Posts Tagged ‘Juventus’

Does it Spark Joy?

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


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


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


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


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



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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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















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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


These days Coady can be found in Tallaght on match nights sitting in the stands supporting the team he used to play for, cheering on Pat Fenlon’s team who have made an excellent unbeaten start to the domestic campaign. “The results haven’t been going our way in the last few seasons. Pat (Fenlon) will find his own team and everything takes time but people need to be patient and things will be alright.”

Later in the year, European football will return to Tallaght and Coady gets a chance to enjoy the experience these days as a fan. He has made a number of European away trips in recent years. He remembers fondly the matches in 2010 and 2011 including the monsoon in Modena and the supporters singsong sheltering out of the rain at half-time.


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













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

Does your telly know you’re here?

The slick live TV presentation style with graphics, commentary team and replays give the television viewer at home a real sense of a sporting occasion. Throw in the multi-camera, super slow-mo and spidercam views and it is almost like being there. Almost but not quite.

To get a sense of what it really means to be at a game, fan footage can nearly be a better option. There is something about those shaky camera angles, foul language and those guttural screams when a goal goes in that Sky Sports just can’t beat.

Here is a top eight of Shamrock Rovers fan footage.


‪8. A million euro penalty – Partizan Belgrade v Shamrock Rovers (August 2011) 


Maybe a surprise that this video from Shamrock Rovers’ incredible 2011 season is only at number eight. Despite the grainy footage and being a long distance from the action, this is Rovers video gold. The drama builds as Hoops fans realise what this will mean if Stephen O’Donnell slots this penalty away. The screams from the small pocket of 43 fans when he scores tell you Rovers have made history and qualified for the group stages of the Europa League.












‪7. Injury time equaliser in the Dublin derby (April 2011)



‪Nobody likes to lose to their bitter rivals but that was the fate awaiting Rovers in April 2011 in Dalymount Park. Despite times call for desperate measures and that meant Alan Mannus making the journey up into the Bohs box for this last minute corner. He went up for the header but it is his team mate Ronan Finn whose touch earns Rovers a draw and the owner of the camera in the crowd a broken pair of glasses in the celebrations.




‪6. No European hangover as Gary Twigg helps Hoops beat Bohs (August 2010)



‪Shamrock Rovers returned to Ireland on a Friday morning at 5am after their 1-0 defeat to Juventus in Modena facing into a crucial Sunday lunchtime kick off against Bohemians. Rovers were leading 1-0 in the second half when their defender Pat Flynn was sent off. ‪Could Bohs capitalise on the extra man and opposition tiredness after their recent European distractions? No was the answer as Gary Twigg scored a brilliant goal with his celebration in front of the Bohs fans not overly well received by the away fans! It would be a goal that would help the Hoops win the title.















  1. He shoots, he scores, he wins Shamrock Rovers the league (October 2011)


What is better than a good pitch invasion? How about two pitch invasions! Dean Kelly’s injury time goal for Shamrock Rovers in Belfield secured the Hoops the 2011 title. Some Hoops fans celebrated the goal with the players and a couple of minutes later when the final whistle went it looks like every Rovers fan piled onto the pitch to celebrate winning back-to-back titles.










‪4. Injury time goal earns Rovers passage to Setanta Final (April 2013)



‪It looked like Cork City had earned themselves a place in the Setanta Sports Cup final. However the Hoops won a free kick deep in injury time in the semi-final second leg in Turner’s Cross. One Rovers fans felt the wall needed to go back further. “That is not 10 fucking yards,” he said. It didn’t matter as Billy Dennehy’s free kick sent the Rovers fans, who had travelled mid-week down to Cork, home happy and the Hoops into the final.


  1. Penalty save providing passage to European glory (July 2011)



‪A penalty save that would set Rovers on the way to European success in 2011. The journey from Tallaght to Tallinn to Belgrade and White Hart Lane, all came about because of Alan Mannus’ penalty save against Flora Tallinn.



