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Leading the Way – Stephen McPhail

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

 Interview with Stephen McPhail in Hoops Scene 17 (Shamrock Rovers v Dundalk – 9 October 2015)

 

With 10 minutes remaining in Shamrock Rovers’ last home outing and the Hoops 2-0 up against Galway United, Pat Fenlon decided to bring on some fresh legs. You had to feel sorry for the United defenders though when they saw who was coming on, as lining up on the half-way line to enter the pitch were Stephen McPhail and Damien Duff. Rovers left back Luke Byrne, sitting in the stand due to injury, tweeted out a picture of the substitutes saying “Two young lads coming on here!!”

 

Stephen McPhail appreciated the tweet when Hoops Scene mentioned it when we spoke this week. “Myself and Damo are moving on so we aren’t exactly young lads but it is great to have Damien at Rovers! I grew up with him playing schoolboy football and international football. He is a great lad and it is great to have him around with the experience he has from his career. All the lads have taken to him and he is looking to help the young lads along the way.”

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McPhail is also helping the younger lads at the club and not just in the first team squad. The former Cardiff City captain is also part of the coaching staff with Rovers’ under 17 team which is managed by Aidan Price. Currently taking his UEFA A coaching licence, McPhail has been putting some of what he is learning on the course to use with the team playing in the new underage national league.

 

“I’m really enjoying it and they are a great bunch of lads. It is obviously a new league and it is going to be great in a year or two as we develop the players and then hopefully bring some through into our first team.”

 

The focus is obviously on player development at that age but six wins and a draw from their first seven games is extremely positive as the under 17 team face a trip to Sligo next weekend.

 

“They have started well. We are trying to help them with their performances. That is the most important thing so that they understand their role in the team and formations and at that age you are just trying to give them as much information as possible.

 

“Results wise, we don’t look too much into it but it is great to build confidence when they see themselves at the top of the table. But they are at a big club so they should expect to be up around there all the time. We have had to dig in a few times in places like Galway and Longford so it is an eye-opener for them.

 

“They are playing in those stadiums which is great for them. Coming from schoolboy football, they are now playing in Tallaght Stadium and they will get to play in Inchicore in a few weeks time. You can see the buzz in their eyes before they go out for the warm up, so you have to kind of calm them down and get them to concentrate on their performance.”

 

Last Friday night, McPhail and Damien Duff lined out with three members of Rovers’ under 19 squad when the Hoops took on Bohemians in the Leinster Senior Cup semi-final. Jamie Whelan, Trevor Clark and James Doona all started the game and helped the Hoops to a place in the final. The 4-2 penalty shoot-out win in Dalymount Park, after a scoreless 0-0 draw over 120 minutes, means the Hoops will take on Dundalk one more time in this season’s Leinster Senior Cup Final.

 

As part of the FAI Licensing requirements, all youth coaches must have a UEFA B badge for teams with players of 16 years and above, with an A licence required to be an assistant manager of a first team squad or to be a First Division manager – a pro-licence is required to be first team manager.

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McPhail is part of a current A licence course being run by the FAI which also includes another former Irish international Mark Kinsella (in charge of Drogheda United until the end of the season), Carlo Cudicini (coaching with the Ireland under 21 team) and Rovers first team coach Gareth Cronin.

 

“I’m grateful to Pat (Fenlon) who encouraged me to go on the course when I spoke to him last year. It is set up by the FAI so that you can fit it in around playing. They want you to do so many hours a week coaching at an elite level so the under 17s all ties in with what I’m doing.

 

“There is a lot of work involved. I haven’t found myself before being in front of the computer for days like I have over the last few months! It is not easy. It takes its toll at times as you have long nights.

 

“The three day seminars are really interesting but they are long gruelling days so I’m glad when I’m coming home after. You have to do it as you are trying to learn. Hopefully at the end of it, I will get the badge and push on with my coaching.”

 

He isn’t about to hang up his boots just yet and prior to injury curtailing his season, McPhail had been involved in 15 of Rovers’ first 21 games of the year. His midfield play was central to much that the Hoops had to offer and so it was so disappointing for the player to pick up a hamstring injury in the final league game before Rovers’ European matches.

 

“I’m concentrating on playing as long as I can. I’m only 35 years of age. I feel quite fit and that I can give something to the team. Last year there was a bit of settling in back home with my family. My football wasn’t as good then as I wanted it to be. Until I got injured this year, I felt I was comfortable where I was in terms of my performance and fitness.

 

“It was a massive disappointment,” said McPhail about the injury picked up in the 2-1 win over Galway at the end of June. “I felt I was doing well and in great form coming into Europe. That was a big blow for me and I knew then I was going to be out for a while. It was very frustrating having to watch the games and not being involved.

 

“Fitness wise I’m okay now but match fitness is a bit different but I’m slowly getting there, even though there are only a few games left to go in the season. It has been a bit of a catch up.”

 

With European football secured for next season, thanks to the teams above Rovers qualifying for the FAI Cup final where Dundalk will play Cork City, the Hoops are looking to finish as high up as they can in the table. A runners up spot is well in the reach of Rovers but tonight the aim is to prevent Dundalk from winning the title in Tallaght.

 

“It is in our mind already that we don’t want that to happen!” said McPhail when he was asked about the prospect of Dundalk celebrating winning the league on the Hoops’ home turf. “Hats off to them though, they have had a great season again. They’ve been relentless and have ground out results when they have had to. They are coming to Tallaght and I’m sure they know it will be tough but we want to get one over on them.

 

“Cork are in our sights. There are only a couple of points between us. I’m sure it will go down to the wire but we need to concentrate on ourselves and can’t take our eyes off that. Second spot is definitely up for grabs.”

 

No doubt in Tallaght tonight there will be a few German football fans who will have stayed on in Dublin after last night’s game in the Aviva. It is a big task that awaits Ireland in Poland on Sunday no matter what last night’s result. McPhail doesn’t expect Ireland to have gained anything out of last night’s match but thinks that the game in Warsaw is our best chance of picking up points to at least earn a play-off.

 

“It will tough as they are two massive games this week. I’ve been to the last couple of games in the Aviva. We haven’t really played particularly well through the campaign. I’m sure that most would agree with that. Performance-wise we haven’t really been at the level where we need to be in the qualifiers.

 

“To say we are in with a shout is great but I can’t see us getting too much from Germany. You are just hoping that it will come down to the Poland game and looking at them I don’t think there is too much to fear really. It will be a tough place to go in terms of atmosphere and they have good players. But as a squad we shouldn’t really fear them and should get something from the game.”

 

The current Ireland squad contains a good handful who have played in the League of Ireland and it is that player development that is McPhail’s focus when he saw the recent review of the league from Declan Conroy.

 

“The structure of the league should be better and so should the facilities. We can all see that. We are going about it the right way, looking at the youth and schoolboy system. Making the under 17s and 19s league is all good for me as I can see that producing players and making the league stronger.

