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Dan’s departure ends captain’s run

January 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Published on Shamrock Rovers club website 14/01/2012
http://www.shamrockrovers.ie/news/35-news/2361-thanks-muzz

Shamrock Rovers will begin the 2012 season with a new captain following confirmation of the departure of Dan Murray from the club. All at Rovers will wish the 29 year old the best as he leaves the Hoops following a highly successful two year spell as captain during which time he lifted the league trophy twice as well as claiming the Setanta Sports Cup.

Photo by Bobby Best

When former manager Michael O’Neill brought Dan Murray to Tallaght from Cork City in 2010, he brought a key player into a squad that were runner’s up in the previous season. He was signed to help bring trophies back to Shamrock Rovers by using the experience he had of winning league and cup trophies with his previous team. On joining the club he was handed the captain’s armband and it was a role Murray was proud to take on at the club. “It is a great honour to be the captain of any club and it is great to be captain of Rovers,” said Murray. “The supporters are so hungry and so passionate about the club. To be a part of that, and even better to be the captain, is great.”

Murray picked up a serious knee injury in the latter part of the 2010 season and was unable to help the Hoops on the pitch in that season’s tight title run in. However, amongst chaotic scenes on the final night of the 2010 season when Rovers clinched the title, he did become the first Rovers captain to get his hands on the league trophy since 1994. That had been his aim since the start of the season. “We want to be the best team, we want to be spoken of as champions and that only comes by winning things. That’s the goal at the end of the season.”

Photo by Bobby Best

Midway through last season, Murray lifted another trophy as Shamrock Rovers won the Setanta Sports Cup on their debut in the competition. With the final played in Tallaght, Murray walked up the West Stand steps to collect the trophy on behalf of his team in front of the Glenmalure Suite. He would do so again following the final league game to claim the league trophy for the second year in a row. “It was great to win the first cup of the season,” recalled Murray of the Setanta Cup win, “and especially to win it here in Tallaght. It made it even more special for everyone. I thought the presentation was well done; it was probably the closest we will get to going up the Wembley steps!”

While Murray didn’t get a chance to play in Wembley with Rovers, he did lead out his team in another famous London venue, White Hart Lane. He had a crucial part to play in Rovers’ amazing European adventure which saw them qualify for the Europa League where they played in Group A along with Spurs. Murray has played an impressive 42 times in Europe and he enjoyed playing on the European stage. “It is a real plus getting to play in Europe,” said Murray last year. “It is a great chance to show yourself against foreign teams. You feel like a top class player when you travel away and it’s as close as you feel to being a Premiership footballer. The squad is suited to Europe. The players, as well as the supporters, are hungry for success to bring the club onto another level.” Murray, as one of the heroes of Belgrade, can certainly lay claim to being a crucial part of moving the club on a level during his time in Tallaght. For that all at Shamrock Rovers thank Dan for and we wish him the best of luck in the future.

The Captain’s Run

Published in Hoops Scene (Shamrock Rovers v Drogheda United, May 2011)

Last Saturday, Shamrock Rovers secured their first trophy of the season winning the Setanta Sports Cup. Rovers have been in great form in this competition, winning all five of their games and scoring 13 goals in the process. In this feast of football, Rovers were the last man standing in this competition becoming All-Ireland Champions. It has certainly whetted the appetite for winning more trophies here in Tallaght Stadium.

On a day of cup finals, it was Dan Murray as captain of Shamrock Rovers who got to climb the steps to lift the trophy for the cup winners. After the chaotic scenes when Rovers last won a trophy, when the Hoops won the league title out in Bray, Murray was delighted to get his hands on a trophy in Rovers’ Tallaght home. “It was great to win the first cup of the season and especially to win it here in Tallaght. It made it even more special for everyone. I thought the presentation was well done; it was probably the closest we will get to going up the Wembley steps! It was nicely done that we got the trophy one side of the pitch and then we could go to the other side to celebrate with our fans. It was good for all the lads to celebrate together. That’s the best thing about it, to celebrate winning things and to do it as a team.”

