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Euro success built from the League of Ireland

“In Ireland there is no league,” were the words uttered in 2013 by the then Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni but at EURO 2016 the League of Ireland was central to some magnificent Ireland performances in France. The results were very much built on the back of players who began their trade in the League of Ireland, with a certain former Shamrock Rovers manager leading Northern Ireland’s success.

 

When Trapattoni’s two former international teams came up against one another last week in the group stage of the Euros, it was the Republic of Ireland team who emerged on top – in a game that had seven former League of Ireland players contribute to that famous 1-0 win over Italy. Robbie Brady’s winning goal in Lille coming off a Wes Hoolahan cross will be one of the sporting highlights of not just the year but the decade!

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Players who were on the pitch for the famous win over the Italians had previously lined out in our league for Shelbourne (Wes Hoolahan), St. Patrick’s Athletic (Stephen Quinn), Cork City (Shane Long), Waterford United (Daryl Murphy), Bohemians (Stephen Ward), Derry City (James McLean) and Sligo Rovers (Seamus Coleman), with former Cork City player David Meyler also named on the bench.

 

In the days following the win over Sweden, the FAI organised a photoshoot with all eight ex-League of Ireland players in the Euro squad wearing the jerseys of their former Irish clubs. Of course, the Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane also played in the league with Cobh Ramblers.

I was lucky enough to be out in France for the tournament, sitting in the stands supporting the boys in green, and with a press pass for a few other matches as I was doing some work with extratime.ie. The day after that photocall, I went out to the Ireland training camp in Versailles.

With Roy Keane up for media duties, I thought it would be a good opportunity to ask him about the photo and was he tempted to pull on a Cobh Ramblers jersey and join in?

 

He smiled and gave a quick “no” but went on to elaborate with great enthusiasm about the crucial contribution of the league in both his own career and the careers of more than a third of the Ireland squad at the Euros.

 

“Over the years people have been quick to criticise League of Ireland football but it played a huge part in my career,” said Keane. “You saw yesterday with those lads that was brilliant, a really nice photograph.

 

“No Ramblers player there” said Keane and I thought in my own mind a pity that there were no Shamrock Rovers players in it but hopefully in years to come! “With the criticism that the League of Ireland gets, it has played a big part in these lads having a very good career, so it was nice to see.”IMG_2017

 

There were a few League of Ireland flags flown at the games during the tournament. Both the Lynch Family flag ‘Hooping since 1984’ and the ‘London Hoops’ flag were visible at the Belgium and Italy games respectively. During Iceland’s battling draw with Portugal, a Galway United Football Club flag was hung down near the cornerflag visible to everyone watching the game.

 

These flags almost seemed a novelty with their support of League of Ireland clubs rather than the novelty ‘whack a funny Father Ted slogan’ on a flag that seems to have become the norm.

 

I was on press duty in the Parc des Princes for the Germany and Northern Ireland game. Former Shamrock Rovers manager Michael O’Neill has done a superb job with his national team. O’Neill took up the role as the boss with the North soon after leaving the Hoops at the conclusion of our remarkable run in the Europa League – the competition we are back in the qualifying rounds of today.

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It is five years since we had that famous 20,000km journey through Europe from Tallinn to Copenhagen, London, Thessaloniki and Kazan. It was Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who said “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. That first single step was taken against Estonian team Flora Tallinn and crucial to that was goalkeeper Alan Mannus.

In the first leg against the Estonian champions in Tallaght, Mannus saved a penalty minutes before Chris Turner would score the only goal of the tie and set us on our way. Those early games would be Mannus’ last for the Hoops as he made the move soon after to join St. Johnstone.

Mannus was part of Michael O’Neill’s squad at the Euros, which also qualified for the knock out stages of the competition earned by their 2-0 win over Ukraine. I got the chance to talk to Mannus after his side’s battling 1-0 defeat to World Champions Germany, on a night in Paris when the North were grateful for a brilliant performance by their number one goalkeeper Michael McGovern.

