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No Christmas in July – Postcard from the Arctic Circle

With the official home of Santa Claus just a few miles from the venue for the RoPs v Shamrock Rovers match, it was no surprise to hear an old ‘winter football’ Rovers tune being sung by the Hoops fans in Finland.

 

“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way. Oh what fun it is to see Rovers win away!”

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For some of the Europa League First Qualifying Round second leg in Rovaniemi, it seemed that Rovers might get that precious away win in Lapland but ultimately it was an early ‘Finnish’ to the Hoops European adventures for 2016.

 

It was quite an experience for everyone involved at the club – traveling to the edge of the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t set during the summer months, trailing 2-0 in the tie with a new boss in charge. The departure of Pat Fenlon from the manager’s role after the disappointing first leg defeat, meant it was Stephen Bradley who was the new man in charge.

 

I was lucky enough to be one of the dozen or so club members who got a place on the club charter for the trip. So membership not only gets you a parking space in the Tallaght Stadium Car Park but also gives you the chance of spot on the club charter! The managerial change also meant one fan essentially got the seat on the flight that was freed up because of Fenlon’s departure from the managerial hotseat!

The Rovers squad and ‘entorage’ checked in early on Wednesday morning beside some Welsh fans who were making their way to France via Dublin and Switzerland for their Euro 2016 semi-final later that evening. The lady at airport security said she would light a candle for a 3-0 Rovers win. All help was required for the Hoops as they looked to do what no League of Ireland club had done before and progress in a European tie after losing the first leg at home.

 

With the Rovaniemi runway close for repairs, it was a three hour flight in our 48 seater plane to Kemi. From there it was a further 90 minute bus ride through the Finnish countryside with a vista of trees, water and a few Moose munching grass at the roadside. The players were well fed themselves en-route, on the flight and coach trip; the benefit of having a caterer amongst the Rovers support who was able to provide his services on the trip – with some spare meals making their way to supporters too!

Rumours that the team was staying in the Hotel Santa Claus were true but rumours of the match venue being snowbound proved a work of fiction! Many of the travelling supporters took the chance to sample the local cuisine on Wednesday evening – I can recommend the Fell Highland Reindeer at Restaurant Nili!  RoPS also hosted their pre-match meal with the Rovers Directors and Finnish FA Officials in the same venue, so you knew the food was going to be good!

 

Afterwards most ‘retired’ to Oliver’s Bar to watch the Euro 2016 semi. That match ended close to midnight with Portugal defeating Wales. Midnight came and went with no sunset. We truly were in the land of the midnight sun being so far north.

For Stephen McPhail the Rovers club captain and now player-coach under Stephen Bradley, he knew what to expect. “I’ve been to Iceland and Norway for preseason at this time of year so I knew what was coming. It is still strange though going to bed and it is still bright as a button outside! It was a bit of work to get those curtains to stretch all the way across in the room but got a goodnight’s sleep.”

The next morning quite a few supporters made the 8km trip further north from Rovaniemi to the Arctic Circle. There were plenty of photos taken standing either side of the line at 66 degrees north, 32’ 33’’. The location is surrounded by plenty of shops, with Santa Claus also available to meet visitors, so it didn’t exactly feel we’d travelled north of the wall Games of Thrones style!

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On match night the Rovers support from the charter flight was boosted by about 20 or so fans who had travelled independently to the game. The away section was at one end of the bottom tier of the very impressive steep two tiered 2,000 seater stand built in recent years. The floodlights were on for the 7pm local kick off time, not that they would be needed here at the Arctic Circle!

 

Gary McCabe had the captain’s armband for the game and his first half goal halved the deficit in the tie. His penalty, the third goal he has scored in Europe, moved him to joint third in the all-time list of Rovers European goalscorers.

 

An unfortunate Hoops error though handed RoPS an equaliser and Rovers couldn’t make any additional breakthroughs themselves in the second half despite the impetus brought about by Bradley’s introduction of youth off the bench. Sean Boyd, Trevor Clarke and Aaron Dobbs came on, with the teenagers gaining some valuable European game time, but a couple of late goals couldn’t be conjured up.

McPhail was an unused substitute on the night so was able to give me his assessment from the vantage point of the bench. “When we played over in Finland, the most pleasing thing if I put my coaches hat on was that the lads responded to what we wanted them to do. They gave it everything.

 

“We went 1-0 up and I was confident we would score more. We conceded a goal off an error but these things happen. We didn’t get the rub of the green. Their ‘keeper made an unbelievable save with about 20 minutes to go. It could have been different. Performance wise the boys were spot on.”

 

Everyone at Shamrock Rovers was made feel very welcome on our visit, with the hospitality extended to the away fans after the game with food and coffee supplied by the RoPS American goalkeeper from their women’s team.

 

Following Rovers’ elimination from Europe, inevitably it was a quiet bus ride from Roveniemi. The small airport in Kemi was kept open for our departure midnight departure and it was still daylight when we boarded our flight to Dublin. The end of European football for Rovers for another season but a short memorable adventure all the same.

 

 

An abridged version of this article was first published in the Shamrock Rovers match programme – Hoops Scene 11 (Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians/Leeds United July 2016)IMG_2456

Euro success built from the League of Ireland

“In Ireland there is no league,” were the words uttered in 2013 by the then Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni but at EURO 2016 the League of Ireland was central to some magnificent Ireland performances in France. The results were very much built on the back of players who began their trade in the League of Ireland, with a certain former Shamrock Rovers manager leading Northern Ireland’s success.

 

When Trapattoni’s two former international teams came up against one another last week in the group stage of the Euros, it was the Republic of Ireland team who emerged on top – in a game that had seven former League of Ireland players contribute to that famous 1-0 win over Italy. Robbie Brady’s winning goal in Lille coming off a Wes Hoolahan cross will be one of the sporting highlights of not just the year but the decade!

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Players who were on the pitch for the famous win over the Italians had previously lined out in our league for Shelbourne (Wes Hoolahan), St. Patrick’s Athletic (Stephen Quinn), Cork City (Shane Long), Waterford United (Daryl Murphy), Bohemians (Stephen Ward), Derry City (James McLean) and Sligo Rovers (Seamus Coleman), with former Cork City player David Meyler also named on the bench.

 

In the days following the win over Sweden, the FAI organised a photoshoot with all eight ex-League of Ireland players in the Euro squad wearing the jerseys of their former Irish clubs. Of course, the Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane also played in the league with Cobh Ramblers.

I was lucky enough to be out in France for the tournament, sitting in the stands supporting the boys in green, and with a press pass for a few other matches as I was doing some work with extratime.ie. The day after that photocall, I went out to the Ireland training camp in Versailles.

With Roy Keane up for media duties, I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask him about the photo and was he tempted to pull on a Cobh Ramblers jersey and join in?

 

He smiled and gave a quick “no” but went on to elaborate with great enthusiasm about the crucial contribution of the league in both his own career and the careers of more than a third of the Ireland squad at the Euros.

 

“Over the years people have been quick to criticise League of Ireland football but it played a huge part in my career,” said Keane. “You saw yesterday with those lads that was brilliant, a really nice photograph.

 

“No Ramblers player there” said Keane and I thought in my own mind a pity that there were no Shamrock Rovers players in it but hopefully in years to come! “With the criticism that the League of Ireland gets, it has played a big part in these lads having a very good career, so it was nice to see.”IMG_2017

 

There were a few League of Ireland flags flown at the games during the tournament. Both the Lynch Family flag ‘Hooping since 1984’ and the ‘London Hoops’ flag were visible at the Belgium and Italy games respectively. During Iceland’s battling draw with Portugal, a Galway United Football Club flag was hung down near the cornerflag visible to everyone watching the game.

 

These flags almost seemed a novelty with their support of League of Ireland clubs rather than the novelty ‘whack a funny Father Ted slogan’ on a flag that seems to have become the norm.