2. Spurs v Shamrock Rovers…the Hoops goal (September 2011)


‪Video from the Spurs end showing Stephen Rice putting Shamrock Rovers 1-0 up in the second half of this Europa League Group game in White Hart Lane. The laughter accompanying the goal suggests it wasn’t shot by a Spurs fan.














  1. ‪Hoops half time sing song against Juventus in Modena (August 2010)



Okay, not fan footage of any action on the pitch but of fans sheltering from the Monsoon in Modena at half-time in the Europa League qualifier against Juventus. Not the most PC of lyrics but this is fan footage so what do you expect?



League of Ireland opening weekend – the view from Italy

By the time February and March comes around for League of Ireland fans, we are rested and ready for the action of the new season, welcoming the return of football with relish. There is that sense of expectation, excitement and promise about the new season.

So on the first weekend of the season I was looking forward to watching Shamrock Rovers in their season opener against Drogheda. But instead of being in Hunky Dorys Park, I was in Milan following the game on Twitter and through match updates. Maybe I’m not getting much sympathy here though!

The previous Monday my boss had dropped by my desk and asked a leading question or two. “Do you like Italian food?” Yes, I replied, wondering where this was going. “Do you like Italian food in Italy?” I had a good idea where this was leading to and it wasn’t up the M1 to Drogheda on Friday but a trip to the airport and beyond.

So the end of week was spent working out of our company’s Milan office and having to follow the Drogheda v Rovers game online when my day’s work was done. I had naturally looked up the football fixture list to see if there was some live football I could see in Milan. However, with Milan away and Inter home but late on Sunday night, I took a trip to Turin on Saturday.

In the afternoon I took the number 15 tram towards Superga, the hill that rises above Turin to the north east. On a clear day you can see right across Turin but not today. Whilst it is unseasonably warm for early March at 18 degrees, there is also a haze that prevents me from seeing even the cathedral in the city centre that hosts the famous Shroud of Turin.

It isn’t just the view I’ve come up to try and see or the Basilica of Superga completed in 1731 but it is to pay homage to the death of il Grande Torino team. In 1949, this team was lost to the mountain when the plane carrying the team crashed into Superga when it was shrouded in low cloud. All 31 people on board were killed. Torino were reining Italian champions, having won four league titles in a row. Incredibly 10 Torino players started for the Italian national team in a game against Hungary the previous season.

Behind the Basilica, there is a simple monument to the team with the names of the Campioni d’Italia listed. Beside it is a photo of the team in their famous maroon jerseys and fans have placed on the monument a few mementoes. Sadly Torino as a club never seemed to recover from the loss of this famous team and since this tragedy have one only one further Serie A title.

It is hard not to think of similar sporting air crash tragedies like the infamous 1958 Munich air disaster or the loss in 1993 of the Zambian football team (the team talked about much recently following Zambia’s capture of the 2012 African Cup of Nations). It is so hard to fathom the loss of a complete team from incidents such as these.

That evening I head out to see Juventus, a team that at times has dominated Italian football as Torino did in the 1940s. They are playing in their new stadium completed last season on the site of their old 67,000 capacity stadium. First impressions are that it is small but that is no real surprise as it is only a 41,000 capacity arena and it is not quite full on the night. The aim of the new arena for Juve was to get a compact stadium unlike the unloved old Delli Alpi stadium. Gone is the running track and stands stepped back from the pitch. Instead there is a tight stadium with tiers close to the pitch rising steeply up from close to the sidelines.

Purchased online, €30 has got me a ticket in the second tier in the Curva Nord. The roof above has four elegant curved toblerone steel roof trusses around the perimeter. Four column ties mean that it is not quite an uninstructed view for some in the ground but there are great sight lines from where I am in the top tier. Pictures of Juventus legends adorn the stadium exterior and interior including one of current Ireland manager and former Juve coach Giovanni Trapattoni.

