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Column: Oriel Park artificial pitch 'disgraceful'

Updated: Wednesday, 23 Apr 2014 16:40 | Comments

Trevor Croly was unhappy with Dundalk watering one half of the pitch
Trevor Croly was unhappy with Dundalk watering one half of the pitch

By Alan Cawley

‘Watergate’? I hear you ask, ‘what's all that about’?

Let me paint the picture for you. Shamrock Rovers manager Trevor Croly was incensed that at half-time in last week’s Setanta Cup semi-final second leg at Oriel Park only one half of the pitch was watered - the half Dundalk were about to attack into in the second half. 

He felt the home side were trying to gain an unfair advantage by doing this. Watering an artificial surface makes it much quicker and slicker, as opposed to it being sticky and slow when not watered, hence Croly's annoyance.

Were Dundalk right to try and gain this advantage? In the spirit of the game you would have to say no, but what did Croly expect? They were never going to welcome them to Oriel Park with open arms.

"It is not sprinklers it needs, it is a digger to take the whole thing up"

No team in Ireland would do that and who could blame them? Did Croly have a point getting so annoyed? Possibly, but I felt he made far too much of a big deal about something which was fairly small in reality.

It is not sprinklers it needs, it is a digger to take the whole thing up.

What Trevor Croly should have been getting really annoyed about, is the fact that his team had to play on that surface in the first place, it is absolutely disgraceful and should not be allowed in top-flight football.

It is not looked after, maintained or manicured like it needs to be, and above all, it is overused. If anything, the pitch is deteriorating season after season.

When I switched on my television last week to watch the match, I actually thought I was seeing things. It looked dreadful. It reminded me of a big open field the morning after bonfire night, with burnt patches spread out all over the place. A real eye sore.

I am a big fan of Stephen Kenny and the remarkable job he has done at Dundalk. I praised them all last season, and so far this campaign they have been magnificent, but I am convinced this surface is holding them back.

The style of football they play and the fluidity with how they move the ball would be far better served on a proper grass pitch. I watched them dismantle champions St Pat's two weeks ago on a sound playing surface and they followed that up with another excellent performance away to UCD the following week, again on a decent grass pitch.

Actually, since the opening defeat away to Drogheda they have won every game on their travels, scoring ten goals in the process and conceding just two. While at home the Lilywhites have won just two and drawn two.

Of course they have an advantage over every team in the league playing on this surface week in week out but I am convinced if you were to ask every single squad member do they enjoy playing on it, none of them will tell you they do. That goes for visiting players also. They hate it.

Unfortunately for those visiting players it looks like it is here to stay, but I feel it is time the powers that be intervened and said "enough is enough". Either it goes or else it is upgraded.

I can understand why it's there and I know it generates some money for the club by being rented out, but clubs need to prioritise. Are they there to provide a service for locals to play on their pitch or are they there to be a serious force in the league?

The team that Stephen Kenny has built and is still building has the potential to go on and be that force in the league, but asking them to perform on this excuse of a pitch is not giving them the opportunity to fulfil their promise. Changing it would not only help the football, it would also rule out any more future episodes of 'watergate'.

Derby idea for Easter?

The Easter period gave us a feast of football on both Good Friday and also Easter Monday, but are we really maximising our product in the best way possible?

Good Friday's games had very healthy attendances with crowds of over 3,000 in the Showgrounds and also in Oriel Park. Turner's Cross was even better with over 4,000 turning up to watch the home team.

While this is great to see, I think we can even improve on this.

Rugby League in England use the Easter period to sell their product like no other sport. Each fixture played on Good Friday is a derby match and they hype each one of these fixtures to the maximum. I think this is a concept the League of Ireland could introduce and I believe it would be a roaring success.

Drogheda United had to travel to Cork on Friday and brought maybe 100 fans. Could you imagine if Cork were playing Limerick in Turner's Cross on Friday? Over 5,000 would have turned up easily.

The same could be said of Dundalk hosting Shamrock Rovers. Over 3,000 turned up, which is an extremely healthy attendance, but if they were playing Drogheda they could have had over 4,000 with a considerable amount of less travelling for fans.

Derry travelled to Bray, and Sligo hosted UCD, if these fixtures were switched around there would have been a massive crowd in the Showgrounds to see local rivals Derry.

Not only would we be maximising our product, but it would also help the interest of the players. With the amount of games they have played lately, this concept would have allowed them more recovery time for Easter Monday’s games.

It is just an idea and a little bit of thinking outside the box. Maybe I am being a little bit over optimistic to think the powers that be think outside the box and actually put thought into these things, but like everything I live in hope.

Who knows, someone somewhere may just read this and we could try it this time next Easter.

Ever the optimist.

Until next week.

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