Just 12 short months ago, Shamrock Rovers Football Club and their fans were on top of the world. They had qualified for the group stages of the Europa League – being the first (and so far only) club from the Republic of Ireland to ever do so. By beating Serbian club Partizan Belgrade – a club with quadruple Rovers’ wage budget – they had made history, as well as hopefully paving the way for their fellow countrymen to follow them into European adventures that lasted beyond early-August.
Unfortunately for Shamrock Rovers, their success proved to be their eventual downfall. Having led Shams to continental success, manager Michael O’Neill was summoned by his native Northern Ireland to coach his home nation. Of course, this was a real honour for him, but a hammer blow to the Tallaght club and any prospect of future success.
Swiftly following the gaffer out the door was a number of key players. Right-back Pat Sullivan left for Australia. Centre-back and leader Dan Murray returned to his adopted home of Cork. Left-back Enda Stevens earned a move cross-channel to Premier League side Aston Villa. Striker and primary goal scorer Karl Sheppard left for Reading.
In came Stephen Kenny, a Tallaght native who made his name with Northern club Derry City – who he led to First Division glory and third in the Premier Division. On paper, he was the ideal appointment. A near-flawless record on home shores, and he played football in a similar vein to his predecessor Mick O’Neill. But as the famous saying goes – “football is played on grass, not on paper”.
Signs of a slump in this Rovers’ side were early. Very early. In the first league game, at the classically named ‘Hunky Dory’s Park’, they went one-nil down against Drogheda United, through a long-distance strike from Dean Marshall. Although they recovered to triumph 2-1, a trained eye could spot flaws in this Shamrock Rovers team – flaws that would become painfully apparent very soon.
From then on everything went pretty much downhill. Particular low-lights for the Rovers’ faithful include a 5-1 defeat at the hands of St. Patrick’s Athletic, a 3-0 loss to title rivals Sligo Rovers, and – most painfully – a 4-0 spanking to hated rivals Bohemians. Add to this a European exit at the earliest possible interval – and to Lithuanian minnows FC Ekranas – and you have some very unhappy campers in Tallaght Stadium.
Stephen Kenny is the universal favourite to be ‘relieved of his duties’ in the not so distant future, amidst rumours that he has totally lost the dressing room (which, as we know, is nigh impossible to win back).
As things stand, Rovers are third in the league, and not quite showing the prestige they did in their previous two campaigns – where they claimed the league title on both occasions. They are already (as I previously stated) out of Europe, and the way things are going might not qualify for it next season.
On the pitch, the team looks thoroughly disjointed, lacking the fluency that stood them in such good stead last season (something that current league leaders Sligo Rovers have in abundance). They are far too reliant on Garry Twigg for goals, and are seriously lacking in any replacement should an injury befall their star man. At the back – their bread and butter in 2011 – they are, to put it kindly, hopeless. They are leaking goals all over the shop, and as we all know, defensive solidarity is the cornerstone of any title bid.
Should Stephen Kenny remain in charge, Sham’s will have make do with battling for Europe, as no realistic assault on the Airtricity League title can be mounted with the team in such a shambolic state.
“So much can change over the course of a year”. In the case of Shamrock Rovers, this is very much true.