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Kenny pleased with second half comeback


http://www.extratime.ie/newsdesk/articles/7907/

Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Kenny had to be satisfied with a point from their game with Bray Wanderers in the Carlisle Grounds on Friday night. Rovers had a very poor first half and found themselves 2-0 down at the break. However, in a much-improved second half, they scored two and could have claimed a winner.

The visitors might have been going in at half time just a goal down as, just before the break, Gary Twigg earned a penalty for the Hoops. Darren Quigley saved Twigg’s penalty before Billy Dennehy put the ball in the net on the rebound. But referee Paul McLaughlin ruled it out to the confusion of many in the ground.

Speaking to extratime.ie after the game, Stephen Kenny was able to confirm that a free out was “given for encroachment” by a Rovers player. If Twigg had scored with that encroachment, the rules state the penalty would have to have been retaken. As the penalty was missed, the referee was correct in awarding a free to Bray.

The supporters on the night spent much of half time discussing these penalty infringement rules but Stephen Kenny was plotting with his team how they could turn around the two-goal deficit. Kenny asked for his team to step up physically, especially in midfield, and they responded with a much better performance in the second half

“The midfield area was problematic in the first half,” admitted Kenny, “but in the second half it was much much better. We had to believe in ourselves and be physically stronger. I felt we had the capacity to get back into the game as we have the ability to score goals and create chances. We were much stronger in the second half.”

Additional strength was provided by second half substitute Daryl Kavanagh who played a key part in both of Shamrock Rovers goals. Just after the hour mark Kavanagh replaced Gary O’Neill who had taken a knock to his ankle. Having scored his first goal for the Hoops in last week’s 6-0 win over Dundalk, Kavanagh first got a touch to play the ball into Ronan Finn for Rovers’ opener. He then held off a couple of Bray challenges in midfield before sliding a ball through to Gary Twigg who got the equaliser eight minutes from time.

“Daryl had a good energy and gave us a good impetus,” said Kavanagh’s manager. “He did well for us getting us back into the game. The two goals we got were outstanding goals but the disappointment was that we couldn’t get the third goal that we needed.”

Shamrock Rovers now face into back-to-back games against Derry City. The Hoops travel to the Brandywell on Monday night for the second leg of the Setanta Sports Cup semi-final 3-0 down after the first leg. They will then play Derry again, this time at home, in the Airtricity League as Stephen Kenny faces the team he managed last year. “We’ve got Derry on Monday and Friday. Monday is a tall order. Friday is a big one as we need to get back to winning ways in the league.”

Bray Wanderers 2 – 2 Shamrock Rovers

http://extratime.ie/fixtures/detail/17893/2/

Shamrock Rovers were lucky to escape from their trip to the Carlisle Grounds in Bray with a 2-2 draw. Kieran ‘Marty’ Waters scored both of Bray Wanderers’ goals. However, his first half goals were cancelled out by Ronan Finn and Gary Twigg, who got the equaliser for Rovers eight minutes from time.

Bray Wanderers dominated proceedings in the first half. Dane Massey and Waters were constant thorns in the visitor’s sides. Massey went close after just three minutes when his shot hit the side net. Rovers could have conceded a penalty 10 minutes later as Conor McCormack’s hand flicked away a ball that Waters had lifted inside the Rovers right-back.

Some nice build up play from Bray saw Adam Hanlon get down the Rovers right. He played a dangerous ball into the box and Jason Byrne stepped over it to allow Waters get a shot away. Oscar Jansson saved that shot but could do nothing four minutes later when Bray opened the scoring. It was a great move with some lovely linked up play between Massey and Byrne. Massey played in Waters whose crisp left foot finish hit the back of the net from the edge of the box.

Rovers finally came into the game on the half hour mark with Gary McCabe floating in a couple of crosses but first Chris Turner and then Gary Twigg wasted headed chances.

On 35 minutes Rovers keeper Jansson came running out of his box to head a Bray through ball clear. McCabe picked the ball up for Rovers but was sloppy in possession allowing Waters to try a speculative shot from 40 yards that went over the bar.

Two mintues later Wanderers double their lead with Waters getting his second of the night. Dean Zambra passed to Waters wide on the left. He showed great skill as he cut inside Craig Sives and with his right foot slotted the goal away nicely.