Juventus, who are unbeaten in the league this season, are looking get a win to keep pace with Milan who won 4-0 earlier in the day. The small pocket of Chievo fans down below me to my right make themselves heard. They give it the “Juve Juve vafanculo” chant that seemed to offend the Juve fans when the Shamrock Rovers fans sung it at them when the clubs played in Europe in 2010!

The home side open the scoring after 17 minutes. Andrea Pirlo floats a free-in evading everyone but the post. The luck is with the bianconeri though as the ball bounces out to the unmarked Paulo De Ceglie who heads home unmarked. Chievo don’t really trouble Gianluigi Buffon’s goal in the second half. They force a couple of set pieces but it looks like they can’t break down the Juve defence marshalled by Giorgio Chiellini. Or so it seems until the team from Verona score on the break with fifteen minutes remaining. The ball comes to Boukary Drame outside the box and the Senegalese player’s shot is deflected into the net off a Juve defender for the equaliser.

To find the winner, manager Antonio Conte brings on Alessandro Del Piero, a player it seems who isn’t far off the age of that famous shroud housed in the Duomo. Juventus press forward during the five minutes of injury time and Pirlo gets a right foot shot away from 25 yards. The Chievo ‘keeper Sorrentino, who has got plenty of verbal abuse all night, dives full length to palm away Pirlo’s powerful shot. It is another draw for Juve, their 12th in 25 league games.

The home crowd voice their disapproval with a chorus of boos at the end. The Chievo players run to their supporters at the north-east end of the ground to celebrate. Jerseys are thrown into the away crowd as the crowd empties in the home end. I don’t understand Italian but I can comprehend the tone of the conversations on the tram back into Turin city centre. Two points dropped was the message I picked up anyway. Time to head home for me; some domestic football awaits back in Ireland!

Mannus: A Man for all seasons

In Alan Mannus, Shamrock Rovers have the best goalkeeper currently plying their trade in the League of Ireland. Last season, in addition to his league winners medal, both his own peers in the Professional Footballer’s Association of Ireland (PFAI) and the Sports Writers Association of Ireland (SWAI) voted him their goalkeeper of the year. The Rovers keeper is certainly the most decorated player at the club with six league titles, four cups and a couple of Setanta Cups collected in his time playing in both the League of Ireland and Irish League. These trophies have meant Mannus has been involved in several campaigns in the various European competitions including last year’s trip to Israel and Italy with the Hoops. Ahead of the kick off of Rovers’ 2011 Champions League campaign against FC Flora Tallinn, Hoops Scene chatted with Alan Mannus to get his thoughts on last year’s Europa League games as well the challenges of retaining Shamrock Rovers’ league title.

Bnei Yehuda was the opposition for Shamrock Rovers in their opening Europa League fixture last season. Rovers drew the first leg in Tallaght Stadium before travelling out to Tel Aviv for the second leg. “I’ve been fortunate to have been involved in quite a few European games in my time playing and it is the one that sticks out the most,” recalled Mannus of the trip to Israel. “We were drawing 1-1 before we went over and nobody expected us to get through. After the first game, the draw was made so we knew that if we got through we would be playing Juventus. Outside of the team and obviously the Rovers fans, everyone else didn’t expect us to do it and didn’t want us to do it probably.”

In the game in Tel Aviv, Mannus pulled off a string of top class saves that drew appreciative cheers from the Rovers fans that made the trip to the Holy Land. Those back in Ireland, watching the live internet stream on their home computer or maybe in one of the hotels showing the game in Tallaght, were also cheering the saves which eventually set up Rovers to win the game when Thomas Stewart scored sending Rovers through 2-1 on aggregate. “It is probably the most memorably trip I’ve been on,” admits Mannus, “due most importantly to the result and not only that but also the country as I had never been to Israel before. It was a great experience to be there. It was great how we got on as a team. The feeling afterwards in the changing room is something I will never forget. We came in and we knew we had done pretty much the impossible and we were going to play Juventus after that. I will always remember that and it is great to be part of games like that.”

