Brush Past and Future

All those involved in Shamrock Rovers have been living the dream over the past few months with the club managing to successfully defend their Airtricity League crown whilst competing in the Europa League group stages. For one player in particular it has been a dream come true after a nightmare last year. Richard Brush began 2011 without a club and trying to recover from a career threatening injury. The year is ending with Brush as a key player in Rovers’ European campaign and with him helping Rovers retain their League title, which they did in such dramatic circumstances against UCD last Tuesday. It doesn’t get much better than that.

It was the departure of Alan Mannus from Rovers last July that prompted Michael O’Neill to get on the phone to Brush and invite him to train with the Hoops. It was a bit of gamble to bring in a player with doubts over his fitness, but similar to the initial fitness gamble O’Neill made in 2009 with Craig Sives, it was a gamble that paid off. It was a big move for the twenty six year old to join Rovers who acknowledged the difficulty he faced in getting back into the game having been out of action for over a year. “I was coming in to prove myself again after being injured. From the football side the difficulty was trying to get back into it, having to fill Alan Mannus’ boots plus the expectations at the club. But the atmosphere (in the squad) and the lads were great and in that sense it wasn’t hard at all.”

It was a wrist injury that Brush picked up in the build up to the 2009 FAI Cup final here in Tallaght Stadium that threatened his career. “It was a simple shot before the Sligo v Fingal final, ” recalled the man born in Birmingham. “It was just the way the ball caught my hand. When I saved it, it fractured a tiny bone in my wrist, the scaphoid, and once you fracture it, it cuts off the blood supply. It was a difficult injury to come back from. If it doesn’t heal it can be a bit of a pain and it might never heal. If it had taken any longer I was looking at maybe not playing football again and having to try and move on to something else. It struggled to heal and a couple of things did go wrong but it got better and fortunately for me I got the all clear.”

During his extended layoff Brush kept himself fit and when the opportunity came to train with Rovers he jumped at the chance. “I was a free agent and was training and keeping myself fit. Until I signed for Rovers, I hadn’t tested the wrist. So I was told to come up and train and see how it went from there.” Brush impressed O’Neill during this time and signed for Rovers in July. With Ryan Thompson’s good form on taking over from Alan Mannus between the sticks, it was early September before Brush made his debut for the Hoops in the 2-1 win against Dundalk on their artificial pitch. “With Ryan’s form it looked like it could be a long time before I got back playing but fortunately for me and unfortunately for him, he got injured. It was great to get back playing again. It probably wasn’t the best pitch with the astro turf after not playing for 14 or 15 months but I was just happy to get a game and get it out of the way.”

The following game in the FAI Cup against UCD in Belfield, Brush had an impressive display keeping a clean sheet as the Students were hit for six. “The game against UCD, although the score line was more favourable towards us, was harder than the Dundalk game with the saves I had to make but that was another game that it was just good to be involved with.”

With the following cup round matching up Sligo and Shamrock Rovers, Brush needed little incentive to play against the club that signed him back in 2006. “I had been in their dressing room for over five years, so to carry on those extra yards to the away dressing room was a bit strange! That was the game I was really looking forward to and I was absolutely gutted the way the result went,” said Brush of the 1-0 quarter final defeat. “ I really wanted to get one over them so to speak”

His desire to have an affect of the outcome of the match could be seen when Brush ventured into the Sligo penalty area in injury time when the Hoops got a late corner. “I was going up thinking as much as I’d love to score it might not be a favourable result for us having to play a replay with another 90 minutes but you don’t want to lose any game,” said Brush as a replay if required was fixed for just 48 hours later. “It would still have been nice to score, I know I was only millimetres away! If that had gone in, it would have been a nice one. We would have dealt with the replay after the euphoria of not losing up there. It doesn’t matter about a fixture pile up, you’d have got on with it. We didn’t go there to lose. But we’ve come on to bigger and better things since then with us having been knocked out of the cup, the fixture pile up wouldn’t have been favourable for us if we want to look at it in a positive way.”

