fenn puts title talk on hold as bray stand in the way
No complacency from Rovers as League Championship fate lies in their own hands at a packed Carlisle Grounds
SO CLOSE they can almost touch it. For Shamrock Rovers, tonight's game away to Bray Wanderers is a chance to write some new history, end a painful gap of 16 years since the club were last champions of Ireland and possibly usher in a new era of dominance.
For Neale Fenn, it's a chance to make history too. In the modern era, only a handful of players (four) have managed to win the Premier Division title with three different clubs: John Coady, Mick Neville, Paul Doolin and Colin Hawkins.
Fenn has already collected league medals from his time with Cork City (2005) and Bohemians (2008, 2009) so another medal, this time in the green and white hoops of Rovers, would allow him access to the corridor of greats.
"I would have thought more players than that would have won titles with different clubs, so it would be a real honour to win the title with Rovers -- win it with a third club," says Fenn.
"But we have to win it first, and we have won nothing yet this season. This season could end up as one of the best ever in this club's history if we do manage to win the double, but we could still end up with nothing as it's possible we could lose the next two games. So I think we need to play down the talk about titles and making history, for today anyway. If we win the game tonight and win the league, then it's time to talk about records and the future," added Fenn.
Two differing moods have been emerging from Shamrock Rovers FC in the last week, since last Friday's events when an unexpected defeat for then-leaders Bohemians away to Galway United and a nervy win for Rovers at home to a nine-man Drogheda United side teed up tonight's scenario, where Rovers will win the league if they beat Bray Wanderers. And will still be league winners if they only draw to Bray and Bohs fail to win by a five-goal margin at home to Dundalk.
The Rovers fans have been in party mode all week, trying to snaffle up tickets for the 3,000 capacity ground in Bray for the club's biggest night since 1994. Winning the league would be good, winning it at the expense of Bohs even better.
But from the Rovers players and coaching staff, there is more caution. The diplomacy of football dictates that Rovers will publicly pay respect to Bray before the game, and stress that they'll treat their opponents seriously and not as some inconvenient fly about to be swatted. In the same way, Derry City are not assuming that they will be crowned First Division champions tomorrow night even though their manager Stephen Kenny admits it's "99.9 per cent certain" and would need a bizarre set of results to prevent Derry's coronation.
But Rovers boss Michael O'Neill is wary of the pitfalls tonight. "We spoke about this in training the other day," Fenn reveals.
"Michael said that in football, if you can't be the one having the party, then the best thing is to be a party pooper and that's what Bray will try to do against us tonight.
"I know the Rovers fans really enjoyed watching Bohs lose to Galway last week, but as a player my first thought was, 'hang on, that could be us next week against Bray'. Galway went into that game against Bohs with nothing to play for but pride, they had key players missing, Bohs had all the elements on their side, and Galway won, so that's a lesson for us in the Bray game.
"Bray are down a few players with injury and suspension, they have nothing to play for as they're already in the play-offs. But their players are proud and passionate and they would love to beat us on their home patch, so we have to be very wary and I know from my own experience what can happen on the last day of the season," added Fenn, referring to his first league win with Cork in 2005.
"Then it came down to the last day of the season. Derry came down to play us in Cork and they only needed a draw to win the league, so they were favourites, but we won the game and won the title. It can change so quickly on the night, so that will be in my mind before the game starts tonight," says Fenn, who joined Rovers from Dundalk in mid-season.
"We know that a draw will probably do us tonight but the biggest mistake we could make is to play for a draw.
"I want us to have the same approach as I have seen at this club since I joined, a positive approach, with attacking football, and a will to win."