Rovers bring historic season to a close

[caption id="attachment_68429" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="The Shamrock Rovers first team."]


Shamrock Rovers will play their 61st and last game of the season tomorrow night when Tottenham Hotspur pay their first-ever visit to Tallaght Stadium. It has been a long and historic season for The Hoops, who earlier this year became the first Irish club to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League. When the draw was made for the group stages of the Europa League a few months back Spurs were the big attraction and for a while Rovers considered moving the home game against the English Premier League outfit to the Aviva Stadium.

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But UEFA would not allow Rovers move one game to Ballsbridge and play the other games in Tallaght. This level of football is proving too high for the League of Ireland champions and Rovers have lost all five games to-date.

Spurs have been playing a reserve team in the competition, but even by fielding a weakened team Rovers were hoping that the North London club would have qualified for the knock out stage by the time they visited Dublin.

The thinking was that Spurs might then relax and The Hoops would get a draw and a big pay night of €70,000. But two weeks ago Spurs hopes of qualifying for the knock out stage were dented when they were beaten 2-1 by Greek club PAOK at White Hart Lane. Now PAOK are through to the knock out stage and Spurs need to win six-nil in Tallaght tomorrow night and then hope that Rubin Kazan are beaten by PAOK in Greece if they want to qualify for the next stage. It could happen, but Rovers put up a good performance against Spurs at White Harte Lane in the first leg before eventually losing 3-1. The only thing we can be sure about is that it will be a full house at the Tallaght Stadium tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, it seems like the game against Spurs on Thursday will be Michael O’Neill’s last game in charge. Talks on a new contract between O’Neill and the Rovers board broke down at the weekend. O’Neill is among the candidates for the Northern Ireland job and he has also been linked to English club Hartlepool United.


It looks like The Republic’s next game will be a friendly against the Czech Republic at the Aviva Stadium on Feb. 29




The GAA should know by February if they will be staging a regular NFL game at Croke Park in 2012 or 2013. After hosting an NFL delegation last week the GAA’s Stadium and Commercial Manager Peter McKenna said: ‘‘We have to have our submission in by Dec. 16. It’s a joint effort between Dublin Tourism, Dublin City Council and the GAA -- a sport, city, state venture. We were very happy with our presentation and we expect to hear the outcome around Super Bowl time. It very much depends if the NFL is going to expand beyond London and whether that happens in 2012 or 2913.’’ In a radio interview last week US Ambassador to Ireland Dan Rooney said that NFL officials were very impressed with the Croke Park facilities. He said: ‘‘I talked to them and they thought the stadium itself is excellent. They said the professionalism of the operation management at Croke Park was very food and that they could work with it as well as anywhere else. Rooney, who is chairman of Pittsburgh Steelers said that a number of NFL clubs may be willing to give up a home game, but due to contractual obligations the Steelers would not be able to play a home game at Croke Park. We are already guaranteed one NFL game in Dublin next year when the Army and Navy meet at the Aviva Stadium on Sept. 1.


Sebastian Coe, chairman of the organising committee for the London Olympic Games, is a big fan of Irish boxer Katie Taylor and the four-time Olympic medallist says the Bray girl could be the ‘poster girl’ of the London games next year. Coe said: ‘‘I was speaking to the International Boxing president Ching-Kuo Woo at a recent boxing event about Katie and we both agreed that she is a special talent.’’ But Taylor’s coach Billy Walsh will not let his charge get carried away: ‘‘There’s a lot of expectation around Katie, but she hasn’t qualified yet. There’s ten days in China next May at the World Championship and if she is injured or out of form there she might suffer something similar to what happened to her in Barbardos at the last World Championships,” he said. “Back then Katie got an injury, took too much difene, got diarrhoea, weighed in two kilos below her weight and nearly lost a fight. Anything is possible in sport, particularly in boxing and Katie is only one punch away from defeat.’’

Meanwhile the majority of Irish athletes at next year’s Olympics (excluding boxers, equestrian, sailing and judo) will be based at the Lensbury Sports Hotel in Teddington on the Thames and they will train at the nearby St. Mary’s University College.


