Thursday, October 16, 2008

PS We Love You

The trajectory of Pat Scully's adolescent managerial career has taken on the curve of a Zimbabwean growth chart within the past week. Relative success during his debut appointment at Kilkenny City in 2005 brought attention onto his abilities in the dugout. That led to his appointment in 2006 at a then downbeat Shamrock Rovers. The illustrious Dublin club were slumming it for the first time, swimming with the minnows in the First Division.

This scribe was a keen observer of the nomads during that particular season when the former Irish cap brought many of his former Kilkenny proteges - imagine the accents are there over the 'e's - with him to Tolka Park. They included the likes of Tadhg Purcell and Aidan Price. In spite of falling victim to the dreaded asterisk - they were docked three points for fielding an ineligible player - rovers squeezed into the top spot courtesy of an enviable defensive record. Across 36 league games they conceded only 13 times. Shamrock Rovers were looking ahead to a return to the Premier Division with a freshfaced young squad and an eager manager.

The newbies took to life in the top flight with the brashness that comes with youth. They showed no respect to opponents as they inflicted their all-action game on the Premier Division. It was paying dividends - Rovers faced down professional opposition with their tireless approach. They were well placed to split the Big 4 of Drogheda United, Derry City, Cork City and St. Patrick's Athletic. The legs of the part-timers began to give during the run-in as their exertions took a toll. 4 defeats were followed by three draws in their final 7 games and the club had to 'settle' for a fifth-placed finish; 4 points behind Cork. Their was smoke - one or two players were rumoured to have fallen foul of the Scully's totalitarianism and were shunted aside.

But fans were prepared to overlook such traits, preferring dreams of success in the new season. 2007 had been a good year for Pat Scully - young, determined and ruthless in search of success - Irish football took a shine to the learner manager and his cubs. That ruthless streak saw the talents of David Cassidy, Paul Shiels and Davie O'Connor ousted in favour of established Premier division footballers. The growing trend towards professionalism was forcing some of the league's elder statesmen into difficult decisions. Players like Darragh Maguire, who chose not to go full-time and had to move away from Richmond Parks were Garret Kelliher was bankrolling a professional set-up. The Hoops were benefactors of this situation; as a Dublin Premier Division club they were in a position to hoover up such players to bolster their squad. Fresh from his spat with Sean Connor at Bohs came Stephen Rice. Joining Pat Flynn, Alan Murphy and the unrelated O'Connors - Danny and Sean - there were continuing signs of growth and progression from the tenants at Tolka.

They opened the 2008 season with a visit to defending champions Drogheda United - Alan Murphy scored a memorable goal to ignite a potential title challenge from Drumcondra. As things stand they won't match last season's total of 51 points - so there has not been progress. All managers can point to absenteeism as a hurdle to success; Rovers' back four has borne a strange look at times this year. Aidan Price's long running flirtations with the physio's table didn't help. Barry Ferguson's penchant for daydreaming led to his exit - Ricer was a revelation.

Then the midfielder fell foul of his manager and was sent to Coventry - it was a horse pill to swallow for the hooped faithful. Their side was struggling in a way they hadn't anticipated - their most effective midfielder was now a spectator. Scully was digging his heels in. Fans were beginning to tire of his dictatorial diatribes. Success papers over a lot of cracks, but not it seems, crackpots.

Rice's fall from grace was symptomatic of what was being perceived as Scully's increasingly demanding and sometimes unreasonable behaviour. There could be no doubting his commitment to the club and the cause. he nurtured the cause from the grassroots up in an attempt to impose a structure for future sustained success ahead of Rovers' impending move to Tallaght Stadium. But in the cutthroat world of management a man, or woman, is measured by their results - PS hadn't achieved enough to make his deficiencies palatable to the Rovers boardrom. The cup runs which often buy time and breathing space didn't materialise.

Legend will have it that the former Shelbourne, Rovers and Drogheda centre-half approached his paymasters in search of a contract extension - disagreement was recorded and Pat was out of a job.

At just 38 he has a long career in management ahead of him. Doubtless a period away from the game will allow him to digest the lessons of the last four seasons and he will return a better manager. The League of Ireland/ eircom League/ Famous Fried whatever you're having league needs motivators of his calibre and intensity. Don't be long, Pat.

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