The celebrations after the win over Dundalk were the usual cup final mix of dancing, singing and champagne spilling with the players even lifting manager Michael O’Neill up on their shoulders in front of the delighted Rovers fans packed into Tallaght’s East Stand. It was all a marked contrast with Rovers’ last cup final appearance, which took place in November at Lansdowne Road in the FAI Cup final. The defeat that day to Sligo Rovers, via the lottery of penalty kicks, was an incentive for Shamrock Rovers to win on their debut in the Setanta Sports Cup. The win made it their seventh All Ireland cup win having won the competition in its previous guises as the Tyler, Blaxnit and Inter City All Ireland Cups. “After last season losing the FAI Cup final, it was especially nice to win a cup final. It is not a nice feeling coming off the pitch after losing and nobody would have wanted penalties at that car park end of the stadium! It gives a buzz about the place that you’ve actually won a cup that the club hasn’t won before so it is a great way to start the season.”

The away team on cup final day was actually Shamrock Rovers and they togged out in their new black away kit from the away dressing room. However, the setup was as normal as possible and there was even a Shamrock Rovers Milltown sign put up to cover up the ‘away team’ notice on their dressing room door. Murray outlined how Rovers’ Kitman Gerry Byrne “did a great job. He set up the changing room in exactly the same way as the home one. We were all sitting in our normal places. We just got on with it. It was great that the final was in Tallaght as there was a great buzz about the stadium before and after the game.”

During the game, the Hoops hit the woodwork three times through Billy Dennehy twice and second half substitute Gary Twigg who was returning from injury. Second half goals from Gary O’Neill and Billy Dennehy were the difference on day. “We had a lot of chances,” said Murray. “If we had won by four I don’t think anyone would have complained about it. We played very well in the whole game and created the best chances out of the two teams.”

Crucial to this win, and to Rovers’ performances that see them sit on top of the league table, has been the defensive display by the Hoops. Key to this has been the centre half partnership that has developed between the Rovers captain and one of this season’s new signings Ken Oman. “We all knew that Ken was a quality player from when he was at Bohs the last few seasons. We were fortunate to get him from Sporting Fingal especially with Craig Sives being injured. We have developed a good back four. Then with Alan [Mannus] in goal, it makes it a back five and we’ve played really well this season. The more games Ken and me play together as a partnership the better we will get. You get to know each other’s games and we complement each other really well.” It was a fresh look for Ken Oman who had got a fairly radical cup final haircut for the occasion. Gone were his flowing locks that had inspired the terrace chant about him looking like Jesus Christ. “A few people didn’t recognise him with the haircut,” joked Murray. “It is a lot different for us in the changing room with all the long hair gone.”

Murray picked up a series knee injury in the latter part of last season and his injury coincided with a dip in Rovers’ results. He was on the sidelines during this difficult period and couldn’t help the Hoops on the pitch in the title run in. “I’m not a great watcher of my team to be honest. It was hard not being involved. I missed the best part of last season with the last quarter when all the big games are. I missed the Cup final and that was disappointing. We were playing so well but obviously as we got closer and closer to the final hurdle we weren’t getting the results we wanted to get. It really put that bit of pressure on everyone. There was so much expectation from the fans and ourselves really that it was pretty difficult to get a result anywhere at the time. We fell over the line. The first trophy is the hardest one to win and we definitely made hard work of it over the last month of the season.”

Having missed out on playing in that crucial last quarter, Murray worked hard during his injury rehabilitation with a view to getting back as soon as possible. “The injury was a pretty serious one and I needed a cruciate knee ligament operation. As soon as I had the operation, I had the goal of being back for the start of this season, which I managed to do. Thankfully the knee is feeling as good as it did before I had the injury. Pat Sullivan had done the same thing just before me so we had a guideline from him on how quickly I could come back and I just followed what he had done. The physio work was pretty hard in the off-season and coming into pre-season. Fortunately I was fit enough to get back in the team for that first game of the season which was my goal when I had the injury. It is just nice to be back playing again. I’m delighted to be playing football, being able to train and play every day, and the knee seems good.”

