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We want our trophies back

Article from Hoops Scene (Shamrock Rovers v Sporting Fingal, 8 October 2010)

With 15 league title and 24 FAI Cup wins, Shamrock Rovers are the most successful football club in League of Ireland history. Those wins, including the incredible four leagues in a row during the 1980s, are still remembered in song by the Rovers fans. The phrase ‘cup specialists’ is trotted out each time Rovers are entered into the draw for the FAI Cup. Towards the back of every Rovers match programme is the Roll of Honour which lists the extensive haul of trophies by the club. However, a quick look at this list for wins over the last 20 years shows only one major trophy win worth talking about and that was the last league title Shamrock Rovers won back in 1994. Rovers have been up towards the top of the Airtricity League of Ireland table for most of this season. The Hoops will return to Tallaght next weekend to face St. Patrick’s Athletic in the Ford FAI Cup semi final. So Rovers are on the brink of getting a trophy this season, trophies which in the past have been regularly adorned with green and white ribbons. But no trophies have been won yet and Michael O’Neill and his men must earn the right to win those trophies.

Rovers’ last two league titles have come in periods where the club has not been wandering from different home venue to different home venue. The penultimate league title came at the conclusion of the famous four in a row era. This coincided with the final season in Milltown before the disgraceful selling of the ground by the Kilcoyne family. The last time the Hoops picked up the league title was during their six year tenure in the RDS in the 1990s. Maybe there is a happy omen in both those league wins, now that Rovers are fully embedded in Tallaght. In the wilderness years that Rovers suffered waiting for the completion of the Tallaght stadium project, they did have a few opportunities to win trophies but they could not lay their hands on the major prizes on offer.

One trophy that the Hoops did win was the Leinster Senior Cup. That competition was resurrected this season following its hibernation initially brought about by the ‘foot and mouth’ crisis of 2001. The Hoops have won that trophy on no less than 16 occasions. The last time was during the tenure at Tolka Park in 1997. In the team that night were two players who now manage in the League of Ireland. One of those players was Tony Cousins. Cousins, who scored goals by the dozens as the terrace chant goes, now manages Longford Town who Rovers beat earlier on in the season en route to next weekend’s FAI cup semi final. The other player who is now a manager is the man in charge of the only team that can stop Rovers winning the league this year, Bohemians manager Pat Fenlon.

In the FAI Cup, Rovers have won an amazing 24 times out of the 88 editions of the competition and that includes a staggering six in a row during the sixties. However it is 1987 since the last cup win for the club. Rovers have been close on a couple of occasions over the past 20 years including the shock defeat in the final to Galway United in 1991. In 2002, the Hoops managed to be beaten in both a semi final and final that year. As the league was switching from winter to summer football, there were two FAI cup competitions in 2002. In the first series of FAI cup semi finals in 2002, the Hoops lost 4-0 up in Dundalk. In the second series of semis, the Hoops went one better defeating Bohemians but were then beaten in the final in Tolka Park which was Rovers’ temporary home venue back then. During this barren spell, some of the lesser lights in the Irish game like Bray Wanderers and Longford Town have even won the cup twice. Rovers can at least say they have won the trophy more recently than next week’s semi final opponents St. Patrick’s Athletic who have not won the cup since 1961.

It was in 2006 that Rovers picked up their last trophy win when they claimed the First Division title. The club had been relegated into that division for the very first time in the previous season. In what fans often referred to as the ‘Discover Ireland’ league, the Hoops faced trips outside of Dublin for every away game. The nearest thing to a derby that year was the trip to Newbridge to play Kildare Country. Along with Kildare, Kilkenny City and Cobh Ramblers were all opponents that season that no longer play in the League of Ireland. Rovers brought huge away crowds to venues all around the country. Home fans turned up for a chance to see the famous green and white hoops and were serenaded with singing from the away fans claiming they were “only here to see the Rovers!” In previous seasons, the Hoops had struggled towards the bottom of the Premier Division so it was a pleasure for fans to see the team winning most weeks – something they have enjoyed this season too but in the top division.

At no stage were the team comfortably clear on top of the First Division table and a points deduction due to playing an ineligible players did not help matters. The crucial victory was probably four games from the end of the season. That night rivals Dundalk lost at home while the Hoops won 2-0 in Limerick. The match was played in Hogan Park in front of a hostile home crowd and a 40 foot trailer beside the pitch acting as the stand. Current Rovers A team manager Andy Myler was on hand to crucially score both the goals that night.

In their last game of the season, Rovers travelled to Cobh on top of the league with an unassailable goal difference. They still needed a point to be presented with the trophy on the night. St. Colman’s Park hadn’t seen such a sizeable away crowd in years. The Hoops faithful had flocked to the venue many flying to Cork on the day of the game. All the hotels in the area were booked out or double booked out in the case of one hotel owned by the former owner of City City Football Club. It took a goal six minutes from the end of the game by Tadhg Purcell to get the point that brought certainty to Rovers getting the trophy on the night. It was Aidan Price, the only player involved in that win who is still with the Hoops, who as captain lifted the trophy. In the celebrations that followed then manager Pat Scully was lifted onto the fans shoulders. Scully gave a short but sweet speech perched on the window sill of the dressing room. “We are Shamrock Rovers,” said Scully, “and we win!” No doubt Michael O’Neill and the current Shamrock Rovers squad will look to echo that sentiment as they battle for those precious trophies over the closing weeks of this 2010 season.

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