Captaining a new ship

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Article from Hoops Scene Issue 2 for 2010 (Shamrock Rovers v St. Patrick’s Athletic, 16 March 2010)

This season it is new signing Dan Murray who will wear the captain’s armband for Shamrock Rovers. The new club captain brings extensive experience to this season’s Rovers squad. During his time with Cork City, he did it all. As captain he lifted the league trophy in 2005, won the Setanta Cup in 2007, played five seasons in Europe and last season went on Cork radio to organise a whip round to pay for an outstanding transport bill to allow the team bus to travel for a fixture. In the most trying of seasons, he captained the team to a very credible third in the league with that position cemented by a win against Rovers in Tallaght late in the season. It is testament to the players and their captain that they achieved third when the club was disintegrating around them due to financial mismanagement which Dan Murray has some strong opinions on. This season he is looking forward to concentrating on playing with the aim of challenging and ultimately winning some silverware.

So it was to this man that Michael O’Neill turned to as captain during the pre-season trip in Scotland as Murray told Hoops Scene when we spoke the day after the opening league game of the season. “The manager sat me down one on one and said what do I think about being captain? I’ve got a decent amount of respect from the other players from playing against most of them for a good few years. I’ve had the experience of being a captain and that’s probably why I got the job in the end. It is a great honour to be the captain of any club and it is great to be captain of Rovers. The week away in Scotland brought all the lads close together, training was good and we didn’t lose in pre-season”.

His league debut was a hard fought 1-1 draw away to Sligo Rovers. Murray seemed reasonably happy with how the game went and wasn’t put off by the delayed kick off. “You don’t really realise how big the support Rovers have until you actually play for them. Like last night with the game delayed about 10 minutes as the fans couldn’t all get in. It just goes to show that they are so hungry and so passionate about the club. To be a part of that, and even better to be the captain, is great. We started really well until they scored a goal. Apart from the goal we were pretty confident and playing pretty well. Big Al [Alan Mannus] made a couple of great saves to keep us in game”.

The draw came at a cost with the Hoops losing Dessie Baker to a nasty injury. However, Murray is quick to point out the options that the manager can call on including Graham Barrett who led the line in Sligo. “Dessie has broken his arm. He will be in plaster which is very disappointing with Gary Twigg being out injured at the same time. You don’t mind losing one of your strikers but when two of them go in the space of a couple of weeks it is disappointing especially with a full season to go. We’ll get over it , we’ve got quality players around the rest of the team. We have to deal with it the best we can.”

Murray was club captain through some turbulent times on Leeside. Last month Cork City went out of business after a lengthy and embarrassing episode for Cork and Irish football. Shamrock Rovers went into Examinership in 2005 emerging a stronger club owned by the fans that support it. However, the Examinership process for Cork City was a wasted opportunity. It is incredible that a club that sold several players to British clubs in the recent past, receiving not far off one million euro in transfer fees, went bust. They were tough time for all the players as Murray recalls, “instead of training we were having meetings about why we hadn’t been paid, were we going to take pay cuts or wages being deferred until after the season. It got ridiculous in the end. You wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. It was horrible. You didn’t know when the next pay cheque would arrive”.

The man at the helm while Cork City sunk was Chairman Tom Coughlan. The captain and chairman did not see eye to eye and Murray was unhappy with how the situation unfolded despite assurances from Coughlan. “I didn’t have the best relationship with him to be honest on a personal level. He came in with great plans and hopes. He really thought he would be able to pull off all of what he was talking about. Sometimes, he probably had the best interest in his heart. But he didn’t know what he was doing. He thought he was a law onto his own and could do what he wanted. The players would say they would have no time for the man on a personal level now or even professionally as it got too much as the season went on. The players would have accepted knowing the true situation a lot better than he thought”.