 

“We need to produce more players so that they can go on into the international team. That is the aim. Our standard in the FIFA ranking isn’t great. We need to get back to where we were, rather than being between 50 to 60. Teams can do it. Look at Wales who are a similar size to ourselves or countries like Iceland and even Belgium who have worked hard on their set up. They have formidable schoolboy teams at underage and then develop them into the first team.”

The Tallaght Project – Stephen Bradley

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

Interview with Stephen Bradley (Hoops Scene 9/2015 – Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers – 5 June 2015)

 

For over a decade the discussion about Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght was about bricks and mortar. The Tallaght Project priority was seeking to complete the half-finished stand languishing on Whitestown Way so that Rovers could finally play their first game in the Dublin 24 venue.

 

If there is such thing as a Tallaght Project now however, it is more likely about the structures being developed for player development throughout the club from schoolboys right through to the first team. Someone who has seen both these different Tallaght Projects at close hand is Stephen Bradley.

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Growing up in Jobstown, Bradley was 11-years-of-age when there were the initial discussions began about Rovers moving to Tallaght. He saw the shell of the stadium develop and then lay idle for years when his time in Tallaght was visiting home during breaks from being a youth team player with Arsenal.

 

When Michael O’Neill looked to bring Bradley into the Hoops squad for the inaugural season in Tallaght, the player knew he was joining a club, now his local club, at the most exciting time in decades. He would line out in the opening night in the new stadium, play 63 games in two seasons with the Hoops and become part of a Rovers team that would win the club’s first league title since the days in the RDS.

 

Bradley has a remarkable story to tell and it is fascinating to hear him discuss going over to the UK on football trials before he was even a teenager, how he fell out of love with playing the game and how passionate he is now with his coaching role at Rovers.

 

At just 30 years of age, he is now back at Shamrock Rovers. Having left his playing career behind him he is now playing a crucial part in footballer development at the club, at both ends of the spectrum; he is in charge of player development at foundation stage (under 8s to 12s) and is also a vital member of Pat Fenlon’s first team coaching staff. Hoops Scene spoke to the player recently to discuss both his playing and coaching career and also his scouting work that he currently does for Arsenal.

 

So when did he first go over to the UK on trial? “I was 10,” said Bradley. “It is crazy when you think of it. Would I do it again? It was a massive opportunity but it is far too early. We are maybe in danger of going back towards that having come away from it in the last number of years. Now some kids are going at under 11s and 12s and I think that is too young.”

 

Late last year when Bradley was manager of the PFAI team at the Fifpro tournament in Oslo, he spoke about having signed for Arsenal on a big money contract at 17, his head was turned by the size of his bank balance despite not playing with the Gunners first team. He forgot that he was in London to learn his trade and not spend money on extravagant things. He is happy to share his thoughts on that experience and what he learned on his return to Ireland to play professional football where he won league titles first with Drogheda United and then with Rovers.

 

“I spoke about this as I felt not enough people were talking about it and nothing was been done to rectify it. I went over really young. I fell out of love with the game when I signed a professional contract. Some people may say ‘can clubs not set money aside so you don’t get it until you are 20’ but there are bigger issues. I didn’t deal with it very well but that was my scenario.

 

“If we want to keep producing players like Robbie Keane and Damien Duff, we need to look at how we are supporting our players before they go, when they go and when they come back. We shouldn’t just send them over to a cattle market at the age of 15 and say best of luck.”

 

Bradley believes that there is no reason why Ireland cannot develop talented young footballers. Having retired from playing the game at a relatively early age, the passion that he has for coaching players is clear when he speaks about it and how he was drawn to being part of setting up coaching structures at his former club here in Tallaght.

 

“I don’t believe Ireland can’t produce players, we do produce players. We just have to get them early enough when they are in the learning stage. Then they take it in and grasp what you are saying to them. We want to give kids an option of staying in Ireland and finishing their education. I would encourage any kid that has that option to do that.

 

“I wouldn’t have gotten involved if I didn’t believe the club wasn’t behind it or were only going to do for 18 months. I wouldn’t have any interest if players weren’t going to gain from it. It must be long term. From the board, to the first team manager and Shane Robinson (Rovers’ Head of Player and Coach Development), it is getting the backing right through the club.

 

“The end goal is to develop players for the first team. It isn’t a two or three year project. We will see in 10 to 15 years time six or seven players coming through from youth set up into the first team.

 

“The fans, the board and the coaches want to see that. Our aim is to get them into to team to show people you don’t have to go away at 15 like I did. You can stay here, play first team football for Shamrock Rovers at the age of 18. If they are good enough, then they can be sold on.

 

“The new under 17 league is needed because I saw schoolboy football players fall away from the game if they didn’t get over to England at 15. They thought they had missed their chance. This is showing them now that if you stay in football, play first team football with a top League of Ireland, you can move on.

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“Look at Keith Fahey here at Rovers. He went over to the UK, came home and then went again. You look at so many who have done that (in the current Ireland international squad). It shows that if you play in this league and do well enough, you will go over at a stage when you are ready.

 

“My thing with the kids is that I’ve seen and gone through it not so long ago. I know why I didn’t fulfil my potential and I’m okay with that. But now it is about helping other kids become better players and deal with different scenarios. That is why I am so passionate about the youth side of the game as I feel I have something to offer. The younger you get them, the better. They hang onto every word you say and that is fantastic.”

 

Rovers have put a group of coaches together to run the underage set up with extensive experience playing both in the League of Ireland and in leagues outside the country. Shane Robinson (FK Haka), Stephen Bradley (who also spent time playing in Scotland), Graham Gartland (St. Johnstone), Keith O’Halloran (Middlesbrough) are all either UEFA A and B qualified, and along with Pat Deans, whose qualification is in Strength & Conditioning, all five of them played previously for Shamrock Rovers at different stages of their careers.

 

“I don’t believe you have to play at the top level to be a top coach or manager but it definitely helps when you are looking at these kids and you hear them saying to another ‘he played for Shamrock Rovers a few years ago’ It makes an impact with the kids. All of us involved have played with Rovers so it is great to have that connection to the club.

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“After the kids come out of the Academy (weekend sessions in the Spawell for under 7s), we are trying to give them the basic elements of football. Control, pass, dribble. Let them express themselves. As they are enjoying it, they are learning about the game and that is what we are trying to do with them at that age.

 

“They play in leagues but there are no league tables until they go 10s. They train three times a week and then they play a game on the Saturday. There is supposed to be nobody keeping score but tell the parents and the other coaches that!

 

“The kids do ask about the score. I don’t think we will ever stop it but there is no harm in that! The main thing is that the adults don’t feed into that and say ‘we won or we lost on Saturday’. It isn’t about that. It is about the kids learning the basics of how to play football and letting them make decisions which is really important.

 

“Whether it is right or wrong, we encourage them to do that and over time they will learn whether it was correct or not. It isn’t up to us to tell them that, they need to work it out and I believe in the long term that will help them.

