Irish Examiner : 2020-08-04

Sport : 17 : 17


sport John Fogar ty on why these are halcyon days for club players GAA Page 18 Tuesday, August 4, 2020 The Championsh­ip play-off at Wembley tonight will allow either Fulham or Brentford to make a grand entrance to the Premier League for the 20/21 campaign. looks at the credential­s of a dark horse manager with a lot to offer Mitrovic eager to make up for lost time Big stage for the Prince of Denmark George Sessions Aleksandar Mitrovic is eager to make up for lost time when Fulham face Brentford in the Sky Bet Championsh­ip play-off final, according to manager Scott Parker. The ex-Newcastle striker only scored three times after football resumed, with his availabili­ty affected by a three-match ban and then a hamstring injury, but still ended the regular season as the division’s top goalscorer. Mitrovic’s 26 goals came in fewer minutes than Brentford rival Ollie Watkins and the duo will go head-to-head at Wembley tonight. A lot of the focus in the build-up to the fixture has been on the Bees ‘BMW’ strike force of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo, and Watkins, but Fulham possess their own secret weapon with their talisman fit again. “He has missed a lot of football since lockdown finished,” Parker said. “He obviously had his suspension and then he has had to come out of the side through a slight injury. “There is no bigger stage than now and 26 goals, the top goalscorer in the league, he has worked for this moment to be able to take to the field and help us achieve what we want to achieve. “He is raring to go along with everyone else. Everyone else is in the same position, raring to go and can’t wait for the occasion and what it brings. “This is what you work for and what we’ve all worked for so we are all looking forward to going there and trying to perform.” Sports financial analysts Deloitte predict Brentford could earn £160m (€177.8m) over three years if they beat Fulham and the story of Thomas Frank’s young guns has captured the imaginatio­n of neutrals. The Bees also bid farewell to their Griffin Park home last month and will move into a new ground in September, but Parker has seen his group go through a journey that he hopes will end happily tonight. Allan Prosser Sky Bet Championsh­ip play-off final Brentford v Fulham Tonight: Referee: TV: Betting: Wembley Stadium, 7.45pm Mar tin Atkinson Sky Spor ts Brentford Evens Fulham 11/4 Draw 21/10 T HE Premier League has said goodbye to three relegated managers but after tonight’s Championsh­ip play-off the “richest game in football™” we will know the identity of the third replacemen­t who will join an already combustibl­e pairing of Marco Bielsa and Slaven Bilic ´ in the top tier. If form is any measure in the match calculated to be worth €190m then fans and media can look forward to an intriguing new force joining the party next season, one about whom they know relatively little. Brentford’s Thomas Frank, 46, has no pedigree as a player (although, revealingl­y, he would have liked to have been Andres Iniesta) and entered youth team coaching after gaining a degree in physical education, psychology, and coaching-based leadership in Copenhagen in 2005. After progressin­g through his stewardshi­p of the Danish national U16, U17 and U19 teams his first profession­al challenge came at Brondby, the club which launched the careers of Michael and Brian Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel. This appointmen­t ended in a manner that indicates the Thomas Frank story is one which may contain some rich chapters in the future. During a period of rebuilding and uncertaint­y over the club’s future ownership between 2013 and 2016, Frank guided Brondby initially to 9th and then to fourth and a Europa League spot, and then to third. He relied on a group that included some significan­t experience including Daniel Agger, once of Anfield, Bolton striker Johan Elmander, and Teemu Pukki, now of Norwich City. Football players and managers are well used to the perils of social media but imagine if you discovered that your own boss was one of the keyboard warriors trolling you over your performanc­e? retained his place on the board (although he later declined to stand for re-election). Frank resigned, delivering one of those terse summaries which are emerging as his stock-in-trade: “It is no secret that the relationsh­ip between Jan and me has been strained from time to time, and after the last days of massive media attention, he and I had a talk. Based on that talk, I have chosen to end the co-operation.” Co-operation is a Thomas Frank mantra and that is just as well given that Brentford, who last appeared at the most senior level in English football in 1947, are a club run along unusual and progressiv­e lines. The Bees are subscriber­s to the Moneyball theory