St Patrick's move closer following another stalemate


WATCHING these old adversaries enact a reprise of last Friday's cup stalemate in yesterday's crucial league game at Dalymount Park, the thought occurred that hence forth their clashes should be played in private. Then again, much more of this and they probably will be.

Significantly, the attendance of 2,500 to 3,000 was about a quarter of last Friday's, which is, perhaps, its own, albeit harsh, judgment on the Cup semi final. The fare was about the same - but without the atmosphere. Desperately requiring a win to close the five point gap on the visitors, Bohemians huffed and puffed but couldn't blow the St Patrick's Athletic house down.

Although they took a huge step towards the title, St Patrick's left no abidingly positive memory from this game either. But they are nothing if not resilient and defensively well-organised, and as 4-3-2-1 effectively became 4-5-1, no one defended better than Liam Buckley, nominally the right sided attacker in front of tee midfield but in effect a quasi right full back.

It says something about their character that even playing badly they were again unbeatable for the 19th game running. Brian Kerr's team knew the score, and victories at home to Galway on Friday night and then away to Dundalk would make the last day visit of Shelbourne immaterial. The title will be theirs. They could even win it on Friday were Shelbourne to lose in Athlone and Bohemians not to heat UCD at home.

Hence, the St Patrick's die hards began celebrating loudly before the end, all the more so after their Bohemians counter parts across in the main stand had perceived Brian Kerr's team to be the sinners by chanting "Boring, boring Patrick's."

"Before the weekend if we were offered two draws we might have been happy enough to get them," accepted Kerr, but it wasn't our intention to play for them. It may have appeared that way to you but it wasn't my intention and it wasn't the way I picked the team. It's not our style, it's not our form. I don't like us playing in our own half for most of the match. I never feel comfortable about that and I've never picked a team to play like that."

A dreadful advertisement for the domestic game? Kerr responded: "You can't isolate today. There's been a lot of great Friday nights which weren't an indictment of the league. I'm disappointed today wasn't great and I'm disappointed Friday night wasn't great but we've played 40 matches this year and the majority of them have been very, very good matches."

True, very true, but pitting these two together (with Bohemians legion of ex St Patrick's players) is generally akin to playing two similarly endowed big servers like Pete Sampras and Goran Ivanisevic on a scorched Centre Court. You need a contrast, an Agassi like baseliner.

Add in the high stakes of the last two encounters, and this was their 10th draw in 11 clashes over four years. A typical end of season Dalymount pitch (not quite on the scale of those bad old Cup finals of yore) made it difficult to bring the ball down and play - were anyone so inclined.

For all of Dalymount's wider confines, at times these contests appeared to be compressed into half the pitch gradually drifting from the middle chunk until it concentrated in the St Patrick's half. Once again we waited in vain over 90 minutes for either goalkeeper to roll or throw the hall out short.

Kerr recalled Peter Carpenter as a recognised left back and, with a point to prove, the Galway man negated the biggest Bohemians threat, right winger Brian Mooney, after a rare fifth minute passing move in midfield saw Tommy Byrne and Jonathan Prizeman combine to release Mooney for a cross which Derek Swan glanced wide.

As Turlough O'Connor lamented afterwards: "We tried to go around them but we couldn't so there was only one way to go after that." Up the middle, often high and long. Meat and drink to a huge St Patrick's though, with Paul Osam lending assistance to Johnny McDonnell, Dave Campbell and company, even when the angular Padraig Dully was introduced and Maurice O'Driscoll was pushed forward into a four man front line.

Admittedly Gareth Byrne again flapped unconvincingly at some of the aerial stuff, resulting in Osam heading a looping Mick Moody header off the line from under the bar after 30 minutes the off colour O'Driscoll volleyed the rebound over.

After the break Prizeman was unable to convert a difficult header after ghosting in behind McDonnell to Kevin Brady's long diagonal centre (there were a few of them), and Dully's glancing header from a Tony O'Connor cross didn't trouble Byrne.

So Bohemians' Holy Grail to the title, which dates back to 1978, looks like being suspended for another year.