St Patrick’s Athletic: Relegation or not?

Impatience is becoming a major part of the footballing world as clubs go out spending billions to sign ready-made players, rather than promoting from within. Impatience also seems to be playing a major role in the sackings of managers, as the owners are looking for immediate success rather than working to ensure managers have enough time with teams to build and progress towards success. A run of 5/6 straight defeats has fans turning on you, which then leaks into the boardroom and then the inevitable happens – P45. All this, despite what you have possibly done for the club as a manager.

On a much smaller scale, Liam Buckley is feeling the effects of a slashed budget, where he must give the youth a chance. The St Pat’s manager is however, no stranger to playing the youth, and right now he has played a crucial role in having the under 15s, 17s and 19s playing at high standard, so much so that we have seen players in each squad getting recognition at underage international level.

Style.

The football that Buckley demands from his players is so easy on the eye and it was there for everyone to see in 2013 when St Pats became league of Ireland champions. It was and still is the best football to be seen in this country for a long time due to his passing style. When we compare different styles, we see there can be good passing teams like St Pats and there can be good high tempo teams like Dundalk; and we see that over the last 3 years where Dundalk have opted for a more ‘high tempo’ style. To have a passing style team like St Pats at its full potential, a manager needs players that have the overall attributes of technique, ability, a certain level of skill and knowledge to develop and apply the passing style desired by Liam Buckley.

It is not just about kicking of the ball, but about the movement of the ball when players are in possession of it. When players are in possession of the ball, bringing a level of unpredictability into their techniques can be advantageous to a team; as the demand is placed on the opponent to work harder in trying to assess their new or next move. As far as unique techniques will take them, to have a successful passing style players need to recognise their options when in possession of the ball, they also need to assess the weight of the pass needed in the moment and the knowledge of where to find the pockets of space where they can put the ball in motion to follow on to their next team mate. Liam Buckley demands this type of play from his players. He coaches them in the way that he believes is the right way, but sometimes it just doesn’t work for some players due to their predictability while on the ball.

St Pats have gone from having great quality midfield players with the likes of James Chambers, Greg Bolger, John Russell and Killian Brennan in their reigns, to players of much less quality in terms of David Cawley, Patrick Cregg, Ian Morris and Keith Tracey; to mention a few. The passing style seemed to work a treat in the early stages of Buckley’s tenure, as he had top players who could take on board what he was asking for, and deliver with results and finishes that he needed. The reason he has gone from having that quality of midfield players to a mix and match over the last 2 seasons is down to a slashed budget; as players and rightly so, go to other clubs that offer a better wage.

The quality of players throughout the league isn’t what it was 4-5 years ago, which also hasn’t helped Buckley’s case; so managers can’t be too picky when left with limited resources. Liam Buckley had to sign Patrick Cregg this season to fill a much-needed gap in midfield, but not because he is a great footballer, but more for his experience and ability to break up play. It hasn’t worked out yet as he struggles to get to grips with the style and what’s asked of him.

Lack of quality.

Heading into this season, St Pats lost Sean Hoare and Jamie McGrath to Dundalk, both of who were key players last season and are extremely talented. Gavin Peers came in to cover Hoare’s departure and has been a real coup despite St Pats league position. Darragh Markey has stepped into his own this season and has become a key player. The talented 20-year-old has great balance, low centre of gravity and has an eye for that key pass.

As much as the slashed budget hasn’t helped Buckley’s cause, he hasn’t exactly helped with some of the signings he has made himself either. In hindsight, the Dennehy brothers were a good idea, but as soon as they put the jerseys on, they look like completely different players. The aforementioned Tracey had all the attributes to be a top player, but lacked the mentality and enthusiasm to become one.

Liam Buckley preferred formation is 4-5-1 without the ball and 4-3-3 with the ball, and as the Saints sit in second bottom, this might need tweaking. The squad is talented one, but there is a big difference in talent and quality; which has showed most of the season. St Pats let teams come onto them rather than pressing, which is a worry as they have conceded 32 times this season. The Saints defensive line looks so fragile at times and has relied on the outstanding Conor O’Malley to save the day on numerous occasions, which is a bit too much pressure for one player to solely handle.
The midfield is taking too much at the moment and in doing so, is giving no protection to the defensive rear guard; so maybe a switch with 2 men up top might better suit St Pats. This obviously depends on the opposition and player availability, but should be an option for Buckley as the games run out.

Positive.

There is a worry around Richmond Park of an impending first ever relegation in the club’s history as they sit 11th, but there are positives to believe that they can stay up. One win would see them jump into 8th position, which shows you how tight it is. They have won just one of their last 10 league games, but are still so close to safety which tells you that the teams around them are not too much better.

There have been ludicrous cries of ‘Bucko out’ over the last few weeks giving the current form, fans turning against a man who not only has brought them to the league title; but also an FAI Cup, 2 league cups and President’s cup to Richmond Park in 5 years.

You can add the silverware to his league record in the same time which is 181 league games and just 49 defeats. The record which he currently holds is exceptional giving the fall of resources since 2013. Liam Buckley must get the July transfer window 100% right and tweak some small elements of his style if they are to survive the dreaded drop.

The 2013 champions need Christy Fagan to find his form again having scored just 4 times in an injury hit campaign so far. Conan Byrne is a key figure out wide, but lacks the final ball all too often while Gavin Peers must use all his experience to help Rory Feely and Co at the back to become a solid unit. Liam Buckley won’t like where they are at right now, but will relish this unexpected challenge.

Fellow strugglers Galway come to Inchicore on Friday night were both sides are crying out for win. St Pats edge it with home advantage and also with a bit more quality available, but you must go out and show it. A win will put the boo boys back on their seat and relieve Liam Buckley of much needed pressure.

Aaron Doherty

One thought on “St Patrick’s Athletic: Relegation or not?

  1. This is a fine article . I’d add two comments. LB did add pressing to the Pats game some time ago and it was effective but it seems to have been largely abandoned lately. Secondly, teams know how to play Pats; they defend in numbers and leave Pats to play probing left and right looking for the killer pass into space which is seldom there. Then a pass goes astray and Pats concede a breakaway goal. It’s a paradox: Pats have players with the skill to be unpredictable but overall their approach is predictable and reasonably easy to defend against.

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