Archive

Archive for the ‘Random Rovers thoughts’ Category

A host of firsts await Finn Harps in the future

September 5, 2021 Leave a comment

Published in the Finn Harps match day programme – Issue 13 2021 – Finn Harps v Shamrock Rovers

There is something special about the first time. Tunde Owolabi fired home his first hat-trick for Finn Harps recently with the Belgian bagging all three goals in the 3-1 win over St. Patrick’s Athletic.

“What an insane night,” was how Owolabi described it on twitter afterward with a couple of on fire emojis also included and sure why not! “Feels like a dream. Super delighted with my first hat-trick for the club. The boys were unbelievable tonight. We are on [fire emoji]. Thank you for your wonderful support…the atmosphere was absolutely electric.”

It was a different type of temperature and atmosphere when Jason Colwell scored in Finn Park back in 1999 for what was his first goal for Shamrock Rovers. Colwell came from a staunch Shamrock Rovers supporting family – his father Joe was Rovers’ chairman and both Colwells were part of the club in the difficult years when the Tallaght project was stalled for a long period.

Jason joined the Hoops after several seasons with UCD and he got his first goal for Rovers on a Ballybofey pitch blanketed in snow in mid-April 1999.

“My first goal for Rovers was up in Finn Park in a rescheduled mid-week match,” said Colwell when he spoke recently to this writer. “It was snowing, we played with an orange ball and I scored with a diving header! Out of everything that shouldn’t be, it was, because I wouldn’t have scored too many headers [at five foot seven] and I wouldn’t have played too many times in snow with an orange ball! 

“We lost the game though so it didn’t really count for much. Probably nobody else remembers it but I’ll always remember it because it was my first goal for Rovers.”

A look back through the records shows that Harps won the game 4-1 with James Mulligan scoring twice, along with a goal from Eamonn Kavanagh with Peter Murray scoring an own goal putting the ball by Rovers ‘keeper Tony O’Dowd.

Colwell had the frustration of seeing a partially built stand in Tallaght Stadium lay idle during his playing career with the club. And his thoughts may be echoed by Harps players and supporters alike as the wait on further developments on the new ground in Stranorlar – although there was good news on that front earlier in the year with the government allocating a provisional grant of close to €4m for the project.

“We could see the stand being built and we were training on the pitch so we thought we’d be playing there soon but it didn’t happen,” said Colwell. “It’s a shame that the years I was playing we didn’t have our own ground but to have Tallaght now – I hope the players know how fortunate they are because plenty who went before them weren’t afforded that.”

Last week in the North West derby Owulabi got the winner in Harps’ first ever FAI Cup victory over Derry City. When the new stadium comes for Harps, the first goal and the first derby win will be massive events for the club. 

For Shamrock Rovers supporters the first win over Bohemians in Tallaght Stadium back in 2009 has gone down in history. Stephen Rice, the newly appointed Republic of Ireland senior men’s team chief scout and opposition analyst, was part of that Hoops team who somehow conjured a late win over the Gypsies who were leading 1-0 with a couple of minutes to go in that game in May 2009. 

“If anyone says to me ‘the Bohs game’ – and I’ve played in I don’t know how many Rovers v Bohs games – I know the one they are talking about,” said Rice. “It is always the first one in Tallaght. It was a great night with Gary Twigg getting real poacher’s goals. 

“Typical Twiggy, out of nowhere he got two goals in the 88th and 89th minutes to win the game. When the first goal went in you could see the crowd went off the wall. When that winning goal went in, it was unbelievable.” 

Toasting a Harps win and a Rovers title win

Published in the official Finn Harps match day programme Issue 4/2021 (Finn Harps v Shamrock Rovers)

There has always been a good relationship between Finn Harps and Shamrock Rovers dating right back to when the Hoops provided the opposition in 1969 for Harps’ first League of Ireland game. As a Shamrock Rovers fan I’ve always enjoyed travelling up to Finn Park and cannot wait to get up to Ballybofey again when restrictions allow – and the new stadium in Stranorlar when finances for opening the venue allow. 

