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The Write Stuff – a decade of Hoops Scene contributions

October 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Published in Hoops Scene 19/2017 (October 2017)

On the bookshelves, there they all are. Neatly packaged away in a programme folder for each year is every copy of Hoops Scene from the last ten years. On my computer, there they all are. Neatly packaged away in an electronic folder for each year, are all my contributions to Hoops Scene over the last decade.

 

As we come towards the end of the 2017 season, I realise that it is my testimonial year as contributor to the Shamrock Rovers programme. Don’t worry, I’m not looking for a programme testimonial dinner in the 1899 Suite, with Con Murphy asking me my thoughts on my favourite programme article but maybe indulge me and let me give you some thoughts on penning articles for the programme.

 

A quick flick through my computer and I reckon that this article is number 255 that I’ve written for the Shamrock Rovers match programme. It remains to be seen if this will even be published but more of that later.

 

 

 

My programme contributions began in in 2007 and I hoped to provided Hoops Scene with a bit of colour writing. They began with tales from Tolka Park as the club went into the final season of renting off rivals – Tallaght was on the near horizon for the Hoops.

 

Flicking through the programmes, I see stories on football fashion, football literature and football groundhopping adventures. My very first article was a look at the switch to summer football and how it was faring five years on from the move.

 

In 2010, the then editor asked me would I help out in doing the player interview for each programme. I was a bit unsure but did a bit of homework to develop some questions to run by the editor ahead of doing the first interview. I felt they were deemed to be okay when she said ‘there was some stalker level of detail’ about a couple of the questions!

 

The player interview is the staple of the traditional match programme in Ireland and the UK and so I do view it a privilege to get the access to the players and tell their story to the readers. The aim has always been to make it interesting for Rovers fans but also the away fans who pick up a programme when they visit Tallaght. On each match night, a programme is left for each player in both the home and away dressingroom but I’m unsure if any Rovers quotes have been pinned to the opposition wall as inspiration.

 

As the interviews are for the Rovers match programme, the players are usually fairly talkative, sometimes even too forthcoming. When one former player in a colourful interview described the chairman at his previous club as telling “more lies and more lies” during a particularly different season, the editor suggested maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea to potentially libel the chairman and the quote didn’t make the final cut.

 

When I interviewed one player after a defeat one particular season, he didn’t hold back on the performance. About an hour after I spoke to him, he rang me back and asked actually maybe it wouldn’t be such a good idea for those criticisms to be in the programme for all to read. Best left in the dressingroom and so it was.

 

I usually conduct the interview over the phone which sometimes for me means popping into a meeting room in work and making a call from there while recording on phone.

 

When a colleague came into a meeting room recently to quickly grab a jacket they had left behind, they must of wondered who the hell I was talking to that was describing a game in front of “a full house in a concrete bowl open air stadium with army everywhere. There must nearly have been 20,000 soldiers!” It was John Coady discussing a Rovers game behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s!

 

It can sometimes be difficult to track down players. A missed call from me is sometimes returned and if I’ve rung from the landline in work, I’ll get a call from reception saying something like “I’ve Gary Twigg on the line for you Macdara…” That’s something nice to hear!

 

With a Sunday night deadline for the 1,250 word interview, there isn’t much time to turnaround a programme interview if the Hoops have played on the previous Friday but the players are very good about making themselves available.

 

Some stories stand out, like when I asked Billy Dennehy who he swapped his jersey with after playing Juventus in 2010. “I decided to hold on to my own and give it to my Dad,” said Dennehy. “He will be happier than any player to have that. None of the Juventus players will know who I am, so it will be nice for my Mum and Dad to have.”

 

Stories like Stephen McPhail having his phone ring in Cardiff and have Venus Williams on the other end looking to chat with him on dealing with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune issue that McPhail and the tennis star both have to deal with.

 

Or talking to Pat Sullivan a few days after his goal in Belgrade helped the Hoops qualify for the Europa League. “(After the final whistle) I stood on the pitch for 15 minutes trying to soak it up with the few Rovers fans that were there. It was phenomenal. I’m still in a bit of shock.”

 

This year the editor asked me to also help with the ‘manager’ notes, another staple of the standard programme. There was nothing standard about Damien Richardson’s manager notes and in the past manager notes might be cobbled together with little input from the gaffer.

 

We have gone with an interview format with quotes specifically sourced for the programme from Stephen Bradley. The Hoops Head Coach takes a phonecall every Monday lunchtime ahead of each home game for a five minute chat with the copy to be with the editor by late night Monday.

 

 

Every fan wants a home draw in the cup. For programme editors and contributors, it does mean another match programme to add to the workload. However, an away draw in later rounds means a potential requirement for a quick turnaround match programme. With that in mind, that is why you are reading this piece today.

