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'We wouldn’t wear the club colours and if the ‘parkie’ came along we’d disappear'

Terry Palmer remembers his time at Shamrock Rovers.

Terry Palmer of Shamrock Rovers pictured in 2001.
Terry Palmer of Shamrock Rovers pictured in 2001.
Image: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

THE FOLLOWING PASSAGE is an extract from ‘From Ringsend to Tallaght: The Shamrock Rovers Players’ Stories’

I used to go with my dad to watch every Rovers game in Milltown. Some of my very first memories are of watching games from the far terrace in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

The first team I remember is the one with Pat Byrne and Jacko McDonagh — I always thought there was a bit of class about him. They were an excellent team. You’d be behind in the game but you were always confident they would get something from the game or get a late winner.

I didn’t go to games after Rovers left Milltown. Dad was big into his tradition and he thought it was disgraceful that Milltown was gone so we didn’t go. He still supported the team but it wasn’t the same.

[Rovers chairman] Joe Colwell had a big part to play in me coming to the club. He would have seen me play for years at UCD when he was watching [his son] Jason. Myself and Jason signed from UCD at the same time.

It was a culture change for me. I went from playing in front of two men and a dog in Belfield Park to the high expectations at Rovers.

It took me a while to settle in. Paul Whelan and Gino Brazil were the centre-halves and they took some dislodging. I wasn’t in the team for the first few months and then I was playing in centre midfield and whatever I’d call myself, it wouldn’t be a centre midfielder. Once I got in, I knew I’d be alright and I quickly enough found my form.

At UCD we had all the training facilities right there. There was the gym and a lovely pitch in Belfield Park. When I went to Rovers, you didn’t know where you were training from one day to the next. I used to pick up Derek Tracey for training. We’d get on the M50 and he’d make a phone call to find out where we were training.

We might be in one of those public parks in Tallaght like Corkagh Park but it would depend on where the park ranger was that day — if he was there we’d have to go somewhere else. We wouldn’t wear the club colours and if the ‘parkie’ came along we’d disappear.

I didn’t talk about the 6-4 game for years [defeat to Bohemians in Santry in 2001]. We were 4-1 up at half-time without playing well but it was more the fact that they were poor. They had Roddy Collins screaming on the sideline and their fans were on his case.

If they had lost that day, he was on his last legs with them. We had a chance at 4-2 that hit the post. If that had gone in, the momentum would have gone from them. We were trying to play a high line but we hadn’t worked on it. The shouts were coming from Damien Richardson to push up but instead of pushing up in a straight line, we did it diagonally.

Dave Smith was our right back out the far side and he was doing his own thing and that left us open. That is how it started and it got worse and worse. There are memories I try to block out. There was silence in the dressing room afterwards for a while but then the tea cups went flying. It was a rant you’d never seen the likes of for a good hour [from the manager]. Dave Smith was never seen again at the club and that wasn’t right.

We weren’t far off [winning trophies]. We possibly weren’t as strong as a few of the other teams. We lost 1-0 down in Limerick in the League Cup semi-final [in February 2002].

A week later, we lost 4-0 in the FAI Cup semi-final away to [First Division] Dundalk. We were out on the pitch early and for too long and nobody knew the starting team.

Our left-backs were Tommy Dunne and Gareth Cronin. Damien Richardson called Tommy over and they had a chat. He comes back and we asked, ‘Are you playing?’ and he says, ‘I don’t know’.

Then Damien calls over Gareth and we think he must be playing and he came back and said he didn’t know. Damien then called both of them over and said he’d wait till Alan Byrne, the club doctor, came up as the two of them had been struggling and whoever was fitter would play. There were things like that. Preparation was poor.

We lost two FAI Cup semi-finals, to Bohs [1-0 in 2001] and that Dundalk defeat. So the semi-final against Bohs in late 2002 was our cup final in some ways [there were two FAI Cup competitions in 2002 during the switch to a summer season]. That was the talk because we’d lost the previous two semis and also the manner we lost against Dundalk.

I was talking to the physio ahead of the game and I said, ‘We are going to win. There is no way we are not.’

We knew the group had the belief we were going to beat Bohs. It was a good Bohs team but I scored the first goal and we played really well. We dominated the game and deservedly won [2-0]. Maybe we thought that is all we had to do [to win the cup] as we just had an average Derry team to beat. They were a Derry side struggling down the bottom of the league but it didn’t happen for us. We didn’t do things right in the cup final.

