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Tour de Force from Lee Grace

Interview with Lee Grace in Hoops Scene No. 10 2018, Shamrock Rovers match day programme v Dundalk (1 June 2018)

As we kick off June with the clash of Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk at Tallaght Stadium tonight, the front loaded League of Ireland schedule means that at the end of this evening’s match we are already a couple of games into the second half of the SSE Airtricity League season.

That is 20 league games completed in the first 16 weeks of the season with the remaining 16 matches due to take place over of the next 21 weeks. Only one Shamrock Rovers player so far this season has played every minute of every league game for the Hoops and it isn’t really a surprise that it is Lee Grace the man from Carrick-on-Suir.

A former member of the Irish defence forces, Grace hails from the town on the River Suir where they are made of hardy stuff. On the Tipperary and Waterford border, it is where Sean Kelly was reared. Kelly is a legendary cyclist who dominated the professional era in the 1980s. His palmares, which is listed on a plaque in Sean Kelly Square in the town, includes nine of the top monument one day classic races, seven Paris-Nice wins, four Tour de France green jerseys and one Tour of Spain overall win.

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The town is also home to Sam Bennett who recently became the first Irish rider to win three stages of a Grand Tour, something even Kelly didn’t manage. Bennett also went one better than Stephen Roche who won two stages en-route to winning 1987 Giro d’Italia. Bennett, whose father Michael managed Waterford in the League of Ireland, mixes it in the rough and tumble of the bunch sprints – something that Kelly did particularly early in his career.

When Grace was growing up he played hurling, soccer and did some cycling and has been following the progress of Sam Bennett closely.

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“I used to cycle as a kid with my uncle who is mad into the cycling,” said Lee Grace when he spoke to Hoops Scene earlier this week. “I was in school with Sam Bennett so I’ve been following his progress. He was a year ahead of me in school but my brother was in the same class.

“He has been doing unbelievable. He is flying. He is the first Irish man to win a stage of a grand tour in over 30 years. Fair play to him. He deserves it. I’ve never seen a man work as hard.”

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Last week, the Hoops went head-to-head with Bohemians in a keenly contested Dublin derby at Dalymount Park that ended in a 1-1 draw. The Bohs fans ahead of kick off displayed a banner ‘The North Side’. With Bohs based north of the Liffey and Rovers south, it isn’t too far off the sporting rivalry that Grace has seen in his home town, although the rivalry is mainly between the two clubs on the Tipp side of the county boundary.

“Carrick-on-Suir is right on the border with half of the town in Tipperary and the other half in Waterford. I’m from the Tipp side. There are two clubs on Tipperary side and one on the Waterford side.

“I played for the Waterford side when I was younger and then moved to the Tipp side. The two clubs in Tipp have a very big rivalry and it is intense in the town every time they play.”

It looked like the Hoops were going to have the Dublin derby bragging rights when captain Ronan Finn put Rovers 1-0 up with seven minutes remaining. However, it was to be another late derby goal for Bohs – this one two minutes from time – that saw the points shared.

“It was a tight game and a scrappy affair,” was Grace’s assessment of the match. “There wasn’t much ball played. There were patches where we tried to play. Those derby games are always like that.

“We caught them on the break. Greg (Bolger) tried five or six of those balls in the game and he said himself that none of them came off until that one for Ronan. He got in on goal and it was a great finish. We scored and I thought we would see it out as there were only six or so minutes to go.”

However the Hoops conceded a free kick high up the pitch, one that most Rovers fans felt was very soft. “A set piece did us in the end and so it was a disappointing result. Ethan (Boyle) said he barely touched him but any contact there and they are going to go down and from the referee’s view it is an easy free kick to give.”

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Last Friday Graham Burke and Shane Supple were rivals on the pitch but both then were part of the Ireland squad that flew to France last Saturday ahead of the friendly against France.

“It is great for the both of them to get into the Ireland squad and it is great for the league as well. It shines a great light on the league. I hope they do well. For Graham he really deserves it as he is such a hard worker but he will go out and enjoy himself.”

Over the years, there have been a couple of occasions when Grace has had to choose between different sports and even different clubs as he looked to progress as a footballer. “I’m a big hurling fan and I used to play but then had to give it up to concentrate on the soccer.”

A couple of years ago there was the option of continuing his career in the Irish Defence Forces with a deployment overseas or to give full time professional football a go with Galway United at the time – an option that he eventually went with.

Whether Stephen Bradley has deployed his men in league action with a flat back four or three centre halfs, Grace has been every present even with all the matches played so far this season.

“The midweek games are grand. You are none stop and there isn’t much time for preparation. Now we have a full week to prep for this Dundalk game and that is great. We can get a bit of freshness into the legs.”

“When we have three at the back we are obviously more stable defensively as we are a bit more compact and we weren’t conceding as many goals but at the other end we aren’t scoring as many. The other way we are a bit more open but we are scoring more. I’m happy in either formation.

“We went back to four against Pat’s and we scored three that night,” said Grace reflecting on the 3-0 win over the Saints in the last home game here at Tallaght Stadium.

“We brought a lot more energy and a lot more legs to the game in Tallaght. Even in Richmond Park, I think the 2-0 defeat to Pat’s wasn’t a fair reflection on the game. The sending off for us didn’t help but even with ten men I thought we were comfortable until a couple of mistakes cost us two goals. In Tallaght there was none of that and we fully deserved the win.”

It was Grace who opened the scoring with a header off a corner and another header by his centre-half partner Pico Lopes late in the game kept a Rovers clean sheet.

“We work on that a lot in training and those clipped balls to the front post are working for us. As defenders clean sheets are what we play for and I think that clearances off the line like that are as good as goals so fair play to Pico for getting back and clearing it with that great header.”

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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.