 

I’m sitting here on Saturday evening having attended a very positive club AGM in Tallaght earlier in the day. It is the eve of the FAI Cup semi-final up in Oriel Park between Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers. If you are reading these words, then it means the match in Oriel ended in a draw. A win or loss means you will never get to read this – and my Hoops Scene contribution goes back to 254.

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View from the Sporting Director’s chair

October 18, 2017 Leave a comment

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!”

Where has all the music gone? How podcasts have taken over my ears

September 18, 2017 Leave a comment

The Dublin Podcast festival runs from 19 to 30 September and I’m looking forward to taking in a couple of shows beginning on Tuesday night with Criminal and the Memory Palace at Vicar Street.

 

Over the last few years Podcasts have slowly pushed new music out of my life. Gone are the days of listening to music around the house, as the spoken word has mostly stepped in instead. Now live shows for me aren’t gigs in the Olympia but live recordings of podcasts in the Sugar Club, The Irish Times Office on Tara Street or the Liberty Hall Theatre.

 

Music is squeezed into background noise when reading a book but the soundtrack to breakfast, the lunchtime stroll and cooking dinner is 99% Invisible, the Off the Ball Football show or Tales from the East Stand.

 

The Friday night drive to a match is spent trying to squeeze the last of the League of Ireland podcasts in. A Sunday run in the Phoenix Park is with the latest episode of An Irishman Abroad. I’ve even been known to appear on a podcast – The Extratime.ie Sportscast.

 

So many podcasts and so little time and so my podcast App of choice is Overcast. With their smart speed option shortening silences, the App tells me I’ve saved 103 hours since I began using it. If you really want to you can “show the number of unfinished episodes on Overcast’s icon to add stress to your life” but I chose not to.

 

With all this and the podcast festival in mind, I kept a record of what I listened to over the last week. So read and listen on if you want some recommendations on sport, politics, Trump and the wonderful world of design – you may have to sit through some ads for Blue Apron, Square Space and MeUndies.

Monday 11 September

A mixture of sport and US politics are on the podcast menu as I start the week as I mean to continue.

 

The Cycling Podcast is a weekly show covering the professional sport. However, during the three Grand Tours they do daily shows from the Giro, Le Tour and Vuelta. The very knowledgeable contributors Richard Moore, Lionel Birne and Daniel Friebe give great insight into the pro ranks. They also have a monthly Podcast Féminin show covering the stories from the women’s peleton.

 

I also subscribe to their Friends of the Podcast series which for just £10 gives you brilliant bonus episodes on a monthly basis. Some topics this year were 15th Time Lucky (How Aussie Mat Hayman won Paris Roubaix), 1987 Giro according to Stephen Roche (I came away thinking Roche was one sneaky cyclist!) and Inside the team-car with Cannondale Drapac (a dramatic day on the rod on an Alpine stage in the Tour).

 

The New Yorker Politics and More Podcast show hosted by Dorothy Wickenden across its weekly 20 minute episodes looks to discuss the major issue in American politics of the week.

Tuesday 12 September

I’m a big fan of Second Captains. Their two episodes on Monday are free but for content across the other midweek days, you must join me and the other 8,300 or so patrons behind their Patreon paywall. The monthly subscription is $5 plus VAT with exchange rates at the moment works out at €5.67. Well worth it for the wide range of topics covered by “the boys who never go home”. However Ken Early’s monthly political podcast alone is worth the money. You also have the option of dropping out for a month which I did in July as there wasn’t any live football to discuss and I wanted to avoid wall-to-wall GAA.

 

I dip in and out of Crooked Media’s Pod Save America which is a “no bullshit conversation about (American) politics”. The show is hosted by a merry band of former Obama staffers – Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor. This week’s episode was superb as they had 45 minute interview with Hillary Clinton. The former US Presidential candidate was ubiquitous this week across all American podcast platforms – she popped up on my feed from NPR and Longform. However her best interview was later on in the week – see Saturday.

 

Wednesday 13 September

By the middle of the week, the podcasts are beginning to drop quickly into the playlist including two of my favourites.

 

99% invisible is worth listening to just for host Roman Mars’ marvellous mellifluous voice. The show covers the topic of design in short weekly 20 minute episodes. Some classic episodes are Sound of Sport and Structural Integrity. There is loads of great content on their website too.

 

Another US political podcast but this one is a bit different. The West Wing Weekly is an episode-by-episode discussion show of the Aaron Sorkin’s US hit TV show from the 2000s. You watch an episode a week and Joshua Molina (who starred in the show in the latter years) and Hrishikesh Hirway (Song Exploder – see ‘Best of the Rest’ below) dissect it in detail with actors and writers from the show. They’ve just finished season three so “What’s next?”