It has been a regular back four this season in front of Alan Mannus with both Murray and Pat Sullivan returning from injury, new signing Ken Oman and Enda Stevens along with Pat Flynn coming in when required. This stability has given Rovers 10 clean sheets in the 18 competitive matches played to date. “If you can keep as many clean sheets as we can, with the quality we have got in the attacking part of the pitch, we are always going to give ourselves a good chance of winning,” said Murray. “Fortnightly we’ve had a good few clean sheets this year and long may it continue. If we can keep getting the clean sheets, there is no doubt we will keep scoring goals because there is a lot of goals in our team.”

A number of those goals have come in midfield from Gary McCabe and Ronan Finn. It was Finn’s probing run that set up the opening goal for the Hoops in the Setanta final which was converted by Gary O’Neill. That was just part of a fine all round display which landed Finn the man of the match award to go along with his Setanta Sports Cup winner’s medal. “He has been great for us all season,” said Finn’s captain. “He has settled in really well. His running with the ball is one of his great strengths and that’s something we’ve probably added to the team from last year in the middle of the pitch. He creates a lot for other players. He is going to score a good few goals. He has fitted in really well and he has probably been our best player so far this season.”

Alongside Finn and Stephen Rice in the midfield three, was another new signing, Conor McCormack who only turned 21 during the week. McCormack put in a fine display in the final against the team from his hometown of Dundalk. “Wherever you put him on a football pitch he will do a job for you,” said Murray. “At the minute he is playing centre midfield and he is doing a great job. As soon as he came in during pre-season everyone could tell he was a quality player. Some of the trialists you get, you think no, they are no good but as soon as he came in you could see he played. He knows the game really well and is another player who fitted really quickly into the team. It is going to be hard to get him out of team with him playing so well.”

The first third of the season is now complete with Rovers sitting on top of the league, a new trophy to go in the brand new trophy room in the stadium and have a third round tie in the FAI Cup at home to come in early June. It is a nice position to be in for the club and Murray hopes the Hoops will continue to keep winning their games whatever the competition. “The four big trophies in the country are the league, FAI Cup, Setanta Cup and League Cup. At the start of the season we had eyes on competing in every single tournament. We won’t take anything lightly. Unfortunately we went out of the league cup. But when we were in the Setanta Cup in every round we wanted to get through, get to the final and win the trophy, the first one of season. It important to get the momentum of winning things. We want to keep winning every game we are playing whether it is a league game or a cup game, to keep that momentum going.”

All photos from George Kelly

We’ll never dry, we’ll keep the green flag flying high

“Don’t want to go home, don’t want to go home, this is the wettest trip, I’ve ever been on!”

We came, we saw, we didn’t conquer but we certainly gave a good account of ourselves on the sodden pitch and rain soaked away section against Juventus. Facci sognare the Ultras banner said at the Rovers home game against Juve and dream we did with Rovers getting the opportunity to take on the bianconeri in the Europa League.

It was the clichéd planes, trains and automobiles to Modena for the game which was switched from Torino due to Bono and the boys. The club had a charter for the squad, management team, admin staff and fans which came out the day before the game. Who but Rovers could fill another charter with an Airbus 380 used for the day trip (also referred to as Con Air or Snakes on a plane!). Fans flew to Milano, Bologna, Pisa & Roma to get to game, hiring cars (which SRFCTV did) or buses (which the Tallaght Hoops Supporters Club did) or just grabbed a trenitalia ticket.

There were a good few Hoops on the yellow pack flight that I was on to Bologna on Wednesday. These were the Hoops who had been quick to book on the Internet following the Rovers away win in Tel Aviv in the previous round. Modena was a short bus ride away. We checked out the medieval town centre including the 12th century cathedral which is a UNESCO world heritage site. After giving a ‘pal’ some quotes for his national newspaper article, we enjoyed a traditional pizza dinner.