The clean sheet and away goal in Israel meant that just one week later the players from the grand old lady of Italian football, Juventus, were being greeted by Rovers mascot Hooperman as they entered Tallaght Stadium. In front of the live TV cameras, it only took Juventus 3 minutes to take the lead but it would take another 72 for them to get the only other goal of the game. “I thought we did quite well,” said the 29 year old keeper. “The goal sort of killed us a wee bit with it being so early but we were always going to be up against it. We just wanted to put in a good performance. We were pretty proud afterwards. It was a great experience and great for the squad of players to be playing against them and to bring them to Tallaght Stadium for the supporters after only being there for a quite short amount of time playing in the stadium.”

The second leg was played in monsoon like rain in Modena in front of a sizeable Juventus crowd and around 900 or so sodden Shamrock Rovers fans. “I thought it would have been called off if it had have been any other situation really,” recalls Mannus. “If it had been a league game in the League of Ireland it would have been called off I think. I suppose they wanted to play with everyone travelling over. We went out in the warm up, me, Pat Jennings, and the goalkeeper coach Tim Dalton and we were standing out in the rain looking at each other, smiling and saying you have to love playing this game, you have to love football and being a goalkeeper! It made it difficult for both teams and you could see it with them that they couldn’t pass it as much as they probably would have done if it hadn’t been those conditions. I thought we gave a good account of ourselves and we kept it 0-0 for over seventy minutes.”

It was only on the 74th minute mark that the teams could be separated and it took a moment of magic from the Juventus record goal scorer and appearance maker Alessandro Del Piero. It needed to be something special to beat Alan Mannus on the night and the Italian international’s free kick from all of 35 yards was certainly that. “I’ve never had a free kick hit against me like that before and I probably never will again!” Mannus said ruefully. “He is a world class player isn’t he and that’s what can happen.”

In Rovers’ last domestic football outing here at Tallaght Stadium, they beat Saint Patrick’s Athletic to go back top of the league and end the visitors’ 14 game unbeaten streak. In the early Sunday afternoon sunshine, it was another clean sheet for Mannus and his team and he was very pleased with the whole experience. “It was a good performance against a team that at the time were above us in the league. Pats are a good team and are going to be challenging like a number of other teams are going to be. The fact that we were at home it was important that we gave a good performance and got a result that we know we are capable of. I thought we did that, we defended very well and we didn’t give them many chances. We were very solid at the back and we might have scored a couple more and the goal we scored was probably the best goal of the season so far.”

That goal saw Gary Twigg net his 10th league goal of the season as he ended an impressive 16 pass move to score. “You don’t tend to see too many goals like that with so many passes,” admits Mannus, “and not just passes but the movement which created space for other people. It will be one of the best ones of the season as it involved most of the team.”

The match was played in front of a crowd of over 5,000 and the goalkeeper could enjoy the atmosphere even from his position playing on the pitch. “It usually tends to be a good atmosphere against Pats, both away and at home. That’s what I’ve seen at my time at Rovers. It was one of the better atmospheres and they brought a big crowd. There is that rivalry between the two teams and the teams are doing quite well in the league. It is always good to play in games like that. They are the type of games you want to be playing in with a big crowd and a good atmosphere.”

The Hoops had been knocked off top spot in the previous game when they lost 2-0 away to Sligo Rovers. This was the fifth game between the two Rovers sides this season and the first game that the Hoops had not won. Maybe this was a reason that the 2-0 defeat to Sligo seemed to cause such interest around the league but it was also due to the fact that following the game Shamrock Rovers assistant manager Trevor Croly decided it was time to leave Rovers. Following the defeat the players and management discussed in detail the Sligo performance with a view to rectifying it at the next available opportunity which they did against St. Pats. “We were disappointed with the performance and the result against Sligo. I thought Sligo did very well and they are a good team. We didn’t do what we could have done. When that happens you end up getting beaten.” Talking about the post-match discussion Mannus explained that “after the game people say what they feel on how we can improve and not let that happen again. That is part of football.”

