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Posts Tagged ‘All Ireland’

All Ireland Champions on the European Stage

September 22, 2011 4 comments

It had been many a year since my Dublin team got their hands on an All-Ireland trophy but this year they did. Admittedly the route to the final was short for the team with just four games played to get there but it did include a win over a team from Ulster which tends to be the norm to win this competition. When the referee blew the final whistle at the conclusion of the final, there were great celebrations before the trophy presentation back in May of this year. Captain Dan Murray got his hands on the Setanta Sports Cup crowning Shamrock Rovers All Ireland Champions in the Tallaght Stadium.

Last week of course there was a similar tale to Rovers’ win as the Dublin GAA team captured the All Ireland Senior Football Championship. There was immense excitement in the capital but it wasn’t a game I watched. Strange you may think for somebody from Dublin especially one who played gaelic football with a south Dublin GAA club from age 11 to 17 and who went to Dublin matches both in the League and Championship. But I stopped going to gaelic matches back in 2006 when the GAA decided to take on Shamrock Rovers and South Dublin County Council (SDCC) over access to Tallaght Stadium.

The story of stadium in Tallaght is a saga. Shamrock Rovers had been unable to finance the completion of the stadium with construction halted in 2001. SDCC looked to complete the stadium in 2005 with the Dublin County GAA board making submissions to the council for the pich to be increased in size to accommodate senior gaelic games. Under pressure from the GAA, the local Councillors voted in late 2005 to amend the Council Manager’s report to include provision for GAA sports in the stadium subject to funding. However, the Department of Sport made it clear they would not allocate money to modify the stadium as significant changes would need to be made to existing structure to suit gaelic games, leading to a reduced capacity (4,500) and a one sided stadium. Six Dublin GAA clubs wrote to the Councillors to request for that decision on the enlarged stadium to be maintained but this was rejected in 2006 with the council voting to revert back to the original football sized venue that had always been envisaged.

In the previous year, Shamrock Rovers had effectively gone bust with the club being put into examinership. The Rovers fans group, the 400 Club, were able to take over the running of the club thanks to the generosity of its members. Fans, like myself, dipped into their life savings to pay membership for a number of years up front to try and save the club. It was only on the decision of the High Court that Rovers were saved but the club was not finished with playing high stakes games with its survival to be decided in the courts.

In February 2006 as SDCC were voting to push ahead with the original soccer sized venue, I was still supporting the Dubs. As well as going to games in Parnell and Croke Parks, I headed away to watch games including being present at the infamous Battle of Omagh when Tyrone and Dublin finished with 13 men each. In May of that year, Thomas Davis sought a Judicial Review of the council’s decision dealing a crushing blow to the new owners, the fans of Shamrock Rovers. It meant at best a couple of year delay in the entering the stadium and at worst meant no home at all which could have spelled the death knell for the club.

It was clear that it was not just the local GAA clubs seeking to prevent the youth of Tallaght from being raised “on a diet of association football” (as Thomas Davis stated in their High Court submission). Thomas Davis spoke elsewhere about being “the last man standing” in the bout with Rovers and the GAA. With the GAA opening up Croke Park for football and rugby on a temporary basis, their Central Council placed “on record, the strongly held disappointment that this goodwill gesture has not been reciprocated in the approach of the FAI and Minister…John O’Donoghue, to the Tallaght Stadium”. In the Director General’s Annual Report to the 2007 GAA congress there was criticism that public funds were to being used to complete Tallaght “for professional sports with the GAA being excluded at a lesser extent than we expected”. The GAA president expressed his disappointment that the stadium was not being made “big enough to accommodate GAA matches”. Thomas Davis used the 2007 general election remind their members that candidates who did not agree with the GAA club were “pinning their colours squarely against the GAA”.

This situation left many Shamrock Rovers fans that had a keen interest in the GAA, like myself, in a difficult position. Some Rovers fans continued to follow Dublin and continue to do so to this day. I took the decision to stop following Dublin as I couldn’t bring myself to support a sport that was threatening the very existence of the football club that I not only loved but was a part owner of. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but it was one I was glad I made and a decision that was right for me and is still the case. In the intervening years, I stopped watching GAA on TV or reading about it in the papers, taking more of an interest in Leinster and investing more time at Rovers. Dublin no longer was my team. To be honest I don’t miss it because I get so much from being a part of Shamrock Rovers.

