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Billy’s Boots

August 8, 2010 1 comment

It has been a hectic ten days or so for Shamrock Rovers with two crunch Airtricity League of Ireland games squeezed in around the matches against the mighty Juventus in the Europa League. The Rovers squad returned very early on Friday morning from the second leg against the famous Old Lady of Turin who had been evicted temporarily from her home by U2 and had moved to Modena for the game. After the drama of playing the biggest name in Italian football, Rovers today will play in the biggest derby in Irish football.

(Photo by George Kelly)

It really was a dream come true to play Juventus here in a packed Tallaght Stadium last week. As the SRFC Ultras banner ahead of kick off said ‘Facci Sognare’ or ‘Let us dream’. It was a chance for the Hoops to mix it with high calibre players such as Diego, Chiellini, Amauri and Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero. Del Piero, who received a rapturous welcome in Tallaght, enjoyed his visit and the atmosphere generated from the stands commenting on his website that “ they made us feel their presence, oh yes, they did. During the whole match they were cheering their team, despite the result. Pure passion, really nice ambience, the experience of times gone by!”

It was with 25 minutes to go in the game that Billy Dennehy got his chance to make his presence felt on the pitch. Like Del Piero, Dennehy was another player who enjoyed the big match ambience that night. Talking to Hoops Scene ahead of the second leg against Juventus he said “the atmosphere and the crowd were great. It was brilliant. Juventus have world class players so to have the chance to play them in a competitive match was great.”

There were two goals between the sides by the end of the game with the difference probably being the 48 million euros worth of Brazilian attacking talent that Juve could call upon from Diego and double goalscorer Amauri. “They didn’t create loads and loads of chances,” said Dennehy “but the ones that they did, they were clinical in taking and I suppose the higher up you go that is the difference.” The bianconeri goal after three minutes managed to silence temporarily the Tallaght crowd that had welcomed the teams out onto the pitch with such fervour. “They scored the first and settled a lot quicker than us,” said Dennehy who watched the first half from the substitutes bench. “They were a bit more comfortable and they didn’t have to attack as much which suited them. The boys done very well to hold on so it was only 1-0 at half time.”

Rovers’ manager Michael O’Neill switched to 4-4-2 during the second half in an effort to try and take the game to the Italian visitors. Dennehy came on and recalls that “as we were a goal down, we had to do more attacking and try and go for it. When you are out on the pitch you are trying to hold your own against players like that. It was nice to play against them. I was glad to be on the pitch and glad to be involved. It was great that nobody let themselves down and it was a great night for the club more than anything else. Everyone that was involved in the club will look back on it as being a great night. It is not something that will happen every year.”

Of course last year, Rovers played another European heavyweight in Real Madrid but Dennehy was quick to point out that there is a big difference between the game against the Galacticos of Madrid and last week’s Juventus match. “Real Madrid was a friendly game and you can get friendly games against a lot of top class sides. But we were playing against Juventus in a game that actually means something, a qualifying game, a competitive match. That means a whole lot more because the club earned it so it means a lot more to people.”

Before that friendly against Real Madrid there was a lot of talk in the disparity of earnings between the squads and some talk that was slightly demeaning including whether there would be a scrum for Cristiano Ronaldo’s jersey by the players at the end of the game. Pat Flynn had quipped in Hoops Scene when asked about getting Ronaldo’s jersey that “everyone has been asking me to get his jersey and I’ve been saying I’ll go one further and get his blood on my boots!” and memorably went on to clean out the ball and the Portuguese player in the opening minutes that night. With that in mind, Hoops Scene was pleasantly surprised to hear what Dennehy had done at the end of the Juventus game with his jersey. “I kept it. I decided to hold on to my own and give it to my Dad. He will be happier than any player to have that. Your parents like to keep things like that and none of the Juventus players will know who I am, so it will be nice for my Mum and Dad to have.” So Mr. and Mrs. Dennehy made the trip back down to Kerry on the train the day after the game with their son’s green and white Rovers jersey.

There is probably a couple of green and gold jersies in the Dennehy household as souvenirs of Billy’s time with the Kerry Minor GAA team. He won the Munster Minor Championship with Kerry in 2004 and had the choice of playing with the senior Kerry team or look to turn professional as a football player in England. “I was asked to stay on and be involved in the senior panel. I was at a cross roads at the time either to play gaelic or to sign for Sunderland which I ended up doing. I really enjoyed the Gaelic and I still follow it but I had always dreamt of playing in England. I think I made the right choice.”