Shamrock Rovers played fifty competitive games in all competitions last season. With the exception of the ninety minutes played in a Leinster Senior Cup tie, Alan Mannus played every single minute of the other 49 games in the season where he was instrumental in Shamrock Rovers winning the League of Ireland title for the first time since 1994. That title win brings certain pressure to players, teams and clubs as there is greater scrutiny of successful clubs along with opposition teams looking to take the scalp of the league champions. However, Mannus feels that the squad are certainly up for that challenge. “I think the thing is that after last year when we won the league and did well in Europe, we are really considered the team to beat now. There is no other real team in the league that is expected to win, other than us. Obviously other teams are trying to win and want to win but really we are the only team expected to win. That is all part of being a big team.”

“If you have a bad performance and a bad result, people make a big deal out of it,” continued Mannus. “People tend to really enjoy the fact that you get beaten and you didn’t play well. In my opinion, that is all about being at a big team. Really it should be considered that this is a good thing. We are really the only team that this is being said. We are the only team that is going to get that reaction. There are two ways of looking at it. You can either let it get to you and let yourself become negative or scared. Or you can say to yourself, I’m here at this team because I’m good enough to be here and, not only that, I can deal with these things and use them as motivation to do better next week.”

“Whenever you get comments from other people when you get beaten or if you’ve not done so well and maybe things are said in the papers, you can use that as motivation,” Mannus went on to say. “Don’t use it as a negative. As a team and as individual players we need to look it as the reason I am here is that I can deal with it whereas maybe other people can’t do that. I see it as a challenge to be able to respond to a bad performance so that you can do a good job next time. We have to be at our best every week as every other team is going to raise their game against us more than they would against other teams. And if people can’t deal with it, then it isn’t the right club for them to be at.”

It certainly seems that the Rovers goalkeeper thrives on this pressure and his form, along with that of the back four in front of him, has kept Rovers on top of the league for virtually all of the season so far. It is a high standard that Mannus expects at Rovers especially of himself. This could be seen with his reaction to conceding a goal against UCD last month despite the Hoops being 5-0 up at the time. “I was disappointed as I felt I should have done better with it and I wanted the clean sheet as well. That is what I aim to do as a goalkeeper so I was very disappointed with myself as I felt I could have done better. It is the sort of thing I knew that I would have saved 99 times out of 100. It is the kind of thing we work on in training and so I was disappointed in that way when I didn’t do my job for that one second. You come so close to keeping a clean sheet and because of me we didn’t get it.”

Rovers’ defensive form meant they went half way through the league campaign without conceding two league goals in a game and that fine form is something that Mannus is proud of. “We’ve been very good. It was only in the recent games against Dundalk [in a 2-2 draw] and in Sligo that we’ve conceded more than one goal in a league game. It was disappointing and so was the Sligo game but that can happen every now and again. Up until then we really hadn’t given up many chances or goals, we’ve worked very hard as a back five and as a team to do that. I have the best back four in front of me in every position that you can have in the league. If someone doesn’t play for whatever reason someone else can come in and do a job. It must be hard for the manager to pick the team but that is the sign of a good team.”

Keep on hoping and keep on hooping

October 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Article for Hoops Scene (Shamrock Rovers v St Pats, Oct 2010, FAI Cup Final Semi-final)

With a long and successful history Shamrock Rovers are well used to winning trophies. However, in the recent past, the stories of winning trophies on the pitch have been replaced with tales of off field drama. That drama has unfolded across many acts beginning with the sad loss of Milltown. There was a sort of homecoming when the club eventually returned south of the Liffey when the Hoops picked up their last league during their time at the RDS. The saga of Tallaght Stadium came next with Rovers wandering from ground to ground and the story even descended into farce with the Hoops ending up playing a home game in Cork. The tale continued with Rovers’ near death during Examinership before the resurrection as a fans owned club which was followed by relegation for the first time in the club’s history. Thrown into the mix is the court room drama that occurred when the GAA attempted to prevent Rovers getting into Tallaght Stadium. Everybody loves a happy ending and that probably occurred when the Hoops finally got to play here in Tallaght last season. A fitting epilogue though would be to capture some silverware this year and so today’s cup semi final is an important part of this tale.