 

I was on press duty in the Parc des Princes for the Germany and Northern Ireland game. Former Shamrock Rovers manager Michael O’Neill has done a superb job with his national team. O’Neill took up the role as the boss with the North soon after leaving the Hoops at the conclusion of our remarkable run in the Europa League – the competition we are back in the qualifying rounds of today.

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It is five years since we had that famous 20,000km journey through Europe from Tallinn to Copenhagen, London, Thessaloniki and Kazan. It was Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. That first single step was taken against Estonian team Flora Tallinn and crucial to that was goalkeeper Alan Mannus.

In the first leg against the Estonian champions in Tallaght, Mannus saved a penalty minutes before Chris Turner would score the only goal of the tie and set us on our way. Those early games would be Mannus’ last for the Hoops as he made the move soon after to join St. Johnstone.

Mannus was part of Michael O’Neill’s squad at the Euros, which also qualified for the knock out stages of the competition earned by their 2-0 win over Ukraine. I got the chance to talk to Mannus after his side’s battling 1-0 defeat to World Champions Germany, on a night in Paris when the North were grateful for a brilliant performance by their number one goalkeeper Michael McGovern.

 

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Mannus has been a regular in O’Neill’s ‘Norn Iron’ squads. The former Rovers boss had a tough opening campaign in a failed attempt to get to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. That meant Northern Ireland were fifth seeds in the qualification campaign for France. However, Michael O’Neill led his team to top spot in their qualifying group – the first team ever to do so from Pot 5 of the draw.

“We worked together at Shamrock and he did very well there,” said Mannus discussing his time with the Hoops under Michael O’Neill. “I’m delighted that he has done so well with Northern Ireland as I knew he was capable of that.

“The first campaign we probably played better than the results showed and in this qualifying campaign we played well and got the results we deserved and got through. I’m sure a number of clubs will be looking at him with a view maybe to take him on as manager.

“I’m delighted for him. He is a brilliant manager and understands football and that has been shown in the way we’ve played and the results we’ve got.”

Going into the last group game, the permutations were very clear for the Republic of Ireland. Beat Italy and qualify or else it was time to go home. The stadium in Lille was a sea of green with Ireland fans taking almost three sides of the stadium. With the roof of the venue closed, the atmosphere was incredible and the tension (and heat!) almost unbearable.

 

In the run up to the match, former Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli commented in La Gazzetta dello Sport that Irish players had “trouble handling the game tactically. They don’t get that football is also an intellectual matter, and not just about attacking and going forward.”

 

Seamus Coleman dismissed those comments ahead of the game – “I’m not really bothered what Marco thinks” – and the Irish team dismissed the Italian side with a tactical, hard pressing and physical performance against Italy. Martin O’Neill had made four changes to his starting XI, dropping Glenn Whelan, Wes Hoolahan, Ciaran Clarke and captain John O’Shea. Handed the armband was Donegal man Seamus Coleman.

 

O’Neill brought Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy into the centre of defence and they successfully marshalled the Italian attack. Ireland had left a win behind them against Sweden in Paris and it seemed the same would happen in Lille; Particularly after Hoolahan, on as second half substitute, missed a great chance in the closing minutes.

 

However, he picked up the ball moments later and delivered as good a cross as you will see onto the head of Robbie Brady. 1-0. ‘Who put the ball in the Italian net? Brady, Brady. Who put the ball in the Italian net? Robbie Robbie Brady.’

 

There were emotional scenes after the final whistle on the pitch – have we seen a happier Roy Keane – and in the stands. Speaking after the final whistle, the players were still coming to terms with the win that set up last Sunday’s game in Lyon against France. Coleman spoke about all those hours his father had driven him down to train and play with Sligo Rovers and how they are paying off now.

 

I bumped into the Cork City manager John Caulfield in the hotel I was staying in after the game and the City boss agreed that it was great to see big managerial decisions rewarded with a win! Both Martin and Michael O’Neill had made significant switches to their starting teams, against Ukraine for the North and Italy for our Boys in Green, and these were central to the success of both teams in the group stages of the competition.

 

Article published in Shamrock Rovers match day programme Hoops Scene Issue 10 – Shamrock Rovers v RoPS Rovaniemen  – Thursday 30 June 2016

 

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Does it Spark Joy?

IMG_8820The official League of Ireland sponsor will be glad to know I switched energy providers recently. The nice salesman from SSE Airtricity knocked on my door last month, just after I got back from playing some five-a-side. Always keen for saving a few bob, I invited him in so we could go through the process of transferring to SSE.

 

A few minutes later as I was filling in some of the forms, he remarked “So I take it you’re a Shamrock Rovers fan then?” Now please don’t picture my front room as a shrine to all things Super Hoops but a casual look around my home will give anyone several clues to my club allegiance.

 

Version 2The bookshelves have a comprehensive Shamrock Rovers section. There are a couple of picture frames on the wall containing Rovers match reports. Amongst the footballs on the high shelf to the right of the fireplace is a ball with the Rovers crest on it – although there is also one with BFC on it but more about that later.

 

If that didn’t give it away to the SSE salesman, I was wearing a Shamrock Rovers jersey! His question. said with a smile, gave me pause to think about all the many Rovers souvenirs that not quite clutter my home but maybe it is not far off!

 

In amongst my podcast listening this week, between Second Captains, An Irishman Abroad and the Extratime.ie Sportscast, I found myself listening to Roisin Ingle of the Irish Times inviting Marie Kondo into her house to help her declutter her home. Kondo is the author of ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’. Her method in determining whether to hold onto objects or not is to ask the question “Does it spark joy in you?” In answer to my Shamrock Rovers memorabilia the answer is definitely “yes”.

 

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The first of the two match reports on the wall in my living room is a framed copy of La Gazzetta dello Sport from 6 August 2010. Wandering through Modena train station that day, I stopped in my tracks when I saw the famous pink front cover of Italy’s main sports daily newspaper. There staring back at me wearing a Shamrock Rovers jersey was Alessandro Del Piero! I couldn’t get the €1 coin out of my pocket quick enough to buy the newspaper!

 

 

 

Alongside the picture of Del Piero wearing the jersey he swapped with Gary Twigg, the match report from that Europa League qualifier also has a picture of Del Piero’s stunning winner on the night. His free kick from all of 40 yards was the best I’ve ever seen at a game. My slightly water damaged match ticket sits inside the frame too. I don’t usually get much joy from a 1-0 defeat but the monsoon in Modena was some memorable match.

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The second frame on my wall also contains a Rovers European match report. This one is from 2011 and covers Rovers’ first away trip of our incredible European campaign that led all the way to the Europa League group stages. The Irish Times match report from the Flora Tallinn v Rovers game in the frame was published that day accompanied by a photo of the joyful Shamrock Rovers fans at the game with many familiar faces on view. Amongst them is former Rovers player John Coady watching his club in Europe and dotted around the shot are plenty of people who are friends. The match report also has my by-line as it was the first report I ever wrote for any newspaper!

 

Amongst my programme collection stored on my bookshelves, adjacent to at least ten Shamrock Rovers books is an historic programme, one which also has a personal resonance. My aunt’s husband was a youth team player with Rovers in the 1950s and amongst his souvenirs was a programme from Rovers’ home game against Manchester United in the European Cup in 1957. That match was played just a few months before the tragic loss in Munich of so many of ‘Busby’s Babes’. When my Uncle died a few years ago, my Aunt gave me the programme and it is one that I keep safely.

 

Part of the football collection in my front room is that one with BFC written in marker across it. Let’s keep the story as to how this ball came into my possession between us Hoops Scene readers, right? Don’t go telling anyone over in Dalymount Park!

 

Match BallPlaying in the First Division in 2006 meant the Hoops didn’t face Bohemians in league action that season. They did of course memorably knock Bohs out of the FAI Cup that year as discussed with Barry Murphy in the last issue of Hoops Scene.
Rovers returned to top flight action the following season having won the First Division and in September 2007 travelled to face a Bohemians side in league action at Dalymount Park looking for the first Rovers win at the venue in two years.