There is always a great welcome for the travelling supporters in Donegal; there is the wonderful soup and from a Hoops perspective in recent years the results have gone Rovers way. You have to go back to November 2008 for the last Harps win over the Hoops with Marc Mukendi and Conor Gethins on the scoresheet in the 2-0 victory in Finn Park.

Cementing the relationship of good will of course is Finn Harps’ role last season in handing Shamrock Rovers the title. Yes, the Hoops went through the COVID-19 shortened season unbeaten, conceding just seven goals and keeping 13 clean sheets in the 18 games but it was a Finn Harps win in November that got Rovers over the line to confirm the league title – even better from a Rovers perspective was that Harps’ crucial win was against Rovers’ rivals Bohemians.

Harps had lost 12 in a row in Dalymount Park but came up trumps that night. I was probably the only Shamrock Rovers supporter who was present to see Rovers win the league. I was in the Phibsborough venue reporting for extratime.com. Come the final whistle I was thankful of the mask I was wearing so I could have some semblance of neutrality as people couldn’t see the wide grin going across my face as Rovers had secured their 18th league title.

Aaron McEneff described the scenario on the night when I spoke with the former Rovers man recently. “I was sitting at home and looking at the Bohs v Finn Harps game on WatchLOI. The Finn Harps ‘keeper had a stormer pulling off great saves. Around the 75 minute mark with Harps 2-0 up and Bohs down to ten men, our players WhatsApp group slowly started to take off. When it got to 85th minute, I had the drinks open. We then went on FaceTime with the lads to celebrate.” The Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley wasn’t even watching that night and was only alerted to what was unfolding thanks to his assistant coach Glenn Cronin messaging him with ten minutes to go.

The 2-0 win for Harps was their first win over Bohs in Dalymount Park this century and was quite a time to do it. Ollie Horgan’s men were battling to avoid relegation and the three points that night, as well as making the Hoops champions, sent one of their relegation rivals Cork City down.

Mark Russell was the hero for Harps (and the Hoops!) scoring a goal either side of the half time break. It left Harps five points behind Shels but with two games in hand and it was a gap Harps would overcome to stay up so that tonight they could welcome once again the Hoops to Ballybofey in Premier Division action.

Waterford for the league, Rovers for the cup

November 17, 2020 Leave a comment

From the Finn Harps v Waterford match programme – Issue 10 2020 (Monday 9 November)

Looking back five decades it was a time when Waterford were the dominant side in the League of Ireland. It was a period when the Blues won an incredible six titles in an eight seasons. This year is the 50th anniversary of Waterford completing a league three-in-a-row becoming only the second club at that time to manage that feat – equalling Cork United’s from 1940/41. Only Dundalk (2014-2016) and Shamrock Rovers (with a four-in-a-row in the 1980s) have since managed that feat since.  

Those league titles earned Waterford passage into the European Cup where they played clubs such as Vorwaerts Berlin, Galatasaray, Glentoran, AC Omonia along with a couple of European heavyweights. In 1968 they were drawn against the reigning European champions Manchester United. There were 48,000 in attendance to watch the first leg in Lansdowne road as Best, Law and Charlton took on the Blues. Law bagged a hat-trick with Johnny Matthews scoring for Waterford who would lose the second leg 7-1. In 1970 the Blues faced Celtic with Jock Stein’s side demolishing Waterford 7-0 in the first leg and 3-2 back in Glasgow after the Blues led in the second leg 2-0.

Domestically at this time while Waterford were dominating the league, Shamrock Rovers, who finished runners up in the league three years in a row from 1968/69, had effectively taken ownership of the FAI Cup. The Hoops were in the process of winning six-in-a-row playing an incredible 32 cup ties without defeat. 

