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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)

Where Eagles Dare? On tour with Stephen Grant

In 2005, Stephen Grant’s career was at a real cross road. It wasn’t simply a choice of whether the striker would stay with Shamrock Rovers or go to another League of Ireland club. He also had the chance to change careers from being a professional footballer to being a professional golfer and it was the set of golf clubs rather than a new football club that he went for. It was a brave move for the Birr native but his daring decision over the last number of years has led him to a place on the European Challenge Tour starting next month.

Last weekend Hoops Scene caught up with Grant, who is based in Florida most of the year, on a rare visit to Ireland. Grant had just returned from playing in Morocco. On Sunday, he was flying out for a couple of weeks practice in Portugal before his next tournament in France in May. Despite all this jet setting, Grant still retains a strong affinity for Shamrock Rovers. He not only follows the games on SRTV and Twitter (where is twitter handle is the apt @soccer2golf) but he is also a Shamrock Rovers club member.

“Ever since I was a kid, even down in Offaly, Shamrock Rovers was a big deal,” said Grant. “I played for Rovers on two occasions and that was a big part of my soccer life. I saw the opportunity with the 400 club to help give something back to the club. I felt that the club paid my wages and gave me good times and so I wanted to give back so I became a member. I always wanted to play for them and I was always really proud to play for them. It was amazing what the fans did taking over the club but the Rovers fans are hard-core. They love the club. It is a special club and we all know that.”

Grant was part of a special Rovers team that were the first League of Ireland team to win home and away in Europe in over twenty years. “It was a big night for the fans, the players and a big night for the club,” said Grant of the night he scored one of Rovers’ goals in the 2-1 away win over Odra Wodzislaw in 2003. This was during Grant’s second spell at Rovers following his return from Stockport where he had finished eighth in the Championship. “I really enjoyed my last couple of seasons at Rovers. I was playing really well and enjoying it. I scored against Bohs in a few big games too!”

Looking back though, Grant feels that those years were a missed opportunity for the club. “It was a team that probably unachieved,” admitted the former Ireland under 21 international footballer. “That was a really good side. We had a lot of good players. I always look back on that and I can’t believe we didn’t win anything. We got to the cup final but it was amazing to think that Rovers team didn’t win anything.”

“The season I retired was the season before they got relegated. I could see the writing on the wall at the club. I couldn’t see us doing anything at Rovers the way the investment was. I was out of contract and I was offered a new one. My choice was to stay on for another season of soccer but the way things were going I had a good opportunity to make a go at the golf as I was starting to get good.”

“Damien Richardson was manager at Cork City and they were in Europe and one of the best teams. He offered me a two-year contract with Cork City. I didn’t want to play for anyone else in the League of Ireland. I thought I’m going to play for Rovers or nothing. The golf was a big opportunity and that is why I retired from soccer.”

These days Stephen Grant, who works with the coaching team of Butch Harmon and his son, regularly tees it up at his new home club in Florida with top US PGA players like Major winner Keegan Bradley or Ryder Cup player Ricky Fowler. So do the golf professionals know he used to be a professional soccer player? “They do. They buzz off it too. They think it is great. The club I’m a member in over in Florida has a lot of top players who are members like Ricky Flower and Steve Marino. You get to play with them and see how you are and it is real good for your game.”

Grant has yet to see a game in Tallaght but, as he is based in Europe this summer, he hopes to get to a match here or maybe even link up with Rovers for a Champions League away game in Europe. “That would be sweet! I haven’t been to a game yet in Tallaght. In the last two years, I’ve been in Ireland maybe 22 days. When I finally get time at home, I will go to a game in the new stadium. When I first signed for Shamrock Rovers, Pat Byrne’s selling point for me as manager then was that we would be in the stadium next season!” That was in 1997!

Up until recently Grant was, like other former Shamrock Rovers players Karl Sheppard and Shane Robinson, watching Rovers games online through SRTV and he is disappointed that the FAI have asked for games not to be streamed online. “I was able to watch games online in Florida but I’ve been told now they are not allowed anymore. What is the idea of them not watching us to watch it?” questioned Grant.