 

An early goal by Dan O’Connor and a strike from Tadhg Purcell handed the Hoops a 2-0 advantage. Barry Murphy kept his clean sheet and as the match went towards 90 minutes Rovers looked to run the clock down. I played my part by hanging onto the match ball when it came into the crowd on the Connacht Street side of the ground! The final whistle sparked joyful scenes amongst the travelling support. The BFC branded ball was brought home wrapped in my Rovers flag as a cheeky souvenir!

 

Not in my front room but elsewhere in my house is a whole rack of Rovers jerseys. Home, away and third kits all hang in my back room along with one framed jersey on the wall. This is a jersey given to me by a friend from a charity match in Balally Park between the Rovers 1997 squad and the Four in a Row team and is signed by the players.

 

Through jersey auctions and player sponsorships, I have a few players jersey; Some famous (Gary Twigg 2011 number 9 away jersey), some noteworthy (David Vickery) and some international player jerseys. I’ve former Ireland international Graham Barrett’s jersey from his short stint at the club and Cameroonian international Joey Ndo’s number 10 Rovers home jersey from the 2008 season.

 

The latest jersey international player jersey I have and the one I was wearing when the man from SSE Airtricity called is from last season. It is the purple kit with number 18 on the back worn by Keith Fahey last year. I took up his sponsorship just a few weeks before Fahey unfortunately had to call time on his career. In jest I mentioned to Rovers’ marketing director was I going to get a refund? Quick as a flash he responded that the jersey was worth more now Fahey had retired!

 

When I got the jersey I tweeted out a photo of it saying “I’m looking forward to wearing this one at Astro next week. I’ll be picking out pin point passes like @Keith_Fahey.” The Ireland international himself replied with an answer that certainly gave me joy “Good man!! Somebody has to keep it going [thumbs up emoji – football emoji]”

 

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Published in Hoops Scene 2016 Issue 4: Shamrock Rovers v Athlone Town (April 19)

Not Odd but Odra

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Article for Hoops Scene 12/2015 – Shamrock Rovers v Limerick – 26 July 2015

 

Shamrock Rovers win over Progres Niederkorn in the first round of this year’s Europa League qualifers was the 14th Hoops victory in Europe – a League of Ireland record. Two of those wins also came against a Luxembourg team – the Hoops won both home and away against Spora Luxembourg back in 1966.

 

That was the first time that a League of Ireland side had done so in Europe and the Hoops have managed that feat on four separate occasions in total – another League of Ireland record. This afternoon we delve back into the recent history to recall the last time Rovers managed to be victorious in Europe in a knockout tie winning both and away legs.

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Having finished third the previous season, the Hoops qualified for the 2003 Intertoto Cup – a UEFA competition that provided an opportunity to qualify for the UEFA Cup. The Hoops, managed by Liam Buckley back then, were drawn against Odra Wodzislaw in the first round.

 

The first leg took place in the southern Polish city of Wodzislaw in June 2003. The crowd of over 3,000 fans were entertained ahead of kick off by a marching band and majorettes, with the away fans adding to the atmosphere by letting off a number of firecrackers as the teams entered pitch.

 

Tickets for the game were 20 zlotys (less than €5) and certainly the 100 or so Rovers fans who made the trip got their monies worth even if the first didn’t come to life until the final 20 minutes.

 

A slip by full back Richie Byrne on the wet pitch allowed a low cross to find Novacky who put the home team 1-0 up on 72 minutes. The Hoops didn’t let their head’s drop however and within four minutes they were level. Tony Grant found Stephen Grant who coolly knocked the ball past the advancing ‘keeper with his right foot for the equaliser.

 

Six minutes later the away fans were in dreamland – and were climbing the railings in front of them in celebration – as Shane Robinson put Tony Grant clear in on goal. The striker outpaced two defenders before slotting the ball home to give Rovers the 2-1 win.

 

“It was a real feeling of jubilation when I saw the ball go in,” was how Tony Grant described the goal and the resulting celebration with the Rovers fans. “I just had to be with the fans at that moment, to thank them for all the support they’ve given me over the last few years. I felt that we merited the win.”

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Writing in the Hoops Scene back then, Gerry Matthews described the conclusion of the game from the fans perspective. “The superb goals had us bouncing around the stand for joy. The final whistle was greeted with an outpouring of emotion not seen in quite a while.”

 

“I’m as proud as punch for the players, club and our supporters,” said Liam Buckley after the game as he reflected on the first ever victory by an Irish club over Polish opposition. “This is a great achievement by the club and that was fully merited, even if we got a rub of the green on a few occasions.”

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The win was the first for Rovers away from home in Europe since 1982. The second leg was played at Richmond Park a week later. Played out in glorious sunshine the venue beside the Camac was packed. Glen Fitzpatrick got the only goal of the game, scoring in the 66th minute, to secure the second leg victory and a ticket into the next round where they would face Slovan Liberec (the Czech side would win both the home and away legs 2-0).

 

It really was a superb home and away victory especially considering it was against a Wodzislaw side who finished just four points behind Wisla Krakow in the league. This was the first season of summer football in the League of Ireland and the Hoops boss at the time felt that gave his Irish club an advantage – something that certainly seems to be true looking at results since the switch in seasons for our league. “There’s no doubt that the fact we have played two months of our league campaign was a major help,” he said.

 

The Hoops thus became the first Irish club in 20 seasons to win both legs in Europe (Rovers’ 7-0 aggregate win over Fram Reykjavik in 1983 was the previous time to that) and those two wins by Rovers remain the only victories by a League of Ireland club against a Polish side in 10 attempts.

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So what happened to that Rovers side?

 

Barry Ryan – Goalkeeper (36)

The goalkeeper from Clare is not to be confused with the ‘keeper for the Irish National Quidditch team in the Harry Potter world. The Rovers Ryan was released by the club the season after the win in Poland after failing a drugs test. Subsequently he played for Dublin City, St. Pat’s, Galway United and Limerick, only retiring from the League of Ireland last year.

 

Stephen Gough – Defender (34)

Lives in Qatar. Assistant Manager and player with EIS Pearl Community FC who play in Division 3 of the Qatar Stars League.

 

James Keddy – Defender (42)

Many will remember Keddy for his late headed miss for Rovers in the 2002 FAI Cup final against Derry City in Tolka Park. One of a number of players from this Rovers team who crossed the Dublin divide to later play for Bohemians. He won the league with Drogheda United in 2006 and 2007. He was involved with managing Mount Merrion FC and currently works as an electrician.

 

Jason Colwell – Midfieder (41)

Still can be seen at Rovers home games following the Hoops. Son of former Rovers Chairman Joe Collwell.

 

Terry Palmer – Defender (42)

Played for Rovers from 1998 to 2004 but left to join Bohemians where he ended his League of Ireland career. Palmer is a Director with a financial broker firm in Dublin

 

Richie Byrne – Defender (33)

Moved to Dunfermline a few months after the matches in Poland. Played for Aberdeen in the Europa League group stages in 2007/08. Played for Horsham FC in the Ryman League Division One (South) last season.

 

Shane Robinson – Midfielder (34)

Won the league title with Drogheda United in 2007. Captained the Hoops on the opening night in Tallaght in 2009. Had a two season spell playing with Haka in the Finnish top division before returning to Rovers where he is now Head of Player and Coach Development.

 

Tony Grant – Forward (38)

Scored the winning goal in Poland but he will be forever remembered for his controversial move to Bohemians the following season and the Pigs Head that was thrown onto the pitch in Dalymount Park by Rovers fans in his first derby after joining “the darkside”. Another former Hoops who won the league with Drogheda United. He also played several seasons with Glenavon. Was manager of Duleek in 2014 but was replaced by Trevor Molloy (see below).

 

Glen Fitzpatrick – Forward (34)

League winner with Shelbourne and Drogheda United. Was involved in the coaching set up at Broadford Rovers in the Leinster Senior League.

 

Alan Reynolds – Midfielder (41)

Returned for two spells at his hometown club Waterford before winning the league with Shelbourne in 2006. Is now part of Liam Buckley’s coaching staff at St. Pat’s.

