Captain Ken

Published in Hoops Scene 2/2012 (Shamrock Rovers v Monaghan United)

Damien Richardson once wrote in his verbose Shamrock Rovers programme notes that “it’s always the same sometimes”. After last year’s incredible season for the Hoops everyone at the club would be quite happy with more of the same results in 2012. There have been a number of changes at Rovers for this coming season. Most significantly, Stephen Kenny has been installed as the new manager. There is also a new goalkeeping team, new full backs and the Hoops even have a new title sponsor with SEAT coming on board. Another change is that the club has a new captain, with Ken Oman in possession of the captain’s armband this season.

“Stephen (Kenny) asked me how did I feel about being captain?” explained Oman. “I said it would be a privilege to be captain for the season. It is kind of new to me but I’ve come to the age when I’m one of the oldest in the squad. I’ve been around in the league at least 10 years so it is probably the time for me this year. It is obviously an honour and a privilege to captain any club but to be captain at Shamrock Rovers is even more of an honor.”

The 29 year old captained Rovers in their final pre-season game when The Hoops scored eight goals against Waterford United at Tallaght Stadium. Oman wasn’t getting overly excited about the scoreline though. “It was a good win but it was only a friendly. There is no point in going and beating a team 8-1 and then when it comes to the league games, not winning. I thought it was a good performance by the team. I don’t know whether it was us playing well and Waterford playing poorly on the night or a combination; it is hard to judge. I won’t be getting too carried away and I don’t think anyone else will be getting too carried away either. It was a nice way to finish off our pre-season but it will be a different kettle of fish with the league.”

Pre-season began for Rovers in mid-January a little over a month after the momentous 2011 season concluded with the final Europa League Group A game against Spurs. So did Oman think that four weeks off was sufficient a break? “It kind of worked out well,” said the man from Finglas. “The break is too long anyway in the league when it goes from the end of October to mid-January. We still nearly got a month off so it was grand. After about four weeks you think, right, I want to get back into it. Once Christmas is over, you find yourself twiddling your thumbs and thinking to yourself you wouldn’t mind being back training. Most of us felt like we wanted to get back rather than having 10 weeks off.”

In addition to the friendly matches played in Ireland during pre-season, Rovers took the opportunity to have a training camp in England for a week. As well as double training sessions per day, The Hoops played a couple of matches. The first was a 4-0 win over a Nike Academy team who are based in Loughborough University. There was also a game against a club who, like Rovers, played in the Europa League in 2011. Rovers lost 3-0 to a Birmingham City XI in a match played in Birmingham’s training ground. Rovers made the best use of their time in difficult weather situations as England was gripped by a big freeze during their trip.

As for the low temperatures, Oman joked that after the trip to Kazan, where he scored for Rovers, “we were well used to that!” before discussing how they made the most of the week in England. “Where we were staying it had everything there with gym, swimming pool and pitches. The pitches were snowed over and they couldn’t clear the pitch. We got out of it what we wanted but the weather killed it a bit but there is nothing you can do about that. We had to travel for the first game a fair bit away, a two and a half hour bus journey. We still got a good week out of it and that was the aim.”

“It has been a good pre-season; it has been a tough pre-season to be fair. I’d say it has been one of the toughest pre-season’s I’ve done but it has been enjoyable. But the real stuff starts now which is what the whole build up is for. It will be good to get going again into the new season.”

For Oman, he is particularly looking forward to the start of the season as he missed three months at a crucial time last year due to injury. As well as missing a large chunk of the league campaign, he missed the trips to Belgrade, Tottenham and Salonika. “The injury was disappointing as I played up until July when I was playing most games and I was enjoying it. But I got a bad injury in the match in Copenhagen when I did my medial ligaments in a tackle. It put a dampener on it for me. It was great what the lads achieved but it was hard when you are just sitting there watching it. Time seemed to go by so slow. It was great to come back at the end of the season and play a few games in the Europa League. I didn’t travel (for the initial group games) as I had to do rehab, doing treatment every day.”

When Oman did recover from injury in late October, he made an immediate impact on his return to his side. His goal, in the dramatic second half of the penultimate league game of the season, helped secure league title number 17 for Shamrock Rovers. Oman came off the bench in that game just after half time when Rovers went down to 10 men. He was on hand twenty minutes from time to get the opening goal with a powerful header sparking great celebrations. “It was great to contribute and score the goal,” recalled Oman. “It was hard to sit by and watch (during the injury). That goal celebration showed a lot of that frustration. It was a great feeling as it made me feel part of it all again after all the weeks not being a part of it. Just one goal and I was part of it again.”

UCD equalised minutes later and it looked like the game would end in a draw making the title race go down to the final game of the season. However, deep in injury time, Dean Kelly, who was also returning from a long injury lay off, popped up to get the winner. That goal prompted an enthusiastic pitch invasion involving the Rovers bench and it seemed most of the Rovers crowd in UCD Bowl that night. “It was a great way to win it,” said Oman. “You couldn’t have written it any better. If we had beaten UCD comfortably then the celebrations wouldn’t have been like that. But to score in the last minute, it was great. It was one of the best feelings. It was up there with the qualification for the Europa League. But the league means more. Europe is great, it is a great distraction but realistically we are not going to win the Europa League. You have to win the league to be involved in Europe. It was a great buzz for everyone involved.”

The challenge for Rovers this season will be to defend that league title once again. Stephen Kenny’s 2012 squad has the quality to do that and Oman knows how the new man in charge at Rovers will attempt to make it three in a row. “I’ve played twice under Stephen,” explained Oman of his time under Kenny at Derry City and Bohemians. “He is obviously going to put his twist on things. He wants us to play football. I know that for certain. He wants his teams to play the right way, play football and get the ball down and pass it. But in doing that you still want to be winning matches as well.”

“When a new manager and a lot of new players come in, everyone is starting on the same level. Everyone is starting afresh. Especially with pre-season, everyone wants to impress and everybody wants to be in the first eleven. Everyone is doing his best at the moment to be part of the squad. Everyone has to impress the manager and the new backroom staff. It keeps everybody on their toes.”

There are a lot of changes in the Rovers squad especially in the defensive area this season and Oman has been impressed by the new additions. “The new lads have come in and done well like Kerrea Gilbert, Graham Gartland, Colin Hawkins and Conor Powell. You also have young Ganno (Sean Gannon) who looks like he has come on another step again. Everyone looks to have settled in. With the lads who were here last year and the new players coming in, it is a good group of lads. Its important as obviously people will be disappointed when they won’t be playing every week but everyone needs to stick together for the season. It has been good and things have been freshened up so hopefully we will go on and have a good season. Looking at our squad it has strengthened again and there is a lot of depth in the squad. It is going to be tough and I think everyone will be battling for positions for their place on the team.”

And finally what are the expectations for the season especially after last year’s success in the Europa League? “Europe was a massive achievement but that is all last season. It is a whole new season coming up now. We’ve forgotten about it now. Maybe when you finished playing football you will look back and think it is a great achievement but nobody is talking about it now. All everyone is doing is concentrating now on this season and playing for your place in the team.”

“The European thing is not for a while. Everyone wants to do well in Europe. There is a financial gain for the club, which is great, but the bread and butter is the league. For us to retain the league is the main objective. But at the minute we are just looking for a good start in the league. It’s not about different competitions, winning the league or winning the cup. It’s about getting out and getting a good start to get us up there in the league. We are not talking about winning this or that, we are just concentrating on going out and winning the next game. We go out and approach every game the same and see where that leaves us. The most important thing is to get a good start in the league.”

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