Controversy reigned just before half time. Gary Twigg was fouled by Pierce Sweeney in the Bray box and referee Paul McLaughlin pointed to the spot. Twigg put it away but the ‘keeper and referee were not ready. The ref was busy sending off Keith Long from the Bray dugout as he protested over the penalty concession. When eventually Twigg retook the penalty, it was saved by Darren Quigley. Billy Dennehy slotted the rebound home but he had encroached into the area. As the penalty had been saved, the ref ruled that it wasn’t goal and play was restarted with a free out to Bray.

Bray looked to protect their lead in the second half and defended resolutely until they were picked apart by Rovers on the break. Second half substitute Daryl Kavanagh slotted Ronan Finn in on goal in the box. Finn’s fine finish low to Darren Quigley’s left made it 2-1.

Bray’s discipline began to let them down. Jason Byrne picked up Bray’s fourth yellow card when he conceded a free in a dangerous position. Dennehy’s free beat the wall but not Quigley in goal who claimed it at the second attempt.

Daryl Kavanagh provided great impetus for Rovers when he came on and he set up the equaliser. He picked up the ball in midfield and holding off a couple of Bray challenges played the ball to Twigg in the box. Twigg took once touch and tucked it away to make it 2-2.

Rovers had one final chance to get a winner that they really wouldn’t have deserved. McCabe picked up a return ball thanks to Finn’s flicked back heel but the winger shot high over the bar as the game ended in a draw.

Bray Wanderers: Darren Quigley; David Webster, Danny O’Connor, Pierce Sweeney, Kevin Knight (Adam Mitchell 83); Adam Hanlon, Dane Massey, Dean Zambra, John Mulroy, Kieran Marty Waters; Jason Byrne (Daire Doyle 86).
Subs not used: Brian Kane, Stephen Last, Graham Kelly, Jonathan Kelty, Anthony Bolger.
Yellow Cards: John Mulroy (52), Dane Massey (58), Darren Quigley (60), Jason Byrne (75).

Shamrock Rovers: Oscar Jansson; Conor McCormack, Craig Sives, Ken Oman, Conor Powell (Aaron Greene 79); Gary McCabe, Chris Turner, Ronan Finn, Billy Dennehy; Gary Twigg, Gary O’Neill (Daryl Kavanagh 64).
Subs not used: Reyaad Pierterse, Sean Gannon, Graham Gartland, Stephen Rice, Dean Ebbe,
Bookings: Conor Powell (41), Ronan Finn (56).

Referee: Paul McLaughlin.
Attendance: 1,500 (estimate).
extratime.ie Man of the Match: Kieran Marty Waters (Bray Wanderers).

The Rice Review

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

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

Photo by George Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Billy from the Kingdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by George Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

Flancare Park faithful dream of return to topflight football

February 27, 2012 Leave a comment

Longford Town Season 2012 preview for extratime.ie

http://extratime.ie/newsdesk/articles/7466/longford-town-preview-2012/

Last season: Sixth (First Division)

In: Noel Haverty (St. Patrick’s Athletic), Karl Bermingham (Shelbourne), Craig Hyland (Shamrock Rovers), Gary Shaw (Bray Wanderers), Colm James (Shelbourne), Alan Kirby (Sligo Rovers)

Out: Jean Biansumba (Released), Thomas Hyland (Released), Alvin Rouse (Released), Darragh Satelle (Released)

Manager: Tony Cousins

Stadium: Flancare Park

The landscape in this season’s First Division is very different from last year. Longford Town will be hoping that they can capitalise on these changes in their bid for promotion. With former First Division heavyweights like Shelbourne and Cork City, along with Monaghan United, now in the Premier Division, and only seven other teams in the league, Longford are expected to be challenging at the top of the, admittedly small, table.

However, Limerick FC are the odds on favourites for the one available automatic promotion spot following some eye catching signings including former Irish international Dominic Foley. Meanwhile, Longford also have their own international player in their squad with Keith Gillespie, capped 86 times for the North, signed up for another season. Whilst top spot may be beyond Tony Cousins’ Longford side, a finish in second or third spot will give them a shot in the promotion/relegation playoffs, most likely alongside Waterford United.