It is clear that Grant is up to speed on all things Rovers and how the season is progressing under Stephen Kenny, a manager who tried to sign Grant when Kenny was at Longford Town. Grant was all praise for the man that plays in his old position at Rovers. “Twigg is a ridiculous goalscorer! He is like Tony Cousins who was an unbelievable. When you have an instinct like this guy, he is worth his weight in gold.”

It is Grant’s golfing instincts that will be put to the test over the next few months as he begins playing on the Challenge Tour, the second tier of professional golf in Europe. Grant missed out on the final qualifying school tournament for a card on the main European Tour by two shots last year but is hoping that a good performance on the Challenge Tour will avoid the requirement of going to Q school later on in the year. “The top 25 on the order of merit at the end of the season gets their full European card. I’ve got a tournament on the challenge tour on the 10 May in France. That is my first real big tournament of the season. The season starts from here for me.”

Published in Hoops Scene Issue 6 2012 (Shamrock Rovers v Derry City, 27 April 2012)

Glass looking forward with Rovers

Sitting beside Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Kenny in the dug out tonight will be his number two Stephen Glass. Glass answered Kenny’s call when the new Rovers boss came looking for an assistant manager to work alongside him with the Hoops for the 2012 season. The pair worked together when Kenny was in charge of Scottish side Dunfermline.

“I was a player under him so I got to know him,” said Glass when he recently spoke to Hoops Scene, “but that was a player to manager relationship. He saw enough that he thought he could work with me in the future. He knew my character and was willing to bring me on board. When you are working for the biggest club in Ireland, you want to get it right. It is a good sign for me that he wanted to bring me in.”

It was just last season that Glass hung up his playing boots after a lengthy career that began in Scotland and included spells in Premier League with Newcastle and concluded in America. His playing CV includes a couple of trophy wins, an appearance in an FA Cup final at Wembley and an international cap with Scotland. So does the man from Dundee have a career highlight? “The biggest thing I did was winning a trophy with Aberdeen,” said Glass about his man-of-the-match performance in the 1995 Scottish League Cup final. “Anytime you win something it is got to be highlight. We won the championship last year in America and that was a good way to go out.”

The focus at Shamrock Rovers this year is not to sit back on last season’s Airtricity League and Europa League success but build on it and that was an attitude that Glass had during his playing career. “I was never one for looking back and saying that was great,” said the 35 year old. “I just enjoyed doing what I was doing at the time. I had great experiences playing with good players, playing with good clubs and playing in front of a lot of people.”

It was with the Carolina Railhawks in America that Glass ended his playing career on a high. The Railhawks last season won the North American Soccer League (NASL), the level just below Major Soccer League. So how did the move come about to play in the NASL, a league that includes teams from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico?

“A mate of mine Greg Shields, from when I played at Dunfermline, had gone over to play there. The manager was a Scottish fellow called Martin Rennie. He knew of me and he started asking Greg about me and it escalated from there. I was out of contract and nobody was taking a chance on me. I went over to America for two weeks to get myself fit. The manager kept me in mind over the winter as their season plays the same way as Ireland. I went to Hibs over winter and trained with them to stay fit. I believed I could still play for another year and I managed to it so it was worth it.”

The decision to switch from playing to coaching was an easy one for Glass to make and it is been a decision he is happy he made. “I’m really enjoying it.,” said Glass about his new coaching role. “It was something I was hoping to get into. I was going to retire regardless, it was time. Your body tells you when its time to retire and my body was telling me! I hurt my hip towards the end of my time in America. If I trained on it there was a possibility that I would need an operation. I wasn’t willing to go through that for later life. I already have had three knee operations on each leg, so the wise thing was to stop before any big damage was done. I was waking up sore every morning and grinding through training.

