McDonnell has cause for Shels optimism despite derby defeat
Shamrock Rvs 1, Shelbourne 0
THE last time that John McDonnell sat on the Shelbourne bench, they were the best team in the country – but they are a world away from that now.
Taking charge of the Premier Division's bottom team for the first time, the one-time Reds assistant manager wasn't exactly given a friendly welcome by Shamrock Rovers in Shels' 11th defeat of the season.
A first-half strike from Ronan Finn ultimately proved to be the difference as Rovers stretched their unbeaten league run to five games. But Dean Kelly could have snatched a point for the new boss.
Selected as the man to steer the club clear of relegation, McDonnell knows that he faces the toughest task of his managerial career to date. Yet, it is not the mission impossible that some may think.
A bright opening to this game suggested that Shels could transform into a team that others don't like to play against due to their stubborn defending and energetic play.
The key, though, is maintaining their team shape and high-pressure approach for the bulk of a game, because as soon as they tired, Rovers took advantage and McDonnell took note of it.
He will also have spotted the work-rate of his players, the snap shot from midfielder Robert Bayly on five minutes, and the careful handling of keeper Ger Hanley, as a few positives stood out in a game where they were second-best.
Nine years ago, Shels were within one win of reaching the Champions League group stages and McDonnell may just dig out some footage of that memorable run to remind his players of the club's tradition.
However, he must firstly work with his team on anticipating danger inside their own area because the Shels backline were caught playing musical statues on 29 minutes when Finn fired in the opening goal.
From a Rovers perspective, it was a sweet move as Karl Sheppard did well to reach the end-line before cutting the ball back to Finn to convert. But for McDonnell, it was typical of Shels' defending this season.
That was the 26th league goal that they had conceded and their new boss will be keen to tighten up his defence. They were simply cut open too easily with Sheppard, in particular, wreaking havoc with his clever runs.
Considering that he is on loan from Reading, Sheppard should have found it to be child's play against such a porous defence, but the Malahide man acted as creator rather than finisher in this game.
By dragging his marker, Graham Gartland, out of position, he opened up space for team-mates Finn and Sean O'Connor to test the alertness of Hanley.
When Shels did get a rare opportunity to turn things around and press forward, they were far too hurried as substitute Philip Hughes wasted a chance that should have at least hit the target.
The same went for Kelly, a former Rovers player, who failed to keep his composure in injury-time when Hughes did well to find him. With that chance went a possible point in McDonnell's first game. Yet, when he reviews this and looks ahead to their next game at home to UCD, the new Shels manager will see reasons as to why they can pull themselves off the bottom and to safety.
It will be a massive challenge for McDonnell to turn things around, especially with no funds available to sign new players, but he is hungry and detrmined to do it.
SHAMROCK ROVERS – Murphy; McCormack, Foran, McGuinness, Powell; Rice, Chambers (Robinson 85); O'Connor (McCabe 79), Finn, Stewart; Sheppard (Kilduff 77).
SHELBOURNE – Hanley; Cornwall, Ryan, Gartland, Flynn; Hurley, Sheerin (Hughes 71), Bayly, Hanlon; Brennan; Leech (Kelly 53).
REF – P Sutton (Clare).