 

Stephen Grant – Forward (38)

Ended his professional football career the following season at the age of 27 before taking up golf full time. He is a member of the European Challenge Tour.

 

Substitutes

Trevor Molloy – Sub in both legs (38)

The former bronze medal winner with Ireland from the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship, left Rovers in 2006 for St. Pat’s before moving to play with Motherwell. He ended his professional playing career with Glenavon in 2011. He was assistant manager to Roddy Collins with Monaghan United before they left the League of Ireland. After managing Duleek last season, he is currently managing Ardee Celtic in the North East Football League.

 

Stephen McGuinness – Unplayed Substitute (41)

He was unavailable for the second round away leg against Slovan Liberec as he was getting married. He is now PFAI General Secretary.

 

Derek Treacy – Sub in second leg (44)

A one-club player, Treacy is a Shamrock Rovers legend who played close to 500 games for the Hoops. Still supporting Rovers, Treacy played in the Shamrock Rovers Pride of Ringsend football tournament earlier this month.

 

Glen Lacey – Sub in second leg

Played subsequently with Drogheda United and Shelbourne before playing non-league football with Glebe North.

 

Manager

Liam Buckley

Currently manager at St. Patrick’s Athletic where he has led the club to a league title and an FAI Cup in the last two seasons.

 

 

 

 

From fan to player to fan – Interview with four in a row winner John Coady

This is the story of a boy who stood on the terraces in Milltown supporting Shamrock Rovers. The tale of the player who pulled on the famous green and white hooped jersey of the team he supported to score on his league debut. He would become part of Hooped folklore, a key member of the fabled four in a row side. He would win six league titles, two doubles with Rovers, a treble with Derry City, and was part of the last team to lift the league trophy in Dundalk prior to their title win last season. His playing career took him to the top flight of English football with Chelsea and he is now back where it all started – watching Shamrock Rovers as a fan. This is the story of John Coady.

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“My whole family were all Rovers supporters,” said Coady when Hoops Scene asked him about growing up a Hoops fan. “My three brothers went and occasionally my mother and one of my sisters would go. They were avid Rovers fans in the 1960s and followed them all over Ireland – here, there and everywhere.

 

“It was hilarious but when I was really young I wouldn’t be allowed go to Glenmalure Park because it was too crowded! They were getting 15 or 16,000 at every game in the ‘60s. My first Rovers match was around 1966 when my brother Tommy brought me.”

 

As a 21-year-old, Coady was playing with YMCA in the Leinster Senior League when a friend of his arranged for him to get a trial with Rovers’ reserves. “My friend Martin drove me up one Tuesday and in I went through the big green gates. That night being a Rovers fans I automatically went to the home dressing room to strip for training. That was where the first team changed. I walked along and couldn’t see a gap till I saw a gap beside Harry Kenny. I sat down and then I didn’t move for six years!”

 

John Giles was managing Rovers at that time and Coady quickly moved from playing in the reserves and into the first team by 1982. “John gave me my start. It was a very quick the transition between getting onto the B team and playing a first team game. I got a great break early on when Gilsey saw something in me and he put me in which was great. He wasn’t afraid to do that.

 

“We played a League Cup match against Drogheda in Tolka mid-week. That didn’t go so well as I missed what I thought were some reasonable chances that I would have put away. I was playing as a striker at the time. We were away to UCD the following Sunday and he didn’t tell me anything other than turn up. I turned up at Belfield and he named the team and I was in. I scored two on my debut in a 2-2 draw.”

 

Coady soon settled in to becoming a fixture in a Rovers side and under new manager Jim McLoughlin that squad would make League of Ireland history, winning four league titles in a row starting in the 1983/84 season. “Looking around the dressingroom the quality of players we had was fantastic. It was a privilege for me to be there as all I ever wanted to do was pull on a green and white jersey in a cup final. So to do that, win a couple of FAI Cups and then to win four leagues was extraordinary. There were no weak links in that team at all.

 

“Jim was brilliant for me. He is a fantastic man. You’d have to say the most successful manager in the League of Ireland. He knew the game inside out. His depth of knowledge of opposing teams was extraordinary. He was meticulous in the preparation. He would be able to tell you about any team that was coming up.

 

“We had a meeting every Saturday morning after training in Milltown. We would discuss the side we were going to play the next day and he would have all the details about them.”

 

The Hoops would dominate in Ireland during that period but European success would prove illusive. The match against Celtic in the European Cup in 1986 felt like one that got away as Rovers lost the first leg in Glenmalure Park to a late Murdo MacLeod goal. “It was disappointing as I thought we had enough in our armour to beat them that night. They were a good side but in Milltown we had enough about us to win the game but we got done by a sucker punch. They were great occasions. I loved the European games. They were very special nights in Milltown.”

 

A few months later the opportunity arose for Coady to join Chelsea and he admits that it was a difficult decision to make the make. “I was playing for Rovers and living the dream. I was winning every week. Dermot Keely was the manager and he rang me and told me they were interested. It wasn’t an easy decision and I was a bit reluctant. I was working in the post office and it was just me, my brother and my mother in the house.

 

“I said I would go over and meet them and see what they had to say. They told me what was on offer. I rang my Mum and we had a 10 minute discussion. She said ‘look, it is something you’ve always wanted, so you might as well go for it’.

 

Last Sunday QPR got caught by a late Cesc Fabregas goal as Chelsea earned a 1-0 win in Loftus Road. 28 years ago this very weekend, John Coady made his debut for Chelsea in the same fixture and, like on his league debut with Rovers, found the back of the net. “I scored in a 1-1 draw against QPR beating David Seaman in goal with a cracking volley from about three yards past him!”

 

Coady made 19 appearances for Chelsea across two seasons but has mixed views about his experiences at Stamford Bridge. “The highlight without question came on the first day when I scored. It is every schoolboys dream to be a professional footballer. Many try but few are chosen. So to get the opportunity to play there for those years was great.

 

“I was never a Chelsea fan though. I worked for them but never really like them. I have no time for them at all. I don’t really pay any heed to Premiership football at all. It leaves me cold.”

 

His move to London meant he departed before the drama of the controversial sale of Milltown. “I hadn’t heard anything about it and as it turned out I’m glad I was away when it happened. I couldn’t understand it looking from the outside as I was then but if I’d have been on the inside it would have been a huge wrench. It would have been awful. It is only in the last few years that the club recovered.”

 

These days Coady can be found in Tallaght on match nights sitting in the stands supporting the team he used to play for, cheering on Pat Fenlon’s team who have made an excellent unbeaten start to the domestic campaign. “The results haven’t been going our way in the last few seasons. Pat (Fenlon) will find his own team and everything takes time but people need to be patient and things will be alright.”
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Later in the year, European football will return to Tallaght and Coady gets a chance to enjoy the experience these days as a fan. He has made a number of European away trips in recent years. He remembers fondly the matches in 2010 and 2011 including the monsoon in Modena and the supporters singsong sheltering out of the rain at half-time.

 

“I love going up to Tallaght for the matches. I’ve had a season ticket since we moved there. We’ve had some great European ties. 2011 was an extraordinary season. The Juventus adventure the year before was brilliant in Modena. I’m still drying out from the night! Those antics at half-time were fantastic. They are the things that happen on the European trips. Sometimes I think it is better to be a fan on these trips!”

 

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Published in Hoops Scene 7 (2015) Shamrock Rovers v Drogheda United

Plan B for Shamrock Rovers

Article for Hoops Scene Issue 1 2015 (Shamrock Rovers v LA Galaxy)

Sporting history was happening 8 March 2014 in both Dublin and Cork. In Ireland’s capital city, it would be the last home playing appearance of the most-capped international rugby player in the game’s history. His mother remarked in the Irish Times following the game “the atmosphere in that stadium to celebrate his career was extraordinary. Everyone stayed back to a person.”