 

Thursday 13 September

You don’t have to be a Hoop to enjoy Tales from the East Stand but it helps. Gary Parsons and Karl Reilly take a sidewise looks at all things Shamrock Rovers each week. It is required Rovers listening. Check out the Pat Flynn monthly madness episode, I’m sure Cristiano Ronaldo has had a listen to it.

 

If the American 2016 election had been positive in any sense, it has been to raise my knowledge of politics in the US. While we might have President Bartlett over on The West Wing Weekly, we counter balance that with Donald J. Trump on Slate’s Trumpcast. With episodes every couple of days, the 20 minute show covers the Donald in great detail include a review of Trump tweets read out hilariously by John Di Domenico.

 

Irish Independent sport journalists Johnny Ward and Daniel McDonnell host the LOI Weekly hour long podcast. They could just as easily end up discussing Johnny Dunleavy’s love life and the North Korea situation at Bray as well as the usual relegation discussion.

 

Friday 14 September

I’ve subscribe to Slate Plus which for $30 gives me add free episodes across the whole range of Slate podcasts. There is also bonus content on podcasts such as the excellent weekly Political Gabfest with David Plotz, John Dickerson and Emily Bazelon.

 

The Off the Ball Football show is one I sometime listen to live on Newstalk or pick up the best bits on Podcast. The show during the week on the Clough Revie rivalry and their famous BBC interview was brilliant radio.

 

Saturday 15 September

If you want to know what the hot topic on Joe Duffy was during the week, then Playback is for you. The show goes out on RTE Radio early on Saturday morning but the podcast is always up quickly and showcases the wide range of excellent content covered by the national broadcaster during the week. It is thankfully a George Hook/Ivan Yates/Paul Williams free zone.

 

They’ve recently split The New Yorker Radio Hour into two shorter shows. This week’ first episode was a beautifully short episode on origami while the second one was an interview with Hiliary Clinton. Amazing to hear her talk about her personal dealings with Vladimir Putin.

 

Sunday 16 September

The Irish Times Worldview this week was also covering American politics with an interview with former Barrack Obama speech writer Cody Keenan. Some weeks you can be in China, other week’s Venezuela or maybe France.

 

And finally Jarlath Regan’s An Irishman Abroad is a great way to round out a week of podcast listening. Regan’s large range of interviews are with the great and the good of Irish sport, music and drama. You’re a cold person if you can’t listen to his show about donating a kidney to his brother and not have a tear in your eye!

 

 

Best of the Rest

The Irish Times Inside Politics – Damien English was on this week so I gave it a skip.

Off the Ball Panel Show – Usually a cracking listen unless it is a GAA panel.

Off the Ball Paper Review – A look across the Sunday’s sportspages

Song Exploder – Listen to musicians take their song apart and piece by piece tell the story of how it was made. Check out: The National – Sea of Love

WTF with Marc Maron – Take deep dive into the back catalogue of interviews. The Barack Obama one is brilliant!

 

John Coady’s reflections on his Shamrock Rovers European campaigns

September 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Published in Hoops Scene 12/2017 – Shamrock Rovers v Celtic 

With Shamrock Rovers welcoming Celtic to Dublin today as the Scottish Champions prepare for their Champions League qualifying campaign, Hoops Scene spoke with John Coady who was an instrumental player in Rovers’ famous four-in-a-row team who played against Celtic in the European Cup 31 years ago.

 

Coady’s Shamrock Rovers side were the kings of the League of Ireland in the mid-eighties but their results in Europe couldn’t quite deliver on their domestic dominance. The defender, who won six league titles and three FAI Cups in a career that also included a two year spell with Chelsea, is still a huge Rovers fan and is regularly to be seen following his former club. We got Coady’s reflections on not only the Celtic game but each of the four European campaigns he was involved in with the Hoops.

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“I fancied us against them,” said Coady about the first leg of the tie between Shamrock Rovers and Celtic held in Milltown in September 1986. “Anyone who was at that match will testify to the opportunities that went a-begging that night.”

 

The Hoops created a number of chances, only to be beaten by a solitary break away goal scored with less than ten minutes to go. Coady recalled the superb performance of the Celtic goalkeeper, Ireland’s legendary number one international ‘keeper, Packie Bonner that evening.

 

“Packie was brilliant for them that night. I couldn’t believe how big he was. He was a f****** giant of a man. We threw everything in on him and from corner after corner big Pat was catching them all. He was nearly coming out to the edge of his box to do it, swatting fellas out of the way.”

