Doncaster Rovers: ‘That got me the sack by the way’ - O’Driscoll

Sean O'Driscoll
Sean O'Driscoll
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Sean O’Driscoll was not too keen on bringing up the past on his Rovers return last week. He was completely focused on the job in hand with Walsall.

But what little he did say about his former club proved to be very telling.

On his first competitive return to the Keepmoat Stadium since being sacked by Rovers in 2011, it would have been remiss not to ask him to comment on the club whom he guided to their most successful period in their history for half a century.

I firstly asked O’Driscoll whether, given time, Darren Ferguson could build a side capable of getting out of League One.

He laughed and replied: “I think every manager in the lower divisions with a limited budget needs time.”

He praised Walsall’s owners for doing exactly that with his predecessor Dean Smith, before adding: “Quite a lot of the players here have developed. Probably in another scenario they would have been jettisoned and had to ply their trade somewhere else.”

Was that a thinly-veiled reference to Rovers cashing in on Matt Mills and Richie Wellens in 2009, after initially acclimatising to the Championship? Quite possibly.

But it also brought me quite nicely to my key point.

I recalled a post-match press conference at Middlesbrough, following a 3-0 defeat on the final of the day of the 2010/11 season, that has always stuck with me.

Rovers had just limped to Championship safety, winning just two games out of their last 26 in all competitions.

They finished the season one place above the drop zone and O’Driscoll made the point that the club, given their resources, might eventually have to accept relegation to League One in order to put in place a viable long term plan for future success and sustainability.

At the time I remember thinking it might set off a few alarm bells in the boardroom. And as I recalled that press conference, O’Driscoll smiled wryly.

“That got me the sack by the way,” he interjected tellingly.

My question was whether he now felt vindicated? Rovers are now driven by a long term plan to be sustainable - exactly what he had suggested five years ago.

“Not really,” he said. “I was right in the start.

“When somebody comes in and says they can get you in the Premier League and you haven’t got to spend any money, if you believe that then you’re stupid.”

O’Driscoll was, of course, referring to the ill-fated ‘experiment’ that arguably prompted and then followed his sacking.

What he appears to confirm is that the seeds of doubt about his tenure were sown not just by his team’s poor form on the pitch but by those very comments he made at Middlesbrough.

‘Accepting relegation’ is not something that would have sat kindly with then-chairman John Ryan, who was still daring to dream about guiding Rovers all the way from the Conference to the Premier League.

So when the ‘experiment’ idea was put to Ryan, now aware of O’Driscoll’s viewpoint, he was probably more inclined to go with it. The only way was up for Ryan, not down, and not long term.

O’Driscoll has long since moved on from Doncaster. In the meantime he has worked for Crawley Town, Nottingham Forest, Bristol City and Liverpool, as well as coaching England’s Under 19s. He is now firmly focused on the future with Walsall.

But his comments seem to suggest what we probably already knew - that his exit from the Keepmoat and the circumstances surrounding it, some five years on, still rankles with him to this very day.

However, if it provides any crumb of comfort whatsoever to O’Driscoll, with the emphasis at Rovers now quite clearly on ‘sustainability’ and building from the bottom up, someone must have been listening to the fateful advice he offered on that day in Middlesbrough after all.