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17th Apr 2024

Shamrock Rovers gain a fan for life on a night Aaron Greene paid the perfect tribute

Patrick McCarry

Shamrock Rovers

“This young lad tells me he wants to be the next Marcus Rashford.”

I thought my son had settled on Kylian Mbappè, closely followed by Cristiano Ronaldo, but it took Stephen Bradley to find out the truth. As he waited for Aaron Greene to wrap up his chat with some hard-working reporters, the Shamrock Rovers boss had made an already special night for a young football fan an unforgettable one.

Last Friday, at Tallaght Stadium, Shamrock Rovers dispatched Sligo 3-0 to show signs of life in their quest to make it five Premier Division titles in a row. The champions started the night below Sligo in the league standings but completely dominated proceedings. It took until a 35th minute stunner from Graham Burke to break the dead-lock, however, with Aaron Greene adding a second half double.

League leaders Shelbourne were beaten by Bohemians and both St Pat’s and Derry dropped points, that night, so the mood was good in Tallaght. Rovers have started another campaign slowly but are starting to hum to life. Two weeks previous, Rovers had defeated Bohs in front of a crowd over more than 10,000. There was just over half that number at Tallaght Stadium for the visit of Sligo, with 100-odd away fans getting the entire East Stand to themselves, save those operating the TV cameras and a few stewards and gardaí.

I was joined at the game by five aspiring journalists, all from Griffith College, and my son, Patrick. The club had kindly allowed the students access to the press box and post match press briefings, so they could get a taste of reporting live at a big game. Once my son heard about the trip, he begged to tag along. He is nine now and football has really taken hold, the past two years. Any footballer he sees in a newspaper or magazine gets cut out and stuck to his bedroom wall. Dog Man books are losing out to Match of the Day magazine and library books about past World Cups. He had been to the stadium twice before, to see the Ireland Women’s team, but this was his first senior men’s match.

As the students set up their laptops and took in the scenes around them, and working journalists set up on the rows behind them, I brought Patrick to a concession stand and hunted down a match programme, more as a keep-sake than anything else. ‘Why don’t you get the team news off your phone?’ he asked. On the walk back and forth to our seats, I bumped into several old and familiar faces. Mates that I had great nights out with that were now here with their children. Parents of friends and schoolmates, too. More wrinkles around the eyes but as friendly and full of blarney as before. What the club has done in fostering that family atmosphere, and sense of belonging, is a credit to all involved.

I grew up across the road from where the stadium now is. There was a time when Rovers were set to arrive in Tallaght when many feared what bringing a big football club to the area would do. Some, with louder voices than others, spoke of full-blown riots we could expect, down at Sean Walsh Park or over at The Square. It has not all been sweetness and light in the 15 years since Shamrock Rovers played their first game in Tallaght, but most of those fears were just that. The club is now deep-rooted in the area, and even extends into neighbouring counties with summer camps for younger children.

The first decade was all about bedding in but recent years have seen the club branch out. Bradley, a former Rovers player who has been manager with the club since 2016, is a big part of the on-field success story, but he is a visible presence at many of those camps, blitzes and events that have seen so many form a connection with the club.

Shamrock Rovers
Aaron Greene scored twice for Shamrock Rovers against Sligo. (Credit: Sportsfile)

“There’s more to life than football. Trust me, I know that”

Following the 3-0 victory for Shamrock Rovers, myself and my merry band headed down under the main stand to the press briefing room. John Russell, the Sligo boss, was first in and spoke of losing momentum after not playing the previous week.

The reporters asked if it was possible to chat with Greene, who struggled for Rovers last season but was back to something like his best form and scoring goals again. Wearing a black club tracksuit, Greene came in and started off by praising fellow forward Graham Burke for his goal, even if he took a slice of the credit. “He had been wearing a Nike pair for a while, so I told him, ‘Wear these Skechers and you’ll score’. He prides himself on goals and is one of the most talented players I have ever played with. His all round play has been exceptional, to be honest. I’m delighted for him.”