 

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Mannus has been a regular in O’Neill’s ‘Norn Iron’ squads. The former Rovers boss had a tough opening campaign in a failed attempt to get to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. That meant Northern Ireland were fifth seeds in the qualification campaign for France. However, Michael O’Neill led his team to top spot in their qualifying group – the first team ever to do so from Pot 5 of the draw.

“We worked together at Shamrock and he did very well there,” said Mannus discussing his time with the Hoops under Michael O’Neill. “I’m delighted that he has done so well with Northern Ireland as I knew he was capable of that.

“The first campaign we probably played better than the results showed and in this qualifying campaign we played well and got the results we deserved and got through. I’m sure a number of clubs will be looking at him with a view maybe to take him on as manager.

“I’m delighted for him. He is a brilliant manager and understands football and that has been shown in the way we’ve played and the results we’ve got.”

Going into the last group game, the permutations were very clear for the Republic of Ireland. Beat Italy and qualify or else it was time to go home. The stadium in Lille was a sea of green with Ireland fans taking almost three sides of the stadium. With the roof of the venue closed, the atmosphere was incredible and the tension (and heat!) almost unbearable.

 

In the run up to the match, former Ireland assistant manager Marco Tardelli commented in La Gazzetta dello Sport that Irish players had “trouble handling the game tactically. They don’t get that football is also an intellectual matter, and not just about attacking and going forward.”

 

Seamus Coleman dismissed those comments ahead of the game – “I’m not really bothered what Marco thinks” – and the Irish team dismissed the Italian side with a tactical, hard pressing and physical performance against Italy. Martin O’Neill had made four changes to his starting XI, dropping Glenn Whelan, Wes Hoolahan, Ciaran Clarke and captain John O’Shea. Handed the armband was Donegal man Seamus Coleman.

 

O’Neill brought Richard Keogh and Shane Duffy into the centre of defence and they successfully marshalled the Italian attack. Ireland had left a win behind them against Sweden in Paris and it seemed the same would happen in Lille; Particularly after Hoolahan, on as second half substitute, missed a great chance in the closing minutes.

 

However, he picked up the ball moments later and delivered as good a cross as you will see onto the head of Robbie Brady. 1-0. ‘Who put the ball in the Italian net? Brady, Brady. Who put the ball in the Italian net? Robbie Robbie Brady.’

 

There were emotional scenes after the final whistle on the pitch – have we seen a happier Roy Keane – and in the stands. Speaking after the final whistle, the players were still coming to terms with the win that set up last Sunday’s game in Lyon against France. Coleman spoke about all those hours his father had driven him down to train and play with Sligo Rovers and how they are paying off now.

 

I bumped into the Cork City manager John Caulfield in the hotel I was staying in after the game and the City boss agreed that it was great to see big managerial decisions rewarded with a win! Both Martin and Michael O’Neill had made significant switches to their starting teams, against Ukraine for the North and Italy for our Boys in Green, and these were central to the success of both teams in the group stages of the competition.

 

Article published in Shamrock Rovers match day programme Hoops Scene Issue 10 – Shamrock Rovers v RoPS Rovaniemen  – Thursday 30 June 2016

 

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Not Odd but Odra

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Article for Hoops Scene 12/2015 – Shamrock Rovers v Limerick – 26 July 2015

 

Shamrock Rovers win over Progres Niederkorn in the first round of this year’s Europa League qualifers was the 14th Hoops victory in Europe – a League of Ireland record. Two of those wins also came against a Luxembourg team – the Hoops won both home and away against Spora Luxembourg back in 1966.

 

That was the first time that a League of Ireland side had done so in Europe and the Hoops have managed that feat on four separate occasions in total – another League of Ireland record. This afternoon we delve back into the recent history to recall the last time Rovers managed to be victorious in Europe in a knockout tie winning both and away legs.

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Having finished third the previous season, the Hoops qualified for the 2003 Intertoto Cup – a UEFA competition that provided an opportunity to qualify for the UEFA Cup. The Hoops, managed by Liam Buckley back then, were drawn against Odra Wodzislaw in the first round.

 

The first leg took place in the southern Polish city of Wodzislaw in June 2003. The crowd of over 3,000 fans were entertained ahead of kick off by a marching band and majorettes, with the away fans adding to the atmosphere by letting off a number of firecrackers as the teams entered pitch.