All the Rovers fans staying in Modena gravitated towards Piazza Pomposa where the owner of one bar must have thought they had won the lotto with the numbers in their bar on a Wednesday night. It was a select crew including the management team, six of the board of directors, medical and physio team, club solicitor, our Garda liaison, club interpreter, his deputy(!), some St. Gallen fans (who had come down to support another team in green and white) a James Chambers look-a-like, members of the print media and RTE staff. However the local policeman didn’t care who anyone was when he came to shut the place up that night!

On Thursday morning a few of us travelled to Bologna which is a lovely city to visit in the rain as the old stone brick porticoes provide great protection from the rain. We climbed up the 486 steps of the Torre degli Asinelli which provides a great view of the city and location for Ultras stickers. On our return to Modena the Piazza Grande was now decorated with loads of Rovers flags and hundreds of Rovers fans were enjoying some al fresco refreshments in the bright afternoon sun. The policing was low key and friendly as they posed for photos and listened to the Rovers songs echo off the medieval walls.

As the fans began to gravitate towards the stadium the heavens opened and Shamrock Rumours was in full effect with discussion on the match being off, a delayed kicked off or postponement till Saturday. There was no way the pitch was playable for the first 20 minutes of the game. The Greek ref had other ideas and the players just got on with splashing around in the puddles. There was certainly no appetite for an abandonment from the 800 to 1000 Rovers (according to some match reports). In years to come the number claiming to have been there that night will rival 10,000 no doubt. Thunder rang out and lightning lit up the Modena sky above the 17,579 fans (paying €259,425 in gate receipts) who were in the Stadio Braglia stadium.

The curva ospitti was decked out with virtually every Rovers flag and despite the rain the Rovers fans were in fine voice. The rain probably leveled the playing field between the teams as the ball constantly got stuck in the pools of water across the pitch. Manager Michael O’Neill had made a few changes to the Rovers team which has been relatively settled in recent games. Murphy and Flynn came back in as full backs and Bradley joined the five man midfield.

Everyone in the uncovered away section were soaked to the bone by the time the rain eased after 30 mins or so and it looked like the game would now see out the 90 minutes (or more if Rovers could score a couple of goals). Rovers were solid in the first half and the 0-0 score at half time was probably a fair score. The half time singsong in the dry below the away stand had to be seen and heard to be believed.

In the second half Juve stepped it up. The Italian national team when they are worried about a tricky game move the game south. Juve had come south from Turin and then had to bring on Del Pierro to make the difference. Turner and the in form Stewert came on at half time. Juve generated a good few chances with Mannus and a last gasp Murray tackle preventing a goal.

It was a disputed free and a Italian football legend that ultimately were the difference on the night as substitute Del Piero struck a free kick in from all of 35 yards. The Juve Ultras at the far end unfurled a few banners in honour of Alex. The Rovers fans kept on singing with the “Juve, Juve, vafenculo” chant getting the ‘home’ fans a bit annoyed, I wonder why! The game petered out and so Juventus progressed 3-0 on aggregate. No shame in that scoreline unlike Bohs being eliminated by Welsh side TNS 4-1 on aggregate or the seven Bohs players involved in conceding seven goals in the friendly in Lansdowne Road against Manchester United (obviously that League XI could have done with some Rovers players but we had much bigger fish to fry).

With the day and club charters heading off straight after the game, the town centre was very quiet that night but the hotel bars did well by all accounts. On Friday morning we headed off on the train to Roma to see some of the sights and flight home but not before purchasing a few copies of the Gazetta della Sport which had extensive coverage of the previous nights match. It included a great photo of Del Piero wearing the Shamrock Rovers jersey he swapped at the end of the game. We had sung “you’ll never play for Rovers” but that photo allowed us to keep on dreaming about what Rovers can achieve in years to come. Out of Europe but the small matter of the derby on Sunday lunchtime to keep Rovers busy.