Most of last season’s squad has been re-signed and Cousins has also made some good acquisitions for ‘The Town’ during the close season. Longford fans are delighted that the experienced Alan Kirby, signed from Sligo Rovers, has returned to the club where he won two FAI Cups earlier in his career. Longford’s success could well depend on Kirby and Gillespie building a good midfield partnership with expectations high for both players.

Cousins has added further experience with former Shelbourne player Colm James coming in from Shelbourne, like Kirby, for his second spell at the club. Texas born Jamie Duffy, winner of the First Division title with both Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk, has signed from Newry City adding to the creativity in midfield on the pitch and the vocal talent off the pitch (Duffy is a member of boy band ‘Boulevard’!).

Cousins has signed strikers Gary Shaw and Karl Bermingham who scored over 25 league goals in the First Division during two seasons with Monaghan. This should help overcome their goalscoring problems from last season when they could only score 38 goals in 30 league games with their top goalscorer coming from midfield as Mark Salmon got 10 goals.

The pieces are all there for Cousins to build on and there would be real disappointment if his team didn’t make the playoffs at least. The Flancare Park faithful are dreaming of a return to topflight football with Longford beginning the campaign away in Fahy’s Field against Mervue United.

Northern Exposure to the League of Ireland

January 5, 2012 4 comments

On his appointment as the new Northern Ireland manager, Michael O’Neill has made it clear this week that he will be looking to maximise the use of the small player pool available to him. O’Neill will attempt to stop the trickle of players born in the North, some of whom have played under-age football for Northern Ireland, switching their allegiances to Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland team. O’Neill has spoken about tempting former Northern Ireland under 21 international James McClean back to the North after last year he pulled out of a Northern Ireland senior squad saying he wished to play for the Republic of Ireland team.

The issue of players who were born in Northern Ireland declaring themselves available for the Republic is a thorny one. The Irish Football Association (IFA) went all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne to try and prevent FIFA’s ruling on players being born in the North playing for the Republic. It is particularly galling for the IFA to see players who are capped at underage level for them moving to play for the senior Republic of Ireland team. This issue has elements of politics and probably religion wrapped up in it with the singing of God Save the Queen as the anthem played at Windsor Park and the Good Friday Agreement being parts of the debate. A Great Britain and Northern Ireland team will take part in the football tournament at the London 2012 Olympics but the football associations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have not backed the team for fear of jeopardising their separate teams in UEFA and FIFA competitions.

Photo by George Kelly

Having been appointed Northern Ireland manager after successfully winning back-to-back League of Ireland titles with Shamrock Rovers, Michael O’Neill will look to cast his net to include player’s currently plying their trade in the League of Ireland. O’Neill was critical of his predecessor Nigel Worthington for not calling up League of Ireland players to the North’s squad for last summer’s Carling Nations Cup competition held in Dublin. Back then, Alan Mannus was O’Neill’s goalkeeper at Shamrock Rovers. Mannus’ superb form for Rovers in 2011 earned up a move to SPL side St. Johnstone in August but it couldn’t get him a spot in the Northern Ireland squad when he was at Rovers. “I would be disappointed that playing at Shamrock Rovers diminished Alan Mannus’ opportunity to play internationally,” said O’Neill back in July. “I did find it strange that Northern Ireland had six players in the Carling Nations Cup with Irish League experience and then there was the likes of Alan Mannus and James McClean of Derry that have both been in the Northern Ireland system but hadn’t been picked.”

However, as soon as Mannus had left Shamrock Rovers, even though he didn’t play a game for St. Johnstone, he was straight in the Northern Ireland squad. Mannus himself told of how Worthington gave him the impression that he needed to be playing away from the League of Ireland before he would be getting a call up for the North. “When the Northern Ireland manager (Nigel Worthington) spoke to me, he said in his words the fact that I’m not in England or Scotland doesn’t help me,” recalled Mannus last season. “I don’t think they pay too much attention to the League of Ireland. I know that he really wants players to be in England or Scotland. It is a case of even if it is Scottish First Division or League Two in England, they will still choose them ahead of lads in the League of Ireland and the Irish League”.