It was two Irish football managers who shaped Dennehy’s career at Sunderland. “Mick McCarthy was the manager who signed me. At first I played a lot of preseason friendlies and when Roy Keane came in I was with the first team quite a bit for matches. It was a great experience. But once the club got promoted to the Premiership, it was very difficult for younger players like me as they started bringing in a lot of high profile players. Like any other Irish young lad when I was growing up, Keane was one of my favourite players. To have him as your manager, well it was surreal for a few weeks. You overcome that and he becomes just your boss. It was great to learn off him and he always helped me and had good words of advice. It is something I look back on very fondly.”

Dennehy got a chance to play here in Tallaght last season. Late in the season he lined out for the now defunct Cork City team and scored a goal on the night. The game was memorable for the fact that the Cork players nearly didn’t travel due to issues over wages and it was the night Rovers effectively lost the league title to tonight’s visitors. Were there any comments on his arrival this season in the dressing room about Dennehy’s goal that night? “Yeah but I say to the lads I didn’t want you to win the league without me so I wanted to come here to try and help ye,” jokes Dennehy. “Looking back on it, we were all standing around outside the bus unsure were we going to get on or not. We ended up travelling with our prematch preparation being very late. It wasn’t the most ideal setting and yet we found it was probably one of our best games of the season. Any player in that situation with a club can either walk away from it and not really try or do your best for your teammates that you were training with all year and that is what we did. We wanted to finish third as a point for ourselves, which was a good achievement but I’m glad I’ve come to a club like Rovers. When I came up it was the one club I really wanted to come to.”

In the game with Juventus there were a number of players who had played for their country at under 23 level with Diego having played at that level with Brazil, along with his 38 senior caps, while Stephen Rice, James Chambers and Billy Dennehy had lined out at under 23 level for Ireland. Dennehy also played underage football for Ireland at under 17, 18, 19 and 21 levels. “It was a great experience to look back and have those caps for your country,” said Dennehy who got the chance to play for the under 23s against former Juventus manager Geovanni Trapattoni’s senior Ireland team back in May. A week later he lined out for Ireland u23 in their 2-1 defeat against England in Waterford. “It is a great feeling to play this year with the u23s. I was playing with a great friend of mine in James Chambers. Playing for my country with him made it even more special.” And how did he find playing with players from rival teams? “You are probably going out every week kicking those guys, fighting against them in the league but when you play together you realise that there are a lot of good young players here. It was a great experience to play against England.” The next u23 game comes up in the autumn but Dennehy hasn’t given that much thought. “All I’m concentrating now on is Rovers. I’ve nothing else on my mind as there are a lot of important games coming up with Rovers and I want to be involved in all of them and do my best for the club.”

As far as important games go, they do not get much bigger domestically than today’s lunchtime kick off against third placed Bohemians in the big Dublin derby. All the derbies in Tallaght have been dramatic affairs and thanks to Dennehy scoring the only goal in Bohs’ last visit, it means that Bohs have been beaten in every game against the Hoops here in Tallaght.

“Before the first Bohs game, a few of the boys were telling me how great it was last year in the derby games. You realise when you are warming up in the ground the feeling that this is a big game and the fans are all up for it. They are the types of games as a player you want to play in. There are obviously big games for every club but you realise as a player here that this one is a bit more special than others. It means a lot for the fans and that gives the players an extra boost so it makes them want to be do even better. Hopefully we can perform as we did the last time and fingers crossed it will go well for us.”

http://www.shamrockrovers.ie/multimedia/gallery/first-team/category/389-v-bohs-090410

Bohemians have had a difficult couple of weeks which included a 4-0 European defeat to a team that also wear green and white hoops. That elimination from Europe by TNS was followed with a win in Belfield but then last week, just like Rovers in their 3-3 draw with Sporting Fingal, they saw a win snatched from them by conceding a late goal. But Dennehy knows that the team in red and black will be up for it today. “Everybody realises Bohs aren’t a bad team but they are a good team and have good players just like Rovers have a good team and have good players,” explained Dennehy who would like to repeat his goal scoring from the last derby. “It was a great feeling with it being my first league goal here for Rovers. If I had to pick a game to score my first goal, I couldn’t have picked it any better. It was a great feeling to help the boys win and everybody played really well that night so I think we deserved it. Since then the team has really kicked on. That game turned around our season after a shaky start. We haven’t really looked back since.”

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”