Ex-Hibs star O'Neill loves Shamrock job

WHILE Scottish football is getting down to the "business end of the season," for Michael O'Neill the action has barely got underway, the former Hibs star the newly appointed manager of Irish outfit Shamrock Rovers.

But it is not just the dawn of a new season – the FAI League of Ireland running through to the end of November – which has gripped O'Neill but the excitement of rebuilding a club which claims to be the most successful on the Emerald Isle.

After 22 years of leading a nomadic existence during which they played at various venues around Dublin and elsewhere, The Hoops now have a new ground they can call their own, Tallaght Stadium's first League game witnessing a win over Sligo Rovers.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Having quit Brechin City to cross the Irish Sea O'Neill sees his new job as a test not only of his footballing skills but the expertise gained during five years as a consultant with financial giants Ernst and Young.

Admitting he'd never have seen his future lying with Shamrock Rovers, O'Neill revealed he was intrigued by the revival of a club, mired in administration, thanks to the loyalty of its fans.

He said: "Rovers were pretty close to going out of business, they were in the equivalent of administration but the supporters set up a members' club based on the Bayern Munich set-up but unique in Irish football.

"We don't have the biggest budget in the League and while we don't have an individual backer, from a financial point of view we are probably the most stable club in the League.

"The club had been without a home of their own for 22 years but we now have the Tallaght Stadium which has a capacity of 3500 which will double over the next few months."

Even so, O'Neill agreed he faced a huge decision when first approached by the ambitious committee representing the 500 members. He said: "I'd been linked with the Dundee job before Jocky Scott got it and people were telling me to hang on, that others would come up.

"If you had asked me, I wouldn't have said I was looking for Shamrock Rovers. But I got a good feel for the whole thing, it wasn't just building the team but the whole club situation which was very appealing.

"They thought I was the right person and put a lot of faith in me by giving me a three-year contract without any hidden notice periods or anything like that.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"It was both an exciting and daunting prospect but the business end of the game is something which interests me and at Brechin I'd restructured a lot of the club financially. I played football for 17 or 18 years but the five I spent working outside of football probably prepared me more to become a manager because you are seeing how things are done in other industries." And while Rovers have made a promising start to the season, drawing away to Bray Wanderers before beating Sligo, O'Neill revealed he's revelling in his new role.

The former Newcastle United, Dundee United, Coventry City, Aberdeen and Northern Ireland star said: "It's not just the football but everything behind the scenes, helping restore the club and make it as strong as possible. We've brought in six or seven players. We cannot pay the top wages but a good wage. I'd like to think we will be in or around the top of the division at the end of the season, hopefully we can stay in the mix and be in the top four with, perhaps, an outside chance of some European competition.

"I think we have the potential to have the biggest support in the League and we've got off to a reasonable start. I thought we should have won at Bray although people tell me it's a difficult place to go while the main thing last Friday was to win our first game in the Tallaght Stadium.

"It was important because there had been so much excitement and interest at us having a home ground at last, there was a lot of emotion around the occasion." O'Neill admitted it was difficult to get his head round starting a season in March when he's been used to this month signalling the beginning of the end for so many years.

He said: "Doing your pre-season in the middle of winter was different and it was difficult because of the weather, we ended up doing a lot on astroturf because of the conditions. A lot of teams go away but we were in the process of moving into the new stadium so that's something we'll probably have a look at next year. It's going to be a long season for me mentally, going all the way to November rather than finishing in May."

O'Neill has already put his knowledge of Scottish football to good use taking former Ross County and St Johnstone defender Sean Webb to Dublin along with ex-Brechin City striker Gary Twigg and Dundee United's Gregg Cameron, who is on loan.

And, revealing he has an eye on former Hearts defender Craig Sives, pictured, released by the Gorgie outfit in January, he said: "I'll be looking at young players who have perhaps fallen a bit short at clubs like Hibs, Hearts, Rangers and Celtic because I feel we can offer them the right opportunity to rebuild their careers.

"It can also give them the chance to develop a career alongside football, the model followed by a lot of Scandinavian clubs.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"Craig Sives has the sort of profile I am looking for, someone who was very close to playing in the SPL but for one reason or another never came through. He's here at the moment but has a bit of a groin problem.

"We have excellent medical facilities which he is using and we are hoping to get him back to full fitness, look at his situation then and perhaps have the opportunity to bring him in."