Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rovers In Recession

Not so long ago all was fertile in the Garden of Rovers. A decent squad of players performing well, combined with an ambitious manager and supportive board were leading the faithful to the Promised Land in Tallaght. A club in crisis for much of the last 20 years, things are turning from KRAM to crap at one of the island's best-known clubs.

The ignominy of relegation from the Premier Division under the stewardship of Roderick Collins OBB provided the Hoops' long-suffering followers with a new low back in 2005. An eight-point deduction didn't help their cause as the always proud club finished second from bottom - notably, St. Pats finished that campaign just one place above Rovers.

Enter, stage left, Pat Scully. Young, hungry, ambitious. Fresh from an uplifting stint in charge of the now defunct Kilkenny City, he revitalised the club taking them straight back up to the Premier Division courtesy of a First Division title. Playing a brand of honest and refreshing football, his young side won many admirers and the future looked orange for the former Rovers centre-half.

In the new Ireland of professional footballers, the Hoops acquitted themselves admirably during the earliest stages of their return to the topflight. But some of the wheelnuts on the bus were loosening. Tales emerged of the bosses strict demands and standards - not all part-time footballers were suited to such a regime - Scully wasted no time in weeding them out. The 2007 campaign petered out - fans were in forgiving mood - happy with what had been achieved and optimistic about the future.

The winds of change showed no mercy during the winter of 2007/08. Many of Rovers' bright young things were cast aside in favour of more established eL players such as Darragh Maguire, Alan Murphy and Dessie Baker as PS sought to improve his squad's chances of success. In the meantime players such as Ger Rowe, Jamie Duffy, Dave O'Connor and David Cassidy had been cast aside.

The fledgling leadership of the club continued to place their trust in their appointment. The newish boss was shaping the club in his own image from bottom to top - his dynamism seemed perfectly suited to the boards' future plans. Once the Thomas Davis debacle was sorted they would be moving into their new home in Tallaght. With a reputation already established at grassroots level in the area, they were anticipating greater support and financial backing - for Rovers too, the future was orange.

But recent developments have caused much headscratching and backbiting amongst the Hooperatzi. Following a very public falling out with then Bohs boss Sean Connor - reputed to be the fastest manager around an office desk in eL football - Stephen Rice parted company with the Phibsboro club. Delighted Rovers fans welcomed the signing of Rice - young, energetic and dedicated to his game - he was exactly the type of player favoured by Pat Scully and seemingly a perfect foil for the manager's ambition.

Dreams came through, Rice was all Hoops fans had hoped for and more, quickly becoming a firm favourite at the Drumcondra end of Richmond Road. A 1-0 win on the opening week of the season at champions Drogheda United raised spirits, hopes and ambitions even higher on the terraces. Three wins and a draw from their opening four games was as expected and Scully could do no wrong.

Strangely, for a player who had left Rovers following a disagreement with then boss Liam Buckley - Pat Scully was now the man dishing out the P45's. His obdurate professionalism left little room for queries or opinions from his playing staff. His supposedly gruff exterior at club social gatherings did little to endear him to fans. Such qualities are adored by football fans when their team is successful, or travelling cleanly along the road to same. Its all about points and prizes for the paying punters. Even poor fare is acceptable to most, so long as it produces results. Italian managers have lived off it for decades.

That bright opening to the 2008 campaign was followed up with a run of 10 games without a win. There are always mitigating circumstances - but the fans were struggling to keep faith with a team that seemed to be slipping backwards. A welcome cup win over last season's cup conquerors Sligo Rovers provided some welcome relief; a return to winning ways against a wilting Galway United side was their first three-point haul since their trip to Terryland Park in March.

Then came the announcement that Alan Murphy was being allowed to leave, along with the news of Stephen Rice's transfer listing. Officially, Rice has requested a transfer - realistically, Scully is seen as having run him out of the club by many fans. Has Pat Scully finally over-extended himself? When the results are good fans can easily overlook the negatives and boards and mangers can do pretty much as they wish. That is not currently the case at Shamrock Rovers. They have slipped backwards since last term; the turnover of players has been high. Many question the manager's judgement - after all, it is he who is bringing in the players that he eventually elbows out, claiming they are not good enough for Shamrock Rovers.

Stephen Rice epitomised all that was good for the future of the soon to be Tallaght-based club. 2009 would dawn in brilliant orange with Rovers an established and significant Premier Division force. Scully's gruff ways are threatening that glowing vista for the 400 Club. As things stand, that dawn will take place without Stephen Rice. Recent results have undermined Scully's once iconic standing among the green and white deliria of Tolka Park. Is this a job for el Rico?

Ah, jaysus, no!

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