(Credit: Jason O'Callaghan)
January means both the start of the New Year and the start of pre-season training for League of Ireland clubs. Well, not quite, as Shamrock Rovers midfielder Stephen Rice explained when he met extratime.ie recently to discuss Rovers’ pre-season and the year ahead.
When new Shamrock Rovers manager Trevor Croly was appointed last November, part of his backroom team unveiled on the day he took the job was Philip McMahon who came in as Rovers’ new Strength and Conditioning coach. As Rice explained the All-Ireland winner with Dublin has been working with the Rovers squad since mid-November.
“We were back three mornings a week,” said Rice. “Philly was there and he has been there through the whole pre-season. We all had a schedule if lads couldn’t make it. We are out in Ballymun Kickhams gym. It’s been good. The lads have been loving it and it is something the manager is trying to implement.
“Philly is at the top of his game. He is at the highest standard in GAA himself and he is at a top standard in what he does. He worked with Enda before he went to Villa,” explained Rice in reference to McMahon working with Enda Stevens prior to his move from Rovers to Premier League side Aston Villa at the start of 2012.
It was on a day off from Rovers training that extratime.ie met with Rice. But it wasn’t a day off from work for Rice who was wearing his FAI coaching gear having finished his day’s work as a community football facilitator with the FAI and the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council. Rice is one of the few players at Rovers who have any work commitments away from playing.
It is a lean looking Rice who sits opposite, testament to the hard work he has put in over the last two months in the gym ahead of the start of the League of Ireland in March. On opening night, Rovers will travel to Oriel Park to take on their former boss, Stephen Kenny, who has taken over at Dundalk for the 2013 season.
However, one of the reasons Rovers have been doing this fitness work ahead of the beginning of collective football training in January is because their first competitive game is just four weeks away. The Hoops play Coleraine in the first round of the Setanta Sports Cup with the first leg taking place in Tallaght Stadium on February 11th. That game will be Trevor Croly’s first in charge of Rovers and Rice makes it clear that Croly is focussed on getting his team up and running early in the season.
“What he wants to implement is really exciting for the club going forward. Any player in their right mind wanted to be part of it. Everything he does is right and professional.”
Rice is Rovers’ longest serving player having joined the club in November 2007. When he was signed by then Rovers manager Pat Scully the Tallaght Stadium project was still very much up in the air with the club party to a High Court Judicial Review regarding the stadium. More than five years later with the stadium troubles behind them, Rovers are firmly embedded in Tallaght.
In that time Rice has won two league titles, a Setanta Cup as well as being involved in two successful European campaigns. There were no such major honours or European adventures last year during a very negative season at the club. However, Rice has already noticed that a positive vibe is back at the club, helped by the arrival both of the new manager and new players.
“There are a lot of good players who have come in signed by the manager, on top of the good players we have here at the club. They not just top players but they are good lads, which is as important. There is a good buzz around the changing room.”
Macdara made his debut as a football supporter in Lansdowne Road watching Ireland defeat Liechtenstein. He still believes one day he will see his club Shamrock Rovers win an FAI Cup. You can follow Macdara on twitter @macdarabueller