 

Tickets for the game were 20 zlotys (less than €5) and certainly the 100 or so Rovers fans who made the trip got their monies worth even if the first didn’t come to life until the final 20 minutes.

 

A slip by full back Richie Byrne on the wet pitch allowed a low cross to find Novacky who put the home team 1-0 up on 72 minutes. The Hoops didn’t let their head’s drop however and within four minutes they were level. Tony Grant found Stephen Grant who coolly knocked the ball past the advancing ‘keeper with his right foot for the equaliser.

 

Six minutes later the away fans were in dreamland – and were climbing the railings in front of them in celebration – as Shane Robinson put Tony Grant clear in on goal. The striker outpaced two defenders before slotting the ball home to give Rovers the 2-1 win.

 

“It was a real feeling of jubilation when I saw the ball go in,” was how Tony Grant described the goal and the resulting celebration with the Rovers fans. “I just had to be with the fans at that moment, to thank them for all the support they’ve given me over the last few years. I felt that we merited the win.”

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Writing in the Hoops Scene back then, Gerry Matthews described the conclusion of the game from the fans perspective. “The superb goals had us bouncing around the stand for joy. The final whistle was greeted with an outpouring of emotion not seen in quite a while.”

 

“I’m as proud as punch for the players, club and our supporters,” said Liam Buckley after the game as he reflected on the first ever victory by an Irish club over Polish opposition. “This is a great achievement by the club and that was fully merited, even if we got a rub of the green on a few occasions.”

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The win was the first for Rovers away from home in Europe since 1982. The second leg was played at Richmond Park a week later. Played out in glorious sunshine the venue beside the Camac was packed. Glen Fitzpatrick got the only goal of the game, scoring in the 66th minute, to secure the second leg victory and a ticket into the next round where they would face Slovan Liberec (the Czech side would win both the home and away legs 2-0).

 

It really was a superb home and away victory especially considering it was against a Wodzislaw side who finished just four points behind Wisla Krakow in the league. This was the first season of summer football in the League of Ireland and the Hoops boss at the time felt that gave his Irish club an advantage – something that certainly seems to be true looking at results since the switch in seasons for our league. “There’s no doubt that the fact we have played two months of our league campaign was a major help,” he said.

 

The Hoops thus became the first Irish club in 20 seasons to win both legs in Europe (Rovers’ 7-0 aggregate win over Fram Reykjavik in 1983 was the previous time to that) and those two wins by Rovers remain the only victories by a League of Ireland club against a Polish side in 10 attempts.

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So what happened to that Rovers side?

 

Barry Ryan – Goalkeeper (36)

The goalkeeper from Clare is not to be confused with the ‘keeper for the Irish National Quidditch team in the Harry Potter world. The Rovers Ryan was released by the club the season after the win in Poland after failing a drugs test. Subsequently he played for Dublin City, St. Pat’s, Galway United and Limerick, only retiring from the League of Ireland last year.

 

Stephen Gough – Defender (34)

Lives in Qatar. Assistant Manager and player with EIS Pearl Community FC who play in Division 3 of the Qatar Stars League.

 

James Keddy – Defender (42)

Many will remember Keddy for his late headed miss for Rovers in the 2002 FAI Cup final against Derry City in Tolka Park. One of a number of players from this Rovers team who crossed the Dublin divide to later play for Bohemians. He won the league with Drogheda United in 2006 and 2007. He was involved with managing Mount Merrion FC and currently works as an electrician.

 

Jason Colwell – Midfieder (41)

Still can be seen at Rovers home games following the Hoops. Son of former Rovers Chairman Joe Collwell.

 

Terry Palmer – Defender (42)

Played for Rovers from 1998 to 2004 but left to join Bohemians where he ended his League of Ireland career. Palmer is a Director with a financial broker firm in Dublin

 

Richie Byrne – Defender (33)

Moved to Dunfermline a few months after the matches in Poland. Played for Aberdeen in the Europa League group stages in 2007/08. Played for Horsham FC in the Ryman League Division One (South) last season.