 

“Football is very different now. There is no street football being played anymore. People ask me how I was technically gifted but it was because I was on the street every day all day kicking the ball off a wall or the path. You kicked it at different angles and you had to control it in different ways but that is gone now and we have to try and replicate it.”

 

Some of the kids that take part in Rovers’ Academy programme were not even born when the Hoops played their first game in Tallaght back in March 2009. That is a game that standouts from Bradley’s playing career.

 

“Being from Tallaght I’d seen the slow progress (of the stadium) growing up. At one stage with a lot of things going on, you were thinking this may never happen. So to play in the first game in Tallaght stadium was special.

 

“When Michael O’Neill spoke to me about signing, I knew how big it was from growing up in the area. I knew there would be a good buzz but I never thought it would be as big as that night. The first game in Tallaght was massive. The whole build up to the game was absolutely unbelievable.

 

“When we came out, the ground was packed. We played well and we won. It was one of those nights that you look back on and you will never forget as it was a special night. When we came into the dressing room after the first game it was like winning the league. That was the buzz. All the lads had a high like we had won the title.”

 

While Rovers just missed out on winning the league in that opening season in Tallaght, the following year the Hoops did lift the league trophy. “I’ve been lucky to win things with a few teams (winning a title, FAI Cup and two Setanta Cups with Drogheda) but the Rovers one was special. As a Tallaght lad and hearing how long it was since winning the league, to win one was really special. It was something you thought it might never happen but that squad wanted to win things together and we did.”

 

Next month marks five years since Rovers’ famous encounter in the Europa League qualifiers with a club who over the weekend are looking to win the 2015 Champions League final in Berlin. “We played really well,” said Bradley speaking about the game against Juventus in Modena. That was a night where it took a moment of genius from Alessandro Del Piero to separate the teams.

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“Del Piero put one in the net from 50 yards! I didn’t play in a game where I saw a better free kick. He was brilliant playing wise and after the game too. He came into us and brought us all into their dressing room and made sure we all swapped shirts. They were excellent.”

 

In between his coaching role with Rovers, Bradley also is a scout for Arsenal. Prior to his current role at Rovers, he did a lot of scouting in Europe for the Gunners. He would travel over to a league or international game in Europe. Now for scouting players outside of Ireland, Arsenal normally send him a live link of the game to watch.

 

“If you are doing stuff for the first team, the boss (Arsene Wenger) usually gives you a target to give a full report on. Other times you go to a game and they won’t tell you which player they are looking out for. They let you watch the game and see if you pick him out.

 

“It keep you on your toes! You have to be tuned in for the game and every player. When you are filling out the report on the system, you nearly always have to get the player that they have ear marked. I would look from first team players down to young players and all around Europe.

 

“Sometimes you might get a link from a live game somewhere else in the world and you have to scout Ronaldo or Messi. You have to forget about his reputation and scout him whether he has played well or not. They might get a few scouts to do that game and then they will compare reports. It is a good indication to see which scout is looking at certain things.

 

“The manager has always done it that way and you can see the results with their recruitment which has been some of the best around in the last 10 to 15 years. Coaching is what I love doing with the first team or with the young lads but scouting makes you look at the game in a different way. I love it. Training in the morning with the first team, doing stuff in the evenings with the kids or go to the North or down to Cork to watch a team or watch a live stream of a game. It is football 24/7!”

 

 

 

Hyland hitting the heights with the Hoops

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Interview with Craig Hyland from Hoops Scene 4/2015 Shamrock Rovers v Bohemian FC (27 March 2015)

It was the fifth meeting of the teams in Oriel Park in 2015. The Dundalk crowd, and indeed their team, were nervy as the Lilywhites faced Shamrock Rovers in their penultimate home game of the season; the point they would earn in this 0-0 draw against the Hoops would turn out to be crucial in securing Dundalk the title. Referee Rob Rogers had a busy game and by the final whistle would brandish nine yellow cards, one red card and give Rovers a late penalty that they would miss.

 

The yellow card the referee gave Barry Murphy for time wasting would have a significant influence on the goalkeeping situation at the start of this season for Shamrock Rovers. Murphy’s fifth yellow card of 2014 meant that he picked up a suspension that would rule him out of the first league game of this season. This essentially ensured Craig Hyland would start in goal for Rovers at the start of the 2015 league campaign.

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“He was unfortunate to get that suspension but that gave me my chance,” said Hyland about Murphy’s yellow card when Hoops Scene caught up with the goalkeeper after last Friday’s 0-0 draw with Cork City in Tallaght Stadium. “My whole focus in the off-season was to work really hard in the gym, and then on the pitch when we came back training, as I knew I was going to play in the first game.”

 

24-year-old Hyland had a previous spell with the Hoops in 2011 and he re-signed with Rovers last season making ten first team appearances (plus a further three starts with Rovers’ First Division team). He played in the EA Sports Cup Final at Oriel Park in the 3-2 defeat to Dundalk and kept a clean sheet in each of his three league appearances made in the last four weeks of the 2014 season.

 

“I played a few more times under Pat (Fenlon) than Trevor Croly and I felt I did well. The cup final was a big one for me for confidence. The result didn’t go well but goals aside I played fairly well and that gave me confidence for the games where I came in. I played relatively well, kept a few clean sheets and that stood me in good stead for this year.

 

“The whole goal for the start of the season was, even though I was going to play the first game, to extend it and play as much as possible. Luckily the first game went well; I kept a clean sheet and I’ve managed to stay in the team.”

 

On the opening night, played in windy conditions particularly tough for a goalkeeper, Hyland pulled off a spectacular save in injury time to deny St. Patrick’s Athletic striker Ciarán Kilduff a goal and earn the Hoops a 1-0 victory. He followed that up with a clean sheet in the 2-0 win away to Longford before last week’s draw against Cork – making it six clean sheets in a row for the Hoops.

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The goalkeeping team at Shamrock Rovers is led by coach Dermot O’Neill and bolstered by under 19 goalkeepers Michael Kelly and Luca Gratzer. The situation with goalkeepers is an interesting dynamic as ‘keepers can go many matches without getting on the pitch, unlike outfield players who can come in and play in usually a couple of positions.

 

“You can go long periods of time without playing or sometimes you are in and out for cup games and then back on the bench. It is a mental challenge more than anything else. Last year, even though I knew that was the case, it was difficult at times. It can be frustrating. As a goalkeeper, you know there is only one position but there is always a few alternatives as an outfield player.

 

“You do work a lot closer with your fellow goalkeepers maybe compared with two outfield players in the same position. I’ve heard it can go one of two ways but I’ve never had an issue with any of the goalkeepers I’ve played with. I’m an easy going type of guy and I’d be friends with the ‘keepers who have been number one ahead of me or number two to me. That is certainly the case with Barry and we are good friends. He is very helpful especially now that I’m in the team. He is giving me little tips and pointers about different players and different teams which is great.

