Friday 28 July 2004 marks a strange anniversary of sorts. On this day, 13 years ago, Stephen Kenny was sacked as manager of Bohemian Football Club, following their elimination from the UEFA Cup at the hands of Levadia Tallinn. Kenny recently made a startling revelation about the circumstances in the lead up to the tie and ultimately his departure from the club.
Earlier this year, he sat down with Eamon Dunphy for a revealing, in-depth and at times emotional interview for, The Stand. During the interview, Kenny revealed. “At the time, I got asked… I sorta never revealed this. It was suggested to me that I sign Gareth Farrelly – who played with Everton and Bolton – just to play in the European game.”
During Kenny’s period at Bohemians, the club had achieved mixed success in their battle with Shelbourne to establish themselves as top dog. He and the club invested heavily in top players in a bid to re-invigorate the club after the indifferent tenure of Pete Mahon, following the euphoria of the Roddy Collins era in Phibsborough. Kenny’s reign yielded the league title in 2002/03 – at the home of the champions – a famous European victory over Bate Borisov, but also crushing defeats to an already relegated Dundalk in 2002 FAI Cup final and to Levadia Tallinn in the UEFA Cup first qualifying round.
In the UEFA Cup tie, Bohs were expected to progress, having blasted their way past similar opposition in Bate Borisov in the previous years’ Champions League. They had also comfortably seen-off Levadia at the same stage in the Champions League qualifiers in 2001 – when they were named Levadia Maardu. In addition, Bohs had secured a solid first leg goalless draw in Tallinn. Although strangely, Ken Oman, who produced a commanding man of the match performance at the heart of the Bohs defence in that draw, completed the second leg as an unused substitute, whilst Colin Hawkins, who missed the first leg through injury, started at centre half.
Levadia, having weathered a Bohs storm, hit on the counter-attack and ruthless punished Hawkins’ lack of sharpness, rounding out a 3-1 victory in Dublin. Bohs had never lead in the tie. The catastrophic collapse – from the first leg to the second – marked the only time a League of Ireland side had succumbed to Estonian opposition, in the five ties and ten games to-date.
That went against everything I was about
On the build-up to the tie, Kenny went on to reveal his response to the suggestion of signing and playing Farrelly. “Well, I said, ‘This team had won the league for me and I’ve got really good players here who’ve won everything, winning the league and doing really well’. They said he’s not going to play in the league, if you just sign him for those couple of games, you know? That went against everything I was about really. I said, ‘I wasn’t going to do that’. So we lost the game and they made Gareth manager. That’s what happened really, Gareth came in as manager immediately after that.”
In fact, it was one month later when Farrelly took the reins, after caretaker, Gary Howlett had guided Bohs to two league draws and an FAI Cup third round exit to Kildare County. Farrelly watched his first game from the stands, as Bohs trailed arch-rivals Shamrock Rovers 0-1 at half time in Dalymount. Farrelly’s inspired team talk saw his team rip into Rovers, twice breaching their rearguard in the first three minutes of the second half, eventually running out 3-2 victors.
Farrelly, 28, was far and away the league’s youngest manager at the time. Stephen Kenny, ironically, holds the record for being the league’s youngest manager, when he took over at Longford Town, aged 26.
In the main, Farrelly’s period at Bohs was a forgettable one, for footballing and off-the-pitch reasons. It was blighted by cut-backs to the playing budget, a point’s deduction for fielding a suspended player, the release of top-scorer Dominic Foley in dispute over payment and towards the end, divisive supporter protests.
Thus, two years and two days after the ecstasy of that 3-2 victory over Shamrock Rovers, Farrelly suffered the indignity of missing a penalty at a crucial stage of an FAI Cup replay at home to the same opposition – who were then a First Division club. Bohs and Farrelly parted ways the following day.
Stephen Kenny’s exit had marked the beginning of the decline of Bohemian Football Club, although Pat Fenlon’s trophy-laden four-year spell re-invigorated the club, it was all built on a mountain of debt and tied-up in a property deal, which collapsed in the economic downturn. In 2015, Bohs finally resolved major debt issues, sold Dalymount Park to Dublin City Council and unveiled a five-year strategic plan, placing the club back at the heart of her surrounding communities.
Stephen Kenny who had refused to comprise on his guiding principles when asked to parachute Farrelly into the team for the big European games, may have lost out in 2004. However, those uncompromising, core footballing principles brought him unparalleled success with Dundalk in bigger European games, twelve years later. He may find it tough to talk about now, but that incident laid the foundations for subsequent success and deserved praise from all quarters.
Listen to Eamon Dunphy’s fascinating interview on Stephen Kenny’s career to-date, in its entirety on SoundCloud.