Friday 30 September 2016

Daniel McDonnell: A role that would be regarded as the most attractive in Irish football has turned into a poisoned chalice

Strained relationship with Rovers board sees boss leave

Published 04/07/2016 | 02:30

Fenlon’s 23-month stint at Tallaght failed to work out in the way that either party had envisaged. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile
Fenlon’s 23-month stint at Tallaght failed to work out in the way that either party had envisaged. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

After just under two years in charge, Pat Fenlon and Shamrock Rovers have parted ways, the club confirmed in a statement released yesterday.

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The timing was unusual, but the news did not come as a huge surprise, as Fenlon's 23-month stint at Tallaght failed to work out in the way that either party had envisaged.

Thursday night's deflating Europa League loss to Finnish side RoPS Rovaniemi was the final straw - although the Hoops boss indicated afterwards that he felt the Dubliners still had a chance of bouncing back from a 2-0 deficit.

He will not get the opportunity to prove that point.

Qualifying for Europe in successive seasons will go down as the main achievement of his tenure, but Fenlon has always aimed for trophies and he fell short of that target at the club he supported as a boy.

That connection with Rovers and his track record of delivering league titles made him the natural appointment when Trevor Croly left Tallaght midway through the 2014 campaign.

Fenlon led Rovers to a fourth-place finish, 12 points off title winners Dundalk. Last season, they finished 13 points off Stephen Kenny's side, but just two behind second-placed Cork - which represented some kind of progress.

Alas, they now sit 14 points off Dundalk and eight behind Cork, with no real evidence in their performances that they will be closing the gap between now and the end of the year.

It's known that Fenlon's relationship with the Rovers board was strained, and that ultimately boils down to the reason he feels they are struggling.

Over the winter, he was unable to land a number of his leading targets in the transfer market, with other clubs stumping up the cash. He wanted a bigger budget to strengthen the first-team dressing room, but the Rovers hierarchy were unwilling to budge.

They have prioritised putting resources into the expanding schoolboy section of the club, which is headed up by popular former Hoops midfielder Shane Robinson.

Earlier this year, Australian-based part-owner Ray Wilson raised his stake in the club to 50pc as members agreed to spend new investment on improving the underage academy facilities.

It is unquestionably a step in the right direction, but Fenlon felt that he needed more support to really challenge Dundalk.

Advantage

Rovers would argue that he should have performed better with the resources at his disposal.

A first round exit from the Europa League would cost them €210,000, and RoPS did not impress despite coming away from Ireland with a clear advantage.

That was an extremely poor result, no matter what way you look at it.

It's a far cry from 2011, when Michael O'Neill brought the Hoops to the group stages of the competition.

That was supposed to kick-start a period of dominance, but the opposite has proved to be the case.

Stephen Kenny lasted nine months of his three-year contract and - after Brian Laws filled in on a short-term basis - both Trevor Croly and Fenlon have departed after less than two years.

A role that would be regarded as the most attractive in Irish football has turned into a poisoned chalice for O'Neill's successors.

Crowds have suffered at their home in Tallaght, with the early bump from relocation fading from memory, and the next appointment will be crucial for the club.

There is no outstanding and obvious contender, but Paul Doolin is sure to be in the mix after his departure from the post of Ireland U-19 head coach.

Rovers also have internal candidates. Stephen Bradley is expected to assume caretaker duties and is well regarded. Robinson could also have a more prominent role to play in the next regime, while ex-Hoops Marc Kenny and Aidan Price are in charge of the U-19 and U-17 sides respectively.

The new manager will be tasked with creating a buzz around a club that has fallen strangely flat.

Under Fenlon, they only shone sporadically. A big, emphatic win over Bohemians at Dalymount Park earlier this year hinted at their potential.

So too did a competitive showing in their sparring matches with Dundalk towards the end of last term.

Also, in Brandon Miele, they have arguably the brightest young talent in the country.

But it was the April defeat to the league leaders in Dublin 24 that really told a story. Coming off the high of the 4-0 drubbing of Bohs, it was a chance for the Hoops to make a statement.

Instead, they fell behind courtesy of an own goal before a daft tackle by captain Gary McCabe drew a red card that ended the match as a contest.

The stronger characters needed to prevail. Rovers didn't have enough of them, and they have now hit refresh again in search of the right formula. It will be another test of patience for Hoops' supporters regardless of who is appointed.

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