“I got this opportunity to come to Rovers and I couldn’t have hoped for it to go better. It has worked out really well, working with the manager and the other staff that he has brought in.” There were a few familiar faces in the Rovers camp in addition to his former manager Stephen Kenny. “I half knew a few players from before which makes things easier. I played against Gary Twigg in a friendly game and Craig Sives was with Hearts when I was playing with their rivals Hibs. I’m enjoying the work and I’m enjoying the response so far.”

Glass’ time at Rovers has seen him coach a team competing at the top of the league and playing in front of large crowds. Rovers have played in front of close to 5,000 fans at each of the home league games to date including the delayed kick off against Shelbourne due to crowd congestion. Rovers also sold out their 1,000 away ticket allocation in Inchicore last Friday but the less said about that result the better! “For myself it is good to coach at this level in front of big crowds but for the players it is great. When the referee comes in and tells you that the game is going to be delayed five or ten minutes, they know why it is delayed. They know there is a big number coming there to watch them and to be fair it’s a majority of Rovers punters. It isn’t because someone is bringing that big an away support. It is because we are bringing big numbers in and that is home and away from what I’ve seen. We got that 94th minute equaliser (away to Cork City) and it makes that trip a lot more worthwhile for fans. Hopefully the lads will keep giving them plenty more to keep them coming back.”

Rovers have made good progress in the Leinster Senior Cup (against Bohemians) and in the Setanta Sports Cup (against Cliftonville) but have required penalties in both competitions to move on. Kenny and Glass have been utilising the full squad in these competitions plus the EA Sports Cup and this has helped integrate the new players with the full squad. “Sometimes a penalty win, like we had in Belfast, can be great for team spirit and the group. The two penalty shootouts Oscar (Jannson) has done really well and saved a good number of them.”

“All the new lads will be looking to contribute and get accepted by the group and the public in general – to show that they deserve to be a Shamrock Rovers player.
The manager brought in seven or eight players so it is never going to be easy to get that group together. Obviously last season was a great success so by changing the group too much there can be danger there. But we think we’ve got it right with what we’ve brought in. You can see the spirit is there already. Winnings bring spirit, we are growing and getting better.”

Published in Hoops Scene 5 (Shamrock Rovers v Dundalk/Derry City, April 2012)

The Rice Review

Shamrock Rovers will be looking to put Good Friday’s bad league result against St. Patrick’s Athletic behind them as they face into games against Dundalk in the league and Derry in the Setanta Sports Cup. The 5-1 loss in Inchicore to Pats was Rovers’ first domestic defeat in 16 games stretching back to September 2011.

That was the month that Rovers travelled to play Tottenham in the Europa League. It was one of the many great nights that the club had last season alongside the famous win in Belgrade, defeating Dundalk in the Setanta Sports Cup final at Tallaght Stadium and the late drama in winning the league title against UCD in Belfield. Whilst Rovers lost to Spurs 3-1 back in September, the game will be forever remembered at Rovers for Stephen Rice putting his team 1-0 up in the second half. His celebration in front of the 4,000 or so travelling Shamrock Rovers fans was one of the iconic images of 2012 for Rovers fans and the 900,000 or so viewers who watched the match live on TV that night.

Photo by George Kelly

Following last week’s game against Pats, Hoops Scene chatted up with the goalscorer from that night in White Hart Lane and asked him are the great nights in players careers made even better when juxtaposed with low points such as the loss to Pats? “I wouldn’t have thought so,” said Rice. “We all have low points in our careers but when you go through a result like Friday, the important thing is how you react to that. The good nights come because of hard work. We have a great bunch of lads who are willing to work hard and have so much ability. Hopefully we will have more of those great nights this year. They are enjoyable when they come because you know what you’ve put into it, rather than necessarily that you’ve had low nights. The work you’ve done off the pitch and on the pitch is why those nights are good for us as players.”