 

Bonner’s dominance in the box played a part in Celtic’s break away goal scored by Murdo MacLeod which came from a Rovers set piece. “I was taking the corner and I decided in my wisdom not to hurl it in on top of Packie. So I tried to hit Mick Neville with a rehearsed move. It didn’t quite make it and the shot was fluffed and they broke and scored. So I always feel a little bit guilty about that goal!

 

“Having said that we should have been ahead by then. Liam O’Brien was immense for us that night and how he didn’t score I just don’t know but Packie Bonner was one of those reasons.” O’Brien’s last game for Rovers before moving to Manchester United was in the second leg in Glasgow that Celtic won 2-0.

 

The demand for tickets for today’s friendly has seen Rovers temporarily increase the size of the stadium – the first time the capacity in Tallaght has gone above 6,000 since Rovers’ participation in the group stages of the Europa League in 2011. It was a similar case when Rovers played Celtic in 1986; having heard Coady’s tale I’m sure the safety of the temporary stand in Tallaght will be better than the one in Milltown.

 

“The Board in their wisdom decided to erect a temporary scaffold stand – it was like they had a few lads throw it up the afternoon of the match! We came onto the pitch from around the back of it but all we could see was this thing swaying with all the people in it. I swear it was moving. That thing looked ready to collapse and I don’t know how but it managed to stay up. I was playing left back along side it and all I could hear was this thing creaking and I was waiting for nuts and bolts to hit the field!

 

“We could have taken a lead to Celtic Park easily and if we had had something to defend that was when we were possibly our most dangerous and at our best. The crowd was fantastic in that great stadium (in Glasgow). Everyone was really friendly but the result was a shame.

 

“We got a couple of injuries ahead of the second leg and we went a bit deflated. I didn’t think they were great shakes at the back at the time but their strength was in midfield with MacLeod and Paul McStay and their strikefore with Mo Johnstone. Paul McStay though was a different animal, a beautiful footballer and one of the best I ever played against.”

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Two years previously Rovers, after a 25 year absence, were playing in the European Cup taking on Linfield. Today’s visitors to Tallaght could be taking on the Belfast club in Champions League qualifying next week if the Blues manage to overcome San Marino opponents La Fiorita. The Rovers loss to Linfield back in 1984 is one that got away according to Coady.

 

“To this day it still hurts me how we didn’t win in Windsor as we missed five or so golden opportunities to score. We played them off the park but we just couldn’t get that away goal. They came down to Dublin and bang got that goal from the corner. It still irks somewhat.”

 

There has been much discussion about security for the potential Linfield v Celtic clash this season so it is interesting to hear Coady talk about playing in Windsor Park in the first leg in Belfast which finished scoreless.

 

“There was security everywhere and something we had never seen before with policemen on horses, police with rifles and dogs. I didn’t mind as I thought we were going to beat Linfield as I thought we were the better team by miles – but I always thought that!

 

“I remember we were warming up before the match and we had these dark green O’Neill’s tops at the time. Dinny Lowry came on to collect all the tops and he went ‘all right lads, let them have it’ and we took off them off to reveal the gleaming green and white hoop jersey underneath. The abuse and venom coming out of the stand was just, well you could feel it, and you could cut it with a knife. The ground was full of hatred.”

 

Linfield scored first in the return leg and while Peter Eccles equalised, the Blues’ away goal was enough to see them through. “It was awfully disappointing and a huge opportunity missed. No doubt about it.”

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The following season the Hoops were drawn against Honved in the European Cup and in the build up to the game, Rovers played a couple of pre-season tournaments in Portugal and Spain.

“Louis Kilcoyne (Rovers’ Chairman) was in UEFA and he pulled a stroke and we went on a pre-season tour in Lisbon. We played Sporting Lisbon and Benfica in a three way tournament and then we travelled up and played a three way tournament against Santander and Atletico Madrid. They were great fixtures for us as part-timers. We beat Sporting Lisbon 1-0 and drew with Benfica in the Stadium of Light.”

 

The Hoops played the first leg against Honved in Hungary, losing 2-0, before being defeated 3-1 at home with Coady scoring the only goal of the game. “We played them off the park in the first half in the away leg but with no reward. You have to put these teams away. Once you get on top in Europe, if you don’t take your chances, the opposition will do you. We were only part timers so we were getting so tired at the end of matches.”

 

The opposition had six Hungarian internationals in their team including Lajos Detari who subsequently played a couple of seasons in Serie A and in Mexico 86 scored Hungary’s last goal at a World Cup. “We saw him later in the World Cup running the show and that took the pain of defeat off a bit when you saw what he was doing to really world class players.” Detari scored three goals against the Hoops in the tie.

