TWIGG TOOK ROVERS BY STORM AND THE FANS BY SURPRISE
On this day, Friday, 17th April, 2009 Gary Twigg scored a hat-trick in the 3-1 win away to Galway United. That brought his early season tally up to 6. It was early days in what was to develop into a dramatic but all too brief career at Rovers.
At Shamrock Rovers we do love our heroes. We especially take to the guys who get the goals. In fairness, we have opened that particular club in recent times to players from other parts of the park. Examples of this would be Lee Grace being voted as Player of the Year by the fans for the 2018 season and the adoration of one Jack Byrne who has turned heads well beyond Tallaght Stadium since his arrival at the Hoops.
The man who gets the goals though always seems to occupy a special place of liking. On Monday I wrote about Alan Campbell. The Ballybrack lad made a lightning-fast climb to the top having made an almost instant impact at Milltown. Campbell came straight out of schoolboy football and within a short period of time was the top goalscorer in the league.
In Tony Cousins, we knew what we were getting when we signed him from Bohemians in 1996. ‘Couso’ was a well-established striker in the League of Ireland having also previously played for Dundalk. The same could be said about Mick Byrne and Noel Larkin. Players with a proven pedigree and one we were all familiar with when they came to us.
Some such as Campbell, Liam Buckley, Noel Hunt and Padraig Amond brought the form they had from Schoolboy football into their senior careers. On the other hand, there have been others of whom little was known about who were signed and let’s just say it didn’t work out. A manager really needs to know his players when he’s signing them. It’s on his head that the blame falls if the signing turns out to be a damp squib.
Let’s cast our minds back to a little over 10 years ago. A new manager, Michael O’Neill, was handed the task of leading the Hoops into the new and indeed long-awaited new era at Tallaght Stadium. O’Neill had experience of playing at the top level in England. He had cut his teeth in football management at Scottish League side Brechin City and it was no surprise that some of his new signings as manager of Shamrock Rovers would-be players from across the sea. Who was this guy Gary Twigg we all asked ourselves when we first heard the name? On the face of it, in two seasons at Brechin, the 25-year-old Glaswegian appeared to have had a reasonable return in terms of goals scored.
Twigg and Shamrock Rovers proved to be a marriage made in heaven. When he played his final home game for the Hoops on Friday, 19th October 2012 there were tears in the crowd as he bade farewell. In three short years, Gary Twigg had become an icon, a hero of the masses.
His 24 league goals played a big part in Rovers finishing second in the Premier Division and the securing of a spot in the following season’s Europa League qualifying rounds. That tally also saw Twigg complete the season as the top goalscorer in the Premier Division – 2 ahead of Bohs’ Jason Byrne. Who will ever forget his two late goals against the Gypsies at Tallaght Stadium on 16th May that year? It was no wonder Twigg was voted as the SRFC Player of the Year that season. The PFAI also chose him as their Player of the Year for 2009.
The fans quickly began to realise that not only was Twigg good for Rovers but Rovers was good for Twigg. The Scot was revelling in his role on the team. A striker who couldn’t stop scoring is what you want on your side. Twigg was loving it and so were the fans. The ‘Oh Twigg of Scotland’, still sung at Rovers’ games, was no doubt a great source of inspiration to him. Dessie Baker will probably say his presence too on the pitch and all those assists he gave played a big part in Twigg’s success. There’d be some justification for sure in that.
The following year came the winning of the title with Twigg chipping in with 20 league goals and an overall season total of 26. Again, as in 2009, he topped the goalscoring chart in the Premier Division with 3 goals to spare over former Rovers’ striker Padraig Amond who at this stage was playing for Sligo Rovers. In 2011 the league title was retained with Twigg scoring ‘only’ 15 goals. He was still Rovers’ top scorer for the season and the reduction on his tally can be explained by his absence for a six-game period early in the year. In his final year, 2012, a season that failed to deliver on expectations following an historic 2011, the Scot was still in top form, scoring 22 times in the league and again finishing the season as top goalscorer in the League of Ireland. In all, Gary Twigg found the net 89 times in all competitions during his four-year spell at Shamrock Rovers.
The fans didn’t want him to leave the club. He didn’t particularly want to go himself. Family matters played a part in his decision to seek a club nearer to home in Belfast and in late 2012 Gary Twigg signed for Portadown in the Irish League. This wasn’t just a big loss to Shamrock Rovers but to the League of Ireland.
Twigg maintains his special relationship with the Hoops and is a regular visitor to Tallaght Stadium. His tally of league goals reads a total of 81. Considering he was at the club for just four years that is remarkable. Truly remarkable indeed. Paddy Ambrose holds the club record at 109. Had Twigg remained for two more seasons he may very well have broken that record.
To finish, here’s a fact that has probably never been noted. Gary Twigg scored his first league goal for Shamrock Rovers against Sligo Rovers. By coincidence, Paddy Ambrose also got the very first of his record 109 against Sligo Rovers. Back in 1950, the fans at Milltown had no idea of the contribution Ambrose would go on to make at the club. Just as we didn’t when the tall Scot came to us back in 2009. Oh, when will we see his likes again?