There is the world of football, then there is the world of football according to Football Manager.
With some of the Scoreline team about to embark on a year-long Football Manager journey (since we discovered that online gaming is a bit of craic), I decided to get the jump on Football Manager 2021 by restoring the Black Cats to the League of Ireland.
I am, of course, talking about Kilkenny City and the bustling bright lights of Buckley Park on the Callan Road just outside the city.
Why Kilkenny City?
Why not, more to the point. I’m a firm believer that every county in the country, much like hurling and football, should have a League of Ireland team they can get behind.
We’re getting close in this neck of the woods with Carlow Kilkenny FC but through the 80s, 90s and early 00s, Kilkenny City were the team that could make your Friday night or break your heart time and time again.
Success didn’t come along all that often but in the 1996/1997 season, Kilkenny cruised to the First Division league title, with 11 points to spare no less.
I’m pretty sure I’d been attending games at that stage but to have your local side win the league title? Magic stuff.
The trip to the Premier Division wouldn’t last long and while the club made it back again, managerial, player, money and other woes mounted in the decade that followed and ultimately the club resigned from the league in 2008.
But with the powers of Football Manager, there’s always a way back.
I’ve done this before
I’ve attempted to resurrect Kilkenny City on more than one occasion in the game.
For the uninitiated, Football Manager is essentially sexy spreadsheets that spring to life by watching dots bounce around the screen with a text-based commentary that would put even Brendan Hennessy to shame at times.
Yes, it’s improved vastly over the years, but when I started playing in 97/98, perhaps even before then, that’s what you got.
Nowadays is all fancy 3D pitches and players.
My most attempt was in Football Manager 2019 and it lasted all of about ten games. But we were contenders, hovering around third in the league with a few wins already under our belts.
That gives me some home for the ten-year challenge I have in mind for January as it turns out that hovering anywhere above 9th would be a blessing given what we’ve seen of the simmed season. So, let’s take a look.
Season 1 (2021)
If you don’t follow the League of Ireland, you’ll notice here that the seasons run inside calendar years, unlike the Premier League or other European leagues. It does make it tricky for Irish clubs that end up in European competitions but if that’s all you have to deal with to play on the big stage, how bad.
Kick-off is 4 January 2021, earliest allowable date for the Irish pre-season.
First season back, kick-off 2021. Installed with 100/1 odds but Shamrock Rovers 2 should finish below them.
Things looked so promising. A 3-1 win against Freebooters in the preseason, followed up by a 2-2 draw against Castlewarren. 12 games in to get their first point, a 1-1 draw at home to UCD.
5 games later, it was a 3-2 win on the road to Shamrock Rovers B. Shels win, Cork up through promotion, beating Finn Harms in the promotion/relegation playoff.
Season 2 (2022)
Italy beat France on penalties to lift the world cup in Qatar.
Kilkenny, 3 wins – Athlone Town 1-0 at home; Wexford 2-1 at home. Beat Killester in the first round of the senior challenge cup, only to get knocked out by Dundalk a week later. Finished the season with a win at home to Wexford, 2-1.
Manager John Scott sacked in the offseason, club finish bottom of the table again. Garrett Dodrill takes over and leaves New Years Eve 2022.
Season 3 (2023)
Mark Long is caretaker manager through pre-season before James Fox takes over before leaving at the end of the year.
The club would record wins over Wexford (2-1), Athlone Town (2-1) then not win a game from St. Patrick’s Day until 21 September, again with a win over Athlone. They would finish the season on a high with a 1-0 win on the road to Cobh Ramblers.
Season 4 (2024)
Showing a little more promise here, it would be May, three months into the season before picking up their first win, a 2-1 away trip to Cobh. Five draws in the opening two months would put points on the board and draws were certainly more common than wins. That was it for the league.
Season 5 (2025)
There’s no problem in pre-season, a few Leinster games throw up five matches unbeaten. Kick off the league campaign and it’s seven losses on the bounce before salvaging a draw against Shamrock Rovers II.
They would beat Wexford in August (the league started in February), before picking up two cup wins in early rounds. One league win, that’s all you’ve got.
Season 6 (2026)
This was a similar affair, Kilkenny now with the habit of not winning in their first nine or ten fixtures only this year it took them to their 15th outing in the league, a visit from Athlone Town to Buckley Park to pick up a win.
They would be Cobh and Drogheda late in the season to pick up their third win of the campaign.
Season 7 (2027)
The year that started with a statement of intent – at home to Athlone on the first day of the season at a 2-1 win on the Callan Road.
They would get the better of Athlone again in July (with a handful of draws in between) and that, as the fella says, was that.
Season 8 (2028)
Wins over Wexford (early), Athlone (mid) and Bray Wanderers (last day) made for some of the points earned over the season. There was that one day that 20 people hopped in the car from Kilkenny to head to Firhouse Community College for a Leinster Senior Cup third round game and were rewarded with a win.
Alas, Bohs would have them shopped in the fourth round.
Season 9 (2029)
Another new manager at the helm and it’s five wins on the bounce in pre-season. Are things looking up? Finn Harps are beaten in Buckley Park on the opening day of the season – promising. Five draws in six games in March show they’re not will to be rolled over.
It’s followed by two wins on the bounce in April against Cobh and Longford, surely this is the season.
Then the wheels fall off. There are wins against Longford again in May and a season-ending winner against Drogheda, but ultimately another season of disappointment for the Black Cats.
Season 10 (2030)
Wexford, Athlone and Cobh – three sides Kilkenny know they can pick up points from and they manage to do it once each this season. Their repeated failure to score in home fixtures, even against local KDL sides is a concern.
Season 11 (2031)
The last seasons we’ve simmed for throws up three wins in the league for Kilkenny’s first four fixtures. Incredible stuff. A draw with Bray is followed by a thumping from Galway, followed up by a thumping from Shamrock Rovers II.
Kilkenny wouldn’t pick up another league win until the last fortnight of the season, a 2-1 win over Drogheda.
So what now?
Well, ten or eleven seasons in gives a bit of an idea as to what to expect with the side restored to the game.
We’re brewing some Football Manager content at Scoreline HQ and while a trip to eastern Europe may be on the cards for Shane O’Keeffe and me, I’ll be plugging away on Kilkenny City’s reintroduction to the League of Ireland from Friday 8 January over at kenmc.com.
You can follow the journey (and see what Shane is getting up to week-to-week) on the all-new Scoreline FM podcast, kicking off later this month.