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The Place to Be – Interview with Ken Oman

Interview from Hoops Scene (Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians, 30 May 2011)

The difference between winning and losing, between success and failure and between exhilaration and despair can be very small. In terms of the Airtricity League last year, the margin between being champions and runners up was a mere two goals. After 36 league games, both Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers were on 67 points and only goal difference could be used to separate the two teams. In the title run in, both sides had chances to win the league but Rovers were the ones who emerged victorious. In the first Dublin derby of this season, the teams were again evenly matched with Bohs going ever so close to defeating the Hoops in Dalymount Park. A late injury time equaliser by Ronan Finn meant both teams emerged with a point from the game.

That first derby of the season was also the first derby for a number of players who had switched from green and white to red and black and vice versa for the 2011. Ken Oman the player who moved from Bohs to Rovers over the winter and he has quickly become a crowd favourite with the Hoops with a fine start to his Rovers career.
For Oman, the switch to Rovers was a fresh start for a player who had two spells at Bohemians either side of a two year stint with Derry City. “I’m loving it here,” said Oman. “Things are going well and training has been excellent. The club is run very well. Michael [O’Neill] and Trevor [Crolly] are very good at what they do with everything done thoroughly. Rovers are where I’m at and I’m delighted to be here. Even when I was winning things at Bohs, I always said to myself that in another few years that Shamrock Rovers is going to be the place to be. I have been lucky enough to be at places where things were going well like at Derry and I had good days at Bohs. Even though I was at Bohs and I won a few things there, I’m more than happy to be at Shamrock Rovers. I hope this year will be a good year for me. If I was released from Shamrock Rovers, where do I go after Shamrock Rovers? There is nowhere to go. Where do you get the amount of fans that you get here? You only get that at Shamrock Rovers.”

His time to date at Rovers couldn’t really have gone any better with the Hoops on top of the league and the first trophy of the season, the Setanta Sports Cup, already on display in Tallaght. “It is nice to have a trophy already but the main thing is the league, as that is our priority,” said the 28 year old who has slotted in nicely alongside captain Dan Murray in the Rovers defence. “I always said Dan was a good player but it is only when you get to play beside someone that you realise how good a player they are.” When asked to expand on the partnership with Murray, Oman was quick to say that “I hate to call it a partnership as that is being disrespectful to other players who can play there including Craig Sives and Pat Flynn. Craig has been out injured all season and he came back in against Drogheda where he did really well. He scored from a free kick the other day and it is important that us defenders can chip in. Against Drogheda, it took a centre half going up for a free kick to score and that got the ball rolling. We have a big enough squad and it can be rotated. There is quality in depth in the squad. I’ve played in a few big squads and it does keep you on your toes.”

At the none to full Aviva Stadium last week, there were a number of former League of Ireland players playing in the match between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. These included Seamus Coleman, Keith Fahey and a former Bohs players in Stephen Ward who got the opener for the home team. Now with Millwall, there was also a former team mate of Oman’s from Derry, David Forde, who made a second half appearance in goal for Ireland. At the other end, a poor defensive display was one of the reasons for the 5-0 defeat for the North, who could have done with the Rovers No.1 between the sticks for them. “I don’t understand how he is not involved in the Northern Ireland set up,” said Oman of Alan Mannus who has four international caps with the north. “He is a class act the way he goes about his business. I’ve played behind good keepers like David Forde and Barry Murphy at Bohs. Alan is even more commanding and is easily the best goalkeeper in the league. He mightn’t have much to do in a game but he will be called to make one big save and he will do it. When he is called upon to do it, he does it well. In other games, he has kept us in it. It builds confidence to have such a goalkeeper behind you. You know what he is about; he is commanding in the box. I’ve played with keepers and you’d be heading balls on the bleeding’ six yard line! But will with Al, you know when the ball comes into his area, he is onto it.”

When the teams lined out for the recent Setanta Sports Cup final, there were a few questions raised as to why Ken Oman had been dropped. He, of course, hadn’t been dropped but he was unrecognisable without his long flowing hair. There was some comment that, like Samson, cutting his hair might mean the loss of his super powers but a powerful performance against Dundalk in the final put pay to that talk. “To be fair, I had enough; I couldn’t keep wearing the silly hair band!” joked Oman. “I done it for a couple of months but the missus was on me back about getting me hair cut. It is all right wearing a hair band on the pitch but off the pitch you can’t wear a bloody hair band so it’s all in your face! People will think now me and Sives are brothers!”

