Tuesday 24 April 2018

Success or survival the dilemma for Rovers

Pat Fenlon's reign as Shamrock Rovers manager came to an end on Sunday Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Pat Fenlon's reign as Shamrock Rovers manager came to an end on Sunday Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

From RoPS to RIPs.

Another week in the League of Ireland and another dream dies a little.

Today, the Athlone Town Supporters trust will congregate as the oldest club in the country limps sadly from one uncertain week into another; these hopelessly optimistic yet romantically inflamed diehards are already planning for a life after death.

If the current guise of this famous old name leaves us, a new supporters-owned club has vowed to rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes.

We wish them good cheer and all the luck in the world. They shall need it. For the very fact that they are meeting today indicates just how even Sisyphus would rather keep rolling his ball uphill rather than dabble in the LOI.

Things are no healthier further up the food chain. In 2011, Shamrock Rovers earned in excess of €1m by qualifying for the group stages of the Europa League under the astute guidance of Michael O'Neill.

Even the most prudent management of such a financial windfall has not helped the club kick on since then; they seemed to have all the ingredients necessary to capitalise on what every League of Ireland fans crave.

The breakthrough. At least they are in existence. Not so long ago, they nearly shuffled into the mortuary too.

But yet again, their name is associated with failure; they are marooned in mid-table mediocrity and floundering to retain a fingertip hold on vital European football moolah after losing 2-0 to Finnish side RoPS last week.

The universal response to failure - sacking the manager - will hardly reverse the trend.

For those of us who cling to the domestic game, as one might desperately grasp to the hope that a loved one may emerge from coma, the travails of Ireland's most famous club may initially invoke schadenfreude.

They should, instead, provoke mourning. Again. Another living wake for a commodity that, in remarkably equal measure, defies death and life.

Neither Rovers nor the League of course, are extinct; they still exist. And that should be celebrated with every vibrant breath exhaled by of the domestic game's dwindling devotees.


Athlone Town, for whom the privilege of playing is worth considerably less than primary schoolchildren receive for cutting neighbours' grass, would bite your hand off to be merely existing in a month's time. Or a week's.


Some might say that there is nothing to link the tales of these two clubs; the reality is that everything does - from official indifference to public ignorance. And everyone is to blame.

Seven days ago, Rovers held a press conference in Tallaght Stadium to ahead of their Europa League tie against RoPS, whose 2-0 victory there a day later would ultimately unseat the club's fourth manager since 2011.

Tallaght Stadium, owned by Dublin County Council, stands as a monument to the indefatigable commitment of so many supporters to keep the club in existence - that word again - after they almost expired beneath the weight of €2.4m debts in 2004.

And yet just two journalists turned up to witness Fenlon's pre-match thoughts; a nod to RTE because they were there, too. Typical media, critics might argue. The Irish Independent was there but those who were not will not have lost sleep. Nobody noticed. Nobody cared.

Maybe it was because nobody here had heard of their opposition before.

"They probably never heard of us either," Fenlon demurred. Perhaps he's right. He will always remember them.

Rovers are learning the harsh lesson that as much as they need to heed the cautious lessons of history in their careful planning for the future, it has always been the present that drags clubs down.

Earlier this year, the club drew down a €1.5m loan; €1m would be spent developing their CityWest under-age facilities, with the remainder being spent on existence. All very laudable and sustainable.

But with the restraints on wages and transfers, the planning for future success could never possibly dovetail with success in the present.

The €410,000 winnings that Rovers appear to have forfeited this week would have gone some way to lessening the burden of the unceasing, day-to-day financial mundanities that are essential to keeping a club in existence.

The quandary now for Rovers is a familiar one for so many of their rivals who have soared like Icarus before crashing to earth; should they stick or twist in pursuit of European glory as well as the seemingly irrepressible domestic march of the relatively Zen-like calm that pervades in Dundalk?

This heralded club is standing at a crossroads now. An unlikely reversal of the dismal first-leg defeat in Finland this week would provide an unlikely and welcome fillip.

It would also serve as a reminder that the outcome of 90 minutes of football can, like a fateful finger of fate, be the difference between chaos and celebration, survival or success.

Anyone who cares about the game in this country should wish them well.

Irish Independent

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