Wexford’s football supremo tells Cairde Loch Garman members of what it is like to be bossing some former team-mates and his big hopes for the squad.
RONAN FAGAN: During your playing days, did you ever envisage managing the Senior footballers?
SHANE ROCHE: When I was 24/25 and playing with Wexford, I was coaching schools’ teams, and then I had a spell with St. Martin’s Senior footballers. At that stage, I really got interested in my key areas of leadership and organisation. I always liked coaching. My background is Physical Education – creating games, working with people every day in different activities and games-based learning and understanding. So, for a long time, I had a strong interest in the area. I have done a lot of work in the background in the past number of years, trying to better my coaching knowledge and researching the entire area of leadership and management in sporting terms. But of course, I probably hadn’t expected to have progressed as quickly as I have. Having said that, managing the Wexford Senior football team was certainly one of my goals and I’m privileged to be in this position at such an early stage.
RF: What have been the challenges so far?
SR: Probably balancing work, family and Wexford. I work in St. Peter’s College and have two young children – Jack (2-and-a-half) and Harry (9 months) – and my wife Carmel is phenomenal because I am essentially gone once I get home from school. Then the third aspect is Wexford football and keeping it all in perspective, not to get completely tunnel-visioned on certain areas, but to make sure that I have a wider view. Management can be overwhelming when dealing with people and phone-calls and trying to run the best possible ship for everyone involved. I suppose that possibly the part that is unseen is that we have 40 or 50 players and backroom team along with liaising with the County Board etc., and you want to be able to give yourself fully to each and every person who is giving up their time for the good of Wexford football. But I love the intensity of it all.
RF: How different is it going from being a team-mate to actually managing some of your former playing colleagues?
SR: It has been fantastic and very enjoyable in truth. Absolutely it is different to be managing my former teammates. But we are all in the room for the success of Wexford football and I am not in it for my ego, nor is Brian (Malone), Daithí (Waters) or Ben (Brosnan) or anyone else. We are all in the trenches together to win games, to get promoted, to progress Wexford football. Look, there are calls to be made on match days. But I won’t shirk those calls. I am manager and those decisions come with the responsibilities of the job. But we treat everyone the same – with respect and honesty – and when you are upfront and honest with inter-county footballers, they will give you plenty back in return.
RF: How do you consider the current standing of the team?
SR: Obviously, our league standing is Division 4, and we will be striving to really improve upon that. Player-wise, we are in a very good place. We have eight or nine lads playing Sigerson Cup football, which is the first time Wexford has had such high numbers in that competition. We have a nice blend of young and more experienced players with Ben, Daithí, Brian, together with Mick Furlong and Kevin O’Grady. But then we have the new wave coming of Paudie Hughes, Liam Coleman, Martin O’Connor and even down as far as the Next Generation players like Jason Bolger, Jack Higgins, Rian Fitzpatrick, Brian Cushe and Ciarán Regan – all of them are under 20. Coupling that with our mid-20s guys like Eoghan Nolan, Niall Hughes, Gavin Sheehan…. Wexford football is in a very good place, and it is important that those players take leadership roles and take Wexford to the next level, both on and off the field.
RF: What are your hopes for 2022?
SR: First and foremost is enhancing our league standing. Second is improving on our championship win against Wicklow and the performance against Dublin, making sure that they are not one-off performances, but that those displays represent a constant level of performance for the Wexford Senior footballers. And also making an impact in the Tailteann Cup with the opportunity to really get into a new competition and put our own stamp on it. We are going to get plenty of exposure to elite level football in 2022 and that is huge for these guys, especially those at such a young training age.
RF: Are there any significant comings or goings in terms of the squad?
SR: The only one that is not part of the panel at the minute is Seán Nolan due to relocating to Luxemburg for work placement from college. Returning to the panel are Glen Malone, Matt Doyle, the goalie from Glynn-Barntown, and Rory Heffernan from Castletown, while we have called in a number of other players such as Dylan Furlong from Sarsfields, Dean O’Toole of Kilanerin, Andrew Boland from Adamstown, Graham Staples of Shelmaliers – the ‘man of the match’ from the county final – and Jack Kehoe from Horeswood, who is a very exciting prospect, and that is in addition to the Next Generation players who I outlined earlier.
RF: It would be remiss not to acknowledge the input of Philip Wallace as he regrettably departs the backroom.
SR: It was fantastic to have a guy who has such huge experience in a leadership role around me to bounce ideas off as I started my journey in a leadership role. Philip is a real true Wexford man. The passion and enthusiasm that he brought to training as well as making players aware of our purpose of being part of the Wexford football family and outlining that on a consistent basis – who we are, what we represent and stand for – they are important values. We are not a stand-alone team, but we are taking on the values of the Wexford footballers that went before us that had those characteristics imbedded in their teams. We wish Philip well in his new role as he is going from Vice-Principal to Principal of Terenure College, one of the top schools in the country. He is still only ever a phone-call away for bouncing ideas off, or he might come down if we need a recalibration on our values or standards.