Rice is a player that plays with his heart on his sleeve and brings a high level of intensity to Rovers’ play on the pitch. What does that mean for him off the pitch when his team suffers a defeat like in Inchicore? “It is not easy,” admitted the 27 year old. “You can’t put football to bed when you go home. When you get a result like that, it effectively ruins your weekend until you have another game. We’ve had a bad result on Friday. It is a blip. We know the manner in which it happened wasn’t acceptable to us as professionals. Pats were fully deserved of their win. Any chance they got, they took but it doesn’t make it any easier for us to swallow. We spoke about it after the game. The most important thing is we learn from it. We have to make sure that is doesn’t happen again and we take what we need to take out of it. The beauty of football is that there is always another game like in Galway on Monday and luckily we have another league game on Friday to put it right and put it right quickly.”

As expected for the EA Sports Cup tie away to SD Galway last Monday, Rovers manager Stephen Kenny made several changes to his starting 11 from the previous game. There were seven changes to the team including a debut for goalkeeper Reyaad Pieterse following confirmation of the South African’s work permit late last month. It was still a very strong Rovers team that included Colin Hawkins coming in to play against the club where he started his career and Conor McCormack getting another chance to play as he returns from injury. Stephen Rice, who captained the team in Ken Oman’s absence, anchored the midfield in a game that Rovers dominated from start to finish. The Hoops won 2-0, progressing to the competition’s quarter final, thanks to Gary McCabe’s two first half penalties.

The management team of Stephen Kenny and Stephen Glass were no doubt working hard in training during the week in keeping the playing squad focussed as they faced three games in eleven days including that game against SD Galway in the EA Sports Cup alongside games against Dundalk and Derry. So how intense has training been this season?

“The sessions are sharp,” said Rice, “and that comes from the manager Stephen and Glassy (Stephen Glass). Glassy is a good coach who he has played at the highest level. He has respect from all the lads. Training is driven by them and by the group of players. They determine how training is, the tempo and standard of it and it has been really good. We are talking about how it is important we keep working as hard in training.”

“There are a lot of games. It just means that everyone is getting games and that is really important when you have a squad the size we have. But the league will always be the priority. The other trophies are very important. Even the EA Sports Cup is important as I haven’t won it and I haven’t won an FAI Cup. They are targets for us as we want to win those things as well.”

Rice is one of the few Rovers players to have work commitments outside of playing with Shamrock Rovers but this work is very much complimentary to his playing career as he is a community football facilitator with the FAI. Previously Rice was President of the Professional Footballers’ Association of Ireland (PFAI) and has done some work as a player ambassador with SEAT last season before the company came on board as Rovers’ main sponsor this year.

With Rovers training in the morning, it enables Rice to work in the afternoon with the FAI and the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council sports team. “I work for the FAI 25 hours a week. It is in communities and schools around the Dundrum area and I also am involved in educating coaches for the Kickstart 1 and 2 courses.” The Kickstart programme course is designed to assist parents and coaches to introduce children from the age of six to football and then to develop their skills up to the age of 12.

This coaching role provides Rice with a break from Rovers whilst still being involved in a professional basis with football. “It is nice to be involved in it as for 10 years all I did and all I played was club football. Sometimes it is nice to have another thing to focus on. The job can come in handy as you have another focus and have other things to concentrate on but football with Rovers is the priority.”

There is still plenty of footballing years ahead for Rice with Rovers but is the coaching role something he will look to do long term? “Yeah, it will be. At the moment, the work is very much community based so you aren’t really working with elite players. Certainly the coaching element is something I am pursuing and hopefully I will be starting my A licence soon.”

Published in Hoops Scene 5 (Shamrock Rovers v Dundalk/Derry City, April 2012)

Brennans Bred for Football

There is a band of Brennan brothers playing in the Airtricity League Premier Division this season. Three of the brothers are playing with their hometown club of Drogheda United and the remaining brother Killian Brenna is playing here at Shamrock Rovers.

Football obviously runs deep in the Brennan blood. “Football has been in my family for years,” said Killian, the oldest Brennan brother. “My father was a footballer and his Dad was a footballer as well. My Dad was a top player in the Leinster Senior League. I remember watching him when I was younger and I looked up to him. I used to travel around the country watching him play for Boyne Rovers. I used to try and do things that I saw him doing on the pitch.”

