Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Broken Hoops

These are not the words of a bandwagon jumper; Shamrock Rovers suffer a few adverse results and in I wade to heap scorn upon the work of Pat Scully and his players. Rather it is thinking, aloud.

Last season Pat Scully's men enlivened the Premier Division upon their regal return to the top flight. A young side - primarily homegrown - emboldened by their manager, confident in their own ability, fearless. At the head of that squad there stood a firm disciplinarian - a man who appeared to ask no more of his players than he himself was prepared to sacrifice.

The young squad at Scully's disposal responded favourably to his promptings - any dissent was swiftly dealt with, justice was meted out in a rapid - victims might say rabid - and decisive fashion.

Following the club's promotion it was obvious that the squad would need strengthening - Andy Myler, Ger Rowe, Danny O'Connor, Derek Pender and Barry Ferguson were followed by David Tyrrell and John Martin to Tolka Park. Ferguson's arrival proved timely given the prolonged absence through injury of Aidan Price. The chaff was cast aside by a steely Scully as he sought to push his club into the limelight. Their performances for much of the 2007 campaign suggested the newbie boss was pushing in the right direction. Understandably, Rovers' performance levels dipped somewhat as the season unwound, it was to be expected.

As would any manager worth his seasoning, PS set about further remodelling work with the 2008 campaign in mind. In came even more experience - Darragh Maguire, Stephen Rice, Pat Flynn, Alan Murphy and Sean O'Connor parked their cars in Drumcondra. The cognoscenti spoke of the Hoops as possessing the best squad outside of the professional set-ups in the country. They were benefiting from professionalism in a parasitic fashion. Any player who was unable or unwilling to commit to a professional regime could sign for Rovers. Roll on 2008 and the impending improvement on 2007's 5th placed finish.

The opening weekend victory over Drogheda United seemed to fortify those beliefs. The Drogs ensuing form has put that into a clearer perspective. The following weekend saw them hold a hotly-tipped, but incoherent, Cork City at Tolka Park. Bray Wanderers were down and out when they were seen off - Galway United rolled over at Terryland. Then came the Dublin Derby. In derby terms, Rovers were meek; the goal they conceded was so uncharacteristic of what we had come to expect from a Pat Scully eleven. Then it was the Hoops' turn to roll over - this time they had no answer for the industry of Cobh Ramblers. That result was followed up with a lucky draw at home top UCD.

The basic tenets of Scully's stewardship were no longer in place. The indefatigable work ethic - the consistency of an unremitting work ethic allied to a tight defence - was nowhere to be seen. Even during their worst efforts of 2007 the side tried at all times to adhere to the blueprint. So what has changed?

Most obviously, the clientele. In my opinion the boss was hasty in his decision to scrap his youth policy. Ger O'Brien, Tadhg Purcell and Eric McGill are the last remaining connections with the young guns of 2006 and 2007. Netminder Barry Murphy also remains. Young players are willing listeners. Their lack of experience can be exploited if a coach can catch their collective ear.
Pat Scully achieved this very quickly when he arrived at Tolka Park. The instant success of his implemented strategies proved to the innocents that there was method in his tactics. It was clear to anyone watching Rovers at this time that those players would stand before a tank if Scully demanded it.

The rampant re-seeding of the squad has stripped it of such naivete. In have come seasoned campaigners; men with opinions and questions. Ideas of their own as to how they can best contribute in a crunch moment. Shamrock Rovers have morphed into just another League of Ireland squad, replete with well-travelled squad members who have heard most of it before. They have sacrificed youth and unswerving loyalty for experience and shrugged shoulders.

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