Sorry to disappoint you Mrs. O’Driscoll but not every person stayed back to see your son Brian do his lap of honour following the win over Italy in the Six Nations. With 10 minutes remaining in the Aviva, I was leaving early to make the 530km round trip to St. Colman’s Park. I was more interested in a small piece of football history taking was that place in Cobh as the Shamrock Rovers B-team in were playing their first ever competitive match

 

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The last time I had attended a game in the Cobh venue it was also for a First Division fixture but in quite different circumstances. Back in 2006, Rovers travelled to play Cobh Ramblers where a late Tadhg Purcell goal earned the Hoops the First Division title. The team received the trophy and celebrated promotion back to the Premier Division at the first time of asking in chaotic fashion after the final whistle. Everyone at Rovers couldn’t wait to leave the First Division behind back then and yet here in 2014 we were back in it again but this time of our own choosing.
The Hoops had made the decision to put a team into the First Division with the aim of providing a playing bridge between the Under 19 level and the first team squad. This team would play in front of a much smaller Rovers crowd in Cobh for their B-team debut compared with 2006. Just eight people stood in the away end last March but I’m told there were a handful of Hoops fans in the home stand that night.

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Colin Hawkins was the man in charge of the Hoops and the team was a mix of players from his under 19 team and a few more experienced players brought in to bolster the squad. To be honest under the floodlights it was difficult to tell who the players were. The fact that two of the eight people in the away section were non-playing Rovers squad members, meant we got to ask them which player was which!

The Hoops took the lead through a superb Daniel Purdy goal scored on the player’s 21st Birthday and Rovers were only robbed of the win when Cobh found a goal two minutes from time. A good start to a campaign, one that at times the team would struggle with against the more experienced sides in the Division.

For most of the season I would watch the B team play from the vantage point of the Tallaght Stadium pressbox. There were a few weeks when there was only three people in the press box. There would be a Rovers stalwart juggling multiple roles as DJ/Stadium Announcer/Teamsheet author/scoreboard updated, I’d be doing minute by minute updates for extratime.ie and there would be one journalist doing multiple reports for various media organisations.

Other weeks in Tallaght, it could nearly be a full house in the media zone bolstered by those covering the opposition. The seats would be filled with the opposition media officer tweeting their take on affairs, there would be journalists from competing provincial papers and then there would be the local radio station commentators.

The latter generated one of my highlights of the season when during one game the co-commentator disagreed with his radio colleague on a penalty call made by the referee. As the exchange became heated on air, the co-commentator threw off his headphones and microphone and stormed off down the West Stand. After the game, the two had to pretty much be separated as they squared up to each other but don’t worry next time I saw them working at a game in Tolka Park they were back on friendly terms!

Rovers’ first win of the season came against Longford in a very satisfying result against a very strong Town squad, containing no less than six former Rovers players. In a game where maybe unsurprisingly Pat Flynn was sent off and Pat Sullivan booked for the visitors, Rovers’ injury time winner meant a lot to the Hoops young team.

The Hoops had to use squad rotation for much of the year especially as some of the younger players had already played a full season at Under 19 level. Some of the squad were able to take a break from football in early June, but that was only because a number of them were sitting their Leaving Cert Examinations!

In an 11 game spell mid-season the Hoops wouldn’t win a game, suffering nine defeats in a row and going 1,025 minutes without scoring a goal. Thankfully they ended that run in August with a 2-0 away win in Waterford, followed by an impressive 6-0 victory at home of Cobh Ramblers.

The reaction of the team to the win over Cobh reflected the good bond within the group as the players sprayed the manager with water bottles during the warm down as it was his birthday! The tightness of the group was also reflected in the win the following week against Finn Harps and it wasn’t simply because the Hoops had won three in a row.

At the end of the season when I asked Colin Hawkins what was the standout moment from the year, he chose that Harps win for a very personal and poignant reason. “It is a strange game that stands out for me as I wasn’t even there when we played Finn Harps. My father had passed away and I was at the wake.

“For the lads to win that night 1-0 up there was a special night for me. I got the game recorded and I watched it back. There was a minute silence for my Dad and I got a lot of pride in that. That is the memory that stands out, as the lads dug out a result for me that night.”

For many opposition fans coming to Tallaght for the Sunday afternoon kickoffs it was there first time in the stadium and were able to take it all in – including the Glenmalure Suite at half-time where both sets of supporters would chat about what they’d seen in the first half over a half-time cup of tea.

Eight players dropped down from Rovers’ Premier Division squad during the season with a few, like Sean Heaney, Cian Kavanagh and Even Osam, going the other way. It was great to see the reaction of Osam’s team mates when he came to sit with the non-playing members of the squad a couple of days after making his league debut in the Premier Division with Rovers. All of his teammates in the stand stood up to shake his hand or pat him on the back leaving him with a grin from ear to ear.

The penultimate game of the season was a trip to Longford Town. Tony Cousins’ men needed a win to earn themselves the First Division title and they dispatched the Hoops B team 6-0 with little mercy. They received the trophy after the game and standing just to the side of the big Longford Town crowd on the pitch the young Rovers players watched on and clapped the champions.

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“I wanted them to see what it is all about,” said Hawkins. “That is where they want to be later in their career, winning trophies in the First Division or the Premier Division.”

The team played their final game of what would turn out to be their one and only season the following weekend against Waterford United in Tallaght. They had the target of a win so that they could leap above the Blues into sixth spot so it was a great feeling watching the one season wonders win with a comprehensive 3-0 victory that final day.

The players had developed over the season, and not just physically which was the case for all of the players who had come through the Under 19 Rovers team.
Back in the dressing room after the game, the Hoops players and coaching staff watched back video highlights of the season and when it concluded it drew a warm round of applause that could be heard outside the home dressing room.

Rovers took the reluctant decision at the end of the season to fold the second team as the club felt it wasn’t viable to continue with two squads and the associated cost and administration work required. This was especially the case with the club planning on fielding a new team in the national under 17 league next August. The bulk of the squad returned to the Hoops’ Under 19 team for the 2014/15 season, with others heading to various clubs. However, all those involved on the playing and coaching side can be really proud of what they had achieved during a unique season of League of Ireland football.

 

For a more detailed critique of Shamrock Rovers one season of B-team football see No plan B for Shamrock Rovers

Late goals are bad for your vision

In the run up to last week’s game against Bohemians, the Shamrock Rovers twitter account was looking for fans to tweet some derby day memories. The first ever game against Bohs in Tallaght is one that Rovers fans never tire of talking or indeed tweeting about. Gary Twigg’s late goals that turned a Rovers defeat into a victory in the blink of an eye left an indelible mark on people’s memories and quite a mark on my shins as in the mad celebration that followed I was forced into the seats in front of me!

Gary Twigg celebrates late goal against Bohs in 2011 in Tallaght - Photo by Bobby Best

Gary Twigg celebrates late goal against Bohs in 2011 in Tallaght – Photo by Bobby Best

Looking through last week’s tweets, unsurprisingly there weren’t too many recent good memories of derby days in Dalymount given Rovers’ record in the Dublin 7 venue with no wins in the five outings coming into the game. However, tweets from the ground were trending in Ireland that night thanks to photos of the atmospheric pyro display by the SRFC Ultras and a Vine video of Gary McCabe’s penalty opening the scoring in front of a full house of over 3,500.

Pyro in Dalymount ahead of kick off

Close to 1,000 Hoops fans watched from the Shed End as McCabe opened the scoring from the penalty spot directly in front of them. A couple of hundred Rovers fans had ringside seats sitting in the Jodi Stand at the opposite end of the stadium in the second half for the two sweeping moves that ended with goals from Ronan Finn and Marty Waters. Those headed goals cemented the 3-1 win as the Hoops put three past Bohs for the first time since the win in Tallaght in 2011 a few days after the Hoops had played Juventus in the Europa League qualifiers.

McCabe’s goal in Dalymount was the first Rovers had scored in the venue since Ronan Finn’s late late header in April 2011. My video of that goal – Ronan Finn injury time equaliser for Shamrock Rovers against Bohs – was the memory that I tweeted ahead of last Friday’s match. It is a dramatic late goal but you can also see the exact moment when I got my glasses broken in the goal celebration thanks to a stray elbow!