Killian’s brothers Ryan and Sean have joined Gavin at Drogheda this season. “It is great for the lads,” said Killian about his three brothers playing with Mick Cooke’s team. “Two of them came from Monaghan last year. They are flying at the moment. We have a bit of banter in the house! They love playing football. I know Ryan is progressing well. He is only 19 so he has a lot of years ahead of him. Hopefully he can get a couple of seasons under his belt and maybe get across the water.”

The three Brennan brothers play in midfield for Drogheda and that is normally where Killian also plays. However, he lined out at left back for Rovers last week against Shelbourne as Stephen Kenny made changes to his starting line up.
“Obviously Conor (Powell) got suspended against Cork and we didn’t have much cover at left back so Stephen asked me to play there,” said Brennan. “I knew the role as I’d played there a bit at school boy level. The last time I played left back was for Derry.”

Brennan had an excellent game helping the Hoops get their first clean sheet of the league campaign. As well as changing the team personnel, Stephen Kenny also had the team line out using a 4-2-3-1 formation. “The first few games we played 4-4-2 so we went a bit more attacking than before,” said Brennan. The set-up certainly helped the Hoops who ran out 4-0 winners over Shels, helped by the early sending off of the visitor’s goalkeeper. “I thought it was our best formation as we can play football with the team and the attacking options that we have. We’ve got players with speed on the wings and plenty of speed up front. We can utilise Billy Dennehy’s and Aaron Greene’s pace. We are going to be a handful for everyone.”

It is expected tonight’s match against Bohemians will be played out in front of another massive crowd. The large crowd at last week’s game with Shelbourne, which included President Michael D Higgins, meant the kick off was delayed for ten minutes due to crowd congestion. “The game the other night with 5,000 people coming to watch was fantastic,” said Brennan. “When we played in Cork, there was another great atmosphere. If we can get 5,000 people to come watch our games and maybe get more, it would be fantastic. You want to play in front of big crowds.”

It was a large crowd against Monaghan United for Rovers’ first home game of the season and Brennan played a crucial part in the Rovers win that night. Trailing 1-0 at half time, Rovers got back into the game thanks to a moment of inspiration from Brennan. He got on the end of Billy Dennehy’s corner to volley the ball into the net for the Rovers opener and the Hoops would go on to win 3-1.

“The ball came to me when I got a bit of freedom in the box and it was a side foot backheel. It was good to get off the mark. Monaghan played well that night so obviously it was a nice time to get the goal and get back to 1-1. It was a pivotal point in the game to score the goal and for it to be my first goal for Shamrock Rovers was brilliant as well.”

Whilst Rovers are top of the table tonight facing into a game against Bohs, who are surprisingly bottom having yet to score a league goal, it hasn’t been all plane sailing for Rovers. Rovers played Bohs in the Leinster Senior Cup and only progressed on penalties. Similarly, Rovers moved on to the Setanta Sports Cup semi final despite losing a 2-0 lead in the quarter final against Cliftonville. The Reds took Rovers all the way to penalties on their ‘plastic’ pitch. The story could have been different if one of Brennan’s shots off the post or crossbar had bounced favourably for Rovers.

“We are not making it easy for ourselves having gone to penalties against Bohs; that was 120 minutes and then we had another 120 minutes against Cliftonville. I thought we played quite well on the night (in Solitude). It was tough as they are not a bad side. Obviously they play on that surface every week and that is a big advantage to them. It was quite sticky and hard to run with the ball but I thought we played all right. They never really looked like scoring until they scored the first goal. They scored at important times as they got one just before half time and then just before full time.

“I thought we showed our character really well in extratime. We kept our heads and deservedly went through on penalties. The lads who took the penalties did very well. There is room for improvement. We mixed it up with lads coming into the team as some of the lads hadn’t played much this season.”