With all this in mind it is almost strange to have the main drama surrounding the club this season being matters on the pitch rather than off it. The drama this season went on tour with the Hoops taking their production to Europe during the summer. The drama of the last month or so however, is probably something that the club could have done without. This is no Film Noir but it isn’t far off as the team has gone from having the Airtricity League destiny in their hands to hoping bitter rivals Bohemians will drop points in the last two league games. This afternoon Shamrock Rovers play Saint Patrick’s Athletic in the FAI Ford Cup semi final with the prize of a trip to the Aviva Stadium on Lansdowne Road for next month’s final on offer.
Shamrock Rovers’ Europa League campaign was certainly dramatic and concluded with a cast of world class stars. The campaign started with Bnei Yehuda’s visit to Tallaght Stadium. Having trailed at half time in the first leg, it took a late cameo from Robert Bayly to “break the heart of the Israeli’s” (as the song goes) with his injury time equaliser. The result of the second leg was made even more important as the draw for the following round meant the winners would get a dream tie against Juventus. The best venue to watch that crucial tie was in the stadium in Israel but the next best was certainly the Maldron Hotel. The venue across the road from the Rovers stadium became the Mecca for fans who couldn’t make the trip to the holy land. When Thomas Stewart’s winning goal went in, there was mayhem in the stadium in Tel Aviv and in the hotel in Tallaght. Some Rovers fans in both Israel and in Ireland were wiping away tears of joy if not disbelief at the final whistle. There was an air of slight incredulity about the result as it sunk in that the most successful club in the history of Italian football would be playing the Hoops across the road in the stadium in just one week’s time.

The tie against Juventus is one that will live long in the memory. In the first leg in Tallaght, Juventus scored in just the third minute but Michael O’Neill’s men did not panic and stuck to their game plan but did eventually concede a second goal. In the second leg, it was a case of “We came, we saw, we didn’t conquer” but Rovers certainly gave a good account of themselves on the sodden pitch and rain soaked away section against Juventus. As the fans began to gravitate towards the stadium on match day, the heavens opened and Shamrock Rumours was in full effect with talk of a delayed kicked off or even a postponement of the game. There was no way the pitch was playable for the first 20 minutes of the game as the ball constantly got stuck in the pools of water on the pitch under the biblical deluge from the above. However, the Greek referee ignored the rain, which was like something from a disaster movie, and the players just got on with splashing around in the puddles. There was certainly no appetite for abandonment from the 900 or so Rovers fans that had made the journey. 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 17,500 fans that 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. Everyone in the uncovered away section was soaked to the bone by the time the rain eased towards half time with the score still 0-0. The half time singsong in the dry below the away stand had to be seen and heard to be believed. It was a disputed free kick and an Italian football legend that ultimately were the difference on the night. Substitute Alessandro Del Piero struck a free kick from all of 35 yards allowing Juventus to progress 3-0 on aggregate. As the players applauded the Rovers fans still standing in the rain they were met with the song “Don’t want to go home, don’t want to go home, this is the best trip I’ve ever been on” or was it “this is the wettest trip I’ve ever been on”!

