RETRO | 2010: Neale Fenn announces his retirement…..and then signs for Shamrock Rovers five days later!

Nine years ago, Dundalk FC striker Neale Fenn announced that he was retiring from football …..only to sign for Shamrock Rovers less than a week later! Ahead of his return to Oriel Park with Cork City on Friday night, Dundalk Sport takes a look back at a dramatic couple of weeks in 2010.

“Over the last three to four weeks, my family and I decided that now was the time to call it a day. I think once you finish, you might as well finish rather than making all sorts of comebacks. At the moment, I can’t see myself coming back at all.”

Neale Fenn, July 29th 2010

“Shortly after it became public in the media that I had been released, and was therefore a free agent, I received a call from Mr Michael O’Neill, Shamrock Rovers manager, who offered me an opportunity I could not turn down.”

Neale Fenn, August 6th 2010

If there was a sense that this Friday night’s meeting of Dundalk and Cork City might slip under the radar for the first time since 2013, the presence of Neale Fenn in the away dugout should add some spice to the occasion.

Forty-one points — yes, 41 — adrift of Dundalk, and sitting third from bottom in the league table, Cork City have endured a wretched season. John Caulfield is no longer at the club and a rivalry that fuelled the League of Ireland for over half a decade has already been consigned to the history books.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that a fixture which has often shaped the destination of the league title for the past six years has slipped down the pecking order of heavyweight billings but Fenn’s involvement will definitely sprinkle some intrigue on things.

It’s nine years ago since the current Cork City boss —who was Dundalk’s vice-captain at the time — announced to the footballing world that he was hanging up his boots — only to stick them on again a week later and sign for Shamrock Rovers! It was an act that didn’t go down well at Oriel Park. An act that has not been forgotten in these parts.

Longford Town went through something similar when Fenn decided to up sticks and take the Cork job less than two weeks ago but his arrival at Turner’s Cross hasn’t had the desired effect and two defeats from his first two games in charge mean the 2017 double winners are in dire need of points to stay clear of the drop zone. Dundalk fans would love to see that run extended when the full-time whistle blows on Friday night.

Fenn was a high-profile arrival at Oriel Park ahead of the 2010 season. The London-born striker began his professional career at Tottenham Hotspur, making his full debut in an FA Cup tie against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1997, before going on to play with Leyton Orient, Norwich City, Swindon Town, Lincoln City and Peterborough United.

In 2003, he moved to the League of Ireland, signing for Waterford United, and went on to win a league title with Cork City in 2005. His next port of call was Bohemians where he won the league and FAI Cup double in 2008 before adding a third league winners’ medal, together with the League Cup, a year later.

With his contract up at Dalymount Park, the 33-year-old became Ian Foster’s sixth new arrival at Dundalk ahead of the 2010 season. After taking over from Sean Connor, Fenn was just the kind of character that the new Lilywhites manager wanted in his dressing room…..or so he thought.

“Neale’s going to bring real quality to the squad,” said Foster. “He’s very clever as a striker. He drops into pockets that midfielders and defenders don’t like coming into. He has a lot of League of Ireland experience, he’s won medals and he’ll benefit the younger players around him. I’m sure he’ll be a fantastic addition to the squad.”

Things started brightly well — very brightly, in fact — with Fenn scoring and providing an assist in Dundalk’s victory over Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght, their first league win over the Hoops since September 1997!

“We have a small squad but we’re tight-knit and everybody knows what they have to do,” said Fenn. “There are no stars here and hopefully that will see us keep picking up the results. We’ll keep working hard and we’ll see what happens.”

A 3–0 win over UCD at Oriel Park in April 2010 moved Dundalk top of the Premier Division table. After the darkness of six years in the first division, this almost felt like new, uncharted territory for the club.

“I don’t think anybody would have imagined that we would be top at the start of the season but we’re there on merit,” said Fenn. “We’ve played five games and we don’t like conceding goals while at the other end we look like scoring plenty.

“We’re not getting carried away, though. There are only five games gone but if you had offered us 12 points from this stage of the season we would definitely have taken that, especially when you think that we’re not at full pelt yet.”

A vibrant start saw Foster’s side take 18 points from their opening nine games with Fenn dovetailing brilliantly with Faz Kuduzovic in the front line but with injuries stretching a squad limited in numbers, bumps in the road started to appear and, ravaged with inconsistency, Dundalk slumped to mid-table.

The Europa League provided a welcome distraction and after a 3–3 draw in Luxembourg, Oriel Park played host to its first European tie in 19 years where Fenn scored from the penalty spot in a 2–1 win over CS Grevenmacher in the first qualifying round. Levski Sofia, however, proved to be insurmountable in the following stage, the Bulgarians running out comfortable 8–0 winners across the two legs.

Despite his misgivings about the artificial surface at Oriel Park, Fenn missed just one of Dundalk’s 30 competitive games prior to his departure and looked to have signed off on a relative high, scoring a 95th-minute header in his final appearance for the Lilywhites against Galway United at Terryland Park on July 23rd, 2010.

On July 29th, Fenn announced that he was hanging up the boots but, amazingly, five days later, he signed for Shamrock Rovers, penning a deal until the end of the season. Understandably, all hell broke loose.

Dundalk subsequently released a statement, saying that the club would be ‘formally requesting the FAI to conduct an investigation into the matter’ but Foster’s comments were more in keeping with the thoughts of those on the terraces, the current England U18 manager describing Fenn’s actions as ‘callous’.

“Neale explained that he wanted to retire for family reasons, all of which I sympathised with greatly,” said Foster. “His contract was terminated by mutual consent and the cancellation was sent to the FAI.

“There was absolutely no reason whatsoever not to cancel his contract as he had stated explicitly his desire to retire from the sport due to the aforementioned family reasons.

“The events that followed are totally unacceptable. I am saddened that a man who was so integral to our season would act in such a callous manner. He has been disrespectful to his team-mates, myself, directors and the supporters of Dundalk FC and his actions go against the spirit of the sport.

“At Dundalk FC we always try to do things the right way, in the right manner and with integrity and I do not believe that others have acted in the same way. I believe that the PFAI should publicly condemn his actions and the precedent that it may set in our sport.”

Fenn‘s responded by saying that he acted ‘properly, fairly and within the rules of the Association,’ adding that he ‘always had the utmost respect for Dundalk FC and their supporters.’ To many, it was a backhanded apology.

Dundalk supporters didn’t have to wait too long to vent their feelings and on Monday, September 13th 2010, Fenn made his return to Oriel Park with Rovers looking to open up a seven-point lead over Bohemians at the top of the league table.

Michael O’Neill’s decision to start the striker was a bold one but Fenn’s most notable act was an act of petulance which saw him fling the ball at the injured Wayne Hatswell and with 60 minutes played, he was replaced by Thomas Stewart to a cacophony of jeers from the home support.

Tom Miller opened the scoring with just three minutes played when he headed past Alan Mannus before Kuduzovic made it 2–0 but it was the man wearing Fenn’s old no 10 jersey, Matthew Tipton, who took centre stage after that, bagging a hat-trick as Foster’s side ran riot to win 5–1.

When the final whistle blew, The Shed was in full voice, singing: ‘I’d rather have a Tipton than a Fenn!’ No doubt we’ll hear it at some stage on Friday night.

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