Oscar Jannson was the hero for the Hoops saving two penalties that night in Belfast, having saved two in the previous week during the 5-4 shoot out against Bohs in the Leinster Senior Cup at Tallaght Stadium. “Oscar has done brilliant since he came in with the two penalty saves against Bohs and also against Cliftonville. He will get great confidence out of that.”

Tonight Brennan will face his former club Bohemians for the first time since he made the switch from Dublin 7 to Dublin 24. He is not the only man involved with Rovers tonight who is a former Gypsy. Last season Bohemians lined out with six former Rovers players in their starting line up. This season Rovers can go the other way and more. Hoops boss Stephen Kenny managed Bohs previously and if we add in Kenny, his goalkeeping coach Stephen O’Brien and Brennan then Rovers have an ex-Bohemians XI with Conor Powell, Ken Oman, Colin Hawkins, Chris Turner, Stephen O’Donnell, Stephen Rice, Gary O’Neill and Aaron Greene.

However, unlike the other former Bohs players in the Rovers squad, Brennan is making the direct switch from the red and black stripes of Bohs to the Green and White hoops of Rovers. So what kind of reaction does he think he will get from the away fans tonight?

“I don’t really know what to expect,” said the Drogheda native. “I will understand if I get booed because I used to play for Bohs and now I play for Shamrock Rovers. The clubs are big rivals. It is all good on my side. I have a lot of mates there at the club. I will be looking out for them. I always hope they do well. If they can get things right off the pitch, then Bohs will come good again.

“I had four and a half great years at Bohemians but financial constraints behind the scenes for reasons that have been well documented means the money is gone. I felt that I couldn’t stay at Bohemians with what they could offer. I told a lot of managers that I was going to go travelling as that was the main aim for me at the start of the season”
It seems that, like with Pat Sullivan, Irish football was going to lose a player from the league due to his desire to travel. That was until his former manager got in touch with him in January. “I was packing my bags and going travelling until Stephen Kenny rang me and said he wanted me to come here. He was the main reason for signing for Shamrock Rovers but also that Rovers are a fantastic football club. I feel they are really the only club going forward in Ireland. Shamrock Rovers wanted to sign me and I’m delighted that I signed.”

Published in Hoops Scene 2012 Issue 4 (Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians, 30 March 2012)

King Billy from the Kingdom

Shamrock Rovers sit top of the league with three other clubs after the opening three games of this year’s league campaign. Both Rovers and Shelbourne, tonight’s visitors to Tallaght Stadium, have two wins and a draw so far in the league. Stephen Kenny has named the exact same starting line up for each league game this season and it might be four in a row tonight. If it is, it will mean Billy Dennehy has continued this season for Rovers in a similar vane to last. As well as being ever present in the starting line up, he has been getting assists and also scoring goals.

Dennehy was involved in every one of last season’s league games bar, due to suspension, the game against UCD in Belfield on the night that the Hoops retained their league title. He finished the season as Shamrock Rovers’ top goalscorer in all competitions. He also finished top of the assist charts with the Hoops. His 13 assists showed the great value he brought to the team in terms of supply of goals to go alongside the important goals he also scored in the league, FAI Cup, Setanta Sports Cup and the Europa League. Hoops Scene caught up with the Kerryman ahead of tonight’s game and started by asking him what was his favourite goal from last season?

“It would probably be scoring in the Europa League,” said Dennehy recalling his goal in the game in Tallaght Stadium against PAOK. “It was a big thing for me to score on such a big stage. All my family were at that home game in Tallaght. I scored 16 goals last season and that was my best season so far. I will continue to try and help the team and chip in with goals at times to take pressure off the strikers.”

The man from Tralee opened his league account for the season in the game against Monaghan United with a superb left foot strike from outside the box. “It was nice to score. It was my first league goal of the season and in our first home game as well,” said the winger of the goal in the 3-1 win. “It came in a game where we found ourselves drawing 1-1. It was nice to score a goal that put us in front and get me off the mark in the league for the season.”