With 93 minutes gone on the clock, the Hoops won a corner, which saw Rovers goalkeeper Alan Mannus sprint into the penalty area to try and get on the end of. When the ball came in, both Finn and the Northern Ireland goalkeeper rose to head the ball, with many thinking it was Mannus’ touch that sent the ball into the top corner of the net. Nobody really cared that it was actually Finn and nor did I too much as put my bent set of specs back on my face after the whistle to end the game moments later.

This wasn’t the first time I’d gotten some collateral damage off an injury time goal. Back in November 2002, during Shane Robinson’s first spell with Rovers, the Hoops had a “home” game against St. Patrick’s Athletic in Richmond Park. The scoreline was 1-1 deep in injury time when Robinson found Hoops striker Noel Hunt in the penalty area. Hunt squared for James Keddy who scored the winner to provoke a manic celebration from The Hoops fans in attendance.

In the ensuing madness in the Rovers end, a fan crashed into me from behind and sent my glasses flying. My eyesight is pretty poor and with a -10.5 prescription it puts me pretty much in blind territory without my specs. All around me Rovers fans were jumping around in delight and I’m trying to tell them to stop as my glasses are somewhere below them! When the final whistle went a minute or so later, I’m thinking how the hell am I going to get home without my specs. Friends and strangers alike standing around me, cast there eyes downwards to try and spot them when a friend goes “I’ve got them!” They had somehow flown off my face and settled on the upright in between two seats. I think I celebrated the return of my glasses more than the goal.

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The final late goal that comes to mind affecting my vision is from 2011. It was a finish to a game that caused a complex secretometer phenomenon involving my lacrimal apparatus. In fact it might have affected the Hoops Scene reader too that night, whether you were at the game or watching from your TV back in Ireland.

You might need a bit more information to know what I’m talking about but if I say that it was the result of a Rovers game in Serbia, you might recognise that what was affecting my vision that night and maybe yours were tears.

I’m almost surprised to think back that I had any liquid in my body that evening in Belgrade for the Europa League Play-off against Partizan. That was due to the temperatures being above 35 degrees at kick off, the sweat inducing atmosphere in the ground from the Grobari Ultras and the tension filled game that went into extratime after Pat Sullivan’s stunning strike.

Rovers fans had been advised that maybe football colours wouldn’t be the best thing to wear while wandering around Belgrade, the city where crowd trouble caused Partizan to thrown out of the same competition four years previously. On match night, most did wear colours. Someone asked me was I wearing the old 2006 Rovers home jersey, as a point of how far Rovers had come since then relegation to the First Division. No, was the answer as it was simply the thinnest jersey I had and hence the most comfortable in that weather!

Front cover Tallaght Time

“Tallaght Time” isn’t the only recent football book that has a chapter written about that famous Shamrock Rovers win in Serbia. Last year James Moor wrote a book about his experiences as an Englishman working in Belgrade and following Partizan in the 2011 season. “Grobar – Partizan Pleasure, Pain and Paranoia” doesn’t have a happy ending for the home team in the play off as we know. It is interesting to read his take on the penalty minutes from the end of extratime that had Europa League group stage qualification at stake.

“As Shamrock’s Stephen O’Donnell prepared to take the penalty the stadium booed as one. O’Donnell kept his nerve and put it away. Shamrock’s 50 or so travelling fans, hemmed in beneath the executive boxes by a thin luminous line of stewards managed to make their cheers heard among the stunned silence of 20,000 Grobari. At the final whistle, while the Irish players jumped up and down and saluted their few dozen fans, the Partizan fans let their team know what they thought of them.”

It is a cold hearted Shamrock Rovers fan who didn’t have a tear in their eye that night when the penalty went in or at the final whistle when the famous victory was confirmed. I’d even hazard a guess that if this evening you watched back the 35 second video – Winning penalty by Stephen O’Donnell, Partizan Belgrade v Shamrock Rovers – taken from amongst the small section of Hoops fans in the stadium and the subsequent screaming celebrations, some moisture might well effect your vision once again!

Article published in Hoops Scene 2014 Issue 4

A season long challenge

For all my years of following Shamrock Rovers, I’d never made it, or indeed wanted to make it, through a season attending every competitive Rovers game. It isn’t really a badge of honour to say you were at every game during the season. Is it? Rovers is important, yeah, but surely there are other things to be getting on with during the year than trying to get to each and every game?

In years gone by I’ve generally missed matches by heading away the odd Bank Holiday or taking a few weeks off during the summer months to get away. But in 2013 with no immediate holidays planned, no “event junkie” trip to a football championship on the radar or sadly no European football for the Hoops, the season stretched out in front of me and in the back of mind was this challenge ready to be taken up; get to every single Shamrock Rovers game.

The closest the Hoops came to European action last year was in the early stages of the season. In the Setanta Sports Cup Rovers headed north of the border for the 300 plus mile round trip to Coleraine. We were made feel very welcome as they had thrown open their social club for the night ahead of the First Round second leg match. The Hoops and Bannsiders fans chatted about the tie that was finely poised after Coleraine’s 1-0 win in Tallaght a week early in Rovers’ (and my own) first game of the season.

When Ciarán Kilduff’s injury time winning goal went in, Rovers were through but it took a while for some of the Rovers fans to get out of the ground. I travelled on the Hoops SC bus for this game, a bus that was stuck in the mud at the back of the carpark. Rovers fans tried in vain to push the bus out so the helpful home stewards and members of the PSNI organised a tow. As this was happening we were serenaded by some locals youths looking at us through the gate from outside the ground singing God Save the Queen towards our southern registered bus!

Mid-week away trips aren’t the easiest to get to but if the supporters club buses aren’t an option, nothing beats a road trip with friends. The Celtic Tiger has left us with strong motorway connections to nearly all League of Ireland grounds. I was the driver for most trips but the passengers play an important role in providing chat on the return home to ward off any tiredness, as the game is discussed in detail.

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With Limerick’s promotion to the Premier Division last season, Rovers had a new ground to visit with two away trips to Thomond Park. Here is where I was able to play a trump card in my attempt to attend every game. With the company I work for I’m required to spend a bit of time in our offices outside of Dublin, so why not organise those visits to Limerick and Cork around Rovers away games? That got me another four games ticked off on my quest.

In mid-April there was a monster 1000km double trip in 72 hours to see Rovers lose away in Derry quickly followed by the Setanta Sports Cup semi-final second leg in Cork. It looked like Rovers were heading out of the competition in injury time. It was going to be a long drive home having watched two Rovers defeats at opposite ends of the country in 72 hours until Billy Dennehy lined up a free kick deep in stoppage time. His goal and celebrations in Turner’s Cross in front of the travelling away support has over 7,000 hits on You Tube and a soundtrack of me screaming in the background! The final of the Setanta Cup was a short journey to Tallaght and by mid-May Rovers had their first trophy of the season and I’d been at all 20 games so far for the Hoops.

Sickness, car troubles and pesky work meetings on Friday afternoons all have to be avoided during the season to keep a challenge like this on track. Family and friends have to get used to the refrain “sorry I can’t, Rovers are playing then.” You dread the events that might be sprung upon you, for weddings and a funeral can put pay to a consecutive game sequence. As for other sacrifices, well My Bloody Valentine might have been playing Electric Picnic on the last Friday night of August but I was back in bloody Tolka Park to see Rovers take on Shelbourne, before making the journey to Stradbally early the next morning.

The success in the cups for Rovers last season went a long way to helping get over the disappointment of the league campaign but it added a lot of extra games for the Hoops. 19 games in fact but who is counting except me! As the season drifted into August and our title challenge had drifted away, my own challenge began to get more real. In Leinster Senior Cup semi-final Rovers travelled from one side of the Dublin mountains to the other and in Jackson Park near Stepaside, they dispatched Wayside Celtic to book a place in the final.