 

Last week Shamrock Rovers completed their Europa League First Qualifying Round tie against Stjarnan. The only time other time Rovers played Icelandic opposition was 35 years ago in the UEFA Cup. The Hoops defeated Fram Reyjavik 7-0 on aggregate. While Coady didn’t play in that tie, he did play in the following round away to Universitatea Craiova and it was a memorable journey behind the Iron Curtain to Romania for Rovers.

 

“I roomed with Mick Smyth who was a very famous Rovers goalie from the late 60s but he was second to Alan O’Neill at the time. I was only a young raw fella on my first European away trip. Mick was an experienced player and when he opened his case, it was full of nylon stockings and Levis which he duly proceeded to flog to every servant in the hotel!

 

“The food was rubbish. We flew through Zurich and I remember Louis saying on the plane ‘listen lads, see all the chocolate they are giving, grab every single bit you can as you ain’t going to see food like that till you leave Romania again.’

 

“Myself and Mick decided to go for a stroll around Craiova to see the place pre-match. We saw a big long queue. Mick was really inquisitive and he goes up to the top of the queue and sticks his head in the door and they were selling bread. Next thing a whole load of ‘auld wans’ in the queue were going mad telling us to get back to the end as they thought he was skipping in. It was an eye opener. I just felt so sorry for the poor people. It was gruesome with people in queues for food.

 

“For the match it was a full house in a concrete bowl open air stadium with army everywhere. There must nearly have been 20,000 soldiers! They had this great number 10 playing for them It was 2-0 and the number 10 was doing all sorts of tricks on the ball so Ronnie Murphy just gave him one and was sent off!

 

“We were pretty much stuffed over there. Alan O’Neill played brilliantly. He pulled off a few great stops. 5-0 was a fair reflection on the tie and we were just so glad to get out of the place after and still be over 11 stone!”

 

With six League of Ireland winners medals (four with Rovers and another two with Derry City and Dundalk respectively), there are only four players who have one more than Coady. With Dundalk having come into this season with three-league titles in a row, Hoops Scene asked Coady how he felt about Dundalk’s attempt this year to match Rovers’ four-in-a-row record.

 

“I start to worry when any team wins their second league title! I don’t want to give up our record as it is something that we are just so proud of. Not only that but the three doubles that went alongside as well. Nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing Cork run away with the league this year!”

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Ricer of the Rovers

September 10, 2017 Leave a comment

The scoreboard ticked to 90 minutes and no more; it read Shamrock Rovers 3 Longford Town 0. Soon after referee Neil Doyle blew his whistle and the Hoops had got by First Division opposition in Longford to go through to the quarter-final of the 2014 FAI Cup. Rovers fans were thinking that maybe, just maybe, it might be the year for the 25th time to collect that trophy.

 

But before the fans could get too carried away with themselves, there was one of their own to acknowledge. The SRFC Ultras in Block M of the East Stand deployed their banner for a player who always carried the tag of a fan favourite. Former Hoop and then Longford Town player Stephen Rice came over and gave two thumbs up in front of the ‘Thanks for everything Ricer’ banner.

 

‘Ricer’ joined Shamrock Rovers back in 2008 when the completion of Tallaght Stadium was still a season away. Over a six year period he would go on to captain Rovers, win the club’s player of the year award and be part of a squad led by manager Michael O’Neill who brought trophies to the club in quantities not seen since the heady days of Milltown – winning two league titles, two Setanta Cups and a league cup before his departure from Tallaght at the end of 2013.

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Rovers fans – Rovers family

“It was amazing that night when I came back with Longford when the fans held up that banner; it meant a lot to me and my family,” said Rice when he spoke to Hoops Scene ahead of Rovers’ latest first steps in claiming a long overdue 25th FAI Cup.

 

“My family all became Shamrock Rovers fans because of what they saw when I was at the club,” said Rice who is now back at Rovers as the manager of the u17 team. “You don’t just play for the club, you become a fan of the club and part of the club. It is that type of club.

 

“I always had a fantastic relationship with the fans,” said the 32-year-old Rice. “They knew I was never going to cut open a team but they appreciated the work rate. They could see when you played, you gave absolutely everything for the club and they responded to that. They want people who work hard, if they see that they will always be on your side. The relationship from very early was excellent with the fans.

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“When I first came to Rovers we were still in Tolka Park and to go from there to all of sudden playing to full houses in Tallaght, lifting those trophies and playing teams like Juventus within the space of a couple of years, it was an amazing time. So many nights that you would never forget.”

 

In 2011 those nights included putting the Hoops 1-0 against Spurs at the ‘old’ White Hart Lane in the Europa League and that famous night in Serbia when Rovers beat Partizan to became the first Irish side to make the group stages of a major European club competition.

