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'One player was dragged back from chasing him up the bus to get his can of Coke back'

Kevin Brannigan chats to David Sneyd about Stephen Kenny’s fraught and short tenue at Shamrock Rovers in this week’s episode of The Rise of Kenny.

Stephen Kenny as Shamrock Rovers manager.
Stephen Kenny as Shamrock Rovers manager.
Image: Matt Mackey/

Updated Aug 14th 2020, 9:01 AM

THE SHOW IS called The Rise of Kenny but it wasn’t an uninterrupted climb. This week’s episode focuses on the most notable disappointment of his career to date – his short and stormy stint with Shamrock Rovers.

Host Kevin Brannigan recalls Kenny’s time at Tallaght Stadium with respected Irish soccer journalist David Sneyd, and they disentangle the truth from the embellishments and the outright fictions of Kenny’s fraught spell with the club. 

Rovers were coming off the back of their stunning 2011 Europa League run, which saw them presage what Kenny himself would do with Dundalk and reach the group stages of the Europa League. 

Manager Michael O’Neill was, understandably, a man in demand, and he left to take the Northern Ireland job at the end of that European run. 

Kenny was back at Derry City when Rovers came calling at Christmas, and Kenny informed Derry that he wanted to “go home.” (Kenny’s very first coaching gig was with Tallaght Town, a club effectively absorbed by Rovers.) 

Things didn’t work out, however, and Kenny was sacked before the end of a tense season. The final straw was a 1-0 defeat to Bohemians at Tallaght Stadium, but there were a few other poor results jutting out in people’s minds: a 5-1 hammering to St Pat’s; a 3-0 loss away to Sligo; elimination from the Champions League by FK Ekranas of Lithuania; and ultimately that home defeat to Bohs. 

There have been several claims made about Kenny’s time in charge, including one in which he was allegedly locked out of the dressing room at half-time of that game against Pat’s. 

As David explains on the podcast, no two people he spoke to could give the same version of events – some said it happened, others said it was during a different game; some said the players were merely taking responsibility for their own performance, while others said it didn’t happen at all. 

What is not disputed is the fact cracks were beginning to appear at Rovers even prior to Kenny’s arrival, says David, and they widened during his time in charge. 

“Things were beginning to, not quite unravel, but there were cracks beginning to appear. From speaking to people around the club at the time, one of the phrases that was used with me was there were certain people within that squad ‘who began to smell themselves.’, getting ideas above their station.” 

Kenny also represented a considerable change in approach from Michael O’Neill who was very strict with the players. According to a player David spoke to in preparation for the podcast, O’Neill “ruled by ridicule.”

Kenny took a different approach. 

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“It wasn’t that he was bowing to the players, but as one player put it to me, it was almost as if he didn’t feel like he had to micro-manage everything. He gave them a freedom they were not used to and I don’t think some of them were actually capable of playing with that freedom.” 

There were on-pitch issues too: a pre-season trip to Leicester was interrupted by a snowstorm that left Rovers unable to get much of their planned pitch work done, while Alan Mannus’ departure left Rovers exposed at goalkeeper.

David relays one small incident after that 3-0 loss to eventual league champions Sligo that went to show the tension that had taken hold.

“After the game, a few of the lads went into the shop across from the Showgrounds and got a load of junk food. They are down the back of the bus drinking cans of coke and eating this junk food, Kenny gets on the bus sees it and loses the plot a little bit.

“They’ve just been hockeyed 3-0 away from home, so he takes the sweets and the Coke off them. A few of the players weren’t happy with it, and one of them had to be dragged back from chasing him up the bus to try and get his can of Coke back. This was some of the pettiness that was fostered.” 

Ultimately Kenny did not see out the season, and left with six league games remaining. Kenny found success before Rovers did, bringing Dundalk from the depths of the Premier Division to the Europa League group stages. 

“You see where he is now and what he has achieved. Every part of someone’s career – good and bad – every little bit will stand to him” says David of the man now in Irish football’s top job. 

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