which holds that smaller clubs can find a lucrative niche by identifyin­g undervalue­d players or developing talent which they can eventually sell for a significan­t profit while at the same time delivering consistent onfield results. There is a heavy reliance on statistica­l analysis and Frank attracted much attention when he produced a whiteboard to explain his tactical vision during a drinks break in an important match against Charlton Athletic. Brentford were losing 1-0 to Lee Bowyer’s side at that time but went on to win 2-1 with late goals. He works alongside not one, but two, co-directors of football fellow Dane Rasmus Ankersen, a former player, author and high-performanc­e expert, and Phil Giles, statistica­l guru (and Newcastle United fan) whose analysis feeds into player recruitmen­t and selection. Together they report to owner Matthew Benham. Giles told the in Newcastle: “My interpreta­tion of the data is different and this is really complicate­d data. For example, player tracking data is very complicate­d. We want to look at it differentl­y to other clubs. If we look at it the same way, we come to the same conclusion­s and we’re in the same place in the league. “I would hope that in a few years’ time if someone says ‘Brentford’ to you, you’ll know exactly what the club is about — regardless of who the coaching team is.” game and has at his disposal the muchadmire­d “BMW” strike force of Said Benrahma, Bryan Mbeumo, and Ollie Watkins. Mbeumo was signed from Troyes in France for €7.2m; Benrahma from Algeria draws comparison­s with Riyad Marhrez and is coveted by a number of Premier League clubs while Watkins can play either as striker or attacking midfielder and opened the scoring in the second leg game against Swansea. In full flow, this trio can be irresistib­le, and promotion will allow Brentford to retain their services. After Brentford blew their chance of automatic promotion and slipped to a 1-0 first-leg defeat in Wales Frank went full Henry V to press and players: “I can feel inside my body how my emotions are and when I speak to the players and speak to the staff, we are in total combat mode. We will come out flying. “We will do everything we can to make it a last magical moment at Griffin Park that can stay with fans forever. I can promise them that when we are done, I know that I personally will carry my players off the pitch if they cannot do that themselves.” Brentford stands at the confluence of the River Brent, a sometimes pretty river that meanders through North West London, and the River Thames which was crossed at its highest tidal point by Julius Caesar and his legionarie­s in 54BC. The poet John Betjeman wrote of it: “Gentle Brent, I used to know you Wandering Wembley-wards at will” Bees supporters would like to be wan- Evening Chronicle That was exactly what happened to Thomas Frank who resigned from Brondby when it was revealed that his chairman, internatio­nal businessma­n Jan Bech Andersen, had been discrediti­ng him online using the handle ‘Oscar’ and, it was suggested, utilising his son’s log-on credential­s. In what inevitably became known as “Oscargate” Andersen stepped down as chairman but F RANK was brought in after Oscargate in Brondby as part of Dean Smith’s team to assist the evolution and passage of young players into the full squad (Brentford have a much-admired youth developmen­t policy and also run a B team). When Smith departed to Aston Villa in 2018 Frank was appointed head coach and is contracted until 2023. His start was traumatic coinciding with the tragic death of technical director Robert Rowan at the age of 28, and a sequence of only one victory in his first 10 games. They ended the season outside the play-off places but for much of 2019/20 looked nailed on for automatic promotion until inexplicab­le defeats to Barnsley and Stoke City. Frank favours a speedy 3-4-3 relentless possession and intense-pressing dering Wembley-wards tonight and the sadness is that they have not had the opportunit­y to say a proper goodbye to their 116-year home. They will be playing next season (and sharing with London Irish rugby) at the nearby Brentford Community Stadium. They will leave behind Griffin Park, a fine traditiona­l ground famous for a pub on every corner (The Griffin, The Princess Royal, The Brook, and The New Inn) and Frank has promised to have a pint in each of them if Brentford win tonight and join the Premier League. With the best of will towards Scott Parker and Fulham FC, it would be a storybook end to a surreal campaign. And would introduce a cerebral and bright wattage new personalit­y for us to watch. Allan Prosser Derry victory a fitting tribute to legendary president Hume FAI still in dark over Bulgaria game and other autumn fixtures St Patrick’s Athletic Derry City Paul Buttner 0 2 SSE Airtricity Premier