Excited kids at Rovers to benefit from Keane edge
Trevor Clarke is rarely lost for words. The teenager's expletive laden TV interview after winning man-of-the-match in last week's Dublin derby win over Bohemians illustrated that fact.
Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley laughed yesterday as he recalled Clarke squaring up to an army sergeant on a pre-season trip to a barracks for a team bonding and fitness exercise.
But the Rovers youngsters were temporarily stunned when they reported for training on Monday to find Robbie Keane getting changed in the dressing room.
He is training with the League of Ireland side this week after some work with their physio Tony McCarthy led to the suggestion that he could join in. The players have enjoyed his presence.
"It was a bit of a shock," said Clarke yesterday. "We didn't know he was coming in."
With coach Damien Duff and Sporting Director Stephen McPhail also on hand to give advice, the new generation in Tallaght are benefiting from years of experience. Clarke, a winger that has converted into a full back, is enjoying Duff's input.
"It's unbelievable to have him around the squad," says the 18-year-old. "Even after training sessions he pulls me aside and shows me things that I can do better, and things that he did."
The Rovers front men received a 30-minute tutorial from Keane after training yesterday as they prepared for tonight's encounter with Derry City at Tallaght Stadium.
The 36-year-old is at Rovers to build his fitness ahead of his next career move - Bradley confirmed that he will not be penning a deal with the Hoops and has overseas options - but he is also showcasing his coaching ability.
Ireland's record goalscorer has longer-term plans to move into that area.
"We always take the strikers out on the Thursday to do little finishing sessions and work on combinations," said Bradley, "Robbie walked in (to take it). That's the route he will eventually go - as a coach or manager - because when you sit down to speak to him, he sees the game really, really well.
"And you can see it when he's coaching the boys, just giving them tricks of the trade. To be learning that from him is unbelievable."
Keane, Duff, McPhail and Bradley also participate in a competitive weekly game of five-a-side with other members of Rovers staff that sounds like a lively affair.
"I picked the teams the other week and ended up with Robbie, Damien and Stephen on the same team and it was over after ten minutes," he laughs.
Bradley's day job involves nurturing stars of the future and he's not afraid to big up the current crop, particularly the precocious 19-year-old Michael O'Connor who came off the bench to score against Bohs.
"We talk about Maguire (Cork striker Sean) and Fagan (St Pat's attacker Christy) but I think he has the ability to be streets ahead of both of them," said Bradley, "You look at the boys who've gone from this league in the past, Kevin Doyle, Shane Long and he's as good as anyone."
The rookie boss thinks Clarke can go on to play for Ireland if he keeps the head down and tightens up the defensive side of his game.
He's not short of enthusiasm and is well able to fight his corner. Clarke hails from a sporting clan - they featured on Ireland's Fittest Family last year - his father Trevor was an accomplished boxer and his brother Darren is still competitive in that sphere at national level. The young footballer learned that game at Neilstown Boxing Club too, but opted to focus on football and he's relishing the Rovers challenge after a year at Middlesbrough that he didn't really enjoy.
"Over there you're just playing academy football, but coming back here you are playing with men and this experience will stand to me if I go back over," he asserts.
Another player hoping to follow the same path is Drogheda teenager Thomas Byrne who is doing well with his hometown club after coming back from Brighton.
With six points from six, Drogheda host title chasing Cork tonight and Byrne has impressed team-mate and ex-Ireland striker Stephen Elliott.
"It's up to him how far he wants to go in the game," said Elliott, speaking to the LOI Weekly Podcast. "He's still only 18 and some of the things he does in training are frightening."