Phil Hay’s Leeds United Tour Diary: Rovers’ derby takes precedence over United friendly

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Of the two sides lined up to play Leeds United in Ireland, Shamrock Rovers – a top-flight club – are the stronger.

But much as they might have wanted to throw everything at Garry Monk’s team, their commitments in the Irish League are pulling rank. Shamrock, like Shelbourne before them, have happily shoe-horned Leeds into their mid-season schedule but the most pressing matter for them this week is a derby against Bohemians less than 24 hours before the friendly with United.

Shamrock Rovers' Stephen McPhail, pictured back in his Leeds United heyday.

Shamrock Rovers' Stephen McPhail, pictured back in his Leeds United heyday.

The last time Rovers and Bohemians met, at the latter’s Dalymount Park stadium in April, Rovers dished out a 4-0 thrashing and supporters fought each other on the pitch. The FAI sanctioned both clubs, though their respective punishments – financial penalties – were never made public. Some in the game wanted to see points deductions.

This fixture matters at the best of times but Rovers have had a bad run of things recently and they sacked former manager Pat Fenlon – once of Scottish club Hibernian – after making a mess of a Europa League qualifier against Finnish side Rovaniemen Palloseura.

Control of first-team affairs has fallen to ex-Arsenal midfielder Stephen Bradley, although Bradley apparently lacks the necessary coach’s badges to stay in that position long-term. So while Leeds are the money-spinner this week, Bohemians is the game. “You can’t say no to Leeds,” said a member of staff at the Tallaght Stadium, “but Bohemians we’ve got to beat.”

* Stephen McPhail, the former Leeds midfielder and a veteran of the Champions League campaign, is easily the most recognisable face in the squad at Shamrock Rovers. He became player-coach under Bradley and might well retire at the end of this season.

McPhail followed the Tallaght club as a youngster and, at the age of 36, wanted to go out with a title win, but Rovers are 17 points adrift of Premier Division leaders Dundalk. An appearance against Leeds would surely appeal to him, but the game with Bohemians means Rovers are likely to field a young side in Saturday’s friendly.

The club think highly of their Under-19s and will use a number of them.

* The headquarters of the Football Association of Ireland, where Monk’s squad have been training for two weeks, has a display cabinet devoted to the international career of Johnny Giles.

It contains an Ireland shirt, caps and various trophies – and is decorated with a famous quote from Don Revie, reading: “Playing for England, John Giles might well have become the best in the world at what he does. But in this case, England’s loss is Ireland’s gain.”

Giles was at the FAI’s headquarters for a visit earlier this week but had departed by the time Leeds began their training session. The 75-year-old – an outspoken critic of Massimo Cellino – is considering attending training, though, where their paths might cross.

* Monk is working his players hard in Ireland but the compensation for them has been a stay in the plush Dunboyne Castle Hotel, 20 miles or so out of Dublin city centre.

The hotel has all the usual amenities but, crucially, provides individual WiFi servers in each bedroom – avoiding any gnashing of teeth about overloaded reception in the periods of downtime.