Shamrock Rovers player Chris Turner may be hoping that his former club boss will be in touch with him about a call up to the senior squad. Turner captained the Northern Ireland u21 team but has yet to get a senior cap. At Rovers this year, the 24 year old won the League of Ireland, the Setanta Sports All-Ireland Cup competition and qualified for the Europa League group stages. Turner’s crucial goal in Rovers’ opening game in Europe ensured the win over Estonian Champions Flora Tallinn setting Rovers on their way in Europe where he played 10 European games. His former team-mate certainly thinks he could do a job for the North. “I don’t necessarily think that the players in the squad are better than those playing in the League of Ireland like Chris Turner,” said Alan Mannus previously. “I’ve seen people come in from the Irish League in the same position in midfield and they weren’t any better than the likes of Chris Turner.”

Turner himself has spoken about the situation of League of Ireland players and the Northern Ireland international squad. “I obviously played the whole way up through from schoolboys up to the u21s but I’ve never been close to getting into the full national team,” said Turner last season of his time with the international set up in Northern Ireland. “I don’t think the league here gets enough recognition. I don’t even know if anybody comes down to watch any of the games. There are a number of players who could play for Northern Ireland like myself, Alan Mannus, Ruaidhri Higgins and a few of the Derry lads last year. There are players in this league more than capable of playing international football.” You would imagine that Michael O’Neill, who will be based in Northern Ireland, will be keeping a greater eye on talent available to him in both the League of Ireland and Irish League than his predecessor.

Photo by Bobby Best

Returning to the recent move of James McClean from Derry City to Sunderland, it is a case in point about the calibre of players in the League of Ireland. McClean made his debut for the Black Cats in their 1-0 win over Manchester City on New Year’s Day and followed it up by scoring two days later in a 4-1 win over Wigan. Subsequently, there have been calls for McClean to be rushed into the Republic of Ireland squad, probably more so now following O’Neill’s words this week about looking to change McClean’s on playing for the North. Turner spoke last season about this strange situation of players suddenly becoming good enough to play international football just because they make a short flight or ferry ride across the Irish Sea. “You just have to look at some of the players who were playing here in the League of Ireland,” said Turner. “Once they get a move, they get called up. They don’t become a better player overnight. They were always a good player whenever they played in this league. Just because you get a move over the water to England or Scotland it doesn’t necessarily make you a better player.”

It will be interesting to see how far O’Neill will go to encourage players to play for Northern Ireland. He spoke this week about asking players who had quit international football to return. Will he look to bring ‘granny rule’ players in who are plying their trade in the SPL or English football? Or maybe bring in a naturalised Northern Ireland man? Possibly Shamrock Rovers star striker Gary Twigg may be eligible and O’Neill knows all about the striker who has scored 66 goals for Rovers in the last three seasons! Whatever he does, O’Neill knows he has a tough task ahead of him as his side faces into qualification for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 in a group including Russia and Portugal. Ensuring he has a squad with as high a number of quality players will certainly help him as he cuts his teeth in international football.

Heaven 17

October 27, 2011 Leave a comment

When the alarm eventually roused me from sleep on Wednesday morning, the first thing I felt was still very tired but I quite quickly remembered the reason for the late night the previous evening. We’d only gone and bloody done it, Shamrock Rovers had won the league, picking up our 17th title! We were still champions and will be in the Champions League qualifiers next July.

Typical Rovers though – we did it the hard way! Can you believe the story of a 94-minute winner from a substitute playing his first game since August scoring his first league goal of the season to wrap up the league? You couldn’t make it up!

It had looked like we were going to have to wait till Friday in our final league game to see if we could clinch the title. That would have meant a nervy build up to the last game but two pitch invasions later and we weren’t worrying about that. Flooding, fixture congestion or the flashing of yellow and red cards won’t now prevent us on Friday from getting our hands on the trophy.

The 24-hour postponement due to the rain deluge on Monday allowed our players get an extra days rest. A quiet night in maybe for them or a quiet trip to the cinema? That may have been the plan after Monday’s game had been postponed but as it turned out Dundrum Shopping Centre was not the ideal replacement venue for some of the squad who got caught up, and one player lying down, in the floods!

