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No Christmas in July – Postcard from the Arctic Circle

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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.”

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late goals are bad for your vision

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

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

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

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

Pyro in Dalymount ahead of kick off

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3570

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

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

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

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

Front cover Tallaght Time

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

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

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

Article published in Hoops Scene 2014 Issue 4

The Rice Review

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

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

Photo by George Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Billy from the Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by George Kelly

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

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

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

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

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