 

Shane Robinson – Midfielder (34)

Won the league title with Drogheda United in 2007. Captained the Hoops on the opening night in Tallaght in 2009. Had a two season spell playing with Haka in the Finnish top division before returning to Rovers where he is now Head of Player and Coach Development.

 

Tony Grant – Forward (38)

Scored the winning goal in Poland but he will be forever remembered for his controversial move to Bohemians the following season and the Pigs Head that was thrown onto the pitch in Dalymount Park by Rovers fans in his first derby after joining “the darkside”. Another former Hoops who won the league with Drogheda United. He also played several seasons with Glenavon. Was manager of Duleek in 2014 but was replaced by Trevor Molloy (see below).

 

Glen Fitzpatrick – Forward (34)

League winner with Shelbourne and Drogheda United. Was involved in the coaching set up at Broadford Rovers in the Leinster Senior League.

 

Alan Reynolds – Midfielder (41)

Returned for two spells at his hometown club Waterford before winning the league with Shelbourne in 2006. Is now part of Liam Buckley’s coaching staff at St. Pat’s.

 

Stephen Grant – Forward (38)

Ended his professional football career the following season at the age of 27 before taking up golf full time. He is a member of the European Challenge Tour.

 

Substitutes

Trevor Molloy – Sub in both legs (38)

The former bronze medal winner with Ireland from the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship, left Rovers in 2006 for St. Pat’s before moving to play with Motherwell. He ended his professional playing career with Glenavon in 2011. He was assistant manager to Roddy Collins with Monaghan United before they left the League of Ireland. After managing Duleek last season, he is currently managing Ardee Celtic in the North East Football League.

 

Stephen McGuinness – Unplayed Substitute (41)

He was unavailable for the second round away leg against Slovan Liberec as he was getting married. He is now PFAI General Secretary.

 

Derek Treacy – Sub in second leg (44)

A one-club player, Treacy is a Shamrock Rovers legend who played close to 500 games for the Hoops. Still supporting Rovers, Treacy played in the Shamrock Rovers Pride of Ringsend football tournament earlier this month.

 

Glen Lacey – Sub in second leg

Played subsequently with Drogheda United and Shelbourne before playing non-league football with Glebe North.

 

Manager

Liam Buckley

Currently manager at St. Patrick’s Athletic where he has led the club to a league title and an FAI Cup in the last two seasons.

 

 

 

 

Hyland hitting the heights with the Hoops

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miele goes from Toon to Hoop

December 13, 2015 Leave a comment

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

My second (tier) favourite season

A Rovers return to the First Division was not on the radar for most of us. When the Tallaght era began for Shamrock Rovers in 2009, no one expected the club to be playing First Division matches here within five years. Thankfully though, it is our newly created reserve team that is lining out in the second tier of the Airtricity League this season, not our first team, with the aim of developing players that will help Rovers continue to win major trophies in Irish football in years to come.

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The move to Tallaght has brought the Hoops a nice trophy haul so far with two league titles, two Setanta Sports Cups, two Leinster Senior Cups and only our second ever League Cup win. In 2011, when we qualified for the Europa League group stages, along with retaining our league title and winning the all island Setanta cup competition, it gave me and most others Rovers fans their favourite season ever following the club.

However if you were to ask me what is my favourite year outside of the time spent here in Tallaght, you might be surprised to read that is the 2006 season. That was the only other year Rovers ever played in the First Division. The enjoyment garnered from that campaign wasn’t something that I was expecting when the club had lost their place in the top flight of Irish football for the first time ever at the end of the previous season. The tears that flowed following that play-off defeat would in 12 months time be tears of joy but a lot was to happen in the meantime.

Rovers had found themselves relegated after a 2005 season that had seen the Hoops flirt way to close to extinction. The club went into financial free-fall and was on its knees before the fans rallied around and took over the club following the High Court Examinership period. However, while the supporters saved the club, they couldn’t save the team from relegation.