 

 

Belgrade

“That was an amazing night. It was just meant to be when you think about some of the chances that were missed by Belgrade. It was just phenomenal to beat a club of that stature out there.

 

“Nobody gave us a chance going out there. We rode our luck early on but once Sully got that goal – when you get a goal like that – they were rattled and we knew we had them.

 

“It is a night that I will never forgot playing in what was like 35 degrees. We got the penalty late on (in extratime) to win and the whole experience with the excitement the next morning of the draw, it was surreal.”

 

Rice began his career with Coventry before returning to the League of Ireland with Bohemians. He noted that “after coming back from England, you think that you are never going to get the chance to play in the big arenas and on those stages.

 

“For that to come along, it was such an opportunity. Players are realising that now there are fantastic opportunities here in Ireland that aren’t available in League One or League Two in England – you aren’t going to get a chance to play on those stages.”

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Roadstone

Rice combines his coaching role at the Rovers Academy in Roadstone with working as an FAI development officer in the Lucan area and is very appreciative of the facilities now available to all the Hoops players – both in the senior team and across the Rovders academy.

 

“When I played with Rovers we trained everywhere; we trained in the AUL, Johnstown House and even Stannaway Park when I came to the club. What has been built here at Roadstone gives us a home, a base and an identity with our youth development setup.

 

“It gives the club a real platform to attract the best young players but also for them to be developed and improved in the Shamrock Rovers way. As a coach it is fantastic to have those facilities.

 

“Every single training session we carry out is video recorded so the players can watch and analyse their own performance. Every single game is uploaded, whether that is in Roadstone or in Tallaght, and from that we develop analytical clips so the players can sit at home and watch their performance so they can improve.

 

“Self-analysis is such a big part of their development. There is nothing more powerful that seeing yourself do something and we use it as a training tool.”

 

Coventry

It is all very different from the early days in Rice’s career over in England. “The landscape has changed. It is more about learning and developing rather than being told what to do and if you didn’t do it you’d be hammered! That was the old way when I went as a young boy.

 

“I went on a number of trials from age 12 right up until I moved over to Coventry at 15. I found the first week very difficult and once I settled in it became easier but to be honest I never really enjoyed the experience. I never settled for many reasons.

 

“I did really well in the first year over there when I was playing two years above my age with the u17s but I wasn’t really happy and once it started to affect my performance and my mental state, that was the sign to get out of there. I was waking up dreading going to training. I went up to the academy manager and said I was out of there and I had my bags packed.”

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Academy Coaches

That experience and varied experience of the rest of Rovers’ extensive coaching staff is available to help influence the young players at Rovers. “Looking at our u17 coaching team, I went at 15 to England, Pat Flynn also went at 15 and Keith O’Halloran stayed and went at 18.

 

“Flynny went to Wolves, left there and progressed up through lower level clubs and played a bit, whereas I made a decision to come home, while Keith went later and ended up playing in the Premiership with Middlesbrough. So we can talk to our lads about our different experiences and pass that on.

 

“In the u19s we have Aidan Price who had a fantastic League of Ireland career, John Martin who played in the league and then there is Damien Duff. He is an amazing person to have in charge of the new 15s squad and it is great for the kids to be around him.

 

“We have Stephen Bradley, Stephen McPhail and Shane Robinson. It is an open environment we have in Roadstone. The coaches generally meet every week from the first team coach down, u19s, our team at 17s. It is really important to know what is going on, who is doing well and what areas we need to improve on.

 

“Ultimately we are in the charge of teams but we are looking to develop individuals and for them to progress. We have to give them the structures within the teams for them to fulfil that potential – that could mean moving them to the u19s team or up into the first team. That is the real goal.

 

“I’m on the Elite Youth A licence course at the moment along with Shane Robinson. It is the first time it has been run in this country and it is technically the pro licence for coaches working with elite youth players.”

 

u17

The Hoops u17 team are currently second in the Southern Elite Division table. “We are in a good place. The key objective of the team now is to develop these boys in the Shamrock Rovers way so they are capable of progressing – into the u19s and progressing as young adults as well as footballers. That is what we are trying to instill in the boys.

 

“We get them together on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with a match at the weekend. They also come in early on the training nights to do some strength and conditioning work. Plus some of the more local lads would be in for a gym session on a Tuesday night with Pat Deans – that is solely strength and conditioning.

 

“At Rovers, we are looking to develop players for our first team. That is the ultimate goal. If you look down through the coaching staff that we have right through to the younger ages, there is a real passion for the club and the aim to develop players and get back to winning trophies. Our main objective is for players to come here and we will improve and develop them.”