Shamrock Rovers got back to entertaining domestic auditions following the sojourn in Europe and Tallaght was treated to some fine displays from the Hoops as autumn arrived. Eight wins and a draw from the nine games in series 3 of the league were well earned. Against Bohemians, the Hoops put in a fine performance. After going 1-0 up, Rovers had to battle with 10 men in the second half but still managed to score another two goals. This consigned Bohs to four defeats in their four attempts at beating Rovers in Tallaght. Many thought the league title was all but assured after coming from a goal down to beat today’s opponents St. Pats 3-1 in Inchicore in September. However, that was Rovers’ last away win as the team have subsequently lost three consecutive away games in matches against Dundalk, UCD and Bohemians.

Last Saturday’s game was heartbreaking for Rovers. The home side dominated the game against Sporting Fingal leading 1-0 with just three minutes to go. A string of chances were missed including a penalty when many fans queried why Clarke in the Fingal goal had not been shown a red card for preventing a clear goal scoring opportunity. The call had gone out to Rovers fans to get into the stadium early and generate maximum noise to spur on the team as part of the flag and scarf day. The atmosphere was amazing, especially for an afternoon game, with fans leaving with sore hands from clapping and sore throats from singing. However, they also left with heavy hearts as Sporting Fingal somehow managed to rob the game by scoring in the 87th and 88th minute. The final whistle was met with silence as the stunned Shamrock Rovers players and fans could not quite believe what they had seen with a win turned into a defeat at the death. The tears of joy from the win in Israel were a distant memory. There have only been a couple of occasions when this writer has slumped into his seat head in hands close to tears and Saturday was one. The previous occasion was the night in 2005 when Rovers were relegated. That night the mighty Shamrock Rovers had been relegated for the first time undone by mismanagement off the field by the old regime and mismanagement on the field by the manager who had been sacked towards the end of that season. That relegation actually resulted in a stronger club as the members consolidated the club’s finances following Examinership and replacement of the old board. Maybe the similar depression that was evident following last weekend’s defeat may spark something else positive as at least Rovers have today’s semi final and remaining league games to turn the season around.

While the league may be out of Rovers’ hands with the Hoops now relying on results elsewhere, the same cannot be said about the FAI Cup. St. Pat’s, who last won the cup in 1961, are the visitors today in front of RTÉ’s live TV cameras. While Pats did win here in Tallaght earlier on in the season, in the three subsequent encounters Rovers have emerged victorious. Michael O’Neill will be instilling as much confidence as he can muster in his team as they face into the last few matches of the season. His team must believe that they can come back from the recent disappointments and the fans must continue with the vocal support that was in evidence last weekend. Can Rovers claim one, if not two pieces of silverware, this season? Why not believe that this can happen? If you had said last year that Rovers would end up playing Juventus, only losing the away leg to a 35 yard Del Piero free kick, nobody would have believed you. Is there to be a final twist in this dramatic 2010 season? Let us keep on hoping and keep on hooping.

Defending from the Heart (Craig Sives Interview)

August 25, 2010 Leave a comment

Shamrock Rovers have had a busy July with tonight’s match being their seventh game with one more to follow before month’s end. Two of the games already played have been in the Europa League where Rovers took on Israeli side Bnei Yehuda with the small matter of the prize of two games against the mighty Juventus for the winners. Hoops Scene got a chance to talk to Craig Sives before the Scotsman flew out to Tel Aviv with his team mates for the second leg of the Europa League second round qualifying tie. (George Kelly)

Sives is enjoying his football at present and why wouldn’t he be as he has proved to be an integral part of the Shamrock Rovers team that is challenging for the Airtricity League of Ireland title. “The games are coming thick and fast which is great”, said Sives who went on to explain it does mean he doesn’t get home to Scotland that often. “Maybe if I’m lucky once or twice a month. It is hard at this time of year because of all the games that we’ve got”. As well as clubs like Juventus, Liverpool and Galatasaray in the Europa League this year, Sives was keeping his eye out for a footballing trip back to Edinburgh. “I wouldn’t mind getting a tie against Hibs”, said the former Hearts man of the possibility of a match against Hearts’ big rivals. There is a lot of attention in Ireland on Scottish football but is mostly focussed on the Old Firm rather than the two big Edinburgh clubs. “I’ve been a Hearts fan all my life so I still look for the results. If I’m being honest with you since I’ve been over here I’ve kind of lost touch. There is not a lot of coverage.”