Coughlan drafted in Roddy Collins as manager of Cork City. Collins of course is the manager who, under previous Rovers club owners, switched from Dublin City to Shamrock Rovers when the two clubs were battling each other to avoid relegation in 2004 and was relieved of duties at Rovers by the new owners the very next season. His next port of call saw him with Maltese club Floriana who he left in controversial circumstances late in 2009. Collins questioned the loyalty of Murray when the Cork captain left the club to join Rovers but as Murray says “we clashed right from start. He was listening to things from probably Tom Coughlan and not really taking my account of events that had gone on which was disappointing. It seemed he wanted to get rid of me as soon as he got in the club. I don’t know whether it was because he wanted to make a mark on the team or show who was boss but that’s what it felt like from the start. It was a clash of personalities. He probably thought he was more important than anybody in Cork and didn’t respect what people were saying about me. He listened to what Tom was saying and I think Tom from a very early point told Roddy he wanted to get rid of me”.

Murray remembers well the game last season when Cork City defeated Rovers 2-1 to effectively end Rovers’ challenge for the league title. The Cork squad that day were waiting to see had they been paid before they left for Dublin. “A few people keep bringing that game up! It was a weird day as we got up there late and went a goal down with Sully [Pat Sullivan] scoring after five minutes. After that it was a great atmosphere. We played one of the best performances of the season with Billy [Dennehy] scoring a great goal to set us on our way”.

Of course Dan Murray is not the only former Cork player at Rovers and this helped his decision to sign for the Hoops. “It made it even easier speaking to Sully [Pat Sullivan who joined Rovers from Cork last season] before I signed. Billy went up and Danny Murphy signed at the same time as me. It has been easier to settle in as there is a few of us you already know. All the lads made us feel really welcome right from the start”.

He has some fond memories of playing in Cork. None more so than winning the league title in 2005 under the management of Shamrock Rovers legend Damien Richardson. “When we won the league it was a great feeling and the highlight of my career. It was a great time when we won the league when Damien was manager. We got on very well with the captain/manager relationship. He respected you and respected what you could bring to the table. He listened and got the best out of the players. His programme notes were as good as his team talk! We sometimes had to have a little discussion between the players on some of the words he used! He had his way of getting his point across. Reading in the paper and listening to him on the telly he hasn’t changed much from when he was a manager. It is entertaining for the people reading and watching but the players knew what he was after”.

And what of Murray’s status as all time record goalscorer for Cork City in Europe? “Yeah on the dizzy heights of four goals! A plus of signing for Rovers was to get to play in Europe. It is a great chance to show yourself against foreign teams. You feel like a top class player when you travel away and it’s as close as you feel to being a Premiership footballer. The squad we’ve got this year is suited to Europe. The manager has gone for quality with a fair bit of experience with people who have won trophies and have been challenging for titles. The players, as well as the supporters, are hungry for success. The club is ready to win something and that will bring the club onto another level. I think now I’m at a club where I can hopefully lift a few more trophies, the biggest one being the league title”.

Tonight is the first home league game of the season with Rovers hoping to kick start their league campaign with a win against St. Patrick’s Athletic. Everyone at Rovers hopes the team can go one step further than last season and claim the title. The Shamrock Rovers captain has certainly been looking forward to tonight’s game and the season yet to unfold. “It was the first thing I looked at when we got the fixtures, who the first game at home was going to be. It’s a Dublin derby against Pats and I’m sure there will be a massive crowd for the first game. We need to make Tallaght a difficult place for the other teams to come to and we need to win as many games as we can at home. Belief in the squad is massive and we believe we can mount a real challenge again this year. As a player, I want to play as many games as I possibly can for the club. I’m as hungry as the rest of the team to get silverware. The lads are probably a little bit sick of being called potential champions and the next best team after Bohs. We want to be the best team, we want to be spoken of as champions and that only comes by winning things. That’s the goal at the end of the season. If we’ve not come close in all the competitions we enter, it would be a massive disappointment because the quality is there to really put a great challenge together”.

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