Fairview Rangers are one of the most successful clubs in junior soccer history and by their high standards, the past decade has been an endurance test.
Since the FAI Junior Cup final victory over St. Michaels in Turners Cross in 2010, Fairview have endured a barren spell with last year’s Lawson Cup proving to be the first junior trophy to return to the Fairgreen since the 2010 national success.
In that same season, the club also won the FAI Youth Cup at a sun drenched Jackman Park against a Mervue side packed with talent including current Dundalk striker Pat Hoban. They became the first club to achieve the feat of winning both major national honours at junior and youth level in the same season.
After a few years of failing to challenge for major honours, 2018 signalled a shift as the Fairgreen outfit began to recruit wisely, securing the signatures of Carew Park pair Jamie Enright and Adam Frahill as well as the pacey ex-Limerick FC player Ross Mann. A poor start to the campaign cost the club the chance to challenge for the league.
However, during performances in the latter part of the season against Ballynanty Rovers and in the Lawson Cup final victory over Pike Rovers, the potential was there for all to see.
After the victory in Jackman Park in May, you felt that the addition of two to three more players would be sufficient to have the ‘View challenging again. However, the management team opted to bring in a host of new players including goalkeepers Aaron Savage and Aaron Wall, Dermot Fitzgerald, Mark Slattery, Daragh Rainsford, Jason Lipper and the recent additions of Clyde O’Connell and Stephen Bradley.
Immediately, expectations soared as the club also managed to hold on to star performers in the close season such as Mann, James Fitzgerald and Jeffrey Judge. Poor performances against title rivals Ballynanty Rovers and Aisling Annacotty, led to questions of whether the recruitment drive undertaken in the summer was necessary and had it unsettled the squad.
As always, it takes time to find the best team and shape with such an influx of talent. Purcell toyed with a number of players in different positions including Dermot Fitzgerald operating at left-back against Pike, which raised many eyebrows.
Despite deep reservations in relation to up to eight substitutes appearing on the side line on match days at the Fairgreen, many of which would walk into most teams outside the top three in the Premier Division, there are no real signs of disharmony among the ranks especially if you take Sunday’s Munster Junior Cup victory over Ballynanty Rovers into account.
Watching both sets of players in the warm-up, Ballynanty’s motivation for the game was clear to see as they were the much more vocal of the two sides. However, sometimes players can exert too much energy in the warm-up and unwittingly psych themselves out. In the case of Ballynanty, it is hard to know if this was a contributing factor in Sunday’s defeat.
Fairview may have lacked the vocal ferocity of their opponents but there was a sharp focus there, as no passes went astray and the intensity was increased just as the teams prepared to enter the dressing room ahead of kick-off.
Purcell appears to have figured out the problem at left-back by deploying Clyde O’Connell to the role. Although many may feel O’Connell is wasted in that position at junior level as he is a natural centre-back/midfielder, he looked very comfortable throughout and contributed two coolly taken penalties, A back five of Savage, Enright, Slattery, Dermot Fitzgerald and O’Connell has been the preferred choice in recent weeks.
Fitzgerald was facing his former club having left Ballynanty at the back end of last season and he put in a great defensive display including denying both Kenneth Meehan and more spectacularly Kevin Nolan on the goal-line. Outside of a yellow card for dissent early on which may have worried Purcell, Fitzgerald produced a calm display alongside Slattery.
Fairview introduced Jason Lipper, Adam Frahill, Paul Danaher and Eddie Byrnes to the fray and each worked equally as hard as the starting 11 when called upon, appearing to eliminate any rumours of discontent among the substitutes.
The club have now reached the ‘out of town’ stages of the Munster Junior Cup and remain in league and FAI Junior Cup contention as we enter November.
In recent seasons, when speaking to players both past and present, you were given the impression that the club’s season was over whenever they were knocked out of the FAI and Munster Junior Cups. That is an attitude that the management team must eradicate from the current squad if they are to be successful both locally and nationally.
It is still early in the season and many questions still need to be answered against more reputable teams in the provincial and national competitions, but if Purcell can continue to possess the options on the substitutes bench and make all players feel part of the trophy drive, Fairview may prove the doubters wrong, including this writer, that the integration of so many new players in one window was unnecessary and possibly harmful.