“Don’t want to go home, don’t want to go home, this is the best trip I’ve ever been on”

Captaining a new ship

Image from http://www.shamrockrovers.ie/multimedia/gallery

Article from Hoops Scene Issue 2 for 2010 (Shamrock Rovers v St. Patrick’s Athletic, 16 March 2010)

This season it is new signing Dan Murray who will wear the captain’s armband for Shamrock Rovers. The new club captain brings extensive experience to this season’s Rovers squad. During his time with Cork City, he did it all. As captain he lifted the league trophy in 2005, won the Setanta Cup in 2007, played five seasons in Europe and last season went on Cork radio to organise a whip round to pay for an outstanding transport bill to allow the team bus to travel for a fixture. In the most trying of seasons, he captained the team to a very credible third in the league with that position cemented by a win against Rovers in Tallaght late in the season. It is testament to the players and their captain that they achieved third when the club was disintegrating around them due to financial mismanagement which Dan Murray has some strong opinions on. This season he is looking forward to concentrating on playing with the aim of challenging and ultimately winning some silverware.

So it was to this man that Michael O’Neill turned to as captain during the pre-season trip in Scotland as Murray told Hoops Scene when we spoke the day after the opening league game of the season. “The manager sat me down one on one and said what do I think about being captain? I’ve got a decent amount of respect from the other players from playing against most of them for a good few years. I’ve had the experience of being a captain and that’s probably why I got the job in the end. It is a great honour to be the captain of any club and it is great to be captain of Rovers. The week away in Scotland brought all the lads close together, training was good and we didn’t lose in pre-season”.

His league debut was a hard fought 1-1 draw away to Sligo Rovers. Murray seemed reasonably happy with how the game went and wasn’t put off by the delayed kick off. “You don’t really realise how big the support Rovers have until you actually play for them. Like last night with the game delayed about 10 minutes as the fans couldn’t all get in. It just goes to show that they are so hungry and so passionate about the club. To be a part of that, and even better to be the captain, is great. We started really well until they scored a goal. Apart from the goal we were pretty confident and playing pretty well. Big Al [Alan Mannus] made a couple of great saves to keep us in game”.

The draw came at a cost with the Hoops losing Dessie Baker to a nasty injury. However, Murray is quick to point out the options that the manager can call on including Graham Barrett who led the line in Sligo. “Dessie has broken his arm. He will be in plaster which is very disappointing with Gary Twigg being out injured at the same time. You don’t mind losing one of your strikers but when two of them go in the space of a couple of weeks it is disappointing especially with a full season to go. We’ll get over it , we’ve got quality players around the rest of the team. We have to deal with it the best we can.”

Murray was club captain through some turbulent times on Leeside. Last month Cork City went out of business after a lengthy and embarrassing episode for Cork and Irish football. Shamrock Rovers went into Examinership in 2005 emerging a stronger club owned by the fans that support it. However, the Examinership process for Cork City was a wasted opportunity. It is incredible that a club that sold several players to British clubs in the recent past, receiving not far off one million euro in transfer fees, went bust. They were tough time for all the players as Murray recalls, “instead of training we were having meetings about why we hadn’t been paid, were we going to take pay cuts or wages being deferred until after the season. It got ridiculous in the end. You wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. It was horrible. You didn’t know when the next pay cheque would arrive”.

The man at the helm while Cork City sunk was Chairman Tom Coughlan. The captain and chairman did not see eye to eye and Murray was unhappy with how the situation unfolded despite assurances from Coughlan. “I didn’t have the best relationship with him to be honest on a personal level. He came in with great plans and hopes. He really thought he would be able to pull off all of what he was talking about. Sometimes, he probably had the best interest in his heart. But he didn’t know what he was doing. He thought he was a law onto his own and could do what he wanted. The players would say they would have no time for the man on a personal level now or even professionally as it got too much as the season went on. The players would have accepted knowing the true situation a lot better than he thought”.

