Richie Baker gets to the by-line for one of the few times in the match. The Bohs defenders are all sucked towards the near post, the goalie’s on the floor. Richie drills the ball low and hard across the goal. Tony Sheridan, known as God to many of the Shels faithful, is all on his own, three yards out. This is the man who has scored impossible goals in pressure situations. He must score. You would put your house on it….
The ball, I believe, is still in orbit. Had it nestled snugly in the back of the Bohs’ net, that night in Tolka Park, Shels could well be celebrating their third championship in four years as we speak. Of course, it is churlish to blame God. Even Pele missed sitters, though, tellingly, never against Bohemians. That goal would have put us three points nearer to our Phibsboro rivals, but who knows how either team might have been affected by the extra pressure.
For Shels’ fans, the season was always one of consolidation, until the last few weeks, when the vision of the title cruelly raised its head, only to be snatched away again almost as quickly. We gained eleven points from our first eleven games. Or, put another way, we dropped twenty two points in our first eleven games. That was really the end of our title hopes, and a place in Europe looked to be beyond us. There were mutterings about Pat Fenlon – was it fair to throw him in at the deep end in his first managerial appointment? Why did we not have a decent striker at the club? Thankfully the mutterings remained low-key, as we slowly started to get our act together.
The low spot in that first period was undoubtedly the defeat to Hibernians of Malta. Other clubs’ supporters were quick to label us failures and claimed that we had somehow shamed the league with an inept display, but the reality of the situation was that we metaphorically urinated over Hibs in the second leg. They barely got into our half. But for Trevor Molloy’s enthusiasm, we’d have gone one up. If there was any fairness in football, we’d have gone through, but sometimes fairness flies out of the window. That’s why we all love this beautiful game. Shit happens.
Slowly, slowly, we hauled Bohs back. At times it was two steps forward, one step back, but it was impossible for Bohs, or indeed any club, to maintain the level of form they had enjoyed at the start of the season. However, it was only with about five games to go, that the possibility dawned on us that we might overhaul Bohs. And we nearly did so. Either team could have won the Clash of the Titans at Tolka. Neither team were at their best, nerves saw to that, and in the end it was Bohs who unexpectedly won the Championship with a late, late goal.
Only the most die-hard of Shels fans would begrudge Stephen Kenny and Bohs their victory. Over the season, they were the best side, and we wish them well in the Champions League, where I hope they get the rub of the green.
As for us, a season that promised little ultimately gave us a lot. Pat Fenlon has had a terrific first season and can only mature into a great manager. Jim Gannon and Kevin Doherty have forged a magnificent partnership at the back, with the ever-dependable Barry Prenderville in reserve in case of injuries. Both fullbacks, Eoin Heary and Dave Crawley recovered after shaky starts to the season, to star both in defence and attack.
Richie Baker had a very up and down season. At times he was brilliant, at times dire, but it was amazing how many important goals came through him. Stuey Byrne was probably my player of the season, whereas Jim Crawford was out far too much with injuries. I felt Ollie Cahill was a disappointment in his first season here, only playing well in about four games in the campaign.
Wes Houlihan has tremendous skill, but there were signs towards the end of the season that opposition defenders are starting to get his measure. Also, he could be a lot more productive in terms of goals scored. I will commit heresy now by advising Pat to sell him, for as high a price as he can get.
Up front was where we had our problems. Dessie Baker spent most of the season injured, Trevor Molloy got transferred after the Hibs game, Geogo was Geogo, the man is a living legend, but time is starting to tell, though he has lost none of his predator’s instinct. Nesovic came and went, Martin Gritton came and went. Mark Roberts looked like he was on some kind of medication for six or seven games, but blossomed like a good wine. He isn’t a goalscorer though. Suffice to say that if we’d have had a Glenn Crowe or a Kevin McHugh or a Jason Byrne, we’d probably have pipped Bohs. Or maybe not. That’s football.