There was a certain sense of renewal about Rovers when that First Division season began. Under new board room control and a new managerial appointment, only two players remained from the relegated squad, with our current goalkeeper Barry Murphy one of those players. He provided the defensive foundation, along with new captain Aidan Price, which paved the way for Rovers’ success that season under manager Pat Scully.

Scully was a determined and demanding manager who had one clear ambition for Rovers. Get out of the First Division at the very first bloody attempt but at half-time in the season opener, things were not looking great. The Hoops trailed 1-0 to Dundalk with Rovers’ young team seeming to freeze under the pressure of playing in front of the large Tolka Park crowd. As the players trooped off after the opening 45 minutes, I thought to myself this was going to be a long hard season. No doubt Pat Scully said at some strong words half-time and the players responded in the second half. The Hoops equalised, through Jamie Duffy, with 18 minutes remaining before substitute Willy Doyle got the winner in injury time much to the home supporters relief.

When Rovers came to town that season, as always we brought a sizeable away support but the visit of the Hoops always brought out the home fans. “You’re only here to see the Rovers” was a common refrain to be heard throughout the season from the travelling fans of the Hoops and Rovers got to see a multitude of away league wins, a pleasant change from previous years. The Hoops hadn’t been in the top half of a league table since 2003. In 2005, they’d only won two league games outside of the Dublin environs an improvement having had no victories the season previous to that. But this year was different as away wins were clocked up regularly; three wins and two draws from the first five away games.

There were to be no Dublin derbies in the league that year with Kildare County being the nearest away trip for the Hoops. After one away win in Station Road, the Rovers fans that were returning to Dublin by train stood on the platform in Newbridge in high spirits after a 3-0 victory. The Iarnrod Éireann official in the station wasn’t used to his Saturday evening viewing being disturbed and announced over the PA “could the patrons at Platform 2 please be quiet as you are disturbing my watching Match of the Day.” He was met with a chorus of “You can shove your English football up you’re arse!”

Just prior to that season, I had purchased my first car and I put some mileage on it that year, in what was often called the “Discover Ireland” season. We got to go St. Mel’s Park for one last time before Athlone moved to their new ground. We stood on the terrace in Finn Park beside League of Ireland legend Brendan Bradley and made it over to Galway where disappointingly Rovers got beaten twice. We watched a dour 0-0 draw in Kilkenny in the rain on the night France and Spain played out a World Cup classic or so I am told as I’ve never seen the goals from France’s 3-1 win.

The Hoops did not run away with the First Division but led by a small margin for long spells in the season and were pegged back when other clubs benefited from Rovers’ points deduction for fielding an illegible player. The squad changed throughout the season, as players fell out of favour with Pat Scully and vice versa. But his team showed its class in the cup by knocking out Bohemians in a 2-0 FAI Cup replay win in Dalymount, before the Hoops were eliminated at the semi-final stage.

Andy Myler celebrates scoring in Limerick

Andy Myler celebrates scoring in Limerick

Back in the league, Rovers manoeuvred themselves into a winning position with a crucial away win in early November in Limerick. It was a very different trip to the city in 2006 compared to their current superb surroundings in Thomond Park for both home and away fans. Back then, Limerick were playing out of Hogan Park where the corporate facilities were a 40 foot trailer with the canvass side pulled back and a few garden chairs for the VIPs available. On a bitterly cold night on Shannonside, Andy Myler’s two first half goals earned Rovers a 2-0 win and put the Hoops on the verge of promotion. Even having to drive back to Dublin without a rear passenger window, lost thanks to a rock thrown through the car as we were leaving the area, didn’t dampen our spirits that night.

Rovers ended their First Division campaign in Cobh, where they began their 2014 First Division campaign last night. The Hoop hoards descended on the picturesque Cork town with the locals maybe not knowing what had hit them. There are many tales that could be told about that final weekend revolving around double booked hotels, diverted Ryanair flights or the look on the face of the steward who opened the gate to see the size of the away supporters queuing to get in.

Barry Murphy had made a habit of saving penalties all season and he did it again on that final night but it looked like the large Rovers travelling support would not see a trophy presentation when Cobh scored after 79 minutes. But with six minutes remaining on the clock, Tadhg Purcell grabbed a precious goal, his 11th of the season, to cement Rovers as the First Division champions.