The 1968 FAI Cup final saw Waterford face Rovers with the Blues favourites having won the league, Shield and the Top Four competition that season. Speaking to some of the Shamrock Rovers players who went head-to-head with Waterford in that cup final and in the league during that time, it is clear how high much esteem they hold for that Blues side.

“Not many people remember that era now but Waterford had a very talented team and played a great brand of football,” said Damien Richardson. “They were terrific. We had great respect for the Waterford team.”

Paddy Mulligan describes Waterford as “a wonderfully gifted team. We couldn’t win the league as they were winning leagues all round while we were winning the cup. That was a smashing Waterford team with Alfie Hale, Jimmy McGeough and John O’Neill.” 

The ’68 final in Dalymount had the second highest final attendance ever with 39,128 spectators squeezed into the ground. “I remember walking out from the dressing room and being absolutely astonished how full Dalymount was,” recalled Richardson. “It was mind-boggling to see it – what a crowd.”

Mick Leech scored twice for Rovers with Mick Lawlor getting the other goal and Leech is remembered for patting the Waterford ‘keeper Peter Thomas after he slotted away Rovers last goal with a minute remaining in the match.

“We went 3-0 up and he was lying on the ground,” said Leech. “I’d great respect for him as a ‘keeper and I just tapped him on the head and said ‘hard luck Tommo, maybe next year’. In some ways I’m sorry I ever did it because people got the wrong impression and thought I was taking the piss out of him. That was never the case.”

It would take a decade for Rovers to win their next cup and a further two years for Waterford who defeated St. Patrick’s Athletic 1-0 in the 1978 final. It was Peter Thomas’ only winners medal and it went with the five League of Ireland titles he won in remarkable successful period for Waterford.

Leaving The Liberties Lockdown

We head out of lockdown on Monday, with the revised three phase exit strategy providing a certain symmetry for what was effectively a three stage entry process back in March. It has been a long and strange time over these past few months for everyone.

Maybe I should have kept a diary to document it all. Instead I tweeted random thoughts and took plenty of photos of cats and street art for Instagram – hey whatever gets you through – so I had a flick through those posts as a prompt to pen a few thoughts on what lockdown here in The Liberties was like for me.

Phase 3 begins on Monday – 105 days after the first stage of lockdown. We knew things were serious back on 12 March when at 7am in the morning in Washington DC (11am in Dublin) then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was giving a speech to the Irish public starting with “I need to speak to you about the Coronavirus”. Looking up from my desk in the office at that time, people were going about their daily work oblivious that this would be their last few days in the office for over three months.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I make Leo Varadkar’s speech five days later – his unprecedented St. Patrick’s Day address – the second phase of entering lockdown. The whole thing got serious when even I was sitting on my couch that night getting a bit emotional about it all. “This is the calm before the storm, before the surge. And when it comes, and it will come, never will so many ask so much of so few.” Gulp.

A week and a bit later and it was our final phase of entry – into full lockdown. By then there was over 2,000 cases and sadly 22 deaths. Friday 27 March it was announced that “with effect from midnight tonight…everybody must stay at home in all circumstances” except for a number of situations including brief individual physical exercise within 2km of your home – no more running in the Phoenix Park for me.

This all had me so addled that at the end of that speech I did my first bit of panic shopping as I stuck my runners on, went out to the local shop just before it closed and embarrassingly this was what I brought home – that and some chips as I thought the chippers would be closed at midnight – thankfully it never came to that.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I was lucky enough to be able to continue to work from home during this time and have that routine of a typical working day to keep me in check. I switched my usual morning commute time for daily yoga! Certainly it was a stress reliever and a help for my lower back which hasn’t enjoyed the kitchen table chair I’ve been sitting on every day!

With live sport also in lockdown what the hell was I going to do with my time. Initially I started with chronicling all my Shamrock Rovers match programmes going back to the 1990s, then I moved onto the jerseys and then I started working my way through the Rovers squad doing video interviews for the club’s social media channels!

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The videos of course allowed me to showcase my bookcases – and I also added some new books to the shelves. All told I reckon I read 16 books during lockdown. My lockdown recommendations are:

Football: Stillness & Speed, Football Hackers, Forever Young
Apocalypse now: Station Eleven, Zone One, Notes from the Apocalypse
Fiction: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Devil in the White City, Normal People

Ah yes, Normal People. What a great distraction the TV version was. Wonderfully shot, acted and soundtracked and who didn’t fall in love with Marianne or become fixated with Connell’s chain.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

As we exit lockdown, there will be things I will miss and I know that can sound a bit selfish when you think of the reasons why we went into lockdown. Such as the evening walks through the near deserted streets around The Liberties but I’m hoping to keep these strolls going post-lockdown (see previous blog post here). I will miss that time walking to the soundtrack of David O’Doherty’s hilarious Isolation podcast from Achill Island on the Second Captains podcast platform.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

There were a few weeks when the DPD driver was the person I spoke to most face-to-face as I availed of some online shopping – one of these deliveries was a hair clippers and two haircuts later I will be glad to get back to a real barbers sometime in the future.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I got back into the habit I had long gotten out of and started watching the main evening news on RTÉ each night. And live sport on TV was replaced by live CNN in the evening with Wolf Blitzer and the Situation Room chronicling America’s woes. As the US numbers get worse with 125,000 deaths and counting, the numbers in Ireland got better and better, with thankfully no deaths recorded on some days in late June.

The outgoing government, which I had very little time for, I think deserve great credit for the excellent job of handling the crisis and they hand over to a new government just as we leave lockdown. Let’s wish them the best and not worry about what is in or out of their programme for government. Let’s not worry about a second wave, question when can we go on holidays abroad or give out about the increased traffic on the roads.

Let’s think of all those who have worked so hard over the last 100+ days to get us into the position that we can leave lockdown. Think of those who we have lost and those friends and family that have helped us get through this. Remember to wear your mask, wash your hands and be thankful of the good days that are to come.

Away Days

August 15, 2019 Leave a comment

Published in Hoops Scene, Shamrock Rovers match programme versus Finn Harps (9 August 2019)

When I’m asked just how much a Shamrock Rovers fan I am, I usually respond that I’m a season ticket holder. The questioner might ask do I travel to away matches? Why yes I do is the answer and we are talking North (Derry and Rovaniemi), South (Cork and Thessaloniki), West (Galway and Reykjavik) and East (Bray and Nicosia).

I remember my first Shamrock Rovers away match, a trip to the northside to Tolka Park at the end of the 1993/94 season. It was the night Alan Dodd’s lob was the opener in a 3-0 win over Shelbourne, a victory that all but sealed the league title for Rovers that season. My first trip to Dalymount Park was for the part of the Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers FAI Cup trilogy in 1994 when Stephen Geoghegan celebrated his equaliser climbing up onto the fence at Dalymount Park.

As I got older, I began to attend games outside of Dublin and a crucial game for sucking me into being an away day fan was the midweek FAI Cup replay against Cork City in January 2000. With no floodlights at the Munster FA venue at the time, it was an early afternoon kick off.

This was back in the day before the Rovers Chat group on Facebook and maybe even before the SRFC Ultras Forum when we just had a fans email distribution list. Either way, a Rovers fan made a booking with Iarnrod Eireann and opened it up for random Hoops to sign up to and avail of the group booking discount. I think my work colleagues thought I was mad to take the day off work to travel down to Cork on a Wednesday for the game. I arrived at Heuston Station on my own that day not really quite knowing what to expect about the day’s outing.

By the time I got back to Dublin after Rovers latest cup heartache, although I didn’t know it then, I had made friends for life. Going to Cork that day I got chatting on the carriage to a number of Hoops who I didn’t know at the time and to be honest that conversation hasn’t stopped since. A number of those lads are part of the group of fans I still go and watch the games with now 19 years later!

That is the thing about traveling away. Time spent in the supporters club bus, on the away terrace or in the car form firm friendships and the football away day becomes so much more than about the 90 minutes of action out on the pitch.

IMG_5514

Travelling for a European away trip takes it all to another level. Last week’s visit to Cyprus was my 17thEuropean trip. There have been highs (did I ever tell you about that time in Belgrade?), there have been lows (what ever happened to that Rovers manager who presided over our embarrassingly early European elimination in Lithuania in 2012?) and everything in between.

My first Euro away was to the Czech Republic when Rovers took on Slovan Liberec in 2003. The most amusing thing from that trip was seeing Bohemians player Kevin Hunt turning up in Dublin Airport for a weekend in Prague that his partner had booked unaware that they’d be sharing the flight with Shamrock Rovers players, officials and supporters heading to their Intertoto Cup game. To be fair, Hunt took it very well but I suppose what else could he do!

It will be hard to ever beat the 2011 European campaign with its six Euro away trips. I remember in Tallinn being a bundle of nerves ahead of kick off of the 2011 Champions League qualifier against Flora. The Hoops carried a 1-0 lead with them to Estonia and the second leg – thanks to Alan Mannus’ first leg penalty save in Tallaght – and we knew that getting through would mean a minimum two more ties. The nerves were due to the finally poised tie but also due to the fact that one of the Irish national newspaper had asked me to pen a match report for the game and I’d never written one before that point!

The Hoops escaped with a scoreless draw – the newspaper got their 700 word report – and Rovers were off on a European adventure that I would follow for the next five months via Copenhagen, Belgrade, London, Thessalonica and through to Kazan in the snow in December.

The high point of that Europa League campaign was probably Stephen Rice putting Rovers in the lead in White Hart Lane but I also remember fondly the trip to Greece to play PAOK as peak-Shamrock Rovers for that Michael O’Neill squad. We were unlucky to only lost 2-1 in the Stadio Toumba and as supporters we celebrated in the pub after the game the fact that we were about to retain the title the following week. “We are going to win two in a row, and we are going win three and we are going to win four and we are going to win five in row,” we sung but it didn’t quite turn out like that!

DSCN1194
PAOK Away – 2011 Europa League Group stages

On a couple of occasions I’ve signed up to travel when the club have run a charter. The most bizarre trip ever was the one to play ROPS Rovanaimi on the Arctic Circle in Finland. It was a fairly small group of supporters who went on that one and we literally travelled on the team bus from the stadium to the airport after!

That was Stephen Bradley’s first match in charge of the Rovers in Europe with last week’s his 11th as Hoops Head Coach and his team came as close as possible in the tie against Apollon that the cup action this week was nearly European rather than the FAI Cup but it just wasn’t to be. For the second consecutive season, Rovers took quality opposition to extra time away from home in the second leg of a Europa League qualifiers before being unlucky not to get over the line. There is only optimism for next year’s European campaign already. Get the dates in your diary for Europe next July – it is always worth making it an away day.

Does your telly know you’re here?

The slick live TV presentation style with graphics, commentary team and replays give the television viewer at home a real sense of a sporting occasion. Throw in the multi-camera, super slow-mo and spidercam views and it is almost like being there. Almost but not quite.

To get a sense of what it really means to be at a game, fan footage can nearly be a better option. There is something about those shaky camera angles, foul language and those guttural screams when a goal goes in that Sky Sports just can’t beat.

Here is a top eight of Shamrock Rovers fan footage.

 

‪8. A million euro penalty – Partizan Belgrade v Shamrock Rovers (August 2011) 

‪2,081 views

Maybe a surprise that this video from Shamrock Rovers’ incredible 2011 season is only at number eight. Despite the grainy footage and being a long distance from the action, this is Rovers video gold. The drama builds as Hoops fans realise what this will mean if Stephen O’Donnell slots this penalty away. The screams from the small pocket of 43 fans when he scores tell you Rovers have made history and qualified for the group stages of the Europa League.