It did not take much digging to learn Greene had a lot to get off his chest, but credit must go to the two beat reporters that gave him all the time he needed, and helped draw out more with some well placed questions. What followed was an interview so raw and personal that, I know, I will be following Greene’s season closely, from that point on.

“Last year was difficult being out for so long, the knock of losing my mother and trying to refocus on football,” said Greene. His mother, Carmel, passed away in March 2023 after a long illness.

“My Mam was sick from when I was a few months old,” Greene explained. “She had a brain haemorrhage. I was never reared with my mam, if that makes sense. That was one that hurt me a lot. It was difficult, because my mam was in a hospital since I was six months old.

“I was living in a hospital for a lot of time, when she was put in palliative care. It was difficult. Difficult to get your mind set. I was in no shape, mentally, to come back. I missed the early part of the season. You just have to move on. The group have been brilliant with me, my family and my wife. Unfortunately, these things happen in life and until it actually hits you, you don’t really know. A few of us in the group have been through it so it’s been incredible to get that support.”

Greene is 34 now and in his 16th season as a League of Ireland player. He signed for Rovers, from Bray, in 2018 and has been a key figure in the club’s four-in-a-row success. “It was difficult and it still is,” Greene added, of his mother’s passing. “I think about her every day, but I know she’s looking down and I’m trying to keep her proud. That’s my motivation.”

As he laid it all out for the established, and would-be, journalists, Rovers boss Stephen Bradley did something that, were he not already by that stage, made the club a fan for life.

The clock had just ticked past 11pm and Patrick, my son, was nearly out on his feet. Cheeks flushed, eyes heavy, he took a seat and longed for his bed as the post-match interviews took place. Bradley entered the room and, copping him, went over to say hello. Greene would still chat with us for a further three or four minutes – I even threw in a question about the impressive Markus Poom – so Bradley sat back and (I would later learn) ask Patrick all about his favourite teams and players, and about his Sallins Celtic side.

Journalists pride themselves of being above the fray, and objective, on many sporting matters. Bradley taking the time out to make that night of a young supporter even more special melted that, for me. As I approached and thanked him for the gesture, he told me about the Marcus Rashford fandom, encouraged Patrick to keep up with his football and was kind enough to pose for a picture.

Shamrock Rovers
Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley and Patrick McCarry Jr.

Shamrock Rovers building momentum for title quest

Aaron Greene had paid credit to Stephen Bradley and his backroom and coaching staff for all their support after his mother died, last year. Bradley’s mother passed away in 2016 and his son, Josh was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2022. He knows all about the big, tough moments and the perspective and clarity they can bring.

“I’ve lost my mam, so I understood where Aaron was, in his head,” Bradley explained.

“It takes a lot of soul-searching to really find what you want to do in life, forget about your job. Aaron’s family is a tight family and when he lost his mam, like anyone, he was devastated. But I think it shows the type of man and character he is, he took his time out to think. He knew we definitely didn’t want to lose him, so the door was open for him. It was important that he had time to think about it and weigh up what he wanted to do.

“They are a tight group, they really are, and that comes with having gone through some pain together and victories together. When one is hurting, we’re all hurting. When Aaron was hurting, the group got around him and I think he felt that. He’s been a massive part of us in building this culture over the last five years.”

There was some Derry City (the next opponent) talk and that was it. Another game, and another night at Tallaght Stadium, in the books. The place was near deserted as he walked out of one of the open gates. A few of the Rovers players strolled to their cars, kit bags in hand, and there were some young stragglers still keen on autographs.

On the walk back through the park, over to grab the car from outside my parents’ place, Patrick had gone from the verge of sleep to full of energy. He was amazed the Shamrock Rovers manager knew all about Sallins Celtic and was telling him to keep working hard, and working on his game.

Shamrock Rovers have achieved a lot since arriving in Tallaght, back in 2009.

You hope they know moments like that – the personal interactions, the mascots that stare at them dow-eyed and all the photos and autographs – are just as vital and important as the trophies they continue to stack.

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