2,552 fans made it to the UCD bowl on Tuesday night and probably 2,500 were Rovers fans and they packed the stand spreading out around the pitch. The stand was full 45 minutes ahead of kick-off. UCD, who had conceded 23 goals in the five encounters with the Hoops so far this season, were determined to ‘rain’ on our parade. Both sides had chances in the first halt but it remained 0-0 at half time.

Referee Neil Doyle produced a soft second yellow card for Craig Sives early in the second half leading to an early bath for the Scotsman leaving Rovers to try and get the required win with only 10 men. Manager Michael O’Neill brought on Ken Oman for only his second game since July due to injury and it was the substitute who opened the scoring with a classic run and header from an in-swinging corner. Game over or so we thought but a lapse in concentration allowed UCD to equalise just two minutes later from a corner of their own to set up a nervous ending.

With 10 minutes remaining, O’Neill threw on Dean Kelly for his first game since early August. The player has been suffering from a nasty injury called Gilmore’s Groin and had yet to score in the league this season. He had come as close to scoring as possible in the derby against Bohs but Gary Twigg had won the argument over which of them got the last touch for winner that night! It couldn’t have been scripted any better then when, with the four minutes of injury time just up, Kelly pounced to tap home the winner from a deflected Stephen O’Donnell shot.

Photo by George Kelly

Cue a massive pitch invasion including fans and players from off the bench. Even Richard Brush joined in – sprinting from his goal over to the far corner to join in the mayhem. There was still time to UCD to threaten the Rovers goal but the defence stood firm. There were amazing scenes at the end with the players slowly making they way off the pitch to hugs, kisses and back slaps from the fans. They eventually gathered along the steps between the pitch and the dressing room to celebrate as a squad together and with the fans.

The stadium took an age to empty as fans drifted off with smiles on their faces and pride in their hearts with their team having collected back-to-back league titles. Before I left I grabbed myself a souvenir of the pitch as old habits die-hard for me. A small piece of Belfield turf is planted in the front of my house beside the bit from the Carlisle Grounds I brought home from last season’s title win. I won’t be on the pitch on Friday in Tallaght as, with a Europa League game to come just six days later, the pitch will need all the protection it can get following the recent rain.

On my way to Ranelagh where we were meeting friends to celebrate the win, I took a detour down the Milltown Road. There, someone had already beaten me to it and had wrapped a scarf around the monument that stands outside our old home of Glenmalure Park. It was in Milltown that we won four in a row but now we are making new history in Tallaght where we can now say we have won two in row. It is an amazing time to be a Rovers fans. The highs we are currently experiencing are made even better due to the comparison with the perilous low moments. It does mean we are going to enjoy everything that is coming our way at the moment and long may it continue.

The Sheppard Network

The Shamrock Rovers manager has a wealth of talent to call upon in the striking department. As well as the league’s top goal scorer for the last two seasons Gary Twigg, manager Michael O’Neill has three other strikers to pick from and all three were new players signed ahead of the start to this 2011 season. In Gary O’Neill, the Rovers manager has a player who it is apparent he has long admired and in Ciarán Kilduff, O’Neill welcomes back a player to the Hoops that he was sorry to see leave for UCD a couple of seasons ago. Making up the quartet is Karl Sheppard, who has scored some crucial goals so far this season with nine in total and this includes the winners in 1-0 wins over Bohemians, Sligo Rovers and his former club Galway United.

With Galway last season, Karl Sheppard played all bar one of United’s 36 league games. He finished Galway’s joint top scorer on eight league goals alongside another of Rovers’ 2011 acquisitions, Stephen O’Donnell. Both Sheppard and O’Donnell were instrumental in shaping the destiny of the last league championship as Galway managed to take 10 points from the available 12 from eventual runners up Bohemians. Even the Champions Shamrock Rovers couldn’t manage that, only claiming seven points against Bohs. So how did United manage to get three wins and a draw against the Gypsies? “Sean Connor [Galway’s manager] had us very pumped up for those games,” explained Sheppard. “We just seemed to play like we had 12 men on the park in each of those games. Even in the last game when we had four of our main players suspended, the lads still went out and beat them 3-2 on the second last day of the season. I don’t know really, we were just a big jinx on them!”

