Conversation Number One

Game 15

Dundalk 3-1 Bohemians

Let’s just get out ahead of this. No, I didn’t see this game. Yes, I missed it because it was my wife’s birthday. There were 15 minutes gone when I first checked my phone. I did apologise every time I checked. The food was delicious. We had a lovely time.

In the grander scheme of things, everything seems to be going well, doesn’t it? Decent position in the league, the club is repositioning itself at the heart of the community and everything seems to be trending in the right direction.

So, what is there to write about? These posts will get plenty boring if I just staple ‘Trust the process’ across them week after week. I’m getting bored listening to myself talk about how we all need to be patient and everything is coming together nicely. So, I thought I’d talk to some other people. Get some other voices in here.

I enjoy talking about football. I’m sure that’s clear to you at this point. What I wanted to do was talk to other people that I enjoy talking to football about and Stefan McKevitt is one of my favourite people to talk to about football.

It occurred to me shortly after we had our chat that the relationship that I have with Stef is 100% centred around football. Sure, we ask how the families are and we have the occasional bit of chit chat about this and that, but we only really know each other through football and our friendship has sustained because of football.

When I worked in Boylesports Stef used to have to sit beside me for 8, 10 or 12 hour shifts and listen to me try to come up with content. Sean Bailey used to have to do that do too, oh and Happy Birthday Sean. Over those long working weekends we watched a lot of football and with that came a lot of conversations.

For the record, while I was talking to Stef for this, he was watching his son’s football match. He never stops. And I am very grateful he took the time to talk to me. I always thought Stef had a good eye for a player so it seemed like a decent place to start. I asked him what makes a good player stand out to him.

“If there’s a defender you’re looking at and they come up against someone that you think is amazing and if they snuff them out or they don’t get taken to the cleaners, those kinds of things”

“Little things stand out to me too. My memory works in an odd way where I’ll remember something that somebody did in the 54th minute that might seem completely obscure to someone else, but I’ll remember it”

If you cast your minds back to the Malone Cup, forgetting the result obviously, we were all trying to get to grips with the new players on display, we probably all knew that Stephen Bradley was the one to watch from his performance.  

“Stephen Bradley was the obvious one that stood out in the Malone Cup but I remember looking at Darragh Nugent playing for Drogheda, the runs he made, his work rate, he had an eye for a pass. He never stopped until the 90th minute.”

It usually takes something blindingly obvious for me to notice someone playing for the opposition. I remember watching Seani Maguire come to Oriel and dismantle our back four. Dylan Connolly running Sean Gannon ragged when we were in Bray.

They seem like very obvious examples of players who stood out. Anyone would have noticed them on those nights. On the flipside, there has been plenty of occasions when Stef has said to me, so and so is having a good season isn’t he? I nod and say yes and then sneakily google them so that I at least know what team they play for.

Something that I had never talked to Stef about, which has become topical in analysing players and football in general, is analytics. I have my own relationship to stats and analytics but what does someone who could and should be hired as a scout think?

“Sometimes a stat can trick you into believing a certain thing but when you see something with your own eyes and it matches what you’ve seen in the stats then you might be on to something, then you might have a good player”

“There’s plenty of times when I would be watching a player and their stats and numbers might be good and then you go and watch them and you start thinking ‘am I missing something?’”

Case in point, I sent Stef this statistical analysis of Eoin Toal at Derry City, a player who Stef talked to me about a year or two ago, which came from @foreseeaball.

I do love stats and it can be a massive help to scouts and coaches but there are things that are completely invisible through statistics. How is a defender as good as Eoin Toal have such a low figure in Successful Defensive Actions? And Shots Blocked? And Defensive Duels?

“Those numbers don’t match my reality. They also don’t mention that he’s the captain as well which means something. A CBs passing accuracy should always be really high as they’re mostly only playing passes to the Full Back and getting it back and then on to the other CB and getting it back. If it was a full back who was more progressive with incredibly high passing accuracy then that would be something.”

Eoin Toal is a good example of something we haven’t had in Dundalk for a while, a young kid coming through the ranks and becoming a prominent first team member or captain in his case.

You may or may not be able to tell that Stef is a defender and things were very different when he was playing in the League of Ireland. When Dundalk were a First Division side it was a much different pathway from being a youth player to being in the first team set up

“We had Tommy Connolly and John Whyte looking after us at under 18s and Tommy was always looking to push local lads into the set up and he was pushing us into first team situations. I remember getting a phone call from Tommy Connolly after playing for the under 18s. He said I need you to come up to Oriel Park for a meeting and I was thinking ‘what is this all about?’. So, I got there and he pushed four of us into John Gill’s office and John went round us individually and said he had gotten a recommendation from Tommy and that he was impressed with this part of our games or that part of our games so I’m going to bring you in for pre-season.”

When we think back on the Kenny era at Oriel one of the very few things that seemed to be missing was a local hero. We had local players in and around the squad but we never quite managed to have a mainstay in the team. Some of the boys became locals and will forever be classed as locals to us though.

“You’re always looking to see if there are any of the young lads from around the area that would be good enough to make it into the squad and make an impact. During the Kenny era he brought in experienced players. When you have a massively successfully squad it’s always going to be tough to break into a team as a young player unless you’re an exceptional talent.”

“It would be massive if you had someone in there from the town. When Tiarnan Mulvenna was there everyone knew him and there was a massive buzz when he would score because everyone knew him. He was the golden boy of our age group and he was a striker as well which is what everyone wants to see.”

We talked a lot more about youth systems and young players he played with but then I mentioned that Virgil Van Dijk had similarly poor defensive statistics to Eoin Toal and that meant Virgil was a fraud. The conversation ended pretty quickly after that.

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