Stephen Rice Interview by Dylan O’Connell

Retired SHAMROCK ROVERS midfielder Stephen Rice, who famously scored for the Hoops to put them 1-0 up against Tottenham Hotspur in the Europa League, says coaching is what he is “most passionate about” as he finishes off his work on the UEFA PRO-LICENSE course.

The retired midfielder, who won two LEAGUE OF IRELAND titles under the direction of future NORTHERN IRELAND manager MICHAEL O’NEIL, travelled through the Irish underage leagues on his road to elite level management.

Stephen: “It was a long process to get on the course because I wasn’t a senior manager,” Rice told Pro-Scour 3.

Stephen: “To be finally accepted onto the course was great. The course itself has been very beneficial to me. I’m constantly learning from the tutors and other participants. There is a lot of COACHING, MANAGING, and PLAYING experience in the group which I have learned a lot from.”

Stephen: “On the course, we are always being challenged be it from a MEDIA, MANAGING, or COACHING perspective. Overall it has been a very rewarding experience.”

During his playing career with Bohemians, Monaghan United, Shamrock Rovers, Longford Town and Glentoran, Rice was constantly thinking and working on becoming a coach.

Stephen: “I started coaching at a young age, doing my first badge at twenty-one. Soon after that, I got offered a job delivering COACH EDUCATION programs in the FAI. When I took over the Dublin and District Schoolboys League team for the Kennedy Cup I got my first real taste of ELITE LEVEL COACHING.”

Stephen: “When I moved to Longford I really started thinking about COACHING. I was thirty/thirty-one years old and knew I wouldn’t have much more of a chance to win silverware in the PREMIER DIVISION so I decided then to EDUCATE myself in as many ways as I could to become a better coach because ultimately that is what I am most passionate about. ”

Stephen: “At Rovers, I moved strategically as a coach through the underage sides. I worked with the u14s and u15s for two years, one year at the u16s, two years at the u17s, and one year at the u19s. When I finished up playing to COACH, this pathway is something I wanted to do. I wanted to learn from each individual age group and to see what I could take away from it. I also got develop my own principles and styles as a coach by seeing what worked and what didn’t.”

Rice’s coaching career has seen him look over a number of future Irish stars, including TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR striker TROY PARROTT, MANCHESTER CITY goalkeeper GAVIN BAZUNU, and DERBY COUNTY midfielder JASON KNIGHT while in charge of the DDSL team.

“There were some great players on that team,” Rice reflected on his former players, “Those lads were fantastic. At the moment though, Irish football has a lot of players breaking through. Just look at the talent in STEPHEN KENNY’s u21s last year. Troy Parrott especially, he is a great kid who had a fantastic attitude, a real natural ability, and an unrelenting attitude.”

Stephen: “This is a really exciting time for Irish football. Everyone wants this to be the next golden generation like DAMIEN DUFF’s team was twenty years ago. But, it is a different time now, so what we need to do is give the players time to develop and not pressuring them.”

While working at Shamrock Rovers, Rice was part of an intricate network of coaches that worked tirelessly bringing through the next generation of Irish talent.

Stephen: “At Rovers, there are principles in play and policies for development, but there is also a lot of freedom for COACHES.”

Stephen: “COACHES had space to work different systems, try different things, and to expose the players to different scenarios. There is an overarching policy but it isn’t rigid so long as the playing principles are upheld.”

Stephen: “When I’m working with a team I am a possession-based coach with a variation in the play and a high intensity. I want my teams to dominate POSSESSION with a sense of unpredictability and to not to be afraid to try something on the pitch. When they lose the ball, I want the team to lose it back as quick as they can within a structure.”

Stephen: “Overall, the structures in Rover’s Academy are excellent. SHANE ROBINSON has done fantastic work. GAVIN BAZUNU moving from Rovers to MANCHESTER CITY is a testament to this. Hopefully, now we see more players progressing through the academy and breaking into the first team.”

Stephen: “I left the Rovers academy earlier this year. I’m really excited to get back into coaching when this pandemic is over and I’ve finished the PRO-LICENCE course. Once football is back I will be taking the next steps in my coaching career.”