In the celebrations after the goal, Dennehy also picked up his first yellow card of the season. The celebration in front of the East Stand, which also involved Hooperman, was deemed excessive by referee Graham Kelly. “I said it to the ref afterwards that I thought it was a bit harsh but it is his job to make those decisions. I just have to be more careful next time!”

It took a late equaliser from Gary Twigg to rescue a point for the Hoops in Turners Cross in Rovers’ last league game. Tommy Dunne sent his Cork side out to contain Rovers, a tactic that many opposition managers will inevitably use also here at Tallaght Stadium during the season. “They obviously made it a bit harder for us the way they played and the way they set up,” said Dennehy of the system his former club used in the game. “They got a lot of men behind the ball. We had a lot of possession but they dropped kind of deep. That made it hard for us to create lot of chances. Overall I thought we did quite well and we probably thought we deserved to have won the game.”

“It happened an awful lot last year,” said Dennehy about teams putting out defensive formations against Rovers. “A lot of teams set out to stop us scoring and stop us playing. That is a challenge for us. It is up to us to go beat that, score the goals and win the games. I’m sure we will do that. It is just about being patient. We have a lot of good footballers in the squad so somebody will make a good pass or score a good goal. I think we learned a lot from that last season and that will help us this year.”

Last Friday, with Rovers down to ten men, it was Cork City that looked to have the game wrapped up but Dennehy got a cross over in the 94th minute that Ken Oman knocked back across for Twigg to score with his head. Both fans and players alike enjoyed the celebrations in front of the large travelling Rovers support. “It was great to score so late on. Though we did that and got a point, we were still disappointed because we were good enough to win the game. Possession wise, we dominated and had a lot of the ball. We probably deserved to have won the game. Under the circumstances being 1-0 down and having a man sent off, getting a draw was probably a good result. Everyone kept going and kept digging in. It was a good point in the end.”

Photo by George Kelly

Being top of the league after three games is a nice position to be in but as Dennehy rightly points out “it is still very very early days. We need to get into the season and then it is the end of the season that counts. It is vitally important to start well and pick up points early. I think we aren’t playing at our best. There is a lot more to come from us. Hopefully we will continue to pick up the points and the performances will improve as the season goes on.”

Rovers will be looking to build on last season’s incredible campaign that was led by Michael O’Neill. New manager Stephen Kenny is now setting his stamp on the Rovers squad. “It is a massive change,” said Dennehy about Rovers making the switch of managers. “It goes without saying that it has been unbelievable winning two leagues and playing in the Europa League. It has been phenomenal over the last two years. It is important that everyone makes their mark this season. We need to go again, be ambitious and win more. That is what the new manager wants. As a player that is why I’ve come back to try, continue to do well, to win and compete for trophies. I’m sure Stephen Kenny, Stephen Glass his assistant and Colin Hawkins are the same. They want to be involved in winning things and I think we are all pulling in the same direction which is good for everyone.”

Whilst the line up has been consistent in the league, Stephen Kenny has mixed it up in the Setanta Sports Cup games against Cliftonville and in Rovers’ game in the Leinster Senior Cup where the Hoops knocked out Bohemians on penalties. Utilising the Rovers squad to its fullest worked really well for Rovers last year and will be required if the Hoops are to retain the League and Setanta Sports Cup as well as challenge in Europe.

“When you are winning, it is good to continue the confidence and get used to playing together,” said Dennehy of a consistent starting 11. “But I think you’ve seen that on Friday making substitutions can help and it is important that you have good players that you can bring on; players to make an impact on the game. It is important that everyone performs because there are other players who can come in and do a good job. It is good for the squad that everyone knows they have a big part to play this season and it important that everyone does the best for the team and we can get the results that are needed. Last season was the club’s first time ever competing in the Setanta Sports Cup and obviously it was our first time winning it. It was great for us last year. It is a good competition. It is good to be in it and if your can make a final it is good as it is so early in the sesaon. Our aim will be to play well and hopefully try and retain that Cup as well.”

Published in Hoops Scene 2012 Issue 3 (Shamrock Rovers v Shelbourne – 23 March)

Captain Ken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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