It’s been four months since Rovers played a competitive game at home but the long wait is almost over for The Hoops faithful. Rovers meet newly promoted Wexford Youths tonight in Tallaght Stadium (Kick off 8pm) after they started their campaign in fine style last weekend with a 2-0 victory away to Sligo. We caught up with Pat Fenlon and Stephen McPhail this week to hear their thoughts ahead of the home curtain raiser.
Thoughts on last weekend’s game against Sligo?
We were delighted with the win, I thought we played well in the first half. The first sending off didn’t effect Sligo too much and they put us under a bit of pressure in the second half. There’s always that fear when you don’t get the second goal, especially after we had a couple of chances near the end that we didn’t take. We were relieved when Danny put that one away. It was a decent three points for us to pick up as they were very good in the second half. I thought Brandon’s goal was fantastic. It’s a big season for him. He had such a good season last year people expect that again from him but I think he’s got the ability to step up. He’s a talent, he’s working hard at the moment, physically he’s in great condition so I don’t see any reason why he can’t keep improving.
Will the addition of Killian Brennan make the team more effective going forward as they seemed to struggle to create chances at times last season?
Last season when we lost Keith (Fahey) and Danny didn’t play a lot we definitely lost some of our threat going forward. We didn’t want to change the squad a lot this year as I feel we’ve got a lot of good young players who are developing and it was important to give them time to keep developing but we felt we needed pace in the team and a little bit of creativity. Killian definitely gives us that and Dean Clarke coming in on a wide area and Gary Shaw give us a little bit of legs as well that we didn’t have. We’re trying to build a squad as we feel we’ve got a lot of very good players and rather than keep moving players on we decided to try and work with them and develop them and hopefully them players will start to come through. Two or three of them broke through last year and this season is a big season for them. It’s up to me and the coaching staff to work with them and make them better players rather than just go out and throw stupid money at players.
How important was the trip to India for getting the players ready for the season ahead?
It was a great trip. Fantastic. It probably lasted longer than we expected with us getting through the group. We knew it was going to be a tough ask for us but the players were brilliant. The games were really tough, especially with the conditions. We came up against some good young players and they were three different games prior to the semi. The Argentina game, that was one we would’ve expected to be a real tactical game but it wasn’t, it was crash bang wallop, a bit like a league of Ireland game! The other games were very technical and tactical so it was great to get those games so early in the season and test the players and for them to play so well and come through it was a big plus. The experience of playing and the place itself was a great experience for everyone, myself included.The people were fantastic over there, it was an eye-opener. You see everything we have here and they don’t have a lot but they were willing to help all the time. For us it was about getting the players fit and obviously getting some serious game time in which was great.
How much are you looking forward to the Wexford Youths game?
We’re looking forward to getting back here to Tallaght Stadium. I’ve had a few meetings with the supporters over the off season and they’ve gone really well. We’ve tried to get a bond going with them and they were brilliant for us on Saturday during the game. They travelled in huge numbers and vocally they really got behind us so we’re looking forward to getting back here. Wexford is going to be a tough game. They’ll enjoy coming here, like most teams do, but we’ve made this place difficult for anyone to get anything out of. We know we’re going to be in for a tough game though. They were a little bit unlucky in the game against Longford and had a lot of possession but probably didn’t create as many chances as they would have liked. They had a great season last year and will want to enjoy it this year but they’ll want to make sure that they’re picking up points. It was great to see big attendances last week at Cork, Finn Harps and our game though I suppose the fixtures were nicely set up. Watching the Finn Harps/Derry game it looked brilliant. Full stands, full terracing, big away support, great atmosphere, same as Sligo, that’s what football should be. It’s about us in the league being able to maintain that and keep the crowds coming. The beginning of the season does usually start like that but in the middle of the season when the league starts to split into two leagues like it did a bit last year you can lose that a little bit so it’s about us trying to maintain the support for all the clubs and making it a good place to go on a Friday/Saturday night to watch football.
You unfortunately missed last weeks game with Sligo through injury, how close are you to returning to full fitness?
I’ve had a problem with my hamstring for the last couple of weeks and I’ve been out on the pitch for three sessions with Tommy the physio I haven’t set a time frame on when I’ll be back playing but hopefully I’ll be back training with the team this week. It’s frustrating to miss the first game of the season, it’s one you really don’t want to miss especially after doing all the running in pre season and all the hard graft and then to pick up an injury is frustrating but I know it won’t be long til I’m back, it’s not too much of a problem.
The trip to India was probably one of the more unusual and physically demanding pre season’s of your career, did you enjoy it?
Yeah it was great, it was obviously an eye opener, an experience that we’ll all never forget. After three and a half weeks out there you really appreciate things, the poverty was a big thing for everyone to see but just the way the local people were with smiles on their faces everyday. And how much they love their football was frightening! We all enjoyed getting to spend time with one another. Pre season is massive so for a team to get to learn the ins and outs of everybody 24 hours a day for three weeks was very important. Throughout my career I’ve been on some intense pre seasons and this was definitely up there because the games were good, they were hard games and the conditions were hot, training was hard, everything was difficult but we all learned about each other really. It was good and I think we’ll take loads from it. For me as a captain it helped with trying to get the young lads integrated and try and get them have a voice and come out of themselves. It was easy for me to do because we were with them 24/7 plus I got to know them a bit more because a lot of them are quieter around the older players.
You’re now facing into your third season in the League of Ireland. When you came back home to live in Dublin two years ago were you expecting your career with Rovers to be just one season?
To be honest I didn’t really make a long term plan and I just took everything as it has come. It’s only now I feel comfortable with everything after being away for twenty years. Everything, off the pitch, on the pitch, took a while to settle down for me. Probably only in the last three or four months have I felt like I’m settled. I’ve got my house together, all my gear was still in Cardiff! Little things like that being sorted means I’m getting to grips with everything. The kids love their school, everything’s going fine. This year hopefully I’ll be more settled in my mind hopefully in what I have to do. Obviously football-wise I’m still trying to adapt, overhear it’s a different game in terms of where I was. The biggest difference? Obviously the professionalism isn’t as high as it would be over there because of the financial differences but I think this past six months Pat has really got the professionalism up to where I’ve been used to and what I’m comfortable with. I think our lads have really bought into it and come on loads this past six months. They’ve trained really well and looked after their bodies. It’s a good sign. I’m really looking forward to the year ahead and hopefully winning some silverware.