Twigg: O’Neill saved me

SHAMROCK ROVERS striker Gary Twigg says manager Michael O’Neill saved his career when he was on the verge of quitting football.

On Friday night, as Rovers won their first title since 1994 with a 2-2 draw in Bray, the Scot cemented his status as a club legend with his 50th goal for the Hoops.

And in the emotional aftermath, Twigg paid a heartfelt tribute to O’Neill for getting his football career back on track at a time when he’d grown thoroughly disenchanted with the game.

“To be honest, I never thought that this moment would come in my career,” said Twigg. “I’d had a lot of problems with injuries and just fell out of love with football. The gaffer is a miracle worker and has managed to get me back playing at a level where hopefully people enjoy coming to watch me. I owe everything to him, to be honest.

“I was tempted to walk away from football before the manager took me to Brechin. I had thought about quitting and the gaffer kind of told me ‘just come and play and enjoy football again’. I did that at Brechin and then he brought me here – and I’ve not stopped enjoying it since. What else would I have done? I dunno, I hadn’t really thought that far..”

Twigg’s 50th goal for Rovers threw the team a lifeline at a point in the first half when the title might have been slipping away. And it required that the striker keep a cool head too, as he rounded Matt Gregg in the Bray goal and, after what must have seemed an eternity, found the corner of the net from a narrow angle.

“I just felt I had to compose myself and take as long as I could to make sure I scored. Luckily I got it in the back of the net and I was delighted.’’

Twigg, who admits to being a “wee bit superstitious”, didn’t have his family at the game “in case it didn’t happen”, but says that they will definitely be travelling over for the FAI Cup final against Sligo Rovers at the Aviva Stadium on November 14, a game for which he insists he will be fit despite coming off early at the Carlisle Grounds.

“I felt my hamstring a wee bit and I didn’t want to aggravate it,” he said. “We were 2-1 up and there was no point. I’ll definitely be fit for the cup final, there’s no doubt about that.’’

Rovers chairman Jonathan Roche said the title success had finally removed “the monkey from our back because the first one is always the hardest.”

Roche also said that, after all the years of being homeless, having a fixed address in Tallaght had been crucial to building Rovers’ success this season.

“I don’t think we would have done it without finding a home,” he said. “It was just survival over the last 20 years. Now there’s the factor of – this is our club, this is our ground.

“We are not driving in and driving out of Tolka Park or Dalymount packing the bags after every match. We can really be taken seriously and that reflects on the players as well. I think it’s vitally important that we have a home we can call our own.’’

So will they be spoiled in the coming years?

“Hopefully we’ll be challenging every year. That’s all you can do – challenge and progress the football club on and off the field. That’s what the fans – the members who own the club – will do. They’ll put in the structures for us to grow the club.”

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