Well, that was a quick six months. No, seven months. No, hang on… Can it really be eight months since we were here on the first weekend of August as the gun started on the 2022-23 Premier League, attempting to anticipate the inevitable, unavoidable madness about to come dropping?
(That was a rhetorical question.)
Micheál Martin was Taoiseach. Ronaldo was playing, or at any rate performing, for Manchester United. Many people hoped that Ronaldo’s great rival would shortly crown his career in Qatar. The DUP were saying no (naturally). Nobody had heard of Evan Ferguson. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
Now it’s the first weekend of April and the final leg of the season beckons. The race for the title is a two-horse affair, one of them a distinctly dark quadruped at the start of proceedings. The race to avoid relegation is a cavalry charge, with four points separating the bottom nine clubs.
How much of this did your correspondent foresee back in August? How much did he fail to foresee?
The “longest soccer season in the history of the universe” awaited, we pronounced. Correct, albeit a simple statement of fact.
“Manchester City and Liverpool to finish first and second, in whatever order.”
Half right. To be fair, moreover, did anyone predict that Liverpool, on foot of going to the last match in all four competitions last season, would feel the after-effects?
On the other hand, a more perceptive previewer might have entertained the notion that the very fact Liverpool had gone to the last match in all four competitions last season meant theyfeel the after-effects. It’s a fair kop, guv.
“Manchester United not to be the punchline of 2021-22.” Another safe bet, although for a couple of weeks around the time of the 4-0 fiasco at Brentford it was a close run, and amusing, thing.
“Wolves look to be marking time.” Hmm, a bit random, but on the money.
“Ronaldo strops, Harry Maguire howlers.” Ronaldo reached deep into his repertoire and produced an all-time historic strop; Maguire wasn’t in the team often enough to engender howlers and howls.
One if not both of the north London clubs to finish above Chelsea “who will presumably be required to live within their means for the first time in two decades”. Correct about the north London clubs. Badly incorrect about the west London one.
“Leicester City and Southampton to be the early Crisis Clubs.” And have remained that way.
There was reference to how “the strength of the middle order” would make the league watchable. It has.
Brighton and Bournemouth are pound for pound the two best run clubs in the competition; Newcastle haven’t been pretty to watch but Eddie Howe has at least shown himself capable of coaching the defensive side of the game; Aston Villa eventually discovered the merits of employing a sober and sensible manager as opposed to a Hollywood figure incapable of coaching any side of the game.
There was also a lot of stuff about Everton and what a long season they were in store for once more and the pre-season fan survey that had the representatives of 14 of the other 19 clubs going for Frank Lampard to be the first manager sacked.
As it happened, your correspondent’s fancy was Ralph Hassenhuttl and in the end we were all wrong: Bournemouth dispensed with the services of Scott Parker even before August was out, beating Chelsea and Thomas Tuchel by a week. And Steven Gerrard was a former manager before both Hassenhuttl and Lampard.
Still on Everton I wondered where the goals would come from with Richarlison gone and Calvert Lewin injured again. I added that Dele Alli would hardly get his train back on the rails and that the popular theory Lampard had been consistently promoted way beyond his capabilities had yet to be disproved. Not much of a stretch on either count, admittedly.
Then this. “What will probably save Everton is that Bournemouth will go straight back down, Fulham will struggle to avoid doing so and Leeds are obliged to replace two players of genuine quality in Raphinha and Kalvin Phillips.” Bournemouth aren’t down yet and have been making a decent fist of things; Fulham I was wildly wrong about; and Javi Gracia looks the ideal man to keep Leeds up. But given the certainty they’ll beat Spurs 1-0 (Tarkowski 55, assist McNeil (corner)) at Goodison on Monday night, Everton should survive with a bit to spare.
Leeds, Leicester and West Ham have far superior goal differences to the other strugglers, which ought to count too. But unlike most years, where there’s one obviously terrible team a la Norwich last season, this time around nobody has been reliably awful. Hence the traffic jam at the bottom and the likelihood it’ll continue till the last minute of the last day. Get set for those never less than amusing pictures of blubbing fans whose team have been unexpectedly relegated at the death.
It is now the first weekend in April. Micheál Martin is Tanáiste. Ronaldo is both playing and performing in Saudi Arabia. His great rival did indeed crown his career in Doha. The DUP are still saying no (equally naturally) but this time nobody is paying them a blind bit of notice.
And Brighton have reached the FA Cup semi-finals. And even Kylian Mbappe has heard of Evan Ferguson.
Updated predictions as follows.
Arsenal to lose at the Etihad but still win the title. Bukayo Saka to be Footballer of the Year. And Everton to be in this position, yet again on the first weekend of April 2024 (with the new stadium way behind schedule).
Here’s a selection of quotes from Mark Townsend’s new biography of Brother Damien Brennan, off-site counsellor to many of Brian Cody’s players. A native of Wolfhill in Laois, but based in Callan for many years, Brother Damien (“the silent man behind the Kilkenny success story”) died in 2019 at the age of 59.
Richie Hogan: “You’ll never come across anyone like him again in terms of the amount he does for people for nothing in return.”
JJ Delaney: “Only for him I probably wouldn’t have done what I did in the second half of my career.”
Jackie Tyrrell: “I think about him every day and I miss him every day.”
Eoin Murphy: “The one regret I have is that I didn’t avail of him sooner.”
Henry Shefflin: “He was someone you could be 100 per cent yourself with. In life it can be difficult to find those people.”
Eoin Cadogan (yes, that one): “My intercounty career would have definitely been finished five or six years earlier if I hadn’t met him.” Two questions arise.
First off, what was missing in Cody’s set-up that so many of his made men felt the need to go outside for spiritual succour?
Secondly, Mark Townsend is a random punter, an ordinary fan, a former student of Brother Damien’s and a non-journalist who undertook the venture because he reckoned someone ought to.
If Mr Townsend can write and self-publish a book – and from Saudi Arabia, his current domicile, too, just down the street from Ronaldo - about a little known but interesting sporting figure, why can’t you?