 

“I’m in the team now and hopefully that lasts but I know I need to perform really well in every game as Barry is there waiting to get back in and he is good enough to step back in whenever needs be. You don’t want a situation where you have your goalkeeper who is in the team but is extremely comfortable and not really pushing himself for form. You need to be at your best if you want to win leagues and do well in Europe.

 

“There is a rivalry for places but there is no bitterness if you are not in the team. The lads are always willing to help each other out which is massively important. That is the ethos Pat (Fenlon) has brought in. It is very long season and players are going to be in and out but everyone will get a run in the team. There is competitiveness for places, not just in goal but all positions in the team.”

 

It can be a bit of a surprise if you are hanging around Tallaght Stadium more than a half an hour after a game to see Rovers players with flip-flops and towels around the waist shuffling across Whitestown Way coming from the Arena Leisure Centre back into the stadium. The chance to carry out their warm down in the swimming pool opposite the stadium is one of the many positives for Hyland to the set up at Shamrock Rovers.

 

“We often do our after match recovery cool down in the pool especially when we have games coming all the time. It takes the weight off your joints. It is low impact and we can do our stretching. The affect of the water releases the tension in your muscles. After games I’m sorer from diving around and ‘keepers probably don’t need it as much as other players but I find it very beneficial.

 

“We go over, do our bit and then come back over and have a shower so the lads can clean up and tidy away. The gym does us a courtesy by staying open so late which is great. I’ve done pool sessions before but never as close to the stadium, with the option to do it straight after the game. The quicker you can do it after the game and get the recovery done the more rest you stand to have.

 

“Sometimes the sessions are done on Saturday morning but a lot of the lads including myself sometimes struggle to sleep after the game as you are so hyped up. It is a luxury to get to do the pool session straight after the game. You mightn’t sleep but you have more time for resting in the morning. A lot of other clubs wouldn’t have the ability to do that. It is a credit to the club, Pat Fenlon and the other coaching staff that we have that.

 

“If you want to be a top club you have to have the top facilities and ours have been upgraded on last year. We train in the morning and have full access to a kitchen so a lot of the lads would have their food there. We have a mini-gym so we can do our gym sessions with our strength and conditioning coach (Conor Clifford) and do extra bits including before training which is another improvement on last year.

 

“Conor did most of our fitness work in the off-season and is at most of the sessions. We do at least one gym session a week with him together as a team a. I’m the type of person who can train all your like but I need to be in the gym to stay as sharp as I can. It is a bonus for me as I get the extra hour there and that it will be tailored specifically for you.

 

“The group this year is tighter knit,” says Hyland speaking ahead of last Tuesday’s game away to Sligo Rovers. “We do spend a lot more time together. We work hard and are four to five hours a day with each other. That extra bit of gym work is done together and you can have that bit of craic and a laugh while working.

 

“It is a long season and there will be setbacks but as a group we are stronger this year. There is no micro groups within the group. Everyone talks to everyone and spends time with each other. The more experienced players like Stephen McPhail, Keith Fahey, Patrick Cregg and Tim Clancy have come in and they are helping us all, myself included. The new players have integrated straight into the group seamlessly almost as if they were always at the club.

 

“It can be tough for new people and a little intimidating coming in especially at a club as big as this and as competitive as this, where you are competing for trophies and qualification for Europe. It was a bit of a shock when I came back to Rovers from playing in the First Division with Waterford United. It took me a while to adapt to full time training last year but it is what you aspire to be. Full time football is what you want to do. When you get there, there is a lot of effort but what else would you want to be doing!”

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When Hyland was last with the Hoops it was in the heady days of the Europa League. If it was a yellow card issued to Barry Murphy last October that gave Hyland his opportunity this season, it was a penalty save by Rovers goalkeeper Ryan Thompson that gave him a chance to be part of the Europa League experience in 2011. 35 minutes into the match against Rubin Kazan in Tallaght, which was Rovers’ first group game, Thompson faced a penalty won by Obafemi Martins, the former Inter Milan and Newcastle player now playing in Seattle. The Jamaican goalkeeper made the initial save from Nelson Valdez’s spot kick and then got back up and across the goal to block the rebound before the ball was cleared.

 

When Thompson made that penalty save he picked up an injury and, while he travelled to Tottenham Hotspur for the next game, Hyland was also brought along with the squad. It was a great experience for a 20-year-old player to be involved with the squad at that time. Looking back now the goalkeeper drew some parallels with this 2015 Rovers vintage, as well as outlining a mature lesson that he took from his time in Michael O’Neill’s squad.

 

“It was a very successful time for the club. The highlight of the whole thing was going on the trip to Spurs. Ryan Thompson had an injury at the time and I got to experience that game. It was mayhem. It was great to see how well Richard Brush did in that game and he was a standout player.

 

“I had the luxury of working with talented goalkeepers back then too. You had Alan Mannus who I still rate as the best I’ve seen and trained with, you’d Richard Brush, and Ryan Thompson who is back in America having a good career for himself.

 

“My memory of that time was the attitude of the team which had a refusal to concede goals. The team was very difficult to beat, very well organised and set up. Similar to how we are now.

 

“We do a lot of work on the training pitch to be organised. There is a good solidarity with the back four whoever comes in. We look like we will be hard to score goals against and that was a key back then. Under Michael O’Neill, the club won two leagues and qualified for the Europa League in the season when we also won the league. The levels of performance and effort were monumental.

 

“More so what I took away from that time, and I wouldn’t have said it then, was the overriding feeling that I needed to go away and play somewhere else. At no stage when I was at the club back then was I ready to play. The step up would have been much too big.

 

“I didn’t know what was going to happen with Michael O’Neill as there was uncertainty there. It looked like I was going to go on loan but I didn’t want a new manager coming in to Rovers and next thing I had was nothing. I had the opportunity of going to Longford and I took it. Was it a good decision or not? I don’t know but it has probably worked out for me. Being at Longford and Waterford was great and was massively beneficially so in hindsight I probably made the right decision for my career.

 

“It was a great experience watching the side do so well in 2011, winning and being so successful and knowing that is where I wanted to be. It was a goal after I left Rovers, if you want to play at the top, you want to get back to Rovers, there is no other team you want to play for, it is the top team in the country.”

 

“I did well enough to sign back here. I am getting a run in the team now and Pat has shown great confidence in me. If you get in the team and do well, you stay in the team. If you get that opportunity you need to take your chance and that is what I’ve done. I want to stay in the team at the minute but I want to improve and maintain that level of performance.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miele goes from Toon to Hoop

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Interview with Brandon Miele from Hoops Scene 8/2015 (Shamrock Rovers v Longford Town)

 

May is the month when the professional leagues in Britain reach their dramatic conclusion. Clubs battle it out for league winner medals, European qualification and to see who goes up and who goes down. For many players, it is also a case of who stays and who goes, with the drama for many of them including being released from their club if their contract is not renewed.

