2011/12 Winter Season

The fourth Thursday in September is always a memorable date in the Irish soccer calendar. This year it’s a little bit extra special. With the country riding high on the wave of Celtic and Shamrock Rovers securing precious slots in the prestigious Europa League group stages it’s probably fair to say a domestic astro season has never been more hotly anticipated across the continent as a whole.

The recent Irish international performance in Moscow was a wonderful showcase both for astro football and for Irish football and it is in this proud tradition that 12 teams will face off to decide the 2011/12 title. Serie A has joined the list of progressive football cultures to embrace the artificial surface recently and those that fail to appreciate the glorious fairness of the astro surface threaten to be left behind by the passage of time.

Not only is Irish football at a zenith and not only is astro football the foremost form of the game these days, but we’re greeted with a very special group of teams to contest the 2011/12 season. IPI FC return to defend their crown of course but with TFK champing at the bit (note it’s not “chomping”) and the perennial strength of Sophis, WTS and Farcenal waiting in the wings this promises to be a season to savour.

And bhoy do we start with a bang with WTS travelling to Sandymount to take on title favourites TFK. This game will go a long way to determining the strength of the two sides, both of whom will feel the title was stolen from their grasps last season.

The Contenders:

IPI FC - Defending champions who finally came good last season after a steady improvement over the past couple of seasons. Their aggressive recruitment policy finally came good last season after the commitment of players to the franchise was called into question and they’ve secured the future of star striker Cian who lead the league in goals last season. Worthy winners in 2011/11 but can they carry that form into 2011/12?

WTS - The perennial runners-up weren’t expecting TFK to fall from the top this season so settling for a place behind the onliners only resulted in third. They are a consistent force and will be hoping to follow IPI’s lead in converting regular top 3 finishes into title challenges.

Farcenal - A disappointing fourth place finish last season disguises some impressive results. They had victories over each of the top three teams and were undefeated against IPI. Still have some ground to make up on the big names but certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Sophis - An attack spearheaded by Andy outscored both WTS and TFK last season. Conceded more goals than Murexico in eighth so that’s the area to improve on. Would be a surprise if they can replicate their form of 2009/09 when they ran TFK so close but it’s far from an impossibility.

Sin Nombre - Only edged out by Sophis into sixth place at the death. Their most productive season in a while. More competitive against the Big 4 than previously but need to take more points from those games.

Murexico - Generally struggled against teams from the top half but managed to beat a disappointing TFK team in a mediocre season this summer.

Back of the interNet - Stepping up a division after finishing in second place in their division last season. Were unbeaten against the champions of their league (the Lane) and have been more than competitive in this league before. A bit of a dark horse with switching jurisdictions back to Sandymount but they certainly return with pedigree.

Mespil Rangers - Another switcher to this league from playing elsewhere in the summer where they finished fourth in a league won by Back of the interNet’s sister club - The Searchers. Their total of 45 points from 22 games was only two behind TFK’s 2011/11 total and they were within 6 points of the champions.

FMPI - Competed in the same league as Mespil Rangers and finished in sixth place with a total of 40 points. Undefeated against both Mespil Rangers and The Searchers (winning one and drawing one against each of them) suggesting they have pedigree.

Neither COST nor Eimearb Bohans have submitted data in time for this piece.

TFK AFC - Squad profiles will be published on the team’s official website (www.thefreekick.com) later in the week but at this moment in time it’s fair to say the team has been strengthened. The squad was a bit thin last season (lame portly goalkeeper jokes are not appropriate for this serious piece) and TFK have added both quantity and quality.

Fats was out of contract and with a diminishing return on the initial investment it was time to wave goodbye to a player who had been with the club from the very start. He was a loyal servant (and will surely feature in the Hall of Fame voting this Thanksgiving) but the legs had finally caught up with him. He will be retained in an advisory capacity but is no longer a full-time member of the playing staff.

On a far more positive note TFK have been successful in capturing the signature of two returning players. Most exciting is the acquisition of Stevie G, part of the engine room in TFK’s first title winning side and a player who had improved with every passing year until he was lured away by the bright lights of South County Dublin. He will bring a bite to midfield and a low pain threshold that Clarkeycat would be proud of.

More risky is the reluctant decision to offer Monkey Allen a new deal. The sluggish poacher had looked out of his depth the last time he featured for the club but after bundling home a few goals that season he was aggrieved not to be retained. There is no place for passengers at this football club but Monkey has been sent on a rehabilitation course and has been moderately successful since leaving TFK to play in the lower leagues. He will hardly play more than a bit-part role as backup to the established stars but he brings a depth to the squad that was badly missing last season.

The contracts of Bandage, Rocko, Jugs, Farmer, Croppy, Cesc4 and Clarkeycat have all been renewed (with significant and deserved salary increases for the first two). Gar remains locked in discussions about accepting a substantial pay-cut.

Prediction: TFK to win at a canter.

Wonderful piece Rocko. I took delivery of a new batch of goalkeeping gloves this afternoon and I’m now immensely looking forward to the new season. I’d like to welcome Stevie G and Monkey back to TFK also.

I’ve been looking at the fixture list and we follow up our opener against WTS with games against Mespil Rangers and Farcenal. We need a strong start after last summer’s disappointment where we never truly got going following a sluggish beginning to the season. I recall we drew and lost our first two games against IPI and Farcenal respectively.

Aside from that, I’ve been receiving a lot of PMs regarding my injury and it delights me to confirm that I’m fully recovered from my right hamstring strain after an intense period of rehabilitation over the past 3-4 weeks.

I think we’re ready to reclaim our tile. Forza TFK. :clap: