Given the success Stephen Kenny has been at Dundalk, memories of the flop he was at Shamrock Rovers become more fleeting with each year.
Kenny, it seems clear, never won over a dressing room of players and egos that preceded his arrival. The Hoops became another version of the rudderless outfit they had become under Roddy Collins less than a decade earlier and Kenny left with his career in danger of falling apart.
At the heart of Dundalk’s seminal European run of 2016, Stephen Kenny was in a different place – now a gaffer dictating to players he had assembled. One, indeed, recalled the calm and assurance he inculcated in them prior to taking on Zenit St Petersburg at Tallaght, having only three days previously been somewhat manic in his teamtalk before what the apparent formality of a league game at lowly Longford.
Kenny seems to know when his players need extra motivation from the hierarchy – and also when they require none at all.
Kenny is a shrewd judge of a footballer but equally so he shies away from endangering squad morale by attracting the wrong type of player. He is a manager few others would seek to imitate, despite his achievements, but Stephen Bradley could learn from his emphasis on discipline.
Kenny went as far last year as saying that those who incurred avoidable red cards were letting themselves, the club – and even their families – down. They were stirring words.
When Bradley was approached to take over Shamrock Rovers permanently in late 2016, it is understood he was reluctant – which is admirable in a sense, as potentially the best managerial job in Irish football was now his if he wanted it. The Dubliner was young, inexperienced – this was the deep end.
As such, mistakes were inevitable in his first season in charge, in which Rovers suffered ten red cards. This is a shoddy record and should have been even higher.
Moreover, the sendings off were consistent with ill-discipline and stupidity. Graham Burke, a gifted playmaker, was dismissed twice.
David McAllister could have broken Chris Shields’ leg in the FAI Cup semi-final at Oriel Park, returning to the scene of a stamp on Stephen O’Donnell on day one in the league that the referee missed (on the same night that Burke came off the bench, scored and was sent off).
Rovers players lose their composure partly because their coaches do. Bradley’s admonishing Sam Bone in a derby game last season after substituting the kid, who had suffered a blow to the head moments earlier and had played accordingly before being hauled off, at best betrayed inexperience.
Rovers players celebrated a League Cup win over Cork City as if they had won the Euromillions and a brawl that ensued in the FAI Cup semi-final replay in Tallaght was almost entirely of their manager’s making, as he had left his technical area and barged into Stephen O’Donnell.
James Doona’s role in one of the goals that night betrayed his own inexperience and management singled him out after the game.
Speaking to the podcast ‘LOI Weekly’, former Hoop Paul Corry – who will prove a welcome addition to RTE coverage this year – predicted that the teenager would thrive at St Patrick’s, alluding to his not being fully appreciated in Tallaght.
Things, clearly, need to change in 2018 if Rovers are to launch a challenge for the title, as befitting their resources and history. So the video of another mass brawl, emerging from Tuesday night’s friendly game against Dalkurd, is not exactly encouraging.
Again, McAllister was chief villain, as he aggressively confronted an opposition combatant, despite not being involved in that series of play. In McAllister’s defence, Dalkur had just committed two pretty questionable challenges within seconds of each other; still, what is the bloody point of all this nonsense? (Rovers’ Twitter feed, for whatever reason, made no reference to the red card later given to McAllister!)
McAllister is not unlike Bradley’s right-hand man, Glenn Cronin, in his characteristic embracing of that beautiful football euphemism of “putting himself about”. One wonders how much Rovers’ more high-on-testosterone moments have to do with Cronin’s influence too.
Luis Suarez’s 2010 red card against Ghana was the quintessential professional foul – committing an offence that is certain to result in your walking to the line but arguably serves the greater good. McAllister’s – getting sent off against a Swedish outfit in a friendly for initiating a kerfuffle – belongs to another category.
It asks: has anything changed at Shamrock Rovers? Judging by this friendly-game bluster, it seems not. Some say the one thing they need is a striker. Thus, the one thing they need may be the last thing they need: Anthony Stokes.
The Dubliner, whose career has been ‘Recalcitrance For Dummies’ since he first lit up the underage circuit in Dublin, has been let go by Hibernian and may be returning home. If available, this will test Bradley as a manager, and he might well wonder (though it’s doubtful): what would Stephen Kenny do?
In so many ways, Stokes – whose father barred the Queen from visiting his Fairview boozer lest the temptation overcome her during her historic 2011 visit – fits the bill at the modern-day Shamrock Rovers. Bradley has made some astute signings – think Lee Grace, Burke and Greg Bolger – but unless his players behave like professionals, they have no realistic chance of winning the title this season.
An alleged incident last season merits mention. An opposition player was rounded on by members of the Rovers coaching staff who accused him of certain things arising from a challenge on a Rovers rival the previous year, even though both players had effectively agreed on the night that no malice whatever was involved. It seems another aspect of the well-worn siege mentality narrative that obviously comes from above.
For Bradley, who was such a ball-playing midfielder – denied a better career because of misfortune with injuries – 2018 will be telling. Honest to a fault in media interviews (admitting afterwards that the red card on Tuesday night was justified, for example), he is extremely hard-working too.
Moreover, their training sessions have greatly impressed one of their new recruits in the off-season, which will please Cronin, who was the brainchild behind Rovers’ brilliant ‘FootballLovesUs’ initiative, too.
Stephen Bradley is a promising young manager, such that this year can be the second album that ultimately made the band after a shaky debut effort.
That – or the same old tune. “We play intense, and we play with physicality,” he said after Tuesday night’s game. “We need to play like that because that’s what our football back home demands.”