 

12 months ago Brandon Miele was the one receiving the difficult news that there would be no contract at the end of season for him. After a difficult time with injury in the preceding year the Tallaght player, who signed for Newcastle United when he was 16, was no longer wanted by the club.

 

He had a few options available to him but he took the decision to return to Ireland, and is now using the wealth of experience he gained from being with the Premier League club to help Shamrock Rovers in their title challenge.

 

“It was a good four years over there,” was how Miele described his time with the Magpies when he spoke to Hoops Scene this week. “I enjoyed it and I gained a lot of experience being over there. I would have got in around making the first team squad in my last year but I had a lot of injuries. Before that, I was doing really well, playing every week (with the reserves) and I was getting brought in to train with the first team.”

 

Having been so close to the first team squad, it was difficult to get so near and have injuries prevent the step up. “It was horrible. It was the most frustrating time ever in my life but I just had to get on with it. It was unfortunate for those injuries to happen in my last year.

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“If it had happened a year before I would have more time. They just said ‘you’ve been injured all year and we can’t take the risk of giving you another contract’. They wouldn’t take a gamble on me. I was a bit disappointed with them that they didn’t give me the chance to prove myself.”

 

Miele would liked to have been part of the challenge of playing in the first team but Newcastle have really struggled this season. It has been a difficult year for the Tyneside club who have been in and out of the news thanks to the ‘colourful’ owner Mike Ashley and their on pitch difficulties. “I don’t know what is wrong with them,” was Miele’s take on his old club. “They seem to be on bad form and people are talking about them getting relegated. This whole season they haven’t been up to scratch.”

 

Changed family circumstances last year meant that a move back to his home city of Dublin was favourable. “It is good to be back home especially as me and my girlfriend have a young baby who is five months old.

 

“Once we found out we were going to have a baby, we said it would probably work out better if we did come home. My thoughts were, if I can get a club in England that suits, we would go back over. I was promised this and that but things never happened. It ended up being too late and I missed the transfer window with the League of Ireland (last July).

 

20 year old Miele played his schoolboy football with Cherry Orchard from the age of eight up until his move to England. On his return to Dublin, he joined Bluebell United in the Leinster Senior League. “I said that I just needed to play games so I went and signed and played with Bluebell for a bit. Just to keep myself match fit. I knew the manager Andy Noonan and was a great help to me in getting the move to Rovers this season.”

 

From a Premier League club back to playing in the Leinster Senior League, Miele was happy to make the step back up into the professional game with Shamrock Rovers this year. Having been involved in the top echelons of the game in England, how has he found the transition to the League of Ireland?

 

“The sessions that Pat (Fenlon) put on are top sessions and are really enjoyable. Sometimes at Newcastle they’d put a session on and you’d have everyone moaning about it but things are done very professionally at Rovers.

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“Pat has been a manager across the water and he knows the ins and outs of the game. The sessions are just as good (as in Newcastle) but to be honest I enjoy them more here than I did at Newcastle. Glenn Cronin and Stephen Bradley, along with Pat, know what they are on about. Glenn and Stephen are top coaches who will go far in the coaching game.

 

“It is a tough league. It is probably more physical than the reserve league in England but I think the style of play is good. We play good football and I’ve been really impressed with us. We’ve done well.”

 

Miele has made some telling contributions in the last few weeks with an excellently taken goal against Galway United in Tallaght and an equaliser, coming off the bench, to rescue a point down in Limerick last month. That helped Rovers maintain their unbeaten record that now stands at 14 games without defeat in all competitions since the start of the season.

 

“I feel good,” was his assessment of being at Rovers. “I feel like every time I have gotten a chance I’ve taken it. That is the main thing. You have to take your chance with both hands and try and keep your spot in the team. Hopefully I can keep performing, getting some goals and making assists; Just keep doing my job and doing it well.

 

“It was good to come on in Limerick and help the team get a point and keep that unbeaten run going. It was great to get a point but we would have preferred the win but that is the way the game went.

 

“We are looking to pick up more three points in the next series of games. The way Dundalk are going, they are getting win after win. We need to start winning goals rather than drawing games.”

 

It was Miele cross that found Mikey Drennan at the back post to earn the Hoops all three points in the last outing here in Tallaght. Drennan’s seventh goal of the season gave Rovers the 1-0 win over Drogheda United, with the tap in set up by a nice dummy by Ryan Brennan of a whipped Miele cross.

 

Drennan has linked up well with Miele which is no surprise when you hear that the two players have played with each other before. “He is doing very well. He is a top player. I’ve played with him at all levels at under age (with Ireland). When Pat said he was going to sign him, I told him he was a top player and I rate him highly.

 

“I think I set him up against Bray with a similar chance when I crossed it and he headed it in at the backpost. I want to keep making assists for Mikey as it is good for the both of us. I think me and him link up well. Off the pitch we are close friends and that helps on the pitch. I know his game and he knows my game. We bounce well off each other.”

 

Pat Fenlon has played predominantly this season with his team in a 4-3-3 formation and Miele has mostly played in one of the wide offensive positions and he was in the starting line up in last Monday’s re-arranged game against St. Patrick’s Athletic in Richmond Park.

 

“I like playing on either side. Once you are playing on the wing, you get loads of the ball and you can go and create things. I can play down the middle as well.

Tallaght is great. There is loads of space. You can get at people. I love playing in Tallaght. It is a different story in Richmond as it is a tight pitch.”

 

The match was played on Monday after last Friday’s game fell foul of the weather. “Obviously the weather that day was horrific. When we got there, there were puddles all over the pitch. We had to wait for the pitch inspection but realistically it was never going to be on. It would have been horrible if it had have been on, as both teams wouldn’t have been able to play on it.”

 

The weather had improved for the re-fixed game on Monday although heavy showers fell in the second half as Hoops fans huddled under the cover the shed provided in half the Kilmainham end of the ground. It was a tight affair with few clear cut chances between the teams.

 

The sides will get to do it all again on the upcoming Bank Holiday weekend as the pair were drawn against each other in the second round of the FAI Cup. In what is undoubtedly the tie of the round, it pits the cup holders against the record cup winners.

 

The Hoops have twice eliminated the Saints in the last five editions of this competition. “It will be good game as they won it last year. It would good to knock them out, wouldn’t it!?!” said Miele with delight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living the dream – Stephen McPhail at Rovers

December 22, 2014 Leave a comment

Interview from Hoops Scene 2014 Issue 15 (Shamrock Rovers FC Official Matchday Programme)

Living the dream

The dream of leading your team out in an FA Cup final in Wembley, representing your country and even pulling on the jersey and playing for the team you supported as a boy, is one that many footballers have but few can live out. Stephen McPhail has lived that dream during his career. With the support of his family, supporters and even some help from a superstar sportswoman, he has also had to overcome the nightmare of serious health concerns that at times looked like might end his playing career and much more.