I had one major hurdle to overcome in the last month of the season. On the second Friday in October, I watched Ireland get beaten comprehensively in Cologne in the Brazil 2014 qualifier against Germany. The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn to get the train to Dusseldorf and flight home. On arrival in Dublin, I got straight in my car, with my passport still in my pocket, and headed to Derry. Safe to say I was pretty tired by the time I arrived back in Dublin in the small hours of Sunday morning having watched Rovers draw 0-0 in the Bogside.

In the final couple of weeks I became paranoid about getting knocked off my bike on my journey to work. I wasn’t worrying about an injury that would be painful but something that would stop me getting to a game, as I was so close now to a full set of matches. I could feel it. I could taste it.

By the time, Rovers lifted the Leinster Senior Cup in Richmond Park in the penultimate game of the season I’d attended more competitive Rovers matches in 2013 than our manager. Okay, Trevor Croly had a good excuse as he was over in Malmo looking at the Swedish club’s set up allowing Colin Hawkins to manage the team to this latest cup success. The fruits of that visit can be seen in the installation of Rovers’ First Division team with Hawkins at the helm for the Hoops in the second tier of the League of Ireland.

One more match was required to make it 52 games out of 52 for the season. It was a pity that the final game of the year for Rovers wasn’t a trophy deciding match. Ultimately it ended in disappointment, as a league defeat to Sligo Rovers meant no European football for Rovers in Tallaght in 2014. So what was what was going through my mind at the end of that final game of Shamrock Rovers’ 2013 season? “I did it. Every game. What was I thinking? Never again!”

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And so it has proved to be as my sequence soon came to an end early this season. By the time I made it to the 2014 league opener at the start of March, it was to be my final game of an 18 month long competitive Rovers game sequence dating back to August 2012. A run of 72 matches if you will let me include Rovers’ First Division team’s outing in Cobh, where six of us stood in the away terrace in St. Colman’s Park. That was my last mad dash of the streak having snuck out of the Aviva stadium a few minutes before the end of the game against Italy, to drive down to see a small bit of Rovers history played out as the B team played their first competitive game.

But last weekend the streak came to an end and I’m quite happy about that. It was a wedding that got in the way, and of some Rovers fans as well. Who’d arrange a wedding on a day of a game anyway? Congratulations to Eoghan and Sorcha all the same! But when a text came through to me during the wedding speeches that the floodlights had gone out in Athlone and the game might be abandoned, I did think, well maybe I could make it to 100 games. Instead I am back at game zero but hey who is counting?

Published in Hoops Scene 2014 Issue 3

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My second (tier) favourite season

A Rovers return to the First Division was not on the radar for most of us. When the Tallaght era began for Shamrock Rovers in 2009, no one expected the club to be playing First Division matches here within five years. Thankfully though, it is our newly created reserve team that is lining out in the second tier of the Airtricity League this season, not our first team, with the aim of developing players that will help Rovers continue to win major trophies in Irish football in years to come.

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The move to Tallaght has brought the Hoops a nice trophy haul so far with two league titles, two Setanta Sports Cups, two Leinster Senior Cups and only our second ever League Cup win. In 2011, when we qualified for the Europa League group stages, along with retaining our league title and winning the all island Setanta cup competition, it gave me and most others Rovers fans their favourite season ever following the club.

However if you were to ask me what is my favourite year outside of the time spent here in Tallaght, you might be surprised to read that is the 2006 season. That was the only other year Rovers ever played in the First Division. The enjoyment garnered from that campaign wasn’t something that I was expecting when the club had lost their place in the top flight of Irish football for the first time ever at the end of the previous season. The tears that flowed following that play-off defeat would in 12 months time be tears of joy but a lot was to happen in the meantime.

Rovers had found themselves relegated after a 2005 season that had seen the Hoops flirt way to close to extinction. The club went into financial free-fall and was on its knees before the fans rallied around and took over the club following the High Court Examinership period. However, while the supporters saved the club, they couldn’t save the team from relegation.

There was a certain sense of renewal about Rovers when that First Division season began. Under new board room control and a new managerial appointment, only two players remained from the relegated squad, with our current goalkeeper Barry Murphy one of those players. He provided the defensive foundation, along with new captain Aidan Price, which paved the way for Rovers’ success that season under manager Pat Scully.

Scully was a determined and demanding manager who had one clear ambition for Rovers. Get out of the First Division at the very first bloody attempt but at half-time in the season opener, things were not looking great. The Hoops trailed 1-0 to Dundalk with Rovers’ young team seeming to freeze under the pressure of playing in front of the large Tolka Park crowd. As the players trooped off after the opening 45 minutes, I thought to myself this was going to be a long hard season. No doubt Pat Scully said at some strong words half-time and the players responded in the second half. The Hoops equalised, through Jamie Duffy, with 18 minutes remaining before substitute Willy Doyle got the winner in injury time much to the home supporters relief.

When Rovers came to town that season, as always we brought a sizeable away support but the visit of the Hoops always brought out the home fans. “You’re only here to see the Rovers” was a common refrain to be heard throughout the season from the travelling fans of the Hoops and Rovers got to see a multitude of away league wins, a pleasant change from previous years. The Hoops hadn’t been in the top half of a league table since 2003. In 2005, they’d only won two league games outside of the Dublin environs an improvement having had no victories the season previous to that. But this year was different as away wins were clocked up regularly; three wins and two draws from the first five away games.

There were to be no Dublin derbies in the league that year with Kildare County being the nearest away trip for the Hoops. After one away win in Station Road, the Rovers fans that were returning to Dublin by train stood on the platform in Newbridge in high spirits after a 3-0 victory. The Iarnrod Éireann official in the station wasn’t used to his Saturday evening viewing being disturbed and announced over the PA “could the patrons at Platform 2 please be quiet as you are disturbing my watching Match of the Day.” He was met with a chorus of “You can shove your English football up you’re arse!”

Just prior to that season, I had purchased my first car and I put some mileage on it that year, in what was often called the “Discover Ireland” season. We got to go St. Mel’s Park for one last time before Athlone moved to their new ground. We stood on the terrace in Finn Park beside League of Ireland legend Brendan Bradley and made it over to Galway where disappointingly Rovers got beaten twice. We watched a dour 0-0 draw in Kilkenny in the rain on the night France and Spain played out a World Cup classic or so I am told as I’ve never seen the goals from France’s 3-1 win.

The Hoops did not run away with the First Division but led by a small margin for long spells in the season and were pegged back when other clubs benefited from Rovers’ points deduction for fielding an illegible player. The squad changed throughout the season, as players fell out of favour with Pat Scully and vice versa. But his team showed its class in the cup by knocking out Bohemians in a 2-0 FAI Cup replay win in Dalymount, before the Hoops were eliminated at the semi-final stage.

Andy Myler celebrates scoring in Limerick

Andy Myler celebrates scoring in Limerick

Back in the league, Rovers manoeuvred themselves into a winning position with a crucial away win in early November in Limerick. It was a very different trip to the city in 2006 compared to their current superb surroundings in Thomond Park for both home and away fans. Back then, Limerick were playing out of Hogan Park where the corporate facilities were a 40 foot trailer with the canvass side pulled back and a few garden chairs for the VIPs available. On a bitterly cold night on Shannonside, Andy Myler’s two first half goals earned Rovers a 2-0 win and put the Hoops on the verge of promotion. Even having to drive back to Dublin without a rear passenger window, lost thanks to a rock thrown through the car as we were leaving the area, didn’t dampen our spirits that night.

Rovers ended their First Division campaign in Cobh, where they began their 2014 First Division campaign last night. The Hoop hoards descended on the picturesque Cork town with the locals maybe not knowing what had hit them. There are many tales that could be told about that final weekend revolving around double booked hotels, diverted Ryanair flights or the look on the face of the steward who opened the gate to see the size of the away supporters queuing to get in.

Barry Murphy had made a habit of saving penalties all season and he did it again on that final night but it looked like the large Rovers travelling support would not see a trophy presentation when Cobh scored after 79 minutes. But with six minutes remaining on the clock, Tadhg Purcell grabbed a precious goal, his 11th of the season, to cement Rovers as the First Division champions.