Thankfully the GAA lost their Hight Court case and Rovers were able to play their first game in the stadium in March 2009.
Shamrock Rovers has been lauded in recent times as a model club. The club provides jobs for over 30 individuals including players, back room staff and front of house staff. With a turnover over in excess of €2m, the club is a contributor to Irish economy especially in the Tallaght area where 4,000 fans on average attend games from March through to October. There is also a strong volunteer element at the club – the GAA don’t have a monopoly on the great Irish sporting volunteer. Turnstyle operators, website team, marketing, communications, ticket sellers, programme sellers and writers are some of the roles that fans fill providing their own time and services free of charge because they believe in what the club, our club, is doing.

This belief has been rewarded over the past couple of seasons especially with Rovers success on and off the field. Real Madrid, Juventus and the league trophy have all come to Tallaght Stadium over the past two or so years. In the year that Dublin finally won another All Ireland title, Shamrock Rovers are bringing European football to Tallaght and taking League of Ireland football into unchartered territory with the team competing in the group stages of the Europa League with Rovers increasing the stadium capacity at their own expense to nearly 9,000. Thanks to that sense of belonging I get, that sense of pride, that sense of connection I have with my club, there is really only one Dublin team for me and that is Shamrock Rovers.

Keep on Hooping!

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Kerrygold – Billy Dennehy Interview

Published in Hoops Scene 8 (Shamrock Rovers v Athlone Town/Derry City, June 2011)

There were jubilant scenes of celebrations here in Tallaght Stadium following Shamrock Rovers’ win last month in the Setanta Sports Cup final. Yes, it was a cup that only required Rovers to play five games to win but there was still significance to Rovers adding that cup to their reigning League of Ireland title. The outpouring of joy both by the players on the pitch and fans in the stands, were scenes that many at Rovers feared would never happen as the club struggled to get to the promised land of Tallaght. The win exorcised some of the demons of last year’s defeat, via penalties, in the blue riband FAI Cup Final. It was also a competition that Rovers previously hadn’t even been part of but managed to win on their first attempt, effectively being crowned All-Ireland champions.

The 2-0 win over Dundalk in that Setanta Sports Cup Final was cemented by an injury time goal by Rovers winger Billy Dennehy who celebrated with great gusto. “The emotions go through your head when you score,” recalls Dennehy of his shirt off followed by a ‘Bebeto’ baby celebration. “I did a celebration for my little nephew. He was only born two weeks before the game and he is my first nephew. He was too small to be at the game but I did a small baby celebration for him. It was great to win a trophy so early in the season. At the start of the competition, when we were up in Lisburn, we were told a lot of players in the squad hadn’t won that medal. It kind of stuck in my mind throughout the competition that it was something I wanted to win. A lot of players were the same. Hopefully we can get a bit more before the end of the season.

Hailing from Kerry, Dennehy when asked about his medal and status now as an All-Ireland Champion quickly retorted, “There is nearly one on every doorstep down in Kerry! But they are Gaelic ones, so this medal is unique.” The Hoops began their pre-season training with a trip to the Kingdom at the end of January, which was ideal for the man from Tralee. “I can remember getting a text from the manager ahead of pre-season saying there were plans to come down to Kerry and would I have a look at the facilities,” recalled Dennehy. “I thought he was winding me up to be honest! I never thought we could come so close to my home for pre-season. It was nice to train down there for a couple of days. In fairness Killarney Celtic where we trained were very hospitable and they made us feel very welcome. We got a good lot of work done down there which is important too. We worked very hard and for me it was nice to be close to home and to have the family around the corner.” And did everyone pop in to sample the famous Kerry hospitality in the Dennehy household? “I think my house is a bit too small but my Mum would have been delighted to make tea for everyone! It was nice to be down in my neck of the woods. I think that everybody enjoyed it and trips away like that in pre-season are important for new players coming in. I know when I joined the club, we all went away to Edinburgh for a few days and it certainly helped me to gel with the lads and get to know everybody. I’m sure the trip down to Kerry for the new players was the same as well.”

Five of the current squad know each other very well as they share a house in Dublin. When you hear that the occupants are two Ulstermen (Alan Mannus and Chris Turner), two Scotsmen (Craig Sives and Gary Twigg) and a Kerryman in Dennehy, you are half waiting for a punch line! “The club has a house so I’m living with Sive, Alan, Turner and Twiggy but there’s plenty of room. We often share the cooking especially myself, Sive and Alan Mannus.” It seems the 24 year old has listened to the nutritional advice and the benefits of carbohydrates no doubt given to him by the club, as when asked what is the Dennehy signature dish he replied “I’m going to go for Spaghetti Bolognese. Alan Mannus has said it is probably the best he’s ever had!”