At the final whistle, the supporters myself included paid no heed to the “stay of the pitch” requests and vaulted the perimeter wall to stream onto the pitch to celebrate with the players. It was a chaotic scene that would be replicated with even more fervour in Bray four years later when the Hoops captured the Premier Division trophy.

On this night though, one supporter who was on crutches even made it onto the podium pretending to be an injured player joining in the celebrations with his “teammates” when the trophy was eventually presented. The fans sung “Rovers are back” and they meant it. The lasting memory of the night for me was Pat Scully’s speech so it was great to see it pop up in the last month on YouTube. Scully was carried shoulder high by supporters off the pitch before perching himself on the ledge of the dressing room to speak to the supporters.

A hush fell in that corner of St. Colman’s Park. Scully’s speech was short, sharp and summed up what that season was about. “This is Shamrock Rovers and we want to play football. This is Shamrock Rovers and we fuckin’ win!”

Published in Hoops Scene 2014 Issue 2 (Shamrock Rovers v Derry City)

Tallaght Time book launch

July 16, 2013 1 comment

The official launch of Tallaght Time took place in the Gala Room in Tallaght Stadium on Friday 12th July ahead of the Shamrock Rovers v Derry City game. Broadcaster, and well known Hoops fan, Con Murphy officially launched the book and it was great for the authors to have Con do the honours and to have so many friends and family there for the launch.

Con Murphy with the authors of Tallaght Time

Con Murphy with the authors of Tallaght Time

There are some more photos of the launch on the book’s facebook page here.

On the night in Hoops Scene, Shamrock Rovers’ matchday programme, there was an edited extract from Chapter Seven of Tallaght Time describing the dramatic conclusion to title battle between Rovers and Bohs in 2010 when the Hoops travelled to Bray on the final night of the season.


Chapter 7: Who wants to be League Champions? 2010 Title Run-in

A draw was all that was needed for Rovers to be crowned champions unless Bohs could put a hatful past Dundalk in Dalymount Park. It was first blood to Bohs who went 1-0 up against Dundalk after only 12 minutes. When Bray scored eight minutes later, it meant that if results stayed that way, it would be three in a row for Bohs. Gary Twigg was not going to let that happen without a fight as he latched onto a through ball from Craig Sives just before the break in Bray.

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Gary Twigg
The ball gets down the side and the boy’s slipped and I was in. I saw the keeper coming and I took it around him. I don’t know why but for some reason I let the boy get back on the line. I’d usually hit it first time. I kept taking it in. The boy was closing me and I had nowhere to go except through his legs so I took it with the outside of my left foot. Thinking about it now I don’t know how I kept so calm with the pressure! The roar that went up that night when it went in was unreal. I think there was a lot of nervous energy going out from everyone.

Stephen Rice
With that goal other strikers may have snatched at it but Twiggy showed why he was the best striker in the league.

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The Rovers fans’ nerves were eased when Twigg’s strike partner Thomas Stewart rounded off a fine passing move one minute into the second half giving Rovers a 2-1 lead while Bohs had conceded and were now only drawing their game. In the season that was in it, there was to be another twist when Gary Shaw’s diving header equalised for Bray after 69 minutes and Bohs went 2-1 up 10 minutes later. Rovers went into the three minutes of injury time at the Carlisle Grounds knowing that one more goal for Bray would mean the end for Rovers’ title ambitions.

In Dalymount Park, the final whistle went with Bohs 3-1 winners. In Bray, the Rovers fans beseeched referee Alan Kelly to blow up with a cacophony of whistles of their own. Alan Mannus had to make one final save but the referee blew up after what seemed the longest few minutes ever of injury time. The Hoops had waited 16 years to win the league but they had to wait no longer.

Rovers fans swarmed onto the pitch to celebrate with the players. Fans embraced each other with tears streaming down their faces. After all the ups and mostly downs since the last league title in 1994, this meant so much to the Shamrock Rovers fans. Nobody ever said winning the league would be easy but Rovers had managed to do it the very hard way. After 36 games, just two goals separated them from Bohemians at the end of the season.