DSCN0812

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‪7. Injury time equaliser in the Dublin derby (April 2011)

‪3,929 views

‪https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hivM-DQks5c

‪Nobody likes to lose to their bitter rivals but that was the fate awaiting Rovers in April 2011 in Dalymount Park. Despite times call for desperate measures and that meant Alan Mannus making the journey up into the Bohs box for this last minute corner. He went up for the header but it is his team mate Ronan Finn whose touch earns Rovers a draw and the owner of the camera in the crowd a broken pair of glasses in the celebrations.

 

 

 

‪6. No European hangover as Gary Twigg helps Hoops beat Bohs (August 2010)

5,920 views

‪https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FWBV2wB0E0

‪Shamrock Rovers returned to Ireland on a Friday morning at 5am after their 1-0 defeat to Juventus in Modena facing into a crucial Sunday lunchtime kick off against Bohemians. Rovers were leading 1-0 in the second half when their defender Pat Flynn was sent off. ‪Could Bohs capitalise on the extra man and opposition tiredness after their recent European distractions? No was the answer as Gary Twigg scored a brilliant goal with his celebration in front of the Bohs fans not overly well received by the away fans! It would be a goal that would help the Hoops win the title.

IMG_0082

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. He shoots, he scores, he wins Shamrock Rovers the league (October 2011)

7,066 views

What is better than a good pitch invasion? How about two pitch invasions! Dean Kelly’s injury time goal for Shamrock Rovers in Belfield secured the Hoops the 2011 title. Some Hoops fans celebrated the goal with the players and a couple of minutes later when the final whistle went it looks like every Rovers fan piled onto the pitch to celebrate winning back-to-back titles.

DSCN1305

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


‪4. Injury time goal earns Rovers passage to Setanta Final (April 2013)

‪7,404 views

‪https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rCPUerFWkaE

‪It looked like Cork City had earned themselves a place in the Setanta Sports Cup final. However the Hoops won a free kick deep in injury time in the semi-final second leg in Turner’s Cross. One Rovers fans felt the wall needed to go back further. “That is not 10 fucking yards,” he said. It didn’t matter as Billy Dennehy’s free kick sent the Rovers fans, who had travelled mid-week down to Cork, home happy and the Hoops into the final.

 

  1. Penalty save providing passage to European glory (July 2011)

11,599 views

‪https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnvv7LjGl9I

‪A penalty save that would set Rovers on the way to European success in 2011. The journey from Tallaght to Tallinn to Belgrade and White Hart Lane, all came about because of Alan Mannus’ penalty save against Flora Tallinn.

 

 

2. Spurs v Shamrock Rovers…the Hoops goal (September 2011)

‪26,384 views

‪Video from the Spurs end showing Stephen Rice putting Shamrock Rovers 1-0 up in the second half of this Europa League Group game in White Hart Lane. The laughter accompanying the goal suggests it wasn’t shot by a Spurs fan.

DSCN1027

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. ‪Hoops half time sing song against Juventus in Modena (August 2010)

‪52,572 views

‪https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j75fFPS9u8c

Okay, not fan footage of any action on the pitch but of fans sheltering from the Monsoon in Modena at half-time in the Europa League qualifier against Juventus. Not the most PC of lyrics but this is fan footage so what do you expect?

 

IMG_9632

Tallaght Time: Shamrock Rovers 2009 – 2012

“Tallaght Time: Shamrock Rovers 2009-2012” the book I’ve written with Karl Reilly, with photos by Bobby Best & George Kelly, has gone to print. Published by The Liffey Press, it should be available for purchase around end of June.