Amongst his goals this season, Sheppard has managed to score quite a few with his head. Not bad for a player that is conceding a few inches in height to teammates like Ciarán Kilduff as well as some opposition centre halves. Last season, Shamrock Rovers reputedly had the smallest side in top flight world football, second only to Barcelona! It is surprising to hear that none of Sheppard’s goals last season were scored with his head. “Last year I didn’t score one headed goal,” said the 20 year old “and this year I’ve got five headed goals out of nine goals in total.”

His latest headed goal was in the recent 6-1 win over UCD in Belfield. It was a match that took a while for Rovers to get going in but when they did UCD were on the receiving end of Rovers’ most comprehensive win of the season so far. “Up until Twiggy [Gary Twigg] scored, it looked like it was going to be a difficult night. Once Twiggy got the goal then we kind of knew that the game was over because our defence has been top notch this year. We kept pushing on to get an extra few goals and thankfully I got involved and I got one of them. It is always nice to get on the score sheet.”

Everyone was keen to get in on the act especially in the second half when Rovers wingers Billy Dennehy and Gary McCabe got behind the UCD defence to fire in crosses against a team who were down to ten men by that stage. As the game reached the last quarter, Gary Twigg was eyeing up his hat-trick and Alan Mannus was eyeing up another clean sheet. But both men would be visibly disappointed with Twigg having to make way for Kilduff and Mannus unhappy with seeing a late shot sail into the top corner of his net. This fierce determination to succeed from both players shows the competitiveness that is required to be champions and even to be in the Rovers team. “Alan is a top pro and he wants to keep a clean sheet every game. Understandably him and the defence were annoyed at conceding. With Twiggy up front, strikers just want to score goals. Me and him were joking just before his number went up saying it is going to be his turn. Everyone just wanted to stay on, as strikers just want to score goals and that’s what he wanted to do. We’ve been threatening to give a defeat like that to someone because in some games the manager has been saying we’ve only been staying in third gear. That night we stepped it up an extra two gears and we really showed what we could do.”

When Twigg came off after 70 minutes, it gave the opportunity for Ciarán Kilduff to try and get on the score sheet on his return to UCD where he scored 15 league goals for the Students last season. “When you look at the squad, there is so much competition everywhere,” said Sheppard. “Once you get the chance you have to take it and to be fair to Killer he grabbed two goals and played really well when he came on. I’m pleased with how I am playing at the moment. I have six in the league now. I just need to start getting more than one goal in a game! It seems like against UCD there was a brick wall up once I scored that one. The ball got cleared off the line and then hit the post, I just couldn’t get that second. I’ll take one every game if they keep coming like that.”

Rovers fans were quite pleased with his solitary goal in late May which was the difference between the sides in the big Dublin Derby in Tallaght against Bohemians. It was another headed goal and one that Sheppard ranks very highly. “It is probably up there with one of the best moments yet in my career. It is such a big game and to get the winner is always nice. I think more importantly we were just trying to get the win as, to be honest, we were a bit disappointed when we played them in their place [in a 1-1 draw]. We obviously knew they were a big three points and we were delighted to get them.”

That win against UCD by Rovers has been followed in the re-arranged fixture list with three consecutive home games. Just three days after beating UCD, Rovers were held 1-1 at home by Derry City. Next up as the regular Friday fixture, the Hoops take on Galway United and then four days later Dundalk visit Tallaght Stadium. How does Sheppard find playing all these games in such a short amount of time? “It doesn’t really bother me too much,” said Sheppard. “I probably prefer it that way. You do get a bit tired playing but I find we have the best squad in the league so we can cope with it. It is a good place for us to go and pick up maximum points when other teams feel extra tired because they don’t have the squad to do it. I think it favours us the most in the league at the moment.”