There was a chaotic trophy presentation on the pitch. Surrounded by thousands of Rovers fans, captain Dan Murray managed to get his hands on the trophy alongside Stephen Rice to lift the coveted trophy to the backdrop of confetti and flares. In the melee that followed with fans swarming the podium, Pat Flynn was cracked over the head with the trophy, cutting his head open with blood flowing down his face. It was champagne though that flowed in the Rovers dressing room when they eventually got there.

Stephen Rice
The trophy presentation was poor but if you had to present me that league trophy in hell with fire and demons running around me, I would have taken it! It was crazy stuff. It was a massive night for the club and all of us players. It is something that we will never forget. It was incredible that some of the young fans out in Bray that night weren’t even alive when we won the last title.

Gary Twigg
What a night. If anybody says to me what is your best night playing for Shamrock Rovers, well the answer is that is the best night. That night will never be beaten for me, that was pure emotion.

The league trophy ready to be presented on the pitch in Bray

The league trophy ready to be presented on the pitch in Bray

Trevor Croly
My daughter was at the game with my mam and dad, and I wanted to stand and watch the presentation with her. I had her in my arms and I just watched the guys. I just wanted to see the lads get their reward. It was an emotional night, one of those special moments in your life.

Justin Mason
It was mayhem but who cares. It was brilliant. There was a guy in a wheelchair in front of us and he was trying to get on the pitch with two of his mates. We came down and lifted the wheelchair over the wall so he could get on the pitch! I thought Pat Flynn had head butted the trophy because he is that mad. I didn’t realise it was accidental!

Buzz O’Neill
We went into a pub in Bray and what struck me was that it was all the same faces who had been in those meetings in the Plaza Hotel back in 2005, who had gone to the High Court hearings, who had been in Cobh back in 2006 [when Rovers won the first division]. A friend was there with her Dad and I started hugging her Dad and she was saying, ‘oh, by the way Dad, this is Buzz’. Never met the man before in my life! We limped over the line to a degree but when they engrave the League of Ireland trophy it doesn’t say ‘won it by one goal’, it just says ‘champions’.

Match Facts
Two or more teams had finished level on points at the top of the table five times before in League of Ireland history. Shelbourne had a superior goal difference to Derry City in 2006 and three titles were decided by playoffs, including Cork Hibernians’ 3-1 win over Shamrock Rovers in 1970/71.

15 Rovers players won the first League of Ireland medal of their careers that night. In the modern era, seven players have won the Premier Division with three different clubs. All of them played with Rovers and, with the exception of Joseph Ndo and Colin Hawkins, they all won a title at Rovers – John Coady, Mick Neville, Paul Doolan, Neale Fenn and Gary O’Neill.

© Macdara Ferris and Karl Reilly / The Liffey Press (2013)

Tallaght Time, published by The Liffey Press, tells the remarkable tale of Shamrock Rovers’ recent history since the club moved to their new home told through the words of those closely involved; Rovers officials, players and fans. In depth interviews were carried out specifically for the book with a number of Rovers officials and players including Gary Twigg, Stephen Rice, Dan Murray, Trevor Croly, Stephen Kenny and Jonathan Roche amongst many others.

The book describes the many magical nights since the Hoops moved to Tallaght such as Cristiano Ronaldo making his debut for Real Madrid against Rovers; the visit of Alessandro Del Piero and his star-studded Juventus team and winning their first league title since 1994. The book also charts Rovers’ extraordinary 2011 European campaign including the never-to-be-forgotten win over Partizan Belgrade in Serbia and the trip to White Hart Lane.

The book is 320 pages in length with over 70 colour photos by club photographers Bobby Best and George Kelly and includes historical inserts and detailed appendices with results, appearances and scorers for all Rovers matches from 2009 to 2012.

Tallaght Time is available from the Shamrock Rovers megastore, online and in Easons, Reads and Dubray Books.

Front cover Tallaght Time

 

Pulling on the Green Jersey – the best fans in the world?