Front cover Tallaght Time

Tallaght Time tells the remarkable story of Shamrock Rovers’ recent history since the club moved to Tallaght. After a nightmare decade-long journey, they finally got to play in their new home in 2009 after overcoming near financial ruin, planning pitfalls and High Court cases. Only in their wildest dreams could supporters of the club have foreseen the success that would come while playing in the venue. Rovers, now owned by its fans, would win back-to-back league titles and qualify for the Europa League group stages during their short tenure in Tallaght.

https://www.facebook.com/TallaghtTime

Told through the words of those closely involved, including Shamrock Rovers’ managers, officials, players and fans, Tallaght Time describes the many magical nights since
the Hoops moved to their new stadium: Cristiano Ronaldo making his debut for Real Madrid against Rovers; taking on Alessandro Del Piero and his star-studded Juventus team
in 2010; and winning their first league title since 1994. The book also charts Rovers’ extraordinary 2011 European campaign when they made history by becoming the first Irish team to reach the group stages of a major European competition after a never-to-be-forgotten win over Partizan Belgrade in Serbia.

13-1 Europa League football comes to Tallaght MF

ISBN 978-1-908308-44-3

Shamrock Rovers v Cork United

Shamrock Rovers play Cork City this evening in the Airtricity League Premier Division. Here is an old newspaper clipping looking back on when Rovers played Cork United 65 years ago. Click on image below for a larger version:

On tee, Stephen Grant (@soccer2golf)

Irish golf is in rude health with four current Irish players with Major wins on their CVs and an Irishman top of the World Rankings. Hoping to join Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington playing in one of the major golf tours is former Shamrock Rovers player Stephen Grant. Grant begins playing on the European Challenge Tour this month, the tour that is just one level below the European PGA tour.

It was in 2005 that Grant made the switch from professional football to professional golf having played over 150 times for Shamrock Rovers as well as playing with Waterford United and Stockport County amongst others. In 2007, he shot a course record 64 at the West of Ireland Championship in Rosses Point leaving a certain up and coming golfing star Rory McIlroy behind him in the field!

In recent years he has been living in Florida playing in events on the US Gateway Tour. Grant shares a coach with multi-major winner Ernie Els as he works with Butch Harmon and his son Claude Harmon III. He now has his sights firmly set on a place on the European Tour and the Challenge Tour is the stepping-stone for that.

I spoke to the former Ireland under 21 international footballer when he recently returned to Ireland from Rabat in Morocco where he had to withdraw from an event on the European Development Tour due to illness. “I’ve got a tournament on the European Challenge Tour on the 10 May in France,” said Grant about the forthcoming Allianz Open Cotes d’Armour Bretagne. “I’m going to playing a number of tournaments on the Challenge Tour. If you finish top 25 on the order of merit on the Challenge Tour, you get your full European Tour card.”

The man from Birr will be hoping to get his automatic card rather than having to go to qualifying school again to attain the coveted full European Tour place. Last year, he missed out on qualification for the final section of ‘Q school’ by just two shots. “If I can’t card this way,” said Grant about the Challenge Tour option, “I can always go to Q school. The last two years I’ve been getting really close to where I need to be to get my card.”

In the modern golf game, it is key to have a high level of fitness and that isn’t a problem for the former professional footballer. “To be honest, my fitness levels this time last year were unbelievable. I got my body fat down to 8%. I was training like crazy. I almost found I was probably overtraining and I was neglecting practicing my short game. This year I’m still really fit. I still train real hard and while I’m not as fit as last year, I’m playing better golf this year as I’m spending more time practicing my short game.”

It is on the greens that Grant feels he needs to improve if he is to make the step up to the top level of the game here in Europe. “Putting is probably the thing I’ve found the hardest. On the greens for me it has gotten a lot better as I’ve gone for a belly putter over the last four or five months and that has helped a lot. My course management is getting better. That has been costing me shots but that is down to experience.”