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Development squad

For a number of seasons the FAI have put together a Future Developers Squad and Rice has taken charge of the squad at the Kennedy cup in recent years. The squad, that plays at u15 level, is selected by FAI Emerging Talent Programme coaches, compiled of players who are technically excellent but are lack the physicality to compete in their age group.

 

“The idea is that over the years too many players get lost in the game in our country because of physicality and the emphasis at times on all about winning. Players can be the most technical and intelligent player that the teams have but physically they can be overrun in games so then they can be left out.

 

“Ultimately we would have lost a lot of players who were late developers. If we can keep them in the game, then develop that strength and power to go with their technical ability and the game intelligence and all of a sudden we have a player on our hands.

 

“The FAI have looked to make sure we keep these boys in the game and focussed and that the international team – although they aren’t quite physically there for them – it is not a million miles away. We don’t go on size but players who are technically astute as that suits how we want to play.”

 

Published in Hoops Scene 16/2017 Shamrock Rovers v Glenville (FAI Cup First Round)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Hendrick – one of Burnley’s Boys in Green

August 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Photo by George Kelly

Published in Hoops Scene No.13 2017 season (July 2017)

Today won’t be the first time that some of the Irish internationals at Burnley have played here at Tallaght Stadium. Back in May 2012, Jeff Hendrick and Robbie Brady lined out for the Republic of Ireland under 21 team against Denmark, with Kevin Long on the bench, as Brady scored Ireland’s only goal that day with a superb left foot free kick.

 

There were a few other familiar faces in the Ireland squad that day – including senior internationals Shane Duffy, Eunan O’Kane, John Egan, Conor Hourihane and Greg Cunningham, along with former Dundalk player Richie Towell.

 

With some time off ahead of June’s Ireland v Austria match, Jeff Hendrick dropped by Tallaght Stadium to have a chat with Hoops Scene. “Yeah, I remember playing at Under 21 level here a good few years ago,” said Hendrick. “Noel King called up and asked me to play. For me it is about pulling on that green jersey and representing the country.”

 

Hendrick would go on to represent Ireland at senior level for the first time less than a year later under then Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni. “It was brilliant to be called up to the first team squad, really unbelievable. I started that season with an ankle injury but when I came back I had a good January and I was scoring goals. I got the call up just after my 21st birthday so it was a great thing to celebrate.”

 

His debut was a friendly against Poland at a packed Aviva Stadium with Hendrick coming off the bench to provide an assist for Wes Hoolahan in the 2-0 win. “I wasn’t taking it as a friendly, it was a game for Ireland. The atmosphere was brilliant and it was great for me to get that chance. I have my jersey framed in my Mam and Dad’s house now and they have all the newspaper clippings! I set up a goal, which was good. You need to impress on your first game wherever you are.”

 

Photo by George Kelly

Hendrick was one of Ireland’s stand out performers in the European Championship in France last year when Ireland qualified for the knock out stages of the tournament. The recent results in Ireland’s Russia 2018 campaign mean qualification for the World Cup is still very much in the hands of Hendrick and his Irish teammates.

 

“It would be unbelievable to qualify for Russia. After playing in the Euros, you saw the atmosphere at the games, it is something we’d love to do again, play in a big tournament. It is a hard old group. We are doing well but we aren’t getting carried away.”

 

Today we should get to see a number of Burnley’s Boys in Green in action – with four of the starters in Ireland’s 1-1 draw against Austria coming from the club – Hendrick, Brady, Stephen Ward and Kevin Long (who was handed his first competitive start by Martin O’Neill in that match). It is a pretty influential Irish contingent in the Clarets’ squad [with Jon Walters also signed ahead of the new season].

 

Hendrick joined the club in August last year and admitted that having so many Irish players at the club helps. “You feel at home a little bit.” In the winter transfer window Robbie Brady joined, meaning Hendrick got the chance to play club football again with Brady. The pair played as kids in the same St. Kevin’s Boys team.

 

“It was great when Robbie came in during January. We keep in touch anyway as we are friends since we were young so it is great to be back playing with him. The likes of Wardy has been brilliant as well.”

 

Although when Hoops Scene reminds Hendrick, that Stephen Ward is a former Bohs player, he says “We won’t big him up too much here (in Tallaght)!”

 

When Brady joined Burnley for £13m, he broke the club’s transfer record which had been previously been set when Hendrick joined for £10.5m from Derby County. Being a £10m plus player can add some pressure to perform but Hendrick didn’t see it that way. “I didn’t really look at it as pressure. If someone is willing to pay that, I just have to use that to give me confidence and try to show that I’m worth that.

 

“From day one they made me welcome. I enjoyed the atmosphere around the place. We worked hard but it was enjoyable. That made it easy for me to settle in. The main thing for me was to play games. I’m always happy when I’m playing.”

