Echo Sport Replay: Scully recalls his time leading the Hoops out of worrying dark days

By Stephen Leonard

FIFTEEN years ago Shamrock Rovers faced into one of the darkest periods of their long history after suffering relegation to the second tier of the League of Ireland for the very first time.

Yet their stay in the First Division was short lived thanks in no small measure to the determination and energy of manager Pat Scully, who, after assembling a squad of young, hungry competitors, dragged the Hoops back to the top ranks within just one season of taking charge.

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Then Shamrock Rovers manager Pat Scully celebrates with player Ger O’Brien after the Hoops recorded a crucial win over Finn Harps on the road to their League of Ireland First Division title success back in 2006 Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

It was a remarkable feat by the Crumlin man, who himself was relatively new to football management, but had garnered no shortage of attention following his brief but impressive stint with Kilkenny City that saw them just miss out on a promotion play-off the previous season.

It was during his early schoolboy days with Lourdes Celtic that Scully developed the skill and tenacity that would serve him well as a professional player and later as a manager.

Securing his place on the Ireland schoolboy international team that beat England 2-1 in Villa Park, the young centre half suddenly drew attention from a number of cross channel giants, opting eventually to join Arsenal with whom he won the FA Youth Cup in 1988.

A couple of spells out on loan were followed by a move to Southend whom he helped secure promotion to the old First Division (now Championship).

None other than Neil Warnock came in search of his services, bringing the Dubliner to Huddersfield where he again enjoyed promotion to the second tier of English football after the team had just previously been languishing at the wrong end of the third.

Not seeing eye to eye with the new manager who came in, Brian Horton, Scully capitalised on the Bosman ruling that had just been recently enacted to secure a move home to Ireland where he joined Shelbourne.

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It was during his successful spell as manager of Shamrock Rovers that Crumlin man Pat Scully took charge of the men’s football section in IT Tallaght- a post he has held for the past 15 years Photo by Paddy Barrett

Despite scooping the PFAI Player of the Year Award in 1998 and captaining the team to their first ever league and cup double two years later, disagreement with management brought his time there to a close and he subsequently donned the green and white of Shamrock Rovers.

A brief spell there featured a run to the FAI Cup decider where they came undone against Derry City after which Drogheda United came knocking and it was there that Scully not only finished his playing career, but got his first taste of coaching in the League of Ireland.

“I went to Drogheda, but I always had a bit of a bad hip which I would have had since I was 27, so I had to be careful the way I trained” recalled Scully.

“Drogheda had just been promoted and we did stay up that year, but it was a frustrating year.

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“Harry McCue was the manager and we had a good team. We should have done better than what we did. Harry got sacked and the club asked me to take over for a ten-day period for the training.

“I was 34 I think and that was my first touch of looking at the coaching and management side of it and I really enjoyed that week.

“I left Drogheda at the end of that season and I thought I was 34, my hip wasn't getting any better and so I knocked it [his playing career] on the head.

“You get to an age where you'd like to have more control over the team and I had a few offers to sign for a few clubs as a player and I just thought 'No, I'm going to hold on now.'

“I had started my coaching badges and I just thought ‘I'm going to wait and see if I can get something.’

“Damien Richardson rang me one night and said Kilkenny had parted with their manager. They were bottom of the First Division.

“Damien knew Jimmy Rhatigan who was the owner of the club and he said to me 'Look, it's a lovely little club and you’re going to have to start somewhere.'

“In the couple of months I had been out of football I had been around looking at games and players. I'd seen a lot of young players and we got together a really good team.

“Now we started a bit slow. We didn't win, I think, for the first eight or nine games, but I knew we weren't far away.

“But we definitely finished it really strong. If the season had have gone on a little bit longer I think we would have gone up. The team was definitely good enough and they were playing remarkably well.

“Because we had done so well, it brings attention to the players and myself whereby I started getting a few offers.

“Rovers were in the [relegation] play-off. They got relegated I think for the first time in their history.

“I'd met a few clubs, but Shamrock Rovers are such a renowned club and getting relegated into the First Division obviously wasn't great for them.

“But I think the club needed a shake, even from being there as a player. You could see there were reasons why they hadn't being doing so well.

“I sat down with Jonathan Roche and Noel Byrne and I said 'The best way to look at it is like a blank canvas where we have a clean slate.'

“I think we released every single player because I wanted it to be a clean slate and I wanted to do it my own way.

“We were very good regarding getting players in. Shamrock Rovers will always get players to play for them because it is the biggest club in the country.

“I had five or six lads from Kilkenny who had done really well. We had a very young team and we had a fantastic year.

“I was delighted for all the players and the club to get promoted on the first try.

“The only blip we had was, coming towards the end, we played a player who shouldn't have played and we got deducted three points.

“Look, it was a new board. The 400 were running the club and I had only managed for one year at Kilkenny so I was inexperienced as a manager really.

“But we were just such a strong team, very mentally strong team. We played really good football.

“So no matter what the situation that came upon us, we still won the league even though we were deducted three points.

“We played Finn Harps in Tolka in our last home game and we beat them 4-0 and then we drew against Cobh in the last game.

“Finn Harps were a decent team and they were up and around it, but we were fantastic that night and to beat them 4-0 meant it was really over then. We knew we had it, but the draw [with Cobh] made us mathematically safe.