Amongst the Rovers squad is a handy seven a side Twitter team of Ryan Thompson, Enda Stevens, Stephen Rice, Paddy Kavanagh, Ciarán Kilduff, Gary Twigg and Karl Sheppard. These are the Rovers players that have embraced social networking in the form of Twitter and Sheppard would definitely be the captain of this Twitter team with over 3,775 tweets! The first to get confirmation of Sheppard signing for Shamrock Rovers in the close season were Sheppard’s followers on Twitter who got to read ‘Just signed for Shamrock Rovers great to be on board.’ With over 780 followers, Sheppard has just 15 followers less than the Bohemians official Twitter account. No surprise that the Rovers official account (@ShamrockRovers) leads the way being just 25 followers short of the 2000 mark! “It is a bit of fun,” he says about Twitter. “It is a good place to have a bit banter with the other lads on the team and with the fans as well. It is a good way to interact with people that you don’t normally get to see day in or day out.” And does he get much slagging from opposition fans over his social network? “To be fair I do. I get a fair bit off Sligo but it gives me that extra bit of incentive when we go and play them!”

In the week that former Hoops player and boss Damien Richardson was unveiled as the manager of the Airtricity XI in the upcoming Dublin Super Cup, Sheppard engaged in a twitter debate over the merits of that tournament. Last year, Sheppard had the opportunity to line out in the first football match in the redeveloped Lansdowne Road for the league selection against Manchester United. Sheppard tweeted “Everyone slating the Dublin Super Cup, why? I got so much confidence from that last year not only cause I was selected for the Airtricity Team but also getting complements off John O’Shea gave me a big boost and playing in front of 40 odd thousand is an experience no one forgets.” Sheppard went on to tell Hoops Scene that “I see a lot of people slating it and saying that it is just a money scheme for the FAI. But to be honest it was probably one of the biggest learning things in my career. When you are going out there in front of 40,000 to play and put yourself up against the second best team in the world at the moment, you are only going to get good things out of it. People say we lost 7-1 but it was against a team who’ve been together for years and we were only together for two days. I don’t know what people were really expecting but for me it was a really worthwhile tournament.” This season’s squad will get more of a chance to train together ahead of the games they will play against Manchester City and Celtic. “That will be really helpful as last year we really only had three training sessions together in the two days,” said Sheppard. “It was crammed packed and if it is a bit more organised this time, I’m sure the league will show itself to be a lot better than what it did last year.”

Hopefully, Sheppard will not be in the Airtricity League squad this year as the aim will be for him to be involved in Shamrock Rovers’ European campaign that is happening at the same time. As the Airtricity XI was playing in the Aviva Stadium last year, the Shamrock Rovers side were carrying out their pre-match training session ahead of the competitive game against Juventus in the Europa League. This year, the Hoops make the switch from the Europa League to the Champions League. Rovers will enter the competition in the second qualifying round and will do so as a seeded team. With the draw on June 20, these competitive European matches are something that Sheppard, like everyone here at Shamrock Rovers, is very much looking forward to. “We much prefer to be playing Champions League than playing in a friendly game. One of our priorities is to get through in Europe so we can get a few rounds in it. It is a massive reason why I came to Rovers. Seeing how well they did last year out in Israel and then against Juventus as well. These are the games you want to play in. When you are playing against teams in Europe, it is a big test and it is a great place to showcase your skills on a proper stage.”

It was with Everton that Sheppard began his professional football career following his move from Shelbourne. “I had just turned 16 when I went over,” recalled Sheppard. “It was a big change from living at home to move away from your family. I learned a lot when I was over there and educated myself there football wise. Obviously I want to do really well for Rovers and hopefully if the right team comes about I’d move back over to England. But it would have to be the right move for me and the club if I’m honest. Rovers have treated me very well this year and I just want to do really well for both them and myself.”

Sean Connor signed him for Galway United when his two and a half year spell with Everton ended. “To be fair he took a gamble on me. He didn’t know much about me but he said come over on a trial when not many other teams in the league were willing to take a gamble on it. Thankfully he was willing to do it.” Sheppard has subsequently enjoyed the switch from Terryland Park to play in front of the large crowds here at Tallaght Stadium. “It is much better. Last year we were playing in front of just 600 or 700. You couldn’t really get going because there was no atmosphere. Obviously Rovers have the best fans in the league by far. People use the excuse that it is a disadvantage when the crowd gets on your back but to be honest I don’t think I’ve found that once yet. I’ve found when we’ve gone down, you get the odd moan but most fans get behind the team and that helps us push on that extra bit. You find yourself getting an extra yard or two because of them pushing you on a bit.”

Kerrygold – Billy Dennehy Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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