Moving to more serious matters, Rovers had to deal with the recent defeat to Bray who are the only team to have beaten Rovers in the league this year and have now done so twice. The latest game against Wanderers was a 1-0 defeat for the Hoops out in Bray’s Carlisle Grounds. “The end result was disappointing,” said Dennehy about the game. “As a group of players we know that we can do a lot better. On the night and certainly in the game, we did have a lot of the ball. We did have a few chances but playing against teams like Bray they are going to make it very hard for us. They are going to up their game a lot more than usual when they play against us. You can take nothing away from them, I thought they probably deserved to win on the night. These things happen throughout the season and it is how you react to it. Every team will have bad results and every team will have setbacks and it is how you react to that and how you put it right. There is no team that is going to go and win every game in the season that they play. These things happen and it is how we bounce back that is the main thing.”

The team couldn’t have bounced back any better in the following game where they took on Bohemians in the second Dublin Derby of the season. Bohemians had been beaten in all the games played in Tallaght against Rovers to date making it a Rovers four in a row. And that four became five in a row, thanks to Karl Sheppard’s first half header for the Hoops. Speaking ahead of that game Dennehy, who was a second half substitute, said that “It couldn’t be a better game to come back to. Everybody will be looking to do their best and looking to put things right. Playing against Bohs in Tallaght is a big game for everybody involved in the club. The players know what it means to everybody in the club. We will be out there again doing our best and hopefully we can get a good result.” It was a good result for the Hoops with the 1-0 win keeping Shamrock Rovers on top of the table and Bohemians leaving with the terrace chant of “You’ll never win in Tallaght” echoing in their ears.

Dennehy scored some crucial goals for Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium last season. These included match winning goals like his header in the first derby against Bohs and his free kick against Sligo in September. Both are popular hits on You Tube with 5,200 and 4,000 views respectively. Those 1-0 wins over Bohs and Sligo were instrumental in Rovers staying ahead of these teams, who eventually finished second and third respectively, claiming their sixteenth league title. His free kick, which was smashed into the top left hand corner against Sligo, came in a very tense affair in a Tallaght Stadium “rocking” with atmosphere as Dennehy recalls. “It was a big big game at the time. We knew if we could get a result it would keep us in the driving seat. I remember throughout the game that it was very tight. It was a tough game and there wasn’t much in it. I remember when the free kick came up, James Chambers was standing beside me and he wanted to hit it as well. I said to him, let me have this one and luckily he did. As soon as I connected, I knew it had a chance and it was nice to see it fly into the top corner. When we did score, the noise was unbelievable. It was an unbelievable atmosphere throughout the whole game. It was something similar to playing Bohs in Tallaght the first time. The atmosphere was rocking from the start. The players feed off that and everybody was behind the team, it was great to get those results in those games. It is a nice memory to look back on and a good experience to call upon too. I’m sure we will have tough games like that in vital periods of this season. We will have to look on the experience of last year and hopefully it will stand us in good stead.”

This season Rovers are looking to go one better than last in the FAI Ford Cup and, not only reach the final but, get their hands on the trophy as winners. This year’s campaign starts with the match against Athlone Town and Dennehy will use the memory of last year’s final as an inspiration for this year’s cup games. “When you get to the cup final, anything can happen really. In the Aviva that day, both teams created chances. I thought we did well in periods of the game but Sligo did well. When it comes down to penalties, it is a lottery and it just wasn’t our day. It wasn’t through lack of effort from anybody as everybody gave it a go.”

In the penalty shoot out, Sligo’s goalkeeper Ciarán Kelly, saved all four of the Hoops’ kicks meaning Dennehy didn’t get an opportunity to take one. “I was down to take the fifth one but with the form the goalkeeper was in, I don’t know whether it was a good or a bad thing for me to take one! I would have liked to take one and hopefully there will be another cup final for us. Hopefully it won’t get to penalties but if it does, I would certainly put my name in the hat again. To get there last year, we had to go through a lot of important games; Longford away and Pats twice. They are the games you have to win to get to the big cup finals. Athlone we know won’t come to make it easy for us and we will have to be at our best to win these types of games to put us into the next round.”