Republic of Ireland soccer manager Giovanni Trapattoni has been named Philips Manager of the Year award after leading the national team to their first major championship finals in ten years. The 72 year-old Italian beat off competition from people managers like Pat Gilroy, who led Dublin to their first All-Ireland title in 16 years, Brian Cody, who brought the McCarthy Cup back to Kilkenny and Leinster’s Heineken Cup-winning coach Joe Schmidt. Goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly accepted the award on behalf of Trapattoni. The nine nominees for the RTE Sports Person of the Year award are: Alan Brogan, Darren Clarke, Michael Fennelly, Robbie Keane, Rory McIlroy, John Joe Nevin, Kevin O’Brien, Seán O’Brien and Katie Taylor.


The FAI’s Dutch-born High Performance Director Wim Koevermans believes that the new under 19 national soccer league will help stem a talent drain from Soccer to Gaelic Football. Koevermans claims that young players who return from England after failing to get a contract with an English club often turn to gaelic football. He said: ‘‘Now if a player comes back from England there is a competition for him to play in. We know that we have lost a lot of players to the GAA because we didn’t have an elite structure when the players came back from England.’’ I’m sure Koevermans has figures to prove his point, but I haven’t seen it happen very often. The most high profile was goalkeeper Shane Supple who abandoned a soccer career with Ipswich Town and returned home to Dublin and is now playing in goal for Dublin champions St Brigid’s. But in that case I think the player was fed up with soccer and wanted a job outside of the game.


Seán Boylan, who spent 23 years managing his native Meath, is back in management. The Dunboyne-based herbalist has agreed to manager the Leinster football team for next year’s interprovincial championship. Boylan’s first game will be against Munster at Dublin’s Parnell Park on Feb. 18 or 19. Former Offaly manager Joe Dooley will take charge of the Leinster hurlers who will play Munster at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny in the semifinal. Next year could well be the ‘last hurrah’ for the interprovincial series unless we see improved attendances at the games. The Leinster Council has secured sponsorship for their secondary competitions which get under way in January. Bord na Mona will sponsor the football O’Byrne Cup and the two secondary hurling competitions, the Walsh Cup and the Kehoe Cup.

Dublin football manager Pat Gilroy will have to find a new selector next year after it was confirmed that his close advisor Mickey Whelan will not be linking up with the Dublin team as a selector next year. The 73 year-old St Vincent’s clubman stepped down for family reasons after this year’s All-Ireland final win over Kerry and 72 year-old Whelan has now confirmed that he will be standing by that decision.


Former Irish hooker Jerry Flannery is hopeful that a recent visit to a German specialist Dr. Muller Wohfahrt will help him resume his Rugby career. The 33 year-old, who missed out on the Lions tour to South Africa in 2009 because of a dislocated elbow, has been troubled by calf muscle problems in recent months and has been unable to play for Ireland or Munster. Jerry said: ‘‘Dr. Wohfahrt told me that a disc is pressing on a nerve in my back. My calf is constantly stimulated from the nerve in my back and when I go to exercise the calf is exhausted, it’s completely fatigued. I have changed my training and I’m trying to alter my posture and strengthen up my hamstring and glutes to take pressure off the calf.’’ It’s not easy, but I’m getting used to it and I have to be patient.’’

Meanwhile out of favour Munster scrum half Peter Stringer has joined English club Saracens on a three-month loan.


Peter McKenna, the GAA’s commercial director, says the Association has no plans to end their long-running sponsorship agreement with Guinness. Over the years there have been many calls from the anti alcoholic brigade for the GAA to end their association with Guinness. McKenna said: ‘‘The advertising and marketing campaigns that Guinness have put into hurling over the last ten years or more have been extraordinary and very creative.’’ However, McKenna accepts that there may come a day when an alcohol company will be prohibited from sponsoring sport under EU laws. ‘‘Looking at it from a wider perspective, which is from a European view, alcohol sponsorship and branding will eventually be taken off the market. We have seen that happen in France and other European countries and I think it’s inevitable that long term it will also happen in Ireland,’’ said McKenna.