Shamrock Rovers was the club McPhail supported as a child. The young boy from Rush got an inside look into the club through his grandfather Paddy Doran. He was one of the members of Ray Treacy’s backroom team during Rovers’ tenure in the RDS. Between those days of watching the Hoops in Dublin’s horse show arena in the 1990’s and pulling on the green and white hooped jersey here in Tallaght, McPhail has a packed a huge amount into his playing career in the upper echelons of British football. With all that and the recent departure of Trevor Croly from Rovers, there was a lot for Hoops Scene to discuss when we caught up with the 34 year-old midfielder prior to Monday’s 2-0 EA Sports Cup semi-final win away to Bohemians.

“I supported the club back in the RDS when I was seven or eight,” recalled McPhail. “I started to go every week travelling all over the country supporting the club so I know what Rovers means to the fans as I was one of them for years. With my Granddad involved with the club that gave me a great insight into Rovers.”

McPhail made his debut for Leeds United in 1999 at just 18 years of age and soon became a regular starter during an exciting time at the club as they battled with the best in English and European football, reaching UEFA Cup and Champions League semi-finals in back-to-back seasons. His most enjoyable time in his career to date though was at Cardiff City where McPhail had the honour of captaining team in the 2008 FA Cup final in Wembley.

“As soon as I joined, the Cardiff fans took to me. The way I played I think they enjoyed watching me. I probably played there when I was in my prime and they saw the best of me. I loved every minute of it there. The seven years went too quick. I had such a good time. It was a special place. I have a lot of good friends there.

“You dream about it and I was lucky enough to do that,” said McPhail about having the captain’s armband on FA Cup final day. “I will never forget standing in the tunnel ready to lead the team out in the cup final. It was an unbelievable feeling. That game was huge with the build-up to it, the atmosphere during the week, and the pressure of the game. You have to make the most of those big days. To lead out a team as a captain on a big stage, and perform at your best, was something I’d always dreamt of.”

Towards the end of the following year, football became a very minor concern for McPhail as he faced the nightmare of a major health crisis. “I found a small lump under my chin. I said it to the club doctor and he looked at it a couple of times and it wasn’t going away so he sent me to see a couple of specialists. They thought it was okay, maybe an infection in the glands, but we would see how it goes. When there was an international break and I’d a week off, the doctor said go and see one more specialist. When the results came back a couple of weeks later it was a lymphoma.

“I was flying fit, feeling great and in top form and for that to happen it was a big of a shock. Anyone that has been through that, it is a life changer. It is something that you think isn’t going to happen to you and it did. The doctors and the club were amazing. The fans were unbelievable. I got thousands and thousands of letters and Facebook posts, and that support from them and my family got me through.

“I had time out for three or four months and I came back to Dublin to get treatment. I spent Christmas at home. I went through five weeks of radiotherapy. I didn’t feel too great. I couldn’t eat for a couple of weeks as my throat was blistered and I didn’t get any Christmas dinner that year! I spent time with my family and got my head down and tried to get through the treatment as quickly as possible. Looking back, it was a time for reflection and consideration. It makes you wonder what it is all about.

“I wanted to show people that I was strong enough to get back on the pitch. Speaking to the doctors at one stage they said it mightn’t be great to go back but it was just about looking after myself as much as I could, stay fit and train through the treatment. I trained every day that I could. Tony McCarthy, the physio with Ireland and now at Shamrock Rovers, was amazing through that time. I did six weeks with him doing rehab and fitness work. That kept me going and luckily enough I got back on the pitch quickly within four months.”

While his lymphoma was successfully treated, McPhail was then diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome. He requires on-going periodic treatment in Los Angeles with a doctor recommended to McPhail personally by nine-time tennis Grand Slam title winner Venus Williams.

“It is an autoimmune disease that a lot of people have but might not know. I wasn’t feeling great and I wasn’t getting through training. The club doctor was looking to find out if any other athlete had it, as they wanted to pick their brains on how they manage. Venus seems to be the only one who had said publically they had the same issue and I was able to get in contact with her.

“One day she phoned the house in Cardiff. We had a great chat for an hour about how she deals with it and how she was able to perform at the highest level in tennis. She knew exactly how I was feeling and she told me her routine. She was great, down to earth and she helped me a lot. She sent me to see a specialist in LA who leads my treatment now so I owe a lot to her. That doctor is a world expert and the treatment he gave me seems to be working.

“It is something I keep an eye on. I had to change my diet and I look after myself health wise. I need treatment every six months and if I get a flare up I know what to do to keep it under control. The one thing through my experiences I’d say is don’t take a chance with these things. Get them checked out.”

McPhail had always envisaged coming back to play football at home. With his family returning to live in Ireland last year, McPhail made the switch from Championship football with Sheffield Wednesday to League of Ireland football with Shamrock Rovers at the start of 2014.

 

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“I hoped at one stage to play for Rovers in my career, for my Granddad and for me having been a supporter of the club. I always kept an eye out on the results when I was over in England. It was something I wanted to do and I was delighted when the chance came about. I’m looking forward to finishing the season strong.

“Before joining Rovers I was travelling back and forward to see my family. It was quite stressful and that meant I couldn’t put everything into my football. I was traveling here, there and everywhere. Coming home was something I wanted to do so I could be around my kids growing up.”

McPhail lined out 10 times for Ireland, making his first international start back in 2000. “I made my debut against Scotland and it was probably the proudest day playing for my country. It was incredible to play in front of a full house. My family and all of Rush were there in the crowd! It was a special special day and one that I will never forget.”

His enthusiasm for the game is undiminished and McPhail is happy to share his experiences with the younger players at the club. His career path was one that had him travelling to England from a very early age and Rovers at present are looking to provide a different path than the one McPhail had to travel.

“I started going on trials to clubs when I was 12. When I turned 15 I made my mind up to go to Leeds. I was quite young, leaving school and my family. I wanted to be a footballer growing up so it was a big step and decision to leave home. Players go over at 16 or 17 these days. It is a lot harder to get over and make it but I was lucky enough to play over there.

“I made my debut at 18 and it was daunting at that very young age going into the Premier League and playing against players who you were used to watching on TV like Roy Keane and Patrick Viera. It was an amazing experience. I loved the atmosphere of playing in those big games. It is what you grow up looking to do.

“When you get older you have to wise up and look after yourself. I watched certain players over the years who I looked up to, like Gary Kelly; players who had long careers in England. I saw how they trained and looked after themselves. I like to be first in and last to leave training and that is how I will continue as long as I’m playing.

“The First Division team here at Rovers is a great idea. Working on the youth set up in Ireland is something that should have happened a long time ago. We need to start producing better players through our system and give them an opportunity to play at a better level. I’m happy to pass on any experience I have to Luke Byrne, Rob Cornwall and some of the other young lads. They can ask me questions, how things should be done and I can give them my honest opinion. Hopefully they take on board things to help them have long careers.”