Sives remembers his time and his former teammates fondly from Heart of Midlothian. “When I was in the U19s with Hearts I played centre half with Christophe Berra who is first pick centre half at Wolves and a Scottish international. Jaime MacDonald was Hearts’ first choice goalie when I was there. I also played with Lee Wallace and Andrew Driver. We had a decent team all right.”

Of course, Sives career has been plagued by injuries. A quick list of his injuries include problems with his back, pubic bone, groin, a double hernia and an ankle ligament tear. It was those injuries that jeopardised his career. When Michael O’Neill took over at Shamrock Rovers he got in touch with Sives following his release from Hearts after loan spells with Partick Thistle, Dundee and Queen of the South. “He gave me a phone call and asked would I meet him in Edinburgh to talk about things and see if I’d fancy coming over. I took it from there. I thought I would give it a bash. There was nothing really available in Scotland at the time just a couple of lower league teams,” said Sives who is now thankful to be talking about football rather than those injuries. “Yeah, hopefully that is all in the past. I missed a month at the start of this season through injury which was disappointing. Things that gave me trouble in the past like my back or my groin, touch wood that is all behind me. I’m enjoying playing. It is good to be up challenging for things. That is what I came over for, to challenge for leagues, win trophies and for European football which is something that I probably wouldn’t have got playing at the level I was playing at in Scotland. I’m happy enough at the moment.” (Bobby Best)

He got his first taste of European football when Tel Aviv side Bnei Yehuda visited Tallaght earlier in the month. It was a game that ended in a draw after Robert Bayly grabbed a late equaliser to spark great scenes of celebration in Tallaght Stadium on its debut European night. “It was a good end to the game. We would have taken that result with five minutes to go but having conceded a goal we will be looking to keep a clean sheet over there. They kept the ball for periods of time for quite a while. We knew that would be the case from before the game. They were pretty good at it. If we play as we did in the last few games, they couldn’t really deal with us. They were there for the taking. I certainly thought we could have got a decent lead. We certainly had the chances to get ahead. Just off the top of my head I can’t really remember Alan Mannus having a save to make.”

Sives has been slotting in occasionally as full back, including during the Bnei Yehuda game, as manager Michael O’Neill shuffles his squad to cope with the combined challenge of the Airtricity League, Europa League, FAI Cup and EA Sports cup. “Centre half is my preferred position and probably my best position. When I was in Scotland with Partick Thistle I played maybe 30 games there at right back so it is not alien to me. It is completely different to centre half. It is a different type of fitness. You are going forward and back whereas at centre half you are sideways and backwards.”

For each corner Rovers win, the centre halves will trot up and attempt to get their heads on the ball and generally cause havoc. While it took Aidan Price a few seasons to break his goal scoring duck and Dan Murray scored his only goal in the win over Galway in May, Sives has yet to get on the score sheet for the Hoops. Against Dundalk his spectacular volley from outside the box needed an equally spectacular save to prevent his first goal. “I don’t know where that came from to be honest,” joked Sives before saying, “that is part of my game I need to improve on. But at the end of the day I’m a defender so my job is to keep clean sheets. I don’t really care if I score”.

It is back to the competitive Airtricity League for tonight’s game against UCD which will test the squad who travelled back from Israel at the end of last week. However, Sives thinks that the togetherness of the squad will help in challenging the other teams around them at the top of the table. “There is a great team spirit. Everybody gets on well with each other. There are no big time Charlies. It is great to be honest. The league is very competitive. It could be anyone from four or five. Looking back we should really be a good few points clear at the top when you think of the points that we have dropped and the games we have drawn. The last few league games have gone really well and we have played really well so we need to keep going.”