Experience is something that is only now beginning to come to Grant as he only became a golf pro at the age of 27. “I probably only played five or six times in my life before my mid 20s. I never played Youth or Boys golf or anything like that.” So does he feel he can realistically make the step up and get a card on the European Tour? “The difference is experience and that bit of consistency. The top players’ game is at a certain level and it is at that certain level more often. That really is the key. The gap is not massive at all.

“The thing that amazes me is that there is such a fine line. There are guys out there making millions of dollars a year and they are good but they are not that good. McIlroy is a player who I’ve played with and you see how stupidly good he is! But I play with guys who are good but aren’t that special and they are making a million and a half as a player.”

Grant regularly tees it up in Florida with players like Ricky Fowler (US Ryder Cup Player), Keegan Bradley (winner of the US PGA Championship in 2011) and US PGA Tour players Kris Blanks and Steve Marino. “If I’m playing with someone like Kris Blanks and he is handing my a**e to me every time we tee it up by five shots then I know I’m not good enough. But I’m playing money games with these guys and that is not the case. I’m taking money off them and they are taking money off me. I have the will to keep going and I’m seeing my scores get better.”

So what are the major differences between playing professional football, like he did for 10 years, and professional golf? “It is different in a sense that the golf is totally down to what I do myself. Soccer is different. It is opinions, how you play and the team around you. I can’t make any excuses. There is nowhere to hide.”

Kenny pleased with second half comeback


http://www.extratime.ie/newsdesk/articles/7907/

Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Kenny had to be satisfied with a point from their game with Bray Wanderers in the Carlisle Grounds on Friday night. Rovers had a very poor first half and found themselves 2-0 down at the break. However, in a much-improved second half, they scored two and could have claimed a winner.

The visitors might have been going in at half time just a goal down as, just before the break, Gary Twigg earned a penalty for the Hoops. Darren Quigley saved Twigg’s penalty before Billy Dennehy put the ball in the net on the rebound. But referee Paul McLaughlin ruled it out to the confusion of many in the ground.

Speaking to extratime.ie after the game, Stephen Kenny was able to confirm that a free out was “given for encroachment” by a Rovers player. If Twigg had scored with that encroachment, the rules state the penalty would have to have been retaken. As the penalty was missed, the referee was correct in awarding a free to Bray.

The supporters on the night spent much of half time discussing these penalty infringement rules but Stephen Kenny was plotting with his team how they could turn around the two-goal deficit. Kenny asked for his team to step up physically, especially in midfield, and they responded with a much better performance in the second half

“The midfield area was problematic in the first half,” admitted Kenny, “but in the second half it was much much better. We had to believe in ourselves and be physically stronger. I felt we had the capacity to get back into the game as we have the ability to score goals and create chances. We were much stronger in the second half.”

Additional strength was provided by second half substitute Daryl Kavanagh who played a key part in both of Shamrock Rovers goals. Just after the hour mark Kavanagh replaced Gary O’Neill who had taken a knock to his ankle. Having scored his first goal for the Hoops in last week’s 6-0 win over Dundalk, Kavanagh first got a touch to play the ball into Ronan Finn for Rovers’ opener. He then held off a couple of Bray challenges in midfield before sliding a ball through to Gary Twigg who got the equaliser eight minutes from time.

“Daryl had a good energy and gave us a good impetus,” said Kavanagh’s manager. “He did well for us getting us back into the game. The two goals we got were outstanding goals but the disappointment was that we couldn’t get the third goal that we needed.”

Shamrock Rovers now face into back-to-back games against Derry City. The Hoops travel to the Brandywell on Monday night for the second leg of the Setanta Sports Cup semi-final 3-0 down after the first leg. They will then play Derry again, this time at home, in the Airtricity League as Stephen Kenny faces the team he managed last year. “We’ve got Derry on Monday and Friday. Monday is a tall order. Friday is a big one as we need to get back to winning ways in the league.”