Saints' halo slips with sacking

 

Only six months ago he was putting his squad through their paces for what promised to be another great campaign.

St Patrick's Athletic had just won the championship for the third time in four years, the Champions League qualifying round had thrown up what looked like beatable opponents and Liam Buckley's career in National League management was on the up-and-up. Given that, perhaps the most remarkable thing about his sacking is the fact that so many people were scarcely surprised. Buckley has a lot to be proud of from his time at the club. He inherited a strong squad, from a strong manager - one who would still be around to look over his shoulder. But during his season and a half in charge he managed to stamp his own personality on his team without ever shouting from the rooftops.

Some new faces established themselves as regulars in a side that virtually picked itself for the bulk of the season. They played a different system. They won the league more convincingly than the previous season and with a higher number of points. Since then, of course, there have been problems. Some are well documented such as the two-legged hammering by Zimbru in the Champions League. Others, such as the dispute about bonus payments which followed those games remain the subject of debate. Yet, whatever happened at Richmond Park during the summer, it is hard for most people without an emotional attachment to see how Buckley didn't deserve more last week than to be told that Pat Dolan would be assuming direct control of first-team affairs and that his services were, effectively, no longer required.

Even the account of how the news was broken must strike outsiders as bizarre. Last year much was made of letting us all know how Pat Dolan had purchased a majority shareholding in the club. Still, we are supposed to believe that Tim O'Flaherty made the decision that the time had come for changes. Later that evening Dolan told a journalist from another paper that he had, in fact, sanctioned O'Flaherty's move.

Since his replacement there has been talk of the poor discipline that had crept into the first-team squad but to blame Buckley entirely for what had reportedly been happening does seem a little odd given the structure of the club. There had been a clear division of responsibilities with Dolan looking after contractual and financial matters in line with the European model. Buckley did have at least one rather well publicised falling out, with Eddie Gormley, something that the manager insisted afterwards had been sorted out. But questions have been asked about the workrate of some players this season and the commitment of a number of others to the club, not least because a number will be out of contract at the end of the season.

But then there was no shortage of players willing to knock Dolan over the past few months either. He has been criticised concerning disputes over money and there was also a perception that he was looking to edge some senior squad members out of the club.

There was certainly some cutting back on the playing side as well as a certain shift in emphasis, all of which might have mitigated, at least to some small extent, the team's more erratic form so far this season. Still, a run of 12 games unbeaten before the three defeats which marked the end of Buckley's reign looked like pretty solid stuff. In fact, there are some around the club who feel that the change had been coming since the summer with Dolan growing restless in the purely administrative role. As long as the team did relatively well such a move was out of the question but once the crowd started to abandon Buckley then it was only going to be a short time before his number would be up. When the call went out for Dolan to take the helm again what else could he, ever the great populist, do?

And so Buckley went and St Patrick's won for the first time in a month on Sunday thanks to an own goal from Damien Maher. The champions playing their way back into the title race will take some doing yet, however. As will restoring the image of a club that has been badly tarnished since those summer months when the thought of all that has occurred at Richmond Park since would have seemed like nothing more than a very bad dream.