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Wednesday 16 August 2017

McPhail is driven by desire for silverware

Shamrock Rovers’ Stephen McPhail during a press conference at
Tallaght Stadium, yesterday. Pics: Sportsfile
Shamrock Rovers’ Stephen McPhail during a press conference at Tallaght Stadium, yesterday. Pics: Sportsfile

Stephen McPhail has collected a lot of plaudits and good memories along the way, but ahead of what will be his 19th season in first-team football, the former Ireland international says he's driven on by a desire to pick up some silverware before it's time to hang up the boots.

McPhail, 37, wasn't fit to start for Shamrock Rovers on the opening of the 2016 season last weekend and won't be available for the home game against Wexford Youths next Friday, having suffered a hamstring injury during the club's pre-season tour of India last month.

But while the other ex-internationals who were on the books at Rovers last season, Keith Fahey and Damien Duff, won't be around for any action this coming season, McPhail is very keen to play a part for the Hoops.

McPhail was a supremely talented player who deserved to play on the stages of the Premier League, Champions League and international football, but by his own admission, his honours list is a very short one as his triumph at the U18 European Championship finals with Brian Kerr's Ireland side way back in 1998 is, to date, his only medal proper.

"Obviously the U18 Championships. Club-wise I got promoted with Barnsley through the play-offs, got promotion with Cardiff, other than that it's losing finals semi-finals and stuff," says McPhail, captain of the Cardiff City side which lost the 2008 FA Cup final when asked to list his medals tally.

"So, a winner's medal this side would be great. As I said it to Pat (Fenlon), when I was travelling around as a young lad following Rovers, it was something that I would have been hoping I would have the chance to do. Every year that ticks by, you're getting to the end and you are always thinking 'what next?'. But it would be great and it's always in the back of my mind."

Rovers were 13 points off the pace in the title race last season so the clear challenge for captain McPhail and the squad is to bridge that gap, but the former Leeds man was keen to stay around for another season, even though Duff and Fahey have both since retired, and McPhail only started 13 league games last season due to injury.

He spoke to former Ireland team-mate Duff about the future but opted to hang on for at least one more season in the league.

"Towards the back end of last season we had loads of conversations about how the bodies were. Obviously Damien's coming back from a massive injury and he's struggling with it really," says McPhail.

"He probably didn't want to say that while he was here but you could see that he was struggling with it. My injury was a bit different. It was a hamstring problem from last year but I got over that quite quickly and I was able to get back to some sort of form.

"I had loads of time to think about it. I always said I'd wait, have some time off and have a think about what I was going to do But even looking back at the games I played in, I thought I could still influence things - I know it's not going to be every game. Obviously I'm getting old but I wanted to give it another year or two, I feel I can contribute in the dressing and out on the pitch."

Of course the task ahead is clear, to make sure Rovers have more of a say in the 2016 title race. "If you play for Rovers, you start every season and you want to win the league, that's the end of it and that's the way it should be," he says.

"For me it's the biggest club in the country in terms of the success it has had and the set-up. So we'll be going flat out to win the league, no doubt about it. Obviously the other two (Cork City and Dundalk) have strengthened and they'll fancy themselves as well.

"The two that finished ahead of us last year, have strengthened for me. We have a great, honest bunch of lads that have really knitted over the last month after being away for three weeks away together every day. "It's just a real, honest bunch so we'll give it a go," he added, McPhail planning to help along the next generation of Hoops his his coaching role with their U17s with Aidan Price and Graham Gartland.

"It's an eye-opener going from a player to a coach, I'll keep doing it and see where it goes."

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