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It was Trevor Croly who signed McPhail for Rovers and last Saturday saw the departure of the manager from the club. “It has been a difficult couple of weeks. We were in a great position when we beat Pat’s. We played Dundalk and we were three points off top of the league but in the space of a couple of weeks, two or three performances have turned the place upside down. The confidence has seemed to have been drained out of the lads.

“I think it was probably the right thing for a change. I think if you don’t have the support of everyone then going forward it is not going to happen. I think Trevor understood that. He is a great man. He is an unbelievable coach; one of the best I’ve worked and I owe him a lot. It is a sad time but that is something that happens in football. I’m sure he will be back in a job as soon as possible.”

It was 15 years ago that McPhail first played European football and as the season in Ireland enters its final third he is focused on the goal of playing once again in Europe. “We want to finish as high as possible. We are in a couple of cups that we still want to do well in. There is plenty to play for. We haven’t qualified for Europe in the last few years so that is something we want to do and we are still in the hunt for that. We are concentrating on that so we can finish in the top three.”

 

Living Hoops History

November 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Article from Hoops Scene 2014 Issue 9 (Shamrock Rovers Matchday Programme) May 2014

It is five years since Shamrock Rovers first moved to Tallaght and everyone at the club fondly remembers that opening game in the new stadium in March 2009. However, it is a match that took place a few month’s after that inaugural game, played against tonight’s opposition, that many at the club, including goalkeeper Barry Murphy, recall as the first night the club felt like Tallaght was home.

“It was a mad night!” was how Murphy recently recalled Rovers’ 2-1 win against Bohemians in the derby that took place five years ago last Friday night. Murphy watched from the edge of his penalty area as Gary Twigg scored two late goals in the game to turn a 1-0 defeat into a legendary 2-1 derby win. It was a victory that many felt based on the balance of play was not a deserved win; maybe that is why it was made even more memorable from a Rovers perspective!

“I think when Twigg scored that second goal I jumped into the stands to celebrate! It was a game that introduced the stadium to the league and introduced the new Rovers. We were back to winning ways and up there challenging for things. It gave us a platform to build on.

“I couldn’t believe it was five years ago when I saw it on Rovers’ Facebook page last week! It was an unbelievable feeling to win a game that way. Hopefully we won’t have to leave it that late this Friday and we can do the job earlier against Bohs!”

It was a friendlier affair for Rovers recently when Murphy’s team took on Liverpool in front of over 42,000 fans in the Aviva Stadium. The fact that most of the fans who had come to Lansdowne Road were decked out in red was no surprise to anyone but it still was a strange occasion.

It wasn’t the first time that Murphy had been part of such a fixture as he had played 45 minutes with an Airtricity League selection against Celtic in 2011 in a 5-0 defeat at the Aviva he described as a “shambles”. In addition to the obvious financial gain for the club, Murphy has the view that despite certain misgivings there is still much to be gained from friendly fixtures.

“For myself, it was a weird one. Players were getting requests from family and friends who were Liverpool fans looking for tickets rather than coming to watch Rovers and that is an odd thing but that is just the way it is. Their league is marketed so well. The only real thing you get from these games as a player is to put yourself up there and compare yourself to those type of players.”

In the first season in Tallaght the Hoops got to play an even bigger friendly than this month’s one in the Aviva when they took on Real Madrid. Murphy started that night against the club who are seeking their tenth European Cup tomorrow night in the Champions League final in Lisbon.

Real’s team in Tallaght in 2009 contained Cristiano Ronaldo in their starting line up for the very first time in a team chosen by then manager Manuel Pellegrini. The Spanish side needed a late goal from Karim Benzema to win the game 1-0 but it was a match and an occasion that helped Rovers in their competitive games to come in the following seasons according to Murphy.

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“The lads who went on that European run in 2011 had played big teams before (like Real Madrid and Juventus). We want to get those types of teams back to play them competitively again. We want to push on and play those type of teams consistently and do well against them consistently. Those games and playing in those stadiums can help. We want to bring back a side like Liverpool to Dublin in the future when there will be a competitive edge. Getting to Europe is probably the least we are looking at this season. We want to win things.”

Hoops boss Trevor Croly ahead of the Liverpool friendly spoke about his aim of bringing his team back to the Aviva later on in the season to play in the FAI Ford Cup final at the venue. It is a sentiment echoed by Murphy. “I was there a few years ago with Pat’s but I didn’t get to play in that final due to injury. It is the biggest day out in the season, bar winning a league medal. We want to be back there playing in a competitive environment and feel the real intensity of the cup final.

“It was unbelievable walking out in the Aviva the other week in front of that noise and that level of large crowd which we just aren’t used to. It was nice to play in, as it was a bonus game for us and there was no real pressure. We enjoyed it for what it was which was a one off night. We got back into training and focused very quickly for the game against Athlone last Saturday.”

In that Athlone match, Murphy kept another clean sheet, his third at home in the league this season, where Rovers have the best home defensive record in the top division. The ‘keeper didn’t have much to do in that last league game as at times the Hoops struggled to break down the resolute defense of the Midlanders. It required something a bit special from Rovers to break the deadlock and that is what Eamon Zayed’s second half strike was.

“We did well on Saturday (against Athlone) after the week that we had. There was a lot of hype around the Liverpool game. It took its toll maybe but we played well at certain times. We did miss a few chances. It took Eamon’s class to unlock them and that got us the three points.

“They sat in their own half and let us play, like a lot of teams have done this year. We saw from the opening game of the season (against Derry City) what certain teams were at. Roddy played a centre half in midfield. On that night we couldn’t unlock them but on other nights since then we’ve done well to do so.

“I think it was 25 minutes into the game the other night before I touched the ball and that was a free kick! You are trying to stay involved especially the way we play where we are looking to play it out from the back. In the last couple of weeks with the teams we’ve been playing against, I haven’t been involved as much. It is about staying in line with the ball and moving yourself across the goal to try and stay involved for the small incidents that do happen during the game.

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“You have to be ready for balls over the top, to be positioned right to be ready to come off your line to deal with situations that have to be dealt with at the back. We are working on other aspects of our game to get the goals and that will be a feature of future games in Tallaght when teams come here to keep it tight. Come Friday I think Bohs will probably look to come and play a bit more and I will maybe have more to do.”

The Hoops come into tonight’s derby game unbeaten at home in the league having conceded just three league goals at home all season and are facing a side who have only won once against Rovers in Tallaght in the five seasons since the venue opened.

Earlier this month he broke the 200 appearance mark for Rovers, a club where he first lined out for nine years ago before having spells with both Bohs and St. Patrick’s Athletic.

“You see from last year you just need to be in the mix at this stage to have a good chance at the end of the season. We are looking to build a platform to give ourselves a chance in the final series of games. That is what we’ve done so far and hopefully that will continue. Last year we dropped points against the ‘so-called’ lesser teams and didn’t give ourselves a chance when it came around to the bigger games. Now when they do come around we will be up there.