“The First Division can be hard to get out of if you're in there too long. Teams can bounce up and get relegated again.

“It was really important, I felt, that we got out of the First Division quickly, but really important that we got out with a good structure and, fair play to the board, they were running the club fantastically well.

“When you're in the First Division I always felt the most important thing is to have a base that you think is going to be able to play in the Premier League.

“Because so many teams go up and get relegated straight away. They really struggle.

“At Shamrock Rovers, you've got to look ahead and think 'If we do go up, will we have players with the potential to become Premier League players?' I always felt that we did, that we had that.

“We were a very young team, we had no ground of our own. We didn't have the money to compete with those full time teams at that time. There were six teams that were full time that would have had colossal wages.

“But I didn't want to be sending that message out. I didn't want Shamrock Rovers going back into the Premier League going 'look if we can stay up and not get relegated it would be great'. I didn't want that for us.

“And probably for the first time in my whole career as a player and a manager I said 'our target is to win the league in the first year.'

“A lot of people laughed and said 'That's impossible. There's no way you can do that.'

“But I wanted that environment at the football club, that the target for Shamrock Rovers should always be to win the Premier.

“Honest to God, I didn't think we could do it because we didn't have the support structure, but I wanted to push the players and be better than just saying 'look can we just stay up?'

“For me, I thought that year was fantastic. I know we fell away at the end because I pushed the players so hard. For the first two thirds of that season we way overachieved.

“To be second in the table after having been just relegated the season before, that's huge progress.

“And a lot of the players: Aidan Price, Tadhg Purcell, Pádraig Amond, Ger O'Brien, Barry Murphy the goalkeeper were proving that they were Premier League players.

“That's the environment and culture that I like to think we had, that we had to win. We pushed the players to the extreme and I think they just ran out on tap at the end.

“We just didn't have the back-up squad and that kind of experience in the team to follow it through, but I was delighted with the progress that we had made.

“We started well and were first or second and then we dropped down to fourth and fifth.

“And when you take into consideration the clubs who we were up against, clubs who had 30 thousand a week full time budgets. It was crazy money and it was just before the bust where all them clubs went bang.

“And to be fair to the board of Shamrock Rovers they always done things right. They paid all the bills. We didn't go mad on signing big players. It really was about the bigger picture.

“But that last season there were just three or four incidents that came up and, for the first time, we seen things differently.

“I didn't agree with a few things that went on and the board saw things differently. And look, that's what football boards are there for.

“I sat down with Jonathan and Noel and we basically agreed that it was best if we parted company so I left and I think they had eight games to go and I think when I left we were maybe fourth.

“I wished them all the best and look, I really enjoyed my time there. We had a really successful time.

“To go to a club that was really struggling at the time and had just got relegated and to leave them fourth or fifth in the Premier League, that's a hell of a change in two years. But there's always an end to every story.”

It was during his brief and successful period as manager of Shamrock Rovers, that Scully came in contact with IT Tallaght (now TU Dublin Tallaght), taking over the men’s football team there, a position he has held to the present day even during his time at Limerick FC where he won another First Division title.

“When we were at Shamrock Rovers, myself and Jonathan Roche were so much into the youth players.

“Two or three of the players who were there were all going to IT Tallaght. So we met Tim O'Connor who is the sports co-ordinator there and what we done was we invented a Shamrock Rovers scholarship.

“What we basically wanted to do was to get as many young Shamrock Rovers players to go to IT Tallaght so we'd be training twice a week with Shamrock Rovers and playing a match on the Friday night, training with the college team once a week and a match for the college team once a week.

“They'd be getting near enough five/six sessions every week because we weren't full time. We were part time, but this was a way we thought we could get around that, getting the players more training time and game time. And the more Shamrock Rovers players we could get into Tallaght IT, the better.

“Jonathan asked would I manage it so that they'd be working with the same manager at the club and the college.

“It worked really well. We had some really good young players coming through. I enjoyed that at the college and got on fantastically well with Tim O'Connor, a lovely man, real professional, very principled and very disciplined in the way he wants it done.

“So when I left Shamrock Rovers I just thought the IT Tallaght thing is gone as well and I rang Tim, met him for a cup of tea and I said 'I really enjoyed it and I wish you all the best.'

“But Tim said 'I'm delighted with the work that you're doing with the college and I want you to stay.'

“I said I'd be delighted to stay. Shamrock Rovers have gone on and done their own thing since then, so I ended up staying in IT Tallaght through the Shamrock Rovers and Limerick years.

“I've always liked working with young players. Sometimes with more experienced players they can lose that spark of when you were a kid, loving football and running around playing on the street. And you should never lose that.

“I always gave young players an opportunity and I treated all players the same in relation to the structures that I put in place at the club.

“I always enjoyed working at the college and with Tim. I've been there 15 years now and last year we won the play-off final and got promoted back up into the [CUFL] Premier League.

“We've got a lot of good young players there like Seán Quinn playing in Shelbourne and other young players playing in the Leinster Senior League.

“It's a shame, we were really looking forward to getting going in the Premier League this year, but everything's been put on blocks.

“I'm hoping in the new year that we'll get some kind of football out of it if it all goes well with the levels.”

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