Category: Archive

Soccer Scene: How the mighty Rovers have fallen

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

It’s hard to believe after all the glory years at their Milltown, Dublin 6 home, Rovers would end up battling for simple survival.
There are several reasons for the precipitous fall in fortune.
It was the selling of Glenmalure Park back in 1987 that started the rot.
Since then, Rovers have only one league title and the Leinster Senior Cup in the credit column.
But what they lost in 1987 was enough to fill a debit column, that being the fortress that everybody knew and called Milltown Road.
Back in the 1960s, as a boy, it was always the best of days walking to Milltown with my father, ex-Rover player John “The Horse” Behan, and his brother Billy “Poker Face” Behan, chief scout for Manchester United.
We strutted our way to Milltown along with thousands of Shamrock Rovers
Supporters. That’s right, there were thousands of us.
We may have been unlucky in the league and perhaps outclassed by the wonderful Waterford team but there was no way we’d be beaten in the FAI Cup.
After doing the double in 1964, the Hoops went on a sensational cup run, winning the FAI trophy six times in a row.
There was no shortage of famous names in the game back then, players like Liam Tuohy and Ronnie Nolan to Frank O’Neill, and who can ever forget Mick Leech.
Over the years, more than 60 rovers players have taken the field in the green jersey of Ireland.
During the 1950s, Rovers enjoyed an especially successful era when they became the first club to represent the League of Ireland in Europe – and against none other than Manchester United.
The great Matt Busby is said to have been most impressed with some of the Irish players.
After his “Busby Babes” hammered Rovers 6-0 in Dalymount Park the Hoops gave a great account of themselves in a 3-2 loss in the second leg at Old Trafford.
That day in 1957, United fans gave the Irish players a standing ovation. The ’50s can indeed be looked upon as a golden era for the Rovers. They won three leagues and two cups.
However, not all the sporting streets are paved with silver. By the 1970s, soccer in Ireland was hurting.
Still, Rovers hungered for more success when they appointed the great John Giles as manager.
If there was one thing that the standout Leeds United midfielder brought to Milltown it was professionalism.
The Giles era did not produce much silverware but it did keep the club ticking over with names like Ray Treacy and Eamonn Dunphy.
Many a pundit laughed at the sight of old warhorses making their comebacks on Irish soil after careers in England. It was their swansong perhaps, but it stood to the club. Rovers, clearly, were not willing to lie down and roll over.
Keeping this professional attitude stood by the Hoops into the eighties when the green and white army marched under the guidance of Jim McLaughlin.
McLaughlin strengthened the midfield with the experienced Pat Byrne and the flamboyant Liam O’Brien who went on to Man. United.
Three league titles in a row set the tone for Rovers in that decade.
When McLaughlin left in 1986/87 hard hitting defender Dermot Keely took the managerial reins.
Keely’s drive made it four in a row for Rovers. There was, it seemed no stopping the Hoops. Then they sold their home to real estate developers and basically stopped themselves.
Since then, Rovers have the vagabonds of Irish football having played at Tolka Park, Dalymount Park, the RDS, Tolka again, and Morton Stadium in Santry.
Suffice it to say, their traveling trophy case has been a bit short of current silver.
Still, there’s no forgetting the glorious past, made up as it is of 15 League Championships, 24 FAI Cups and many other honors such as the League of Ireland Shield and the aforementioned Leinster Senior Cup.
Rovers are also not short on European experience and a couple results are worth a mention: Fairs Cup, 1963, Shamrock Rovers 2, Valencia 3 and the European Cup Winners Cup, 1966, Rovers 3 Bayern Munich 4.
The Hoops are way off the European mark right now as they struggle at the foot of the Eircom table.
Thanks, however, to ever-loyal supporters, belief and ambition for the future continue to endure.
They survive on the foundation of a tradition that goes back to 1901 and a corner of Dublin called Ringsend, otherwise known as Ray Town. The Shelbourne club was also founded in this small village known for fishing.
Right now, times are better for Shels though some of us remember when Shels looked as if they’d be the ones to go under.
Every dog has its day and success and hard times can be cyclical in football.
Money makes a huge difference at the end of the day of course. In Rovers’ case, losing Milltown was devastating. But the club is still plugging away. And with such a glorious history, this sleeping giant might someday be back at the top.
The club’s ladies team has certainly been making a go of it. In 2002, the lady Hoops became the first team from Ireland to make it to the women’s UEFA Cup competition.
So there’s no reason why the men can’t follow, regardless of which pitch they now have to call home.

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