“Winning the league is something I’ve been striving to do for years. The manager talks about players only having a certain number of chances of winning it during your career. I want to have a winner’s medal on my mantelpiece. I have a few of the other medals but I’m looking to win that big one at the end of this season.”

No Finnish to Robinson’s career

August 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Former Hoops favourite Shane Robinson is currently scoring for fun in the Finnish league. Hoops Scene caught up with Shane for a chat about Rovers, goals and being an overseas Hoop…

Shane Robinson began his professional football career with Shamrock Rovers back in 1999 and played with the club over two spells in between a successful stint at Drogheda United. He now plays his football in Finland where he is club captain with Haka and Hoops Scene chatted to the midfielder recently from his base in Valkeakoski.

Robinson was the right man to lead Rovers out for the opening night in Tallaght Stadium in 2009 as he knew the significance of the occasion. The honour of captaining the team that night is one he is very proud of. ‘It is probably the memory that sticks with me the most,” recalled Robinson. “I’ve won leagues but as a one off night that was special.

“That first night in Tallaght was emotional for everyone that knew the history of the club. I was so proud to lead the team out and to make sure that we didn’t lose that game. I knew walking out onto the pitch, what was said in the dressing room and what was said the night before, that we wouldn’t lose the game. It was a night to remember.

“It was an honour for me and I felt I led the old team into the new ground as I’d been there in ’99. I thought of Derek Treacy and people like him that never got to play there. The likes of Derek sacrificed winning trophies to try and play in that ground. I was representing that group and the fans that night.”

“I knew exactly what it meant to people. I had played in Santry when nobody wanted to go to games and they still did. I played in Tolka and even played a home game in Turners Cross. When I was in my first spell, speaking to the board they were saying we’d be in the stadium next year and that was in 2003!”

Photo by George Kelly

During Robinson’s first stint at the club, the Hoops always seemed to be on the verge of getting to Tallaght but continued to play out of a succession of home grounds without much success. The winger left the club at the end of 2004 as Rovers went into financial free fall. It was a much-changed club when Robinson in 2009 arrived back for his second spell at Shamrock Rovers.

“It was a totally different club,” said Robinson about his return to Rovers. “The only thing that didn’t change was the supporters. It was funny in the first few games to meet supporters who I’d seen in Santry or Tolka and places like that. That was the thing I loved at Rovers. The people knew what the club had been through. They were there in the first year in Tallaght and I’m sure they are still there.”

So how did it come about that Robinson is playing his football in Finland? “I went to Australia when I left Rovers. There were options with other teams but I didn’t want to play elsewhere in Ireland. I enjoyed the year in Australia but I didn’t really enjoy the football. When my girlfriend and myself came back at Christmas, we were just coming home for a break but there were issues with a visa getting back. I was kind of struggling to think what I could do if I couldn’t get back to Australia when I got a phone call from Sami Ristila (Haka manager) who played with me in Drogheda. He asked me to come out to see if I liked it in the first instance.

“I came out in February and it was pretty cold! I took a bit of convincing to come back! I love it here though. It is a very professional club. I loved playing for Rovers where things were done right. But when you look at clubs here and the facilities that they have that they own themselves, it is great. Everyone is full time.”

Haka are currently sitting third from bottom in the Veikkausliga, the top division in domestic Finnish football with HJK currently top of the table. “We have struggled a bit this year. Our budget is one of the lowest here. There are 12 strong teams with good stadiums in the league. We are pretty familiar with each other over here as we play each other three times. I would describe the standard here as similar to the League of Ireland but totally different in the way they play. HJK are on a different level than the League of Ireland. They play Celtic in this round of the Champions League.”

While this season hasn’t been going too well for Haka, who finished 10th last year, on a personal level Robinson is having a good season. He has been in fine goalscoring form, netting his first career hat-trick and in Finnish tradition has picked up a bunch of flowers and a hat for the privilege! “That was my first hat-trick I’ve ever scored,” admitted Robinson. “Giving you a hat is what they do here – they take it literally but it was nice to get! The flowers are not very manly but if you’re getting flowers or a hat, you are doing fairly well!

“I’ve scored nine goals from midfield so far which is pretty good by my standards. I’m not particularly known for scoring goals so this is the most I’ve every scored. I scored seven last season so I’m doing alright.”

Robinson is currently enjoying the fine Finnish summer with sun set times much later than here in Tallaght where we will require the floodlights for tonight’s game. The lifestyle and climate are a change from Ireland. “The culture is totally different. The people are very different; they are very shy and not so outgoing. It takes them to have a drink or a sauna before they talk to you! It is all strange to me but I enjoy it as well.

“They really enjoy their summers as the winters are so harsh. I was home for four months of their winter. I don’t know how they do the winter. It is 24 hours darkness but now it is long evenings. It doesn’t get dark now so I’ve had to get the black out blinds!”

Just as Robinson was captain with Rovers, he is captain of Haka, so how is his Finnish? “Not so good,” admitted the 31 year old. “We all speak English. We have a pretty mixed squad. We have a Brazilian, a Sierre Leone international, an Estonian and Shane McFaul who was with Pat’s. It is easier that we speak English. I’m not sure the boys understand some of the bad language I throw into the pre-match huddle; I think it goes over their head!”

Not only does Robinson captain the club’s senior team but he also coaches one of the youth teams at Haka. “We train in the morning and I train the kids in the afternoon. I coach the year younger than the reserve team. I work with boys born in 1996, it is a national league and a good standard.

“Over here I’ve so much time as my girlfriend works in Dublin and only gets over once a month. We train at 10 in the morning and I wanted to something else to do. I’ve my UEFA B badge. I really enjoy it and I didn’t think I would half as much. You can see why people do get the bug. There is an enjoyment seeing effectively your team playing the way you want them to play.”

Last season, Robinson helped Shamrock Rovers out with some scouting when Rovers drew the Estonian champions in Europe. Robinson produced a comprehensive dossier on FC Flora Tallinn who play a short ferry ride south of Finland. When Rovers travelled to Estonia, Robinson travelled over to help with the pre-match preparations.

“I got on very well with Michael (O’Neill) even though he released me at the end of the previous season. I had great respect for him and he had respect for me and that is why he asked me to do it. It was nice to help in anyway I could. Michael was thorough in his preparations and he couldn’t make Flora’s league match as Rovers were playing Bohs. So I went over and tried to do my best. I got a bit of stick from the boys like Ricer and Twiggy though. They were expecting a 30 minute chat before the game and Ricer said that it seemed like four hours later they got out!”

Robinson keeps an eye on Rovers over the Internet and was disappointed as any fan with the Hoops’ early European exit. “I watch most of the live streams that are there. I’m as big a supporter as anyone really. It was very disappointing to see the results in Europe after last year’s progress. When you look back at where we were 10 years ago though and where we are now, we are in a much better position. I know for a fact that we will get the act together. It was a good win in Derry. Things will definitely be better for the end of season.”

Article from Hoops Scene 15/2012 (Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers – 13 August 2012)