It was an incredible sight to see. It was a sea of green, jumping up and down rhythmically on all sides of the ground, backs to the play, singing and supporting their team. It was close to 30,000 Ireland fans doing the “Poznan” at the European Championship against Italy supporting their boys in green.

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There was a small pocket of Italian fans in the corner supporting the Azzuri. They probably had just 10% of the numbers supporting Ireland. At the end of the game the Italian players (as did the Irish players) showed their appreciation of the atmosphere generated by the Irish supporters during their lap of honour. It was clear from Italian captain Gianluigi Buffon’s expression that the goalkeeper was impressed by it all giving the Irish fans multiple thumbs up.

Spain, current World and European champions, could muster only a fraction of the Irish support in the game in Gdansk that will be remembered of course for the 4-0 result for Spain. It will also be remembered for the fantastic rendition of ‘The Fields of Athenry’ by the Irish support at the conclusion of the game. The best supporters in the world they say. They may say it but I don’t believe it.

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While John Delaney, the FAI, the PFAI and the Green Army were out supporting the national team in Poland, at home another League of Ireland club ceased to exist, their results “expunged” for the season. Monaghan United went to the wall on Monday, not that too many noticed.

What other league in Europe has a club just disappear mid-season? The United Chairman stated the lack of a main sponsor and the dwindling support that forced their hand. Monaghan have been playing in front of average crowds of around 600 but had one game where less than 200 paid in. Over 25,000 Irish fans made it to Poland for the each of the three Ireland games. That 25,000 figure would represent the total gate over a whole 16 home game League of Ireland season.

Compared with every other squad in Poland and Ukraine, the Irish squad at UEFA EURO 2012 was unique in that we had no players from our own domestic league. I’m not advocating that we should have League of Ireland players in the squad for the sake of it but it does say something about the state of Irish football that there were no players from our own league.

People say they won’t go to the League of Ireland as the standard isn’t good enough with the league being “rubbish”. Results in Europe over recent years would dispute this and I’m not just talking about Shamrock Rovers’ qualification for the group stages of the Europa League. Six of the original squad called up by Giovanni Trapattoni played in the League of Ireland; Kevin Doyle, Shane Long, Stephen Ward, David Forde, James McClean and the injured Keith Fahey. As an aside the last time Ireland played in Poland in 2005, the squad did contain one league of Ireland player, Jason Byrne.

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The fact is though that if fans don’t come through the turnstiles in sufficient numbers in Ireland the game cannot progress. The aim should be for players to emerge through the League and not just get farmed off to the UK at 15 in the hope that they will make it. If players are good enough, they will get the chance to play on higher stage like those players in the Ireland squad who progressed from the League. A certain Roy Keane began his playing career in the League of Ireland with a club, Cobh Ramblers, which have since dropped out of the league due to financial issues.

Just last month, I travelled up to Gortakeegan for my first and, as it now turns out, my last visit to Gortakeegan. Getting petrol in one of the M1 service stations I looked around and saw a car full of lads in blue track suits. Inside were a few more and then I spotted their manager, Roddy Collins. It was the Monaghan team travelling up from Dublin where they lived and trained for their home game in Monaghan. I was reliably informed that United had just one local player in their squad. Maybe this was one of the myriad of reasons the Monaghan public shunned going to see their recently promoted team in the Premier Division of the Airtricity League.

Clubs will prosper if fans come in sufficient numbers to see them. If they can produce their own talent and give a sense that this team represents the area, fans will invest their time and hence their money in the team. Clubs like Cork City, Sligo Rovers, Derry City, Dundalk and even Limerick FC have great potential outside of Dublin with their catchment areas and sporting culture.

The population of Dublin can certainly support a number of vibrant teams from the capital. Shamrock Rovers are the current success story in the League but that is being helped by developing roots in the local area of Tallaght. Having a manager and three of the playing squad from Tallaght is not a hindrance either.

The League needs to continue to promote itself to try and attract new fans. No, we can’t necessarily compete with British football but we can attract some of that floating support to, in addition to watching their UK team from a barstool, get out and see some live football at their local club. We need to get the wider Irish sporting public to be patriotic, to pull on the Green jersey (or red, white, blue etc.) and support their local League of Ireland football club.