With 24,730 in attendance at White Hart Lane and over 900,000 watching the game in Ireland, Brush was centre stage in Rovers’ next European performance. It was a huge European night for everyone at Shamrock Rovers but for Brush, playing only his second European tie, it was even more so. The Englishman relished the challenge putting in a fine performance in Rovers’ creditable 3-1 defeat to the Londoners. Brush pulled off some great saves from Spurs stars Giovani, Defoe and Pavlyuchenko keeping a clean sheet in the first half. Early in the second half Stephen Rice put Rovers 1-0 ahead and Brush had his own view of the Rovers goal. “As soon as the ball was dropping to Sully (Pat Sullivan) you had flashes of Belgrade and you think it can’t happen again! It obviously wasn’t as pretty as that goal as it took a touch from Stephen Rice, he said he meant it but I’m not so sure! Down my end it went deadly silent with all the noise coming down from our end.” Brush was hoping for another memorable European win to go with September’s win in Belgrade. The Spurs motto emblazoned around their ground was on his mind. “I was thinking for a split second that we dare to dream, that we could cling on and get a bit more luck. They stepped it up a gear, got three goals in six minutes and it was probably job done for them after that.”

Despite the 3-1 defeat, Brush still enjoyed the occasion and the whole European experience with Rovers. “I’d never played in atmosphere as close as that before and in front of that number of people. Looking back the game flew by. Certain games you remember everything but that game did just fly by. I did enjoy every minute of it especially when you look at the standard of opposition and you look at how we played. We played very well against a team of that quality. I had played one qualifying game out in Albania with Sligo before. That was the only European adventure that I had and we went out there and got knocked out. To be involved at this length, the sort of places we are going to and the trips we are going on, it may be a once in a lifetime opportunity for us. The lads are enjoying it and as the group goes on maybe we know we can get a few results and pick up a few points.”

In last week’s game against PAOK in Thessaloniki, Brush had to watch the match on the bench as Ryan Thompson came back into the side. “Every game I’m fit for I want to be chosen for, especially in the big games, but the manager explained the reason why he was going for Ryan and I could see where he was coming from,” was Brush’s honest basement. “I was obviously disappointed not to be playing but you have to put that behind you and have to move on.”

The Shamrock Rovers bench was located towards the vocal home section and their Gate 4 ultra group and Brush was impressed with the atmosphere in Greece. “It was similar to Belgrade as they kept going for ninety minutes non-stop at that end. There was a bit more in this game with the atmosphere. There were a few bangs that went off during the game. I don’t know what they were but a few people on our bench jumped! It is a completely different sort of world football wise with everything like the atmosphere, the weather and the pitches. It is great to be involved and they are the memories that you have as well as the fans that are spending money to come away and see us. It shows how much it does mean to people.”

Brush is signed until the end of this extended season European season and is doing a spot of commuting at present with his family still based in Sligo. “If things work out longer term at the club that may have to change and bringing the family to Dublin may be a more permanent thing. At present I’m travelling up and down which is not ideal. I’m staying the odd night in the house that the club has got for us.”

Amongst all the European matches, Rovers have dealt with the immense pressure and have successfully defended their domestic title, which is an amazing achievement. Rovers were required to dig out a few results over the past month especially due to dropped points at home to Bohemians in Brush’s first experience of the Dublin Derby. “The atmosphere was amazing and our fans were absolutely brilliant. The result didn’t go our way. Unfortunately, the way things went with them getting a man sent off, we actually played better against 11 men. We seemed to be knocking it about well against 11. Unfortunately it was 1-1 after they scored a deflected goal. It put a bit more pressure back onto us but the game against Derry that was a massive massive result for us in the league and I think we were deserved winners.”

Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s game in UCD that ended with Dean Kelly’s crucial injury time winner for Rovers, Brush was clear what winning the league and collecting the trophy tonight here at Tallaght Stadium means for the club and for himself personally. “For everyone involved, the way things went in the last couple of weeks, the pressure was put on us from Sligo and Derry that to put the final nail in the coffin against UCD would be massive. Especially with the added bonus of the last game at home in front of all our fans who have come, week in, week out. For me, it would be absolutely massive. It is great. The club gave me my chance to come back. To step into a club that were still in the Champions League then, top of the league, they gave me a chance to prove myself and get back playing where it mattered. I will be massively indebted to the club for that.”

Published in Hoops Scene 21 (Shamrock Rovers v Galway United – 28 October 2011)

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