Limerick District League
By Alan O’Brien
This season’s second trouncing of fierce rivals Fairview Rangers ensured that Pike Rovers extended their lead at the top of the Limerick District League table to seven points with 10 games played.
Pike made one change from the side that defeated Aisling Annacotty 5-0 in the Tuohy Cup on Thursday night. Midfielder Keith Hartnett was unavailable – Gavin O’Shea was moved from centre back to replace him, with veteran Colm Enright coming into the side to renew his partnership with Pa Mullins in defence.
Fairview dispensed with the 3-4-1-2 shape that saw them overloaded down the flanks in the reverse fixture in August. They instead utilised a 4-5-1 formation, with Jason Roche as the anchorman and Karl Turner leading the line as the lone striker.
The main story of the game was the performance of Pike’s number 10 John Tierney. Nominally fielded behind striker Reece Healy – in reality the former Limerick man was absolutely everywhere. Mindful of the fact that Fairview were employing an anchorman in his area of the field, he varied his positioning intelligently to avoid being shackled – he dropped deep, he moved from flank to flank. On occasion he even played off the shoulder alongside Healy (with left winger Dunisha tucking in to provide the link play).
Fairview were unsure of how to manage Tierney. Roche seemed to be under instructions not to leave his zone and do a traditional man-marking job on him. In hindsight, this was a mistake, particularly as Pike’s midfielders John Boyle and Gavin O’Shea were not being particularly positive with their positioning.
It was the aforementioned Boyle, however, who would open the scoring with only 5 minutes on the clock. A corner from the left was not dealt with by ‘View goalkeeper Niall O’Connor. The ball fell to Boyle on the penalty spot and he duly dispatched it into the waiting net.
At that point, most in attendance were expecting the floodgates to open. But, this time, that didn’t happen (yet). Fairview were playing a canny game. They made it difficult for Pike to penetrate in two ways – firstly, by electing to play the fixture on the shorter pitch and secondly, by playing very deep, only choosing to press once the ball reached the halfway line. Once such incident late in the first half illustrated this well – Gavin O’Shea paused on the ball in his own half for about 10 seconds with only the four Pike defenders anywhere near him.
Fairview striker Karl Turner, waiting near the centre spot, was the nearest opposition player to him, and was showing no intention of pressing the ball. The ‘View were putting the emphasis on keeping their shape. And it worked. In the first half.
The second half began with a change for the away side. Striker Reece Healy, the hat-trick hero in midweek, had struggled in the first 45. His game of running the channels was nullified by the depth of the home side’s defensive line and the size of the pitch.
Thursday’s fifth goalscorer Seamus O’Carroll was introduced in his place – just as quick as Healy, but big and strong too. Immediately O’Carroll had a good chance to double Pike’s advantage – A cross from the right was chested down by John Tierney. O’Carroll shot marginally over.
Five minutes later, however, the away side had their second. Right winger Cian Collins easily skinned View left full Lee Whyte on the inside before exchanging passes with the omnipresent Tierney and rifling past O’Connor.
The last half hour was the O’Carroll show. Four minutes after Collins’ goal, he demonstrated the presence that Pike were sorely lacking up top in the first half, muscling left sided centre back Mullen off the ball before powering home. Seven minutes later, he doubled his tally – a right wing cross from (you guessed it) John Tierney was buried with the head.
Finally, in injury time, he completed his hat-trick. Playing from the right flank at this point, O’Carroll collected the ball in acres in an inside right position, before thwacking home with his left – his weaker foot. That’s what those in the know call a “perfect hat-trick” – one with the left, one with the right, one with the head.
Fairview will be disconsolate at the final score but they should take pride in their first half performance. Right full Steven Gallagher didn’t give his opposite number Fatima Dunisha a sniff and centre back John Mullane was fantastic, making numerous tackles, interceptions and clearances to keep the score down.
Pike huffed and puffed in the first half, lacking the kind of incisive passing from deep necessary to unlock such defensive opposition. The selection of Healy was inappropriate on the day, but the introduction of O’Carroll, his subsequent performance, and the fluid interchanging of positions he engaged in with Tierney and Collins were marvelous to behold.
Considered alongside Janesboro’s laboured 3-1 home win against basement side Wembley today, Pike will be very confident going into the two sides’ massive FAI Junior Cup clash next week.
Fairview (4-5-1): O’Connor; Gallagher, Mullane, Mullen, Whyte; Hogan (Long), Reddan, Roche, O’Riordan (O’Callaghan), Power; Turner
Pike (4-2-3-1): Neville (O’Regan); J. Mullins, Enright, P. Mullins, O’Donovan; Boyle, O’Shea; Collins, Tierney, Dunisha (Okoro); Healy (O’Carroll)