At the final whistle, the supporters myself included paid no heed to the “stay of the pitch” requests and vaulted the perimeter wall to stream onto the pitch to celebrate with the players. It was a chaotic scene that would be replicated with even more fervour in Bray four years later when the Hoops captured the Premier Division trophy.

On this night though, one supporter who was on crutches even made it onto the podium pretending to be an injured player joining in the celebrations with his “teammates” when the trophy was eventually presented. The fans sung “Rovers are back” and they meant it. The lasting memory of the night for me was Pat Scully’s speech so it was great to see it pop up in the last month on YouTube. Scully was carried shoulder high by supporters off the pitch before perching himself on the ledge of the dressing room to speak to the supporters.

A hush fell in that corner of St. Colman’s Park. Scully’s speech was short, sharp and summed up what that season was about. “This is Shamrock Rovers and we want to play football. This is Shamrock Rovers and we fuckin’ win!”

Published in Hoops Scene 2014 Issue 2 (Shamrock Rovers v Derry City)

Tallaght Time book launch

July 16, 2013 1 comment

The official launch of Tallaght Time took place in the Gala Room in Tallaght Stadium on Friday 12th July ahead of the Shamrock Rovers v Derry City game. Broadcaster, and well known Hoops fan, Con Murphy officially launched the book and it was great for the authors to have Con do the honours and to have so many friends and family there for the launch.

Con Murphy with the authors of Tallaght Time

Con Murphy with the authors of Tallaght Time

There are some more photos of the launch on the book’s facebook page here.

On the night in Hoops Scene, Shamrock Rovers’ matchday programme, there was an edited extract from Chapter Seven of Tallaght Time describing the dramatic conclusion to title battle between Rovers and Bohs in 2010 when the Hoops travelled to Bray on the final night of the season.


Chapter 7: Who wants to be League Champions? 2010 Title Run-in

A draw was all that was needed for Rovers to be crowned champions unless Bohs could put a hatful past Dundalk in Dalymount Park. It was first blood to Bohs who went 1-0 up against Dundalk after only 12 minutes. When Bray scored eight minutes later, it meant that if results stayed that way, it would be three in a row for Bohs. Gary Twigg was not going to let that happen without a fight as he latched onto a through ball from Craig Sives just before the break in Bray.

7-2 Gary Twigg about to score against Bray bb

Gary Twigg
The ball gets down the side and the boy’s slipped and I was in. I saw the keeper coming and I took it around him. I don’t know why but for some reason I let the boy get back on the line. I’d usually hit it first time. I kept taking it in. The boy was closing me and I had nowhere to go except through his legs so I took it with the outside of my left foot. Thinking about it now I don’t know how I kept so calm with the pressure! The roar that went up that night when it went in was unreal. I think there was a lot of nervous energy going out from everyone.

Stephen Rice
With that goal other strikers may have snatched at it but Twiggy showed why he was the best striker in the league.

photo-22
The Rovers fans’ nerves were eased when Twigg’s strike partner Thomas Stewart rounded off a fine passing move one minute into the second half giving Rovers a 2-1 lead while Bohs had conceded and were now only drawing their game. In the season that was in it, there was to be another twist when Gary Shaw’s diving header equalised for Bray after 69 minutes and Bohs went 2-1 up 10 minutes later. Rovers went into the three minutes of injury time at the Carlisle Grounds knowing that one more goal for Bray would mean the end for Rovers’ title ambitions.

In Dalymount Park, the final whistle went with Bohs 3-1 winners. In Bray, the Rovers fans beseeched referee Alan Kelly to blow up with a cacophony of whistles of their own. Alan Mannus had to make one final save but the referee blew up after what seemed the longest few minutes ever of injury time. The Hoops had waited 16 years to win the league but they had to wait no longer.

Rovers fans swarmed onto the pitch to celebrate with the players. Fans embraced each other with tears streaming down their faces. After all the ups and mostly downs since the last league title in 1994, this meant so much to the Shamrock Rovers fans. Nobody ever said winning the league would be easy but Rovers had managed to do it the very hard way. After 36 games, just two goals separated them from Bohemians at the end of the season.

There was a chaotic trophy presentation on the pitch. Surrounded by thousands of Rovers fans, captain Dan Murray managed to get his hands on the trophy alongside Stephen Rice to lift the coveted trophy to the backdrop of confetti and flares. In the melee that followed with fans swarming the podium, Pat Flynn was cracked over the head with the trophy, cutting his head open with blood flowing down his face. It was champagne though that flowed in the Rovers dressing room when they eventually got there.

Stephen Rice
The trophy presentation was poor but if you had to present me that league trophy in hell with fire and demons running around me, I would have taken it! It was crazy stuff. It was a massive night for the club and all of us players. It is something that we will never forget. It was incredible that some of the young fans out in Bray that night weren’t even alive when we won the last title.

Gary Twigg
What a night. If anybody says to me what is your best night playing for Shamrock Rovers, well the answer is that is the best night. That night will never be beaten for me, that was pure emotion.

The league trophy ready to be presented on the pitch in Bray

The league trophy ready to be presented on the pitch in Bray

Trevor Croly
My daughter was at the game with my mam and dad, and I wanted to stand and watch the presentation with her. I had her in my arms and I just watched the guys. I just wanted to see the lads get their reward. It was an emotional night, one of those special moments in your life.

Justin Mason
It was mayhem but who cares. It was brilliant. There was a guy in a wheelchair in front of us and he was trying to get on the pitch with two of his mates. We came down and lifted the wheelchair over the wall so he could get on the pitch! I thought Pat Flynn had head butted the trophy because he is that mad. I didn’t realise it was accidental!

Buzz O’Neill
We went into a pub in Bray and what struck me was that it was all the same faces who had been in those meetings in the Plaza Hotel back in 2005, who had gone to the High Court hearings, who had been in Cobh back in 2006 [when Rovers won the first division]. A friend was there with her Dad and I started hugging her Dad and she was saying, ‘oh, by the way Dad, this is Buzz’. Never met the man before in my life! We limped over the line to a degree but when they engrave the League of Ireland trophy it doesn’t say ‘won it by one goal’, it just says ‘champions’.

Match Facts
Two or more teams had finished level on points at the top of the table five times before in League of Ireland history. Shelbourne had a superior goal difference to Derry City in 2006 and three titles were decided by playoffs, including Cork Hibernians’ 3-1 win over Shamrock Rovers in 1970/71.

15 Rovers players won the first League of Ireland medal of their careers that night. In the modern era, seven players have won the Premier Division with three different clubs. All of them played with Rovers and, with the exception of Joseph Ndo and Colin Hawkins, they all won a title at Rovers – John Coady, Mick Neville, Paul Doolan, Neale Fenn and Gary O’Neill.

© Macdara Ferris and Karl Reilly / The Liffey Press (2013)

Tallaght Time, published by The Liffey Press, tells the remarkable tale of Shamrock Rovers’ recent history since the club moved to their new home told through the words of those closely involved; Rovers officials, players and fans. In depth interviews were carried out specifically for the book with a number of Rovers officials and players including Gary Twigg, Stephen Rice, Dan Murray, Trevor Croly, Stephen Kenny and Jonathan Roche amongst many others.

The book describes the many magical nights since the Hoops moved to Tallaght such as Cristiano Ronaldo making his debut for Real Madrid against Rovers; the visit of Alessandro Del Piero and his star-studded Juventus team and winning their first league title since 1994. The book also charts Rovers’ extraordinary 2011 European campaign including the never-to-be-forgotten win over Partizan Belgrade in Serbia and the trip to White Hart Lane.

The book is 320 pages in length with over 70 colour photos by club photographers Bobby Best and George Kelly and includes historical inserts and detailed appendices with results, appearances and scorers for all Rovers matches from 2009 to 2012.

Tallaght Time is available from the Shamrock Rovers megastore, online and in Easons, Reads and Dubray Books.

Front cover Tallaght Time