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There was a decision made to treat it like an ordinary game [in Tolka Park where Rovers under manager Liam Buckley were playing their home games at the time]. I parked my car on Richmond Road where Stella Maris play and I walked up in my tracksuit with the fans and my bag over the shoulder.

The Derry bus pulled up and they got out in their best suits. They had stayed in a hotel close to the ground the night before. Our fans were saying: ‘That is disgraceful. This is Rovers and we are mickey mouse compared to them.’

The game started but we didn’t get going. There was a fire at the base of one of the floodlights and the game stopped for a while.

Liam Coyle was probably one of the best players I’d played against but he only had one leg by that time in his career. He scored the only goal of the game. James Keddy missed a late header for us but that is one that we let slip. At the time you think you’ll have loads of opportunities to win the cup but that was the only one.

The European games in 2003 are some of my standout memories. We did things right in terms of our preparation. We travelled out to Poland and got a great victory [winning 2-1 against Odra Wodzislaw].

We brought them back to Richmond Park. We defended really well and dominated. They were really frustrated and we won the second leg 1-0. I was at the turning of the sod at Tallaght Stadium with my dad [in March 2000].

They got the shell of the stand up and there was a beautiful pitch. We trained on it for a while which was great before the work stopped and we were kicked off for health and safety reasons.

We had no home ground and we were constantly changing home venues. I must have played home games in six different grounds and that had an effect. You knew we weren’t welcome in those grounds. We played one home game in Cork [in 2003]. They were petty over it, making us wear our away kit and change in the away dressing room.

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They were doing us no favours but we just got on with it. The club were trying to balance the ground and the team but they got neither of them right. In hindsight, they should have concentrated on one or the other.

We’d be waiting every week to know if the wages would be there. We were being told one thing by the club and you’d be convinced the wages would be there tomorrow and they weren’t.

It happened week in and week out and the trust was gone. I remember a game in Richmond Park when we were seven or eight weeks behind in wages. Some of the lads were really depending on it.

I was walking across the road in Inchicore and got a phone call from one of the club directors to tell me the wages wouldn’t be there. I had to go into the dressing room and as captain tell them they weren’t going to be paid. This was right before the game. As much as you say it doesn’t affect you, it does.

It all builds up and builds up. You’d get a cheque and the lads would be aware that the first three or four cheques might clear but the rest would bounce. It became farcical. It got to the stage where the PFAI [players' union] got involved. We had a ballot to strike and we said we wouldn’t train one evening just to put a marker down.

It was going on too long. There was never any real intention to not play games but we had to threaten it and things slightly improved after. We had full-time lads like Trevor Molloy, Shane Robinson and Tony Grant.

Others were part-time but we trained like full-timers. I was working full-time nine to five and then trained on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, game on Friday, warm down on Saturday and maybe back in on Sunday morning.

When you were younger, you were able for that, but later on, I remember coming home after work on a Wednesday, which was my night off, and sitting on the couch. My girlfriend, now my wife, would say, ‘Will we do something?’ and I’d say yeah and next minute she’d look at me and I’d be fast asleep.

During the 2004 season, I was struggling with injury. I had Gilmore’s groin, which is like a hernia. It meant I couldn’t really train and after 60 minutes in matches, I struggled and was in a lot of pain. I was getting from match to match for months and eventually the doctor, Alan Byrne, said I was destroying it and I needed to get an operation.

This was just before Roddy Collins came in as manager. On three occasions Roddy made it clear he wanted me at the club and I wanted to be there. He said to me to go get myself right with the operation and to look forward to next year. Two weeks before the season started I went into training but I was being blanked by Roddy and not being included in anything. He offered me a pay-as-you-play contract but told me I wasn’t going to play. This was after me working so hard.

If he had told me two months beforehand I would have gladly walked away. The body was telling me to do that. It was the manner that he did it, leaving my options very limited with the season start only a fortnight away.

I was working in First Active with a couple of directors from Bohs and they got onto me. With what had gone on, I was determined to prove a point, but in hindsight, I should have walked away rather than signing for Bohs. My dad went to 95 per cent of my games since I was a kid. He went all around the country and on those European trips. When I went to Bohs I said to him, ‘I’m doing this for me. You go off and support Rovers and we won’t talk about it.’ He was happy with that.

Written by Macdara Ferris and Eoghan Rice ‘From Ringsend to Tallaght: The Shamrock Rovers’ Players Stories’ includes interviews with Rovers players from the 1930s through to the present day. Spread across 200 pages, it includes pen pics for each of the 50 players included in the book. It is available to purchase in the Shamrock Rovers megastore in Tallaght Stadium and shamrockrovers.ie.

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