Division P 6 6 6 5 6 6 5 5 5 6 W 6 4 4 3 2 2 2 1 1 1 D 0 1 0 0 1 1 0 1 0 0 L 0 1 2 2 3 3 3 3 4 5 F 18 13 7 4 6 4 3 3 4 1 A 5 5 3 5 6 5 5 9 8 12 Pts 18 13 12 9 7 7 6 4 3 3 Shamrock Rovers Dundalk Bohemians Waterford Derry City St Patrick’s Athletic Shelbourne Finn Harps Sligo Rovers Cork City Brendan O’Brien SSE Airtricity Premier Division Stephen Kenny and the FAI are still awaiting news on whether they can travel to Bulgaria for their Nations League game at the start of September. The Sofia fixture is due to be the first of seven, and maybe eight, fixtures on the table for the new Republic of Ireland manager this autumn, but rising Covid-19 numbers, both here and around the world, continue to cast doubt on all of Uefa’s bestlaid plans. Bulgaria is not on the so-called ‘green list’ of countries put together by the Irish Government. As it stands, the Irish men’s team will need special dispensati­on to avoid quarantine protocols if they are to play there on September 3 and then at home to Finland three days later — if the fixture goes ahead at all. Uefa retain the right to move a game to a neutral venue if need be and the FAI is, according to Niall Quinn, planning for every eventualit­y. That includes the possibilit­y that games, including October’s Euro 2020 play-off in Slovakia (which is on the green list), may yet be scuppered. “We may have to think another way,” said Quinn yesterday following the news that there was a suspected Covid-19 case reported here by a Waterford player. “That’s just the climate that we’re in, safety first at all times. If that means things have to change, things will change.” This also has implicatio­ns for Kenny’s womens’ counterpar­t Vera Pauw, whose team is due to play crucial European Championsh­ips qualifiers in the coming months. The men’s U21s are also set for competitiv­e games in the autumn. This is not just an FAI issue, given that clubs will bear more than a passing interest in what is being asked of their players while on internatio­nal duty. Quinn expressed the hope that common sense will prevail. “All we can do is try to be ready for the next move at all times,” he said. A debut goal from new signing James Akintunde and a second from captain Conor McCormack got Derry City’s season back up and running at Richmond Park. Declan Devine’s visitors emphatical­ly exorcised the ghosts of Friday’s disappoint­ing home defeat to Sligo Rovers as they showed more energy and desire than St Pat’s who were a shadow of the side that earned a point at champions Dundalk the same night. Having observed a minute’s silence in memory of club president John Hume, Derry started a little sluggishly with goalkeeper Peter Cherrie worked inside six minutes. St Pat’s skipper Robbie Benson found the target from just outside the area with a crisp drive to force the save in what would prove the main note of a fitful first half. Much improved from Friday’s disappoint­ing home loss to Sligo Rovers, Derry played their way into the game, troubling the home goal for the first time on 20 minutes when midfielder Joe Thompson swivelled to curl a shot not far wide after probing play between McCormack and Akintunde. Walter Figueira then drilled narrowly past Brendan Clarke’s right-hand post as Derry’s work-rate continued to frustrate St Pat’s. Though they enjoyed decent spells of possession, St Pat’s had plenty of food for thought at the interval with manager Stephen O’Donnell duly making a change when introducin­g Jason McClelland to replace the ineffectiv­e David Titov on the right of midfield. It mattered little, as Derry’s general pattern of the first half was maintained with their deservedly taking the lead four minutes into the second half. Right-back Colm Horgan got forward down the right to combine with Jack Malone whose low cross was swept low past Clarke to the far corner of his net by Akintunde. St Pat’s needed a response and a bout of pressure almost delivered it seven minutes later as Cherrie had to be fully alert to tip away an in-swinging shot from Jordan Gibson. McClelland then blasted just over as St Pat’s searched for a cutting edge which didn’t materialis­e before Derry struck for their killer second goal on 72 minutes. Figueira set up McCormack who picked his spot sublimely from 20 yards out. St Pat’s rallied late on but couldn’t beat Cherrie who saved brilliantl­y on two occasions from substitute Martin Rennie. ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC: Clarke; Feely, McNally, Desmond, Titov (McClelland, h-t), Ward (Forester, 52), Lennon (Markey, 75), Benson, Griffin; Kelly (Rennie, 63), Gibson (Burns, 75). Cherrie; Horgan, Gilchrist, Toal, Coll; McCormack; Malone (Clifford, 89), Thompson, Bruna (Mallon, 66), Figueira; Akintunde (Harkin, 84). Rob Hennessy (Clare). DERRY CITY: Referee:

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