Saturday, November 22, 2008

The FAI Cup Final Preview: Bohemians v. Derry City

Sunday's FAI Cup Final between Bohemians and Derry City promises to be an intriguing affair. With both managers having managed the opposition in recent seasons, one could be forgiven for thinking that this match was all about the men in the technical area.

In the build-up to the match, Derry City boss Stephen Kenny has done everything in his power to deflect attention away from the rival managers. But with their recent histories so intertwined, it is hard to look at this match and not refer to either Kenny or Pat Fenlon.

After becoming the youngest manager in league history when he took the reigns at Longford Town, the 27-year-old Kenny went on to have three glory filled seasons with the minnows.

Eventually at the ripe old age of 30, Bohemians, one of the giants of Irish football proved to be a temptation that Kenny couldn't turn down.

When Kenny took over in 2001, Boh's were League champions, but were in turmoil and were languishing in the relegation positions following Roddy Collins' resignation.

Kenny's impact was instant, Boh's rocketed up the league and narrowly missed out on Europe, while they reached the FAI Cup Final, only to lose 1-0 to Dundalk.

The following season Boh's with a new look side led the league from start to finish, claiming Kenny's first league title.

Boh's invested heavily as the chased a position in the group stages of the Champions League and after a poor start to the season, Kenny was acrimoniously sacked with the team sitting nicely in third place.

Within three weeks, Kenny was back in employment at Derry. He had a hugely successful time at Derry before in 2006, the lure of Dunfermline proved too strong. But after a poor time in Scotland, he returned to his spiritual home in the North.

Fenlon, by contrast was one of the best players ever to play in the league. After a glorious playing career that saw him win every trophy imaginable, it was only a matter of time before he entered into management.

In 2002, he took up his first job as player/manager of Shelbourne and guided them to second place in his inaugural year. After retiring from playing he then led Shel's to the league title in 2003 and 2004.

Firmly entrenched as the power-houses of Irish football, Shel's had a poor season by their own high standards in 2005, finishing 2nd. But normal status resumed in 2006 as Shelbourne swept the league aside to claim another title.

In 2006, with Shel's in financial difficulties Fenlon resigned to take up the post at Derry left vacant by Stephen Kenny's move to Dunfermline.

The move proved to be a difficult one on a professional and on a personal level. After spending a lot of money on new players during the close season, pressure was on for Derry to perform and to step into the vacancy left by Shelbourne following their shock relegation.

Results proved hard to come by, and with his family failing to settle, Fenlon resigned after five months. Over the next year he managed the Irish U-23's before taking over as manager of Boh's in late 2007.

While Fenlon was unable to build upon the great success that Kenny had made of Derry, he has more than emphasised what a good manager he is by guiding Boh's to within inches of a memorable league and cup double.

A win on Sunday will see the Gypsie's (Bohemian's) complete this double in Fenlon's first year as manager.

If further emphasis of the links between these two teams is needed, ex-Derry players Killian Brennan, Ken Oman and Stephen McGuinness were all integral in Boh's march to the title. Unfortunately for McGuinness, he is suspended for the final after picking up a yellow card too many.

Irish Internationals Glen Crowe and Jason Byrne will battle it out with ex-Spurs man Neale Fenn for the places up front as Boh's search for that elusive double.

With Derry also chasing a double after winning the League Cup earlier this season, Kenny will have some hard choices to make when it comes to picking the team.

One major decision will centre on the influential veteran Peter Hutton, and whether he is fit enough to re-claim his place in the starting line up. Hutton, in the twilight of his career has been exceptional for Derry this season, and with him on the verge of retirement it is hard to see him not having some part to play.

Eddie McCallion, Clive Delaney, and Stephen Gray should all start at the back. Barry Molloy and Kevin Deery are certain starters in midfield, and they should be joined by Niall McGinn, the newest addition to Northern Ireland's international cause will be on a high after making the recent squads.

McGinn has had a brilliant season by anyone's standards. Fast tracked into the Northern Ireland squad, the youth has also won the "Young Player of the Year" in a remarkable debut season.

Mark Farren, who is being tracked by a number of English League One and Two teams is a definite starter up front and he should partner Sammy Morrow.

With the two best teams in the country going head to head, it could be a memorable final, and Kenny is in up-beat mood as the kick-off approaches.

"They are a formidable team and have been terrific this season, but our player's have been fantastic. The way that we have gone on and qualified for Europe (2nd) and won the League Cup and now to get to the Cup Final...We lost our best player Paddy McCourt (to Celtic) in mid season and Conor Sammon went to Kilmarnock.

"We'll bring a good crowd and winning the cup would be a great end to a great season," said an optimistic Kenny ahead of the match.

The matches between these two teams have always been tight affairs, and over the course of this season they have played each other three times, with only one goal scored over these matches as Derry snatched a win in fortress Dalymount, a week after Boh's had been crowned League Champions.

The match on Sunday should be another classic encounter between these sides. And with the league in turmoil thanks to betting scandals and teams failing to meet financial criteria, the league needs this showcase game to be good.

It certainly has all the ingredients, and should live up to all the expectation.

twitter / WillieGannon