the goalfood interview: sean o'driscoll - the quiet man
Roberto Martinez and his former Swansea team received plaudits in their debut Championship season and won many friends with their fluent style of play. Young, glamorous and not averse to a bit of Sky Sports punditry, Roberto was courted by none other than Celtic before rolling up in the Prem with Wigan. But deep in the heart of South Yorkshire fellow League One promotees were also playing their way out of trouble. Doncaster Rovers completed three promotions in six years to arrive at the Championship in 08/09 with the latter part of that pleasing on the eye success achieved by their current manager. But have you ever heard of Sean Michael O’Driscoll?
O’Driscoll achieved Rovers’ highest league finish in 50 years despite the club being anchored to the bottom of the Championship at Christmas, actually finishing much more strongly than the faltering Swans. In contrast to Martinez, he’s a quiet and unassuming man who steers well clear of the media spotlight. A player for 16 years and a Republic of Ireland international, O’Driscoll was given the ironic nickname of ‘Noisy’ while he played at Fulham. Softly spoken he may be but he has clear and firm views on football, the media, coaching, management, professionalism . . . and t-shirts. Goalfood’s Simon Harvey and Nick Gordon Brown spent the summer lull reflecting on a job well done with Goalfood customer and Donny manager Sean O’Driscoll at the club’s training ground at Bessacarr.
He’s the first person we meet at the training ground and he’s emptying the rubbish bins in a classic everyone-gets-their-hands-dirty-in-a-small-club kind of way. As we begin the interview he has only one request:
His disdain of the clichéd football manager, their media personas and clichéd responses will be a recurrent theme as we talk. Here is a man who simply wants to get on with the job and stay well clear of the politics.
Do you actually do many interviews?
The club’s lack of a media protocol, with requests being fielded by the chairman, is perhaps typical of an organisation which has recently tasted life outside the Football League.
Has that learning curve been a central part of the club’s Championship season?
Have you played a part in that process last season?
I have a quote I use when people ask me about the future here. I say the chairman wants to win the European Cup in the next five years. It’s tongue-in-cheek but if you were going to win the European Cup in the next five years what are the things you’d need to do – you need to get promoted from League One, then the Championship, then finish in the top four – it may sound silly but that’s what you’ve got to achieve, certain things have to be in place. So I’ve just said if that’s what we’re going to do then what’s our scouting system? Perhaps we’d better start one because we need to attract better players and when we’ve done that we need to have better facilities otherwise players’ll think it’s a tip.
I’d like to level this building and build a new, swanky, £20 million, all-singing, all-dancing facility. We’re not going to do it so we’d better think about improving things. We’ve improved the changing rooms and the relaxation area, we brought a flat screen in and a table tennis table and new chairs in the lounge area. If you’re going to win European Cups this is where it starts.
Wouldn’t most fans think these sorts of things are already in place in Premiership/Championship clubs?
Do you think that’s a more modern phenomenon because fans’ expectations are raised and they want success quicker?
So has this season has been a learning curve on and off the pitch?
Football rhetoric gets up my nose. People say ‘I don’t care how we do it, I just want to win’. That’s fine, I’ll take 46 games winning 1-0 and playing crap but tell me how you do it. I can’t remember any games this season where we’ve played badly and won 1-0. We want to play well and I’d rather we win but if we’re going to lose I’d rather we play well doing it.
So on a Monday morning you can take positives from the performance?
What you don’t want is a situation where you’re telling the players something and they’re thinking ‘this is just one manager telling me this and when someone else comes in he’ll tell me something different’. I tell them every game they ever play will have a structure to it, whether you play QPR, Sheffield United or Real Madrid, the game will have a structure and things won’t change. You can alter it but only in the way you want to.
Nine times out of 10, apart from us and Swansea, most Championship teams play the same way. The personnel will be different but the structure will be the same. At the start of each game you know the goalkeeper will kick the ball an average of 35 times so that’s 70 times the goalkeepers will kick the ball. Now you have choice of whether your keeper throws out, kicks or drops the ball. But if you think that the ball is only in play for 60 minutes out of every 90-minute game that’s a massive chunk of the game you can’t control and so you have to be in certain positions when the keepers are distributing the ball. Where you are in relation to what you want to do with the ball and what your opposition wants to do is at these times, is massive and it’s got nothing to do with football.
I don’t have to be a football expert to know that if he’s going to kick the ball into this area of the pitch and we want to win it, then it’s a logistical problem. How many people do we want to put in that position to gain possession and when we do get possession we can play the way we want to play. If we don’t then there’s certain things we need to do. These are the boring bits of coaching but they’re fundamental.
Do you find your players react to that?
So is yours a more analytical approach to the game?
It is commonsense but is it also common in football and do you think you’re in a minority in thinking this way?
I did the Warwick Business Course for football managers and we did a lot of essays and reports and one day I took the Sunday papers and cut out every sports headline, 85% of which were negative. It might have been Man Utd beating Spurs 6-0 but it wasn’t about how great Man Utd were, it was about how crap Spurs were. So you’re in an industry which pounds you with negativity all the time. You’re not going to change that but you can distance yourself from it. Radio Sheffield have their Praise or Grumble show but it should be renamed Moan and Groan because I just don’t know where the praise is.