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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.

 

 

 

 

On tee, Stephen Grant (@soccer2golf)

Irish golf is in rude health with four current Irish players with Major wins on their CVs and an Irishman top of the World Rankings. Hoping to join Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington playing in one of the major golf tours is former Shamrock Rovers player Stephen Grant. Grant begins playing on the European Challenge Tour this month, the tour that is just one level below the European PGA tour.

It was in 2005 that Grant made the switch from professional football to professional golf having played over 150 times for Shamrock Rovers as well as playing with Waterford United and Stockport County amongst others. In 2007, he shot a course record 64 at the West of Ireland Championship in Rosses Point leaving a certain up and coming golfing star Rory McIlroy behind him in the field!

In recent years he has been living in Florida playing in events on the US Gateway Tour. Grant shares a coach with multi-major winner Ernie Els as he works with Butch Harmon and his son Claude Harmon III. He now has his sights firmly set on a place on the European Tour and the Challenge Tour is the stepping-stone for that.

I spoke to the former Ireland under 21 international footballer when he recently returned to Ireland from Rabat in Morocco where he had to withdraw from an event on the European Development Tour due to illness. “I’ve got a tournament on the European Challenge Tour on the 10 May in France,” said Grant about the forthcoming Allianz Open Cotes d’Armour Bretagne. “I’m going to playing a number of tournaments on the Challenge Tour. If you finish top 25 on the order of merit on the Challenge Tour, you get your full European Tour card.”

The man from Birr will be hoping to get his automatic card rather than having to go to qualifying school again to attain the coveted full European Tour place. Last year, he missed out on qualification for the final section of ‘Q school’ by just two shots. “If I can’t card this way,” said Grant about the Challenge Tour option, “I can always go to Q school. The last two years I’ve been getting really close to where I need to be to get my card.”

In the modern golf game, it is key to have a high level of fitness and that isn’t a problem for the former professional footballer. “To be honest, my fitness levels this time last year were unbelievable. I got my body fat down to 8%. I was training like crazy. I almost found I was probably overtraining and I was neglecting practicing my short game. This year I’m still really fit. I still train real hard and while I’m not as fit as last year, I’m playing better golf this year as I’m spending more time practicing my short game.”

It is on the greens that Grant feels he needs to improve if he is to make the step up to the top level of the game here in Europe. “Putting is probably the thing I’ve found the hardest. On the greens for me it has gotten a lot better as I’ve gone for a belly putter over the last four or five months and that has helped a lot. My course management is getting better. That has been costing me shots but that is down to experience.”

Experience is something that is only now beginning to come to Grant as he only became a golf pro at the age of 27. “I probably only played five or six times in my life before my mid 20s. I never played Youth or Boys golf or anything like that.” So does he feel he can realistically make the step up and get a card on the European Tour? “The difference is experience and that bit of consistency. The top players’ game is at a certain level and it is at that certain level more often. That really is the key. The gap is not massive at all.

“The thing that amazes me is that there is such a fine line. There are guys out there making millions of dollars a year and they are good but they are not that good. McIlroy is a player who I’ve played with and you see how stupidly good he is! But I play with guys who are good but aren’t that special and they are making a million and a half as a player.”

Grant regularly tees it up in Florida with players like Ricky Fowler (US Ryder Cup Player), Keegan Bradley (winner of the US PGA Championship in 2011) and US PGA Tour players Kris Blanks and Steve Marino. “If I’m playing with someone like Kris Blanks and he is handing my a**e to me every time we tee it up by five shots then I know I’m not good enough. But I’m playing money games with these guys and that is not the case. I’m taking money off them and they are taking money off me. I have the will to keep going and I’m seeing my scores get better.”

So what are the major differences between playing professional football, like he did for 10 years, and professional golf? “It is different in a sense that the golf is totally down to what I do myself. Soccer is different. It is opinions, how you play and the team around you. I can’t make any excuses. There is nowhere to hide.”

Where Eagles Dare? On tour with Stephen Grant

In 2005, Stephen Grant’s career was at a real cross road. It wasn’t simply a choice of whether the striker would stay with Shamrock Rovers or go to another League of Ireland club. He also had the chance to change careers from being a professional footballer to being a professional golfer and it was the set of golf clubs rather than a new football club that he went for. It was a brave move for the Birr native but his daring decision over the last number of years has led him to a place on the European Challenge Tour starting next month.

