Rovers to offer Fenlon the hot seat as Croly hits back
Departed boss lists his successes as he slams 'myth' of poor record in Hoops' dugout
Pat Fenlon will be offered first refusal on the Shamrock Rovers managerial job when the club's board sit down with the former Hibernian, Bohemians and Shelbourne manager later this week.
Currently out of the country on holiday, Fenlon will be formally approached on his return to Dublin tomorrow. Discussions about whether he could work within the club's relatively tight financial parameters will then take place over the following days.
There is no doubt that Fenlon tops Rovers' recruitment list but it remains far from certain a deal will be struck because, while the Hoops are perceived to be Irish football's biggest spenders, outgoing manager Trevor Croly, suggested yesterday that their pockets aren't as deep as people might think.
"In all likelihood Shamrock Rovers have the league's fourth largest budget behind Dundalk, Sligo and St Pat's," said Croly.
Would Fenlon – winner of five titles from his Shelbourne and Bohemians years – be interested in returning to League of Ireland football? By Friday we should have a definite answer. If not, Ian Baraclough, recently sacked as manager of Sligo Rovers, will get the call.
Saturday morning was when Croly and the Rovers board made the call to end their 20-month relationship after a turbulent eight days which saw the Hoops fans turn on the highly-regarded young manager following defeats to Drogheda and Limerick.
Yet, far from dispirited, he came out fighting yesterday, putting forward a persuasive argument that the club he had left was in a healthier state than the one he inherited.
"It's a myth that I didn't do a good job," said Croly. "In case people forget, we won two trophies in my first season and got to the semi-finals of the FAI Cup. My replacement will take over a club who are in the semi-finals of the EA Sports Cup, who are fourth in the table, who are still the FAI Cup. And it is not as if I have left Shamrock Rovers in liquidation.
"Structurally wise, this club is arguably better set up than any Irish club has ever been. There is now a pathway in place for players to progress from the underage set-up to the first-team. Since I arrived, the club's board has been prudent and smart with its money.
"We worked closely together to put structures in place and it hasn't just been a first team we've been building, it has been a club.
"We've recruited ex-players (Graham Gartland, Stephen Bradley and Noel O'Halloran) to coach the club's U-12, U-16 and U-19 teams. We've opted for a B team to play League of Ireland First Division football, which has resulted in the best young talent around joining us at an early age and having the opportunity to grow.
"Over the years, Irish football's problems have stemmed from short-termism. We thought long term, considered the benefits of schooling young players in a tactical, technical and physical sense and already have seen a couple of players, like Sean Heaney and Evan Osam, come through the system into the first team.
"They're both teenagers. And more will follow. Well, I hope they do. I hope the structures remain there because I have a pride in that work and a respect for the board for having a shared vision with me.
"When you manage this club, a part of you stays with them. I will always have a soft spot for Shamrock Rovers."
However, Croly will also consider the section of fans who delivered abuse to both him and his players with a mixture of anger and wonder.
"How many managers have Shamrock Rovers had in the last 25 years? And how many have won things?
"Ray Treacy won the league. Pat Scully won the First Division. Michael O'Neill was successful. I was, too. We won two trophies last year and did it while this restructuring work was going on.
"This year we are fourth – with the fourth-highest budget. Yes, the club has a fantastic history behind it but that does not mean you are entitled to win the league year after year. At times the expectation levels are too high. And at times the abuse players received was too much.
"One of the big disappointments was supporters' negativity towards our players because that inhibited our ability to transfer the work done on the training ground to match day.
"Would actors, having rehearsed in theatre all week, put on a show if the audience was abusing them?
"It's unlikely – just as it was hard for the players to cope with the strain. As a manager, you can manage many things – players, the board – but you will struggle to manage that."
And still he has no regrets. "I'm delighted to have had the chance to manage Rovers and have no doubt that I am a better manager because of it," insisted Croly, who will be a guest on RTE's Soccer Republic tonight.
"I look at the other managers who left Rovers and went on to do well at other clubs and know I will bounce back.
"Liam Buckley won the FAI Cup with Sporting Fingal before winning the league at St Pat's. Damien Richardson won those two trophies with Cork City and look at the job Stephen Kenny, my predecessor, is doing with Dundalk.
"Wherever I end up going, I will be a better manager on the back of working at Shamrock Rovers."