Coughlan drafted in Roddy Collins as manager of Cork City. Collins of course is the manager who, under previous Rovers club owners, switched from Dublin City to Shamrock Rovers when the two clubs were battling each other to avoid relegation in 2004 and was relieved of duties at Rovers by the new owners the very next season. His next port of call saw him with Maltese club Floriana who he left in controversial circumstances late in 2009. Collins questioned the loyalty of Murray when the Cork captain left the club to join Rovers but as Murray says “we clashed right from start. He was listening to things from probably Tom Coughlan and not really taking my account of events that had gone on which was disappointing. It seemed he wanted to get rid of me as soon as he got in the club. I don’t know whether it was because he wanted to make a mark on the team or show who was boss but that’s what it felt like from the start. It was a clash of personalities. He probably thought he was more important than anybody in Cork and didn’t respect what people were saying about me. He listened to what Tom was saying and I think Tom from a very early point told Roddy he wanted to get rid of me”.

Murray remembers well the game last season when Cork City defeated Rovers 2-1 to effectively end Rovers’ challenge for the league title. The Cork squad that day were waiting to see had they been paid before they left for Dublin. “A few people keep bringing that game up! It was a weird day as we got up there late and went a goal down with Sully [Pat Sullivan] scoring after five minutes. After that it was a great atmosphere. We played one of the best performances of the season with Billy [Dennehy] scoring a great goal to set us on our way”.

Of course Dan Murray is not the only former Cork player at Rovers and this helped his decision to sign for the Hoops. “It made it even easier speaking to Sully [Pat Sullivan who joined Rovers from Cork last season] before I signed. Billy went up and Danny Murphy signed at the same time as me. It has been easier to settle in as there is a few of us you already know. All the lads made us feel really welcome right from the start”.

He has some fond memories of playing in Cork. None more so than winning the league title in 2005 under the management of Shamrock Rovers legend Damien Richardson. “When we won the league it was a great feeling and the highlight of my career. It was a great time when we won the league when Damien was manager. We got on very well with the captain/manager relationship. He respected you and respected what you could bring to the table. He listened and got the best out of the players. His programme notes were as good as his team talk! We sometimes had to have a little discussion between the players on some of the words he used! He had his way of getting his point across. Reading in the paper and listening to him on the telly he hasn’t changed much from when he was a manager. It is entertaining for the people reading and watching but the players knew what he was after”.

And what of Murray’s status as all time record goalscorer for Cork City in Europe? “Yeah on the dizzy heights of four goals! A plus of signing for Rovers was to get to play in Europe. It is a great chance to show yourself against foreign teams. You feel like a top class player when you travel away and it’s as close as you feel to being a Premiership footballer. The squad we’ve got this year is suited to Europe. The manager has gone for quality with a fair bit of experience with people who have won trophies and have been challenging for titles. The players, as well as the supporters, are hungry for success. The club is ready to win something and that will bring the club onto another level. I think now I’m at a club where I can hopefully lift a few more trophies, the biggest one being the league title”.

Tonight is the first home league game of the season with Rovers hoping to kick start their league campaign with a win against St. Patrick’s Athletic. Everyone at Rovers hopes the team can go one step further than last season and claim the title. The Shamrock Rovers captain has certainly been looking forward to tonight’s game and the season yet to unfold. “It was the first thing I looked at when we got the fixtures, who the first game at home was going to be. It’s a Dublin derby against Pats and I’m sure there will be a massive crowd for the first game. We need to make Tallaght a difficult place for the other teams to come to and we need to win as many games as we can at home. Belief in the squad is massive and we believe we can mount a real challenge again this year. As a player, I want to play as many games as I possibly can for the club. I’m as hungry as the rest of the team to get silverware. The lads are probably a little bit sick of being called potential champions and the next best team after Bohs. We want to be the best team, we want to be spoken of as champions and that only comes by winning things. That’s the goal at the end of the season. If we’ve not come close in all the competitions we enter, it would be a massive disappointment because the quality is there to really put a great challenge together”.