Last weekend Hoops Scene caught up with Grant, who is based in Florida most of the year, on a rare visit to Ireland. Grant had just returned from playing in Morocco. On Sunday, he was flying out for a couple of weeks practice in Portugal before his next tournament in France in May. Despite all this jet setting, Grant still retains a strong affinity for Shamrock Rovers. He not only follows the games on SRTV and Twitter (where is twitter handle is the apt @soccer2golf) but he is also a Shamrock Rovers club member.

“Ever since I was a kid, even down in Offaly, Shamrock Rovers was a big deal,” said Grant. “I played for Rovers on two occasions and that was a big part of my soccer life. I saw the opportunity with the 400 club to help give something back to the club. I felt that the club paid my wages and gave me good times and so I wanted to give back so I became a member. I always wanted to play for them and I was always really proud to play for them. It was amazing what the fans did taking over the club but the Rovers fans are hard-core. They love the club. It is a special club and we all know that.”

Grant was part of a special Rovers team that were the first League of Ireland team to win home and away in Europe in over twenty years. “It was a big night for the fans, the players and a big night for the club,” said Grant of the night he scored one of Rovers’ goals in the 2-1 away win over Odra Wodzislaw in 2003. This was during Grant’s second spell at Rovers following his return from Stockport where he had finished eighth in the Championship. “I really enjoyed my last couple of seasons at Rovers. I was playing really well and enjoying it. I scored against Bohs in a few big games too!”

Looking back though, Grant feels that those years were a missed opportunity for the club. “It was a team that probably unachieved,” admitted the former Ireland under 21 international footballer. “That was a really good side. We had a lot of good players. I always look back on that and I can’t believe we didn’t win anything. We got to the cup final but it was amazing to think that Rovers team didn’t win anything.”

“The season I retired was the season before they got relegated. I could see the writing on the wall at the club. I couldn’t see us doing anything at Rovers the way the investment was. I was out of contract and I was offered a new one. My choice was to stay on for another season of soccer but the way things were going I had a good opportunity to make a go at the golf as I was starting to get good.”

“Damien Richardson was manager at Cork City and they were in Europe and one of the best teams. He offered me a two-year contract with Cork City. I didn’t want to play for anyone else in the League of Ireland. I thought I’m going to play for Rovers or nothing. The golf was a big opportunity and that is why I retired from soccer.”

These days Stephen Grant, who works with the coaching team of Butch Harmon and his son, regularly tees it up at his new home club in Florida with top US PGA players like Major winner Keegan Bradley or Ryder Cup player Ricky Fowler. So do the golf professionals know he used to be a professional soccer player? “They do. They buzz off it too. They think it is great. The club I’m a member in over in Florida has a lot of top players who are members like Ricky Flower and Steve Marino. You get to play with them and see how you are and it is real good for your game.”

Grant has yet to see a game in Tallaght but, as he is based in Europe this summer, he hopes to get to a match here or maybe even link up with Rovers for a Champions League away game in Europe. “That would be sweet! I haven’t been to a game yet in Tallaght. In the last two years, I’ve been in Ireland maybe 22 days. When I finally get time at home, I will go to a game in the new stadium. When I first signed for Shamrock Rovers, Pat Byrne’s selling point for me as manager then was that we would be in the stadium next season!” That was in 1997!

Up until recently Grant was, like other former Shamrock Rovers players Karl Sheppard and Shane Robinson, watching Rovers games online through SRTV and he is disappointed that the FAI have asked for games not to be streamed online. “I was able to watch games online in Florida but I’ve been told now they are not allowed anymore. What is the idea of them not watching us to watch it?” questioned Grant.

It is clear that Grant is up to speed on all things Rovers and how the season is progressing under Stephen Kenny, a manager who tried to sign Grant when Kenny was at Longford Town. Grant was all praise for the man that plays in his old position at Rovers. “Twigg is a ridiculous goalscorer! He is like Tony Cousins who was an unbelievable. When you have an instinct like this guy, he is worth his weight in gold.”

It is Grant’s golfing instincts that will be put to the test over the next few months as he begins playing on the Challenge Tour, the second tier of professional golf in Europe. Grant missed out on the final qualifying school tournament for a card on the main European Tour by two shots last year but is hoping that a good performance on the Challenge Tour will avoid the requirement of going to Q school later on in the year. “The top 25 on the order of merit at the end of the season gets their full European card. I’ve got a tournament on the challenge tour on the 10 May in France. That is my first real big tournament of the season. The season starts from here for me.”

