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Rovers invest in youth as route to success

Thu, Mar 24 2016

An interesting new light on the Shamrock Rovers academy project Credit: Tom Beary

While Shamrock Rovers supporters may have been smarting on Saturday following their home defeat to St. Patrick’s Athletic the previous night, their club members were putting that short term unhappiness behind them and voting to secure a €1.5m injection into the club.

 

Rovers, which is a fans owned football club, held an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) in Tallaght Stadium last weekend, where the members voted overwhelmingly in favour of drawing down the seven figure sum loan. The plan is for the money to be primarily used to develop their underage academy facilities near to Citywest. €1m will be spent in this area, with the remaining €0.5m going towards running the football club – including the hiring of a new full time CEO.

 

New board level structures

The money is being provided by Ray Wilson and Seumas Dawes, with Wilson, a current Director at Rovers, increasing his stake to 50% in the club. Wilson previously had this level of ownership in 2005 when the club successfully came out of High Court Examinership.

 

Dawes, who is Chairman of Pepper Group, was reported to have a net worth of £124m in the 2014 Sunday Times Richest 1000 list. Pepper have been Rovers’ main jersey sponsor since last season.

 

Wilson will also be bringing three new directors onto a reconstituted board. Five directors will be voted on by the club members, so the supporters effectively have retained a majority on the board.

 

At last Saturday’s EGM in Tallaght, Wilson spoke via Skype from Australia. He named two proposed new directors. Setanta Sports co-founder Mickey O’Rourke, and Stephen Gleeson, MD of Hyundai Ireland (who are a Rovers club sponsor), will join the board following the club’s Annual General Meeting scheduled for May.

 

The club will no doubt be looking to leverage greater sponsorship opportunities and increase revenues by bringing additional business acumen to the board of the football club. The Hoops are also expected to name a full-time CEO in the near future with a candidate expected to take up the position before the mid-season break.

 

The interest free loan is due for repayment in 2026 at which point Wilson’s stake will drop to 25% and begin to be diluted as the club members pay their ongoing monthly membership fee (currently set at €50 per month).

 

The plan is to develop a Rovers training base for all their teams for both underage and their first team. Pat Fenlon's first team squad currently train at the AUL complex close to Dublin Airport. The funding will also be used to continue to improve the structures at the club in terms of coaching, facilities and administration.

 

The ultimate aim is for this funding to help the club produce players of their own for a successful League of Ireland team capable of winning domestic honours and qualification for group stages of European club competitions (as they did back in 2011).

 

Supporter Saviours

The Shamrock Rovers 400 Club was set up in 2002 by the late Jack Wilson (who was a former Director with the club) as an attempt to raise money to fund the completion of Tallaght Stadium. When in 2005 Shamrock Rovers required the protection of the High Court to prevent the club from being wound up by its creditors, it was the 400 Club fans group who stepped up to run the club during the Examinership process.

 

Raising funds during that time, the High Court subsequently approved the 400 Club bid with Rovers leaving Examinership as a supporter owned club. That narrative of the fans saving an Ireland sporting institution, gaining access to Tallaght Stadium against the might of the GAA (after a 2007 court battle) and securing their first back-to-back league titles since Milltown, along with qualification for the Europa League in 2011 is a powerful story.

 

However, key to saving the Hoops over a decade ago was the financial support of life long Rovers fan Ray Wilson (son of Jack Wilson). The Australian-based businessman provided half the finance that was required to secure Rovers’ future in Examinership. Between the fans and Wilson, €450,000 was invested to save the club in 2005 with Wilson retaining 50% of the company. Over time Wilson has had his stake diluted to below 10% as Rovers members have paid their monthly subscriptions.

 

Tallaght Project

For over a decade from the mid-1990s, the discussion about Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght was about bricks and mortar. The Tallaght Project priority was seeking to complete the half-finished stand so that Rovers could finally play their first game in the Dublin 24 venue.

 

The Tallaght Project these days is more a discussion about the youth structures at the club. While top level success has alluded the Hoops since their last league title in 2011, the club have been working hard in developing their academy, particularly since 2012.

 

The Hoops have failed to produce players for their first team in any quantity over the last decade. Of their first team regulars, only goalkeeper Barry Murphy played for their schoolboy team. They are looking to set that right, produce players good enough not only for their first team but with potential onward sale value to clubs in the UK. With space in British academies at a premium, Rovers feel that they are very well placed to attract high calibre players into their club.

 

Having run a B-team in the 2014 First Division, the club since then have directed more of their resources into further developing their underage youth structures which they have built progressively since their first team moved to Tallaght in 2009. Some early fruits of that work can be seen in their u17 team success last season and the fact that the have brought six players from their u19 team into their senior squad for 2016. 

 

Trevor Clarke, who has been part of Rovers’ first team match day squad for every game this season, has made three appearances off the bench in 2016. Clarke and teammate Sean Hanney are two of the five Ireland based players in Paul Doolin’s Ireland u18 squad who play away to England this weekend.

 

You don’t have to have played here to coach Rovers but it helps

Shane Robinson had three spells playing with Shamrock Rovers during his career. In the first period up to 2004, Tallaght was a pipe dream project. By the time he returned in 2009, Robinson wore the captain’s armband in the first game in the new stadium.  Between then and his final spell as a player, Robinson spent two seasons as club captain with Finnish side FC Haka.

 

Robinson has been Rovers’ head of Head of Player and Coach Development since 2014 and has been instrumental in putting together the current structures at the club. Robinson, who also addressed last Saturday’s EGM, has helped put a remarkable group of former Rovers players, UEFA A and B coach qualified, together to run the underage set up. All have extensive experience playing both in the League of Ireland and in leagues outside the country.

 

The Hoops rather than link up with local schoolboy clubs are keen to further develop their own academy which, unlike the main Dublin schoolboy clubs (bar Cabinteely), can offer direct player progression to a full time professional League of Ireland contract.

 

Stephen Bradley is in charge of player development at foundation stage (under 8s to 12s) and is also a vital member of Pat Fenlon’s first team coaching staff. Bradley began his career with Arsenal (a club he still scouts for) and played with Dunfermline and Falkirk. Like Robinson he played with Rovers in the first season in Tallaght.

 

The biggest investment in the last two years has been in the section of the academy that Bradley heads up. The teams for those age groups train three times a week, playing weekends in the DDSL. 

 

Aidan Price is the manager of the u17 team who won last season’s inaugural national league. Price won First Division and Premier Division medals with Rovers in 2006 and 2010. His coaching ticket includes current Rovers player and former Ireland international Stephen McPhail along with Graham Gartland who played in the league here and in Scotland with St. Johnstone.

 

100 times capped international Damien Duff is part of the coaching staff with the under 15 team. The u11 team is led by Keith O’Halloran (ex-Middlesbrough) with former Hoop Pat Deans involved as Strength & Conditioning coach for the underage teams. Last year’s club captain Conor Kenna, now with Bray, is also working with the u8 teams and he spoke this week to extratime.ie in Episode 62 of our sportscast  about his coaching involvement, as well as a host of other topics.

 

The club have based much of their underage setup in Roadstone Sports and Social Club for the past two years. In 2015 the venue received a €150,000 Government Sports Capital Grant to develop a full size all-weather floodlight pitch. 

 

Rovers fans hope that long term success will come from the plans currently being put in place at the club.