Leading the Way – Stephen McPhail

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

The Tallaght Project – Stephen Bradley

December 14, 2015 Leave a comment

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Hyland hitting the heights with the Hoops

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miele goes from Toon to Hoop

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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