 

The 25-year-old midfielder made 32 league appearances for the Clarets last season, scoring two goals, including the club’s goal of the year for a long range effort in the 3-2 home win over Bournemouth. The priority for the player for the season though, was to contribute to the club staying in the Premier League.

 

“It was a nice goal to get but the main thing for us was staying in the league. Everyone wrote us off before the season started and we proved a lot of people wrong. They kept us going all year. The results we were getting with our home form was something that everybody was talking about and I really enjoyed the season.”

Burnley racked up ten home wins in the league – the seventh highest in last season’s Premier League (two more than Manchester United). However they only managed one away win all campaign and that was in late April. So it took some time for them to reach the magical 40 point mark which most seasons, like last year, confirms safety. They got to that stage with a 2-2 draw against West Brom two games from the end of the season.

 

“It was relief (to avoid relegation). We thought we were in a good position, a good bit out from the end of the season but you still have to keep putting points on the board and win games.”

 

Unsurprisingly Hendrick is very happy working under Burnley boss Sean Dyche. “From the minute I went in there, he told me what he wanted from me. I got to know the way his team plays. He tells it as it is and that is all you can ask as a player. You know where you stand and what you need to do to stay in the team.”

 

The player was 16 when he first moved over to England to Derby County where, like at Burnley, there was a sizeable Irish contingent, with five players on the youth team books including current Rovers player Ryan Connolly.

 

“From a very young age, any chance I got I was going over to different clubs. You hear stories of kids getting homesick and so but for me I was moving over to do something that I love – to play football every day. Any kid would love to do that.

 

“Ryan (Connolly) texted me when the fixture came out. We still keep in touch as we were good mates when we were over there together. It will be good to play against him.

 

“We are here for a week, with a few days training, then the game and then back to England. It is always good when I’m home with Ireland that the parents can drop out for a cup of tea and have a chat. It will be good for my friends and family to see me play a game here (in Tallaght). Hopefully we win. It is going to be tough as yous will be half way through your season.”

 

This article was published in Hoops Scene for Shamrock Rovers v FK Mlada Boleslav / Burnley in July 2017.

 

Legends live on

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a woman so known for her dramatic acting roles, it is fitting that Maureen O’Hara is buried in such a dramatic setting. In Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC, the burial plot of the legendary Hollywood actress is shaded by mature trees, within sight of the John F. Kennedy Eternal Flame.

 

Buried alongside her husband Charles Blair – a former Brigadier General in US Air Force – the p
lot is just below Arlington House, once the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

 

On holiday in Washington over Easter, I found myself at Arlington on Good Friday on the day when Rovers were commemorating 30 years since the loss of Milltown.

 

O’Hara’s father Charles Fitzsimons was a part-owner of the Hoops from the 1930s and so O’Hara was a regular attendee at Milltown and never lost her love for the Hoops.

 

On the morning I’m there, the stars and stripes flag flys at half mast on the hill behind her grave. With a funeral taking place not far away, amongst the startling bright rows of white gravestones, the sound of a lone bugler playing taps drifts on the wind.

 

O’Hara travelled far from her days growing up in Ranelagh. She became the ‘Queen of Technicolor’ in the golden age of Hollywood. While her allegiance to Rovers is not mentioned on the reverse of the gravestone, her lifetime achievement award from the Irish Film & Television Academy is noted just above her honorary Oscar she received in 2014.

 

Later that weekend I swap my fix of League of Ireland football for a slice of something as American as apple pie – a baseball game. The Washington Nationals play in a stadium opened in the same season that the Hoops moved to Tallaght.

 

Playing in Navy Yard, the ‘Nats’ are the latest team to represent the American capital in Major League Baseball. The franchise system in baseball means that many supporters over the years have lost not just their stadiums but have lost their teams to another city.

 

Washington’s original team were the Senators who won the 1924 World Series while playing at Griffith Stadium. The venue also played home to the Washington Redskins American Football team for 24 years. It was a stadium where at some stage every American President from William Taft to John F Kennedy threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Soon after the Senators moved to Minnesota in 1962, the Stadium was demolished and became the site for Howard University Hospital. Just like at Milltown, tere is a monument to the famous stadium at its former location but one that is a bit different than a simple plaque.The Glenmalure Park monument in Milltown is topped off by a football and there is a baseball theme to the Griffith Stadium memorial.

 

If you stroll through the hospital from the main entrance and turn right, you will see the marker. Griffith Stadium may be gone but it is not forgotten as beside the gents toilets, a home plate and batter box is marked out on the corridor watched over by photos of the venue.

 

Published in Hoops Scene – Shamrock Rovers match programme v Dundalk (5 May 2017)