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Hoops crisis spinning out of control

ARE SHAMROCK Rovers in crisis?

That's the question that has been the talk of the Airtricity League this week as Hoops emerged punch-drunk from a series of 'bad news' stories, without their highly-rated assistant manager and with their captain on the verge of leaving the club.

There are also -- as yet unproven -- racism allegations surrounding one of their players and some supporters, but the elephant in the room is the future of manager Michael O'Neill whose contract expires at the end of the season.

Trevor Croly's exit from the club on Tuesday sparked speculation about what is going on behind the scenes at the club and, with O'Neill yet to put pen to paper on an extension to his contract, the former Northern Ireland international is dividing fans' opinions like never before.

While events at Rovers always seem to be magnified, it's clear all is not sweetness and light down Tallaght way.

The manager is refusing to publicly discuss his contract situation. An offer is on the table, but he has yet to sign on the dotted line.

O'Neill has been central to the Tallaght revolution, unexpectedly competing for the title in his first season, winning it in his second and adding the Setanta Cup this season.

Their European run last year boosted his reputation, but the former Hibernian man does not command the level of popularity he might expect expect among the fans, who are split on whether they want him to stay.

Pat Fenlon is being mentioned as a possible successor, with Liam Buckley also being mentioned.

O'Neill's style of play has been criticised -- heavily in some quarters -- but the club are keen to keep him on and externally, O'Neill's stock is high.

He has this week been linked with his old club in Scotland and even the Northern Ireland manager's job.

Former Hoops striker Dessie Baker reckons his old boss needs to outline his position soon.

"I think Michael needs to make his mind up as to whether he is going to stay or go and let them know," he said.

It will be interesting to see what reception he gets tomorrow when Shamrock Rovers take on St Patrick's Athletic, especially if the result doesn't go his way.

The Missing Link

One of the most respected and well-liked coaches in the domestic game, Croly's resignation this week was greeted with shock.

The timing of his decision to step down is known to have upset the hierarchy at Tallaght with key league games and the Champions League on the way, but the former assistant's comments in an official club statement made it quite clear that he felt he could not carry on under O'Neill.

So, what will the loss of the assistant do to the squad?

Baker says the club are not only losing an innovative trainer, but a key link between the players and their manager.

"I was 13 years in the league and I haven't come across a better coach. It will be hard to fill his shoes and in that case he's a big loss to Shamrock Rovers," Baker said.

"Sometimes you don't want to go and see the manager, you want to have a word, but some players might be afraid to approach the manager.

"With Trevor, if you ever wanted to say anything you could always go and sort it out privately.

"It was a big shock, not only for me but for the rest of the lads. It's unfortunate to see Trevor gone because he was such an influence for me over the last couple of years and for most of the lads."

Not in a league

of their own

After the decline of Bohemians and Sporting Fingal, the Hoops were tipped to walk away with the league after adding some of the division's top talent over the winter.

Things tend to be amplified around Rovers, their poor start last season saw them roundly criticised, but they rode out the storm and won the league on goal difference, and former player Robert Bayly says the amount of new faces meant his old club were never going to walk away with it.

"He brought a lot of new bodies in and I didn't expect them to gel straight away," the midfielder said.

"They seemed to pick up their points at the start, but when they went down a couple of bodies he had to bring a couple of new lads in. I didn't expect them to run away with it at all."

St Pat's manager Pete Mahon has stirred things up by claiming that Sligo are a more together squad than Shamrock Rovers and, as a result, he reckons they are a bigger threat to his league leaders.

Rovers needed two late goals to get a point after a poor display at home to Dundalk, before losing to Sligo.

Captain Dan Murray was taken off in the first game and dropped for the trip to the northwest and appears to be on his way out of the club, with Limerick his most likely destination.

Last week's defeat saw them drop off the top of the table for the first time in weeks.

However, for all the talk of crisis, the Hoops still have the strongest squad and are one of the few teams out there with the capability of strengthening during the transfer window.

Racism row

The Croly resignation may have hogged the headlines, but the racism storm surrounding the club hasn't gone away.

Club officials attended a hearing of the FAI's Disciplinary Control Unit on Wednesday and a decision on the two accusations -- one against an unnamed player and another against the Tallaght crowd -- is expected next week.

It is separate to the on-field issues, but an unwelcome matter unlikely to do the club's reputation any good.


St Pat's are first up, followed by a sure-to-be-hostile trip to the Brandywell next Friday night and that's all before the Hoops' Champions League debut against Flora Tallinn on Tuesday week.

June was a difficult month for the club, but July will be make or break. They only have to look at Bohs' disastrous trip to TNS last year for reasons to be fearful of approaching Europe with their eye off the ball.

Only the next few weeks will tell if the club have suffered from the events of the past three weeks, but the pressure is on ahead of tomorrow's clash between the top two.

There promises to be a fiery atmosphere at Tallaght Stadium, with eyes firmly fixed on the Rovers' manager.

Irish Independent