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View from the Sporting Director’s chair

Stephen McPhail isn’t the first former Ireland international who made his name at Leeds United and has looked to shape a new future at Shamrock Rovers. Back in 1977 John Giles was appointed the manager at Glenmalure Park. In ‘The Hoops – A History of Shamrock Rovers’ by Paul Doolan and Robert Goggins, the authors summarise the Giles era by noting that “he believed that he could apply professional logic with which he was familiar in England to the League of Ireland. However he was handicapped by the fact that no other club attempted to complement his ideal and as a result he was always going to be fighting an uphill battle.”

So it was interesting to hear from Stephen McPhail when Hoops Scene caught up the Shamrock Rovers Sporting Director this week, that amongst the people he spoke to around appointment was the one time Ireland and Shamrock Rovers manager.

“When I got this job I actually rang Johnny Giles and I asked to spend some time with him,” said McPhail. “We met up for three or four hours and his story was very similar to how I want to do things even though I know it was a long time ago.

“I was able to pick his brain, what he thought went wrong and what he thinks I should do and how I should go about my job. I was lucky I was able to take some ideas from that.”

Rovers’ ambitious plans for the academy at Roadstone are well underway, with a long term strategy at the club for players development. Unlike in the 1970s, other clubs around the League of Ireland are also looking to match those ambitions and McPhail, like Giles before him, thinks that is what is required.

“A lot of clubs will hopefully look at us and look to do similar. That is what we need with other clubs jumping on board to make the facilities in the country better as we are lacking that.

“What both Stephen Kenny has in Dundalk and John Caulfield in Cork is ambition to do similar to ourselves. Limerick have invested in their academy too. You hope that it catches on as there needs to be a change in this country.”

The FAI have brought national underage structures in gradually from top down with u19, u17 and now u15 national leagues in place, with an u13 league to follow – all with the aim of fostering a clear player pathway to the first team within each club.

Last week Rovers secured €180,000 financial support from the FAI to finish phase one and move forward with phase two works at Roadstone. The club hope to get final grant of planning permission shortly to construct four new dressing rooms, a coaching room and gym.

“The Junior academy (kids aged 4 to 7) moved to Roadstone a couple of weeks ago and that is the whole club in the one venue now. It was something we had spoken about with the board when I was a player, to have that feel of everyone under the one roof where we all know one another, all help one another and all look out for one another.

“We are really grateful for the funding from the FAI to help finish these top facilities where our young boys and our first team can work out of.

“For the young kids to see lads like Aidan Price (u19 manager), Stephen Rice (u17 manager), Damien Duff (Under 15 manager) and to be around them on a daily basis is great. Then there is the manager who never goes home – he lives in the place!”

So what is a typical day for the Hoops Sporting Director? “Giving you my daily routine would be mad as it really does vary. Typically, myself and the manager open up in the morning at 8 o’clock. We make sure everything is ready for the lads coming in. We have a staff meeting at 9 o’clock to prepare training and the coaches go through how the session is going to be.

“Some days I’ll be around till the academy come in at 4 o’clock. Most days are quite long but enjoyable. It is a bit of everything. I try and take the pressure a little bit off the manager in picking up some things so he doesn’t need to do them and he can concentrate on setting up his team and the coaching sessions.

“I am really enjoying it. We have a great back room staff from the head coach, first team coaches Glenn Cronin and Damien Duff, Darren Dillon (Strength & Conditioning coach), Tony McCarthy (Physio), Jose Ferrer Montagud (goalkeeping coach) and the kit men Mal (Slattery) and Gerry (Byrne).

“All of us are a really tight knit group. They work their socks off and are always looking to get better. I’m someone who they can lean on and they can pick my brains and I can point out little things that can be better. I try and knit it all together, along with the academy under Shane Robinson.

“Shane has a massive role with the academy from the u8s to the u19s. I’m around Shane on a daily basis. We see quite a bit of each other and we are always on the phone to each other – picking each other’s brain.

“He works really hard. He is really devoted to the academy and has a done a great job so far. Glenn (Cronin) has come into a coaching role in the academy and he has made a big difference.”

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Last week Robinson was with three of Rovers’ teams (u9, u10 and u11) at Premier League club Southampton. “Shane has that connection with Southampton for quite a while. They are a great club. I was over there with him and our team for an u18 game a couple months ago so we have a good relationship with them.

“Me and Shane have been to maybe six or eight clubs over the last ten months and we’ve kept in contact with them. We spent a couple of days at those clubs including the likes of Leeds where I played at. We were at Celtic and we’ve been over in Belgium too. We’ve got all sorts of help in that regard. We try and see if there is anything that we can take back and improve on here.

“Those clubs are really interested when we sit down and speak to them and tell them what we are doing; it is interesting for them to hear about our academy and us having such a young first team. I think they feel we are trying to do things right with the professionalism at the club.”

While McPhail retired from the game last year but the former Cardiff City captain still gets involved on the training pitch along with former Ireland internationals Damien Duff and Robbie Keane (who is still training with Rovers ahead of a move to India next month). Gary Shaw’s tweeted last week saying A goal was scored today in training…it started with McPhail, who played out wide to Duff who in turn crossed for Keane to finish’.

“I love getting my boots on but the body has had enough and is shouting stop!” joked the 37-year-old. When the Gaffer has been short of numbers in training I’ve jumped in.

“We had a five a side competition last week and the staff had a team in it. We won it so there was a bit of stick going around but we probably haven’t walked properly since then so we know our time is done!”

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