Published in Hoops Scene Issue 6 2012 (Shamrock Rovers v Derry City, 27 April 2012)

On tee, from Shamrock Rovers, Stephen Grant

February 13, 2010 1 comment

Article from Shamrock Rovers match day programme August 2009

Photo from http://www.gui.ie

This season Shamrock Rovers striker Gary Twigg is battling to win the League top goalscorer title having reached 15 goals by half way through the season.    Five years ago Twigg was lining out on loan with English Conference side Burton Albion while Shamrock Rovers’ top goalscorer that season was Stephen Grant.   So where is our top scorer from that 2004 season now?  Well Grant has swapped playing on the wing to playing from the fairway and now plays on one of the professional golf tours in the United States of America which is quite an interesting journey.  So how did Birr native Grant journey from the League of Ireland to the US Hooters Pro Golf Tour?

Stephen Grant had two spells at Shamrock Rovers.  After initially being on Sunderland’s books, he returned to Ireland and played 20 games back in the 96/97 season scoring four goals (including scoring on his debut against Bohemians).  He then signed for Stockport County with Rovers picking up a cheque of around about £10,000.  It was during his time at Stockport he gained four Ireland u21 caps.  Grant came back to Rovers in 2001 via a series of clubs including Burnley, Waterford United, Galway United and he even had a spell with Boston Bulldogs.  During Rovers’ fine European run in 2003, Stephen Grant was an integral part of the team which became the first Irish side in over twenty years to win a tie both home and away in Europe.  Grant scored the equaliser for the Hoops away to Odra Wodzislaw before Rovers got a late winner from his namesake Tony.

2004 was to be his last year at Rovers and his last as a footballer.  The year was a difficult one for Rovers with the club’s finances worsening and issues still very much unresolved on the stadium front in Tallaght.  As the GAA began to delay the completion of the stadium project via the Courts, Grant was making almost weekly appearances in Croke Park.  But he wasn’t playing, rather he was modelling GAA jersies in the Croke Park match programme.  Spotted in a nightclub previously, he was signed up to Assets Model Agency and worked on a number of high profile advertisement campaigns as well as shoots with numerous fashion magazines and from this he earned the nickname of Zoolander with the Hoops faithful!  Financially independent with business interests outside of football including a furniture business, property and family business in heating products, he also found time to indulge his passion for golf.

And it was the golf he turned to as his main sporting interest when Rovers went into financial freefall towards Examinership in 2004.  Playing in a number of Golf Union of Ireland events, he reduced his handicap from 16 down to 3.  He won two Midland Alliance tournaments at Birr and Esker and competed in the Golf Links Winter Series.

In April 2007, he shot a course record 64 at the West of Ireland Championship in Rosses Point leaving up and coming golfing star Rory McIroy behind him in the field.  He turned pro with the support of Horizon Sports Management who also have Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Ross Fisher on their books and moved to Arizona to take part in the US Gateway Tour. He took a fifth place at Martin Downs Country Club and last year he took second place at the Broward Open in Florida and picked up his maiden win in America at the Inverrary Open.

As Grant told the Irish Sun last year:

“I played soccer for 10 years and enjoyed it and this is a new challenge and I am really up for it. I’m hoping to play on the Europro Tour. I just want to see how good I really am.”

This year has been his most successful to date.  Playing out of Palm Beach Gardens, he finished 21st on the money list on the Gateway tour’s “Beach Winter Series” in Florida including shooting a nine under par 63 to tie for tenth place at Palm Valley and finished 11th at the Fountain Country  Club.  He earned his playing card on the US Hooters Golf Tour.  The tour is the third level of pro golf in the states below the Nationwide and top US PGA tour.  Previous Hooters tour competitors include two time major winners John Daly and Lee Janzen, major winners and Ryder Cup players like Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Ben Curtis, Tom Lehman, David Toms and Chad Campbell.

Grant has played five events so far this year in this very competitive tour and is currently placed in the top 150 of the tour which has 230 competitors and has picked up $4,000 in prize money.  He is a bit off the number one spot which is held by Ted Potter (with $144,900 of earnings).  Since May, Grant has been playing a number of events on the European Challange tour including the Credit Suisse Challange in Luterbach in Switzerland and the Karten Open in Austria.

It is a long way from the League of Ireland or a FAI Cup tie against UCD for Stephen Grant. We shall have to wait and see will any hidden golfing talent in our current squad emerge maybe at a future Shamrock Rovers Golf Classic?  We certainly wouldn’t want to lose Gary Twigg for the lure of the links.