle and Daryl Horgan – to Preston North End which is a shame, but the league will never be able to compete with England. I spoke to a friend of mine during the week to see how the two lads were doing and he says they don’t look out of place in the slightest and that both are going to be big players for the club over the next couple of years.
Attendances for the league in the first two rounds of games have been up slightly on last year and I would say to anyone who is at a loose end on a Friday night to go and watch a few games whether it is Shamrock Rovers, St Pat’s, Bohs, Shels, Bray, UCD, Wexford or Waterford. It’s only an hour away for most people and you will be surprised by the talent on show.
I remember attending games when I was younger, watching Shamrock Rovers in Santry and Kilkenny City in Buckley Park and those games made me want to become a footballer even more. The excitement of meeting some of the players and getting autographs on a regular basis was brilliant and it made me want to watch more and more games. Noel Hunt was my hero at Rovers and he went on to represent his country which is what I wanted to do too and I’m sure I wasn’t the only lad who wanted that.
Most clubs in Ireland are doing all they can to get more bums on seats and the more people that go the better for the league itself. After all, a good League of Ireland is a help for the Irish senior team. In the last squad, there were 10 players who started their careers in the League of Ireland including two who were playing in the league at the time (Boyle and Horgan).
It’s brilliant for the League to be able to say that, but also for kids who are going to watch these players play for their respective clubs as they can relate to them just as I did with Shamrock Rovers and Noel Hunt in my younger days.

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