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A Season To Remember

November 7, 2018

From the dismal depths of deepest winter to the promised land of milk, honey, and European football of course, the rollercoaster journey both endured and enjoyed by the loyal legions of claret and blue supporters over the last year truly ranks among the greatest stories of resurgence ever to emanate from our beleaguered league.

Having shipped 25 defeats in 36 outings last season, many of my contemporaries in the media saw only bad omens for the Drogs as the early-season obituaries arrived at their droves on the Windmill Road.

Indeed, who could blame them. A narrow defeat against the reigning champions and champions-elect, as many saw them, in front of the RTÉ cameras on a bone-chilling March night did little to dissuade the pundits from their ominous premonitions of toil, tears, and relegation.

But while Drogheda United’s pre-season prospects were being talked into oblivion, the green shoots of recovery sewn quietly on both the pitch of Hunky Dorys Park as well as the boardroom during those bleak winter months would soon emerge with their bounty, and in quite spectacular fashion.

March 9th, Turner’s Cross.

Two goals in arrears and seemingly without a prayer, those plucky few who made the arduous trek south seemed resigned to yet another summer of discontent.

But, undeterred by their earlier failings, Mick Cooke’s newly-formed band of brothers saw it as the perfect opportunity to showcase the fortitude and camaraderie which had been nurtured so diligently on the training pitch in Mosney during the off-season.

Three United goals later, and the summer’s earliest embers provided warmth for the Boyneside faithful against the dank, miserable conditions on Leeside that night.

Fast-forward three months, and those tentative embers had grown into a blazing inferno that threatened to burn the title aspirations of both the Rovers and Pat’s alike.

Ireland may have been flailing in the Euros, but Drogheda’s stunning form sufficed to keep the locals content as a 2-1 triumph in Dundalk proved the catalyst for a six-match winning streak that would elevate them to second, and within touching distance of one-time runaway leaders Sligo.

Many were left in awe at such an unfancied side’s achievements as a critical juncture of the season approached, but upon perusal of the squad it’s not difficult to ascertain why such an unheralded team gelled so successfully to produce spectacular results.

With Cooke’s ex-Monaghan contingent firing on all cylinders, scintillating performances from old favourites such as Fabio and the Brennans were augmented by demonstrations of the utmost resilience from a well-regimented defence to propel Cooke’s charges up the table.

By season’s end, the goalkeeping revelation that was Gabriel Sava would boast 10 clean sheets compared to last season’s meagre tally of just two as his side reduced the ‘goals against‘ figure by an incredible 41 compared to last year.

Drogheda of 2012 proved a thoroughly different proposition to what had come before all over the field, and symptomatic of this monumental turnaround was a scoring prowess which saw this year’s vintage rack up 19 more goals than in 2011 despite playing six games less

Stalwarts such as Alan McNally, Stephen Quigley and Brian Gannon, who had toiled for so long in an under-protected defence to such little reward, were leased from their shackles of yesteryear as their team recorded an incredible 38% increase in victories compared to 2011, and suffered 18 fewer defeats in the process.

Facts and figures are one thing, but silverware is what the supporters crave.

And that particular craving was satisfied in late September as, having vanquished the hoodoo of perennial bogey team Shamrock Rovers with a sublime 3-1 win, club captain Paul Crowley ascended the steps of Tallaght Stadium to hold aloft the EA Sports Cup and bring the title back to Boyneside for the first time in 28 years amid rapturous celebrations.

One would think a club that had endured such a tumultuous existence in previous years would be happy to settle for the acclamation it had already achieved, the top-four position it currently occupied and a nice pat on the back from those critics they had already dumbfounded.

But one would be wrong.

Six days after the Bit o’Red had put paid to the Drogs’ lofty title ambitions that had once seemed so far-fetched, the Louthmen exacted their revenge as Gannon’s superlative injury-time winner against the newly-crowned champions ensured that he and his team-mates would be embarking on the club’s first European adventure since Kiev in the year ahead.

The season’s final hurdle came and went the following week as the squad validated their claim of second best in the country with a facile 4-1 triumph in Dalymount.

But as the shrill ring of the final whistle reverberated around the famous old Phibsboro venue, the sight of Drogheda’s victorious players humbly crossing the white line to salute those who had shown such loyalty all season signified not only the culmination of a job well done, but the commencement of another odyssey which promises yet bigger and better rewards as a bright future dawns ahead.

From the author:
A very special thank you to all our readers as an outstanding year for the club as a whole draws to a close. Anyone who’d like to pick holes in my pre-season predictions now seems as good a time as any! (http://www.droghedaunited.ie/blog/post.php?s=2012-03-01-the-drog-blog-season-preview)

Also, be sure to keep tabs on the section as we’ll have Mick Cooke’s views on the season in a special interview with the man himself next week (http://www.droghedaunited.ie/blog/index.php)

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