That Setanta Sports Cup final win meant a new trophy for the Rovers collection and a new medal for Oman to go along with this two League of Ireland titles, two FAI Cups and three League Cup medals. “I was delighted to get the win. I think we play good football. We have the players to play, especially in midfield. We have changed the system around a few times but whatever system we play, we look good, be it 4-4-2 or 4-3-3. Michael [O’Neill] has been working on stuff like that on the training ground. Everyone is tipping us to win everything this year but it isn’t as easy as that. We aren’t going to go out and have teams just roll over. Everyone talks about the brand of football that Sligo play but they go quite direct especially with Blinkhorn up front. It isn’t really that attractive; in the games we played against them they tended to go very direct. I think Derry would play more football than Sligo.”

There has been much discussion at Rovers on last season’s seesaw title run in and that infamous Sporting Fingal game late in the season so it was interesting to hear Oman’s take from his position last season in the Bohemians dressing room. With just two games to go, the Gypsies had the upper hand after the Hoops let in two injury time goals to lose to Sporting Fingal. However in Bohs’ penultimate game of the season against Galway, they lost. This handed the momentum back to Rovers for the final night of the season when Bohs played Dundalk. So did Bohemians think they had won the league after Rovers’ late capitulation to Sporting Fingal? “No, to be fair we didn’t as we knew what could happen. I remember we had played Pats and won 1-0. I came straight home and watched the Fingal game. Fingal were terrible, Rovers could have been five or six up. There were a few one on ones and to be fair Quigley [Fingal’s goalkeeper] kept them in it. There was confusion in the box for the first goal and a deflection for the second goal. I couldn’t believe it was 2-1.”

“In the Galway game, we were going into that with only one point out of three games against them. We knew they were a so called bogey side and we never took anything for granted. We were pushing and pushing and we ended up getting beaten. After that Galway game, I kind of felt we had lost the league. We had thrown it away and that night down in Galway was horrible. We probably felt the way the Rovers felt after the Fingal game. That is the way we felt, the following week against Galway.”

Having had the experience of winning and losing league titles by small margins, does Oman think that you need to lose a league to eventually win a league? “It comes with experience. Maybe you do need to feel the hurt of losing to you spur on. That is probably what happened to Rovers last year. The hardest thing in the league is to stay on top. It is harder to lead than to follow. As soon as you go top, that is the hard part. We were chasing all the time at Bohs, all the pressure was on Rovers and then it was on us. We were there on top for a week and then we were gone. You can only really blame yourself if you lose the league at the end of the year, thinking about the points we could have picked up or where we dropped them, here or there.”

“At the end of the season, it doesn’t matter whether you win the league by 20 points or 20 goals or one goal, you won the league and that’s the way it is. I remember my first year at Bohs, we won the league by 20 points. But it doesn’t really make a difference how you win the league, as long as you are sitting on top of the league at the end of the year. Twice I’ve lost it on goal difference and it is a horrible feeling. For the first few days after it, all you keep saying to yourself is that you’ve lost on bloody goal difference! Bohs had the best defensive record last year but still lost it as there weren’t enough goals scored. If you are not scoring enough goals, you get punished. Twiggy, gets a couple of chances and he scores and if you have someone in the team that is scoring regularly, you will always have a chance when you are keeping a few clean sheets.”
“In the Galway game, we were going into that with only one point out of three games against them. We knew they were a so called bogey side and we never took anything for granted. We were pushing and pushing and we ended up getting beaten. After that Galway game, I kind of felt we had lost the league. We had thrown it away and that night down in Galway was horrible. We probably felt the way the Rovers felt after the Fingal game. That is the way we felt, the following week against Galway.”

Having had the experience of winning and losing league titles by small margins, does Oman think that you need to lose a league to eventually win a league? “It comes with experience. Maybe you do need to feel the hurt of losing to you spur on. That is probably what happened to Rovers last year. The hardest thing in the league is to stay on top. It is harder to lead than to follow. As soon as you go top, that is the hard part. We were chasing all the time at Bohs, all the pressure was on Rovers and then it was on us. We were there on top for a week and then we were gone. You can only really blame yourself if you lose the league at the end of the year, thinking about the points we could have picked up or where we dropped them, here or there.”

“At the end of the season, it doesn’t matter whether you win the league by 20 points or 20 goals or one goal, you won the league and that’s the way it is. I remember my first year at Bohs, we won the league by 20 points. But it doesn’t really make a difference how you win the league, as long as you are sitting on top of the league at the end of the year. Twice I’ve lost it on goal difference and it is a horrible feeling. For the first few days after it, all you keep saying to yourself is that you’ve lost on bloody goal difference! Bohs had the best defensive record last year but still lost it as there wasn’t enough goals scored. If you are not scoring enough goals, you get punished. Twiggy, gets a couple of chances and he scores and if you have someone in the team that is scoring regularly, you will always have a chance when you are keeping a few clean sheets.”

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