An honest question and a sitdown with Chris Forrester - How Stephen O'Donnell changed the St Pat's mindset

Internal reflections have paved way for top-of-the-table Dublin derby
Daniel McDonnell

Early this season, St Patrick’s Athletic manager Stephen O’Donnell put new signing John Mountney on the spot.

In front of the entire dressing-room, he asked his old Dundalk team-mate what the perception of the Saints was around the league. Mountney’s response was honest and far from positive.

O’Donnell said aspects of it will remain private, but man of the moment Chris Forrester referenced the incident in a recent interview. The general tone of Mountney’s response was that his new club were viewed as something of a soft touch.

“John didn’t know the question was coming,” said O’Donnell. “It was off the cuff. He told the truth.

“Sometimes you might have boys who have been at the club that don’t want to hear that. It can go either one of two ways, you can say ‘aw, that’s nonsense’ or you can take it on board and say we’re going to change it.”

Results suggest that the Inchicore side are setting about doing the latter. Ian Bermingham’s late equaliser in Sligo on Monday maintained their unbeaten record heading into this evening’s (6.0) visit of Shamrock Rovers to Richmond Park. Victory would put O’Donnell’s side top of the table.

Forrester has been central to the revival, with O’Donnell spending extra time working on the creative 28-year-old who was written off in many quarters after confidence issues prematurely ended his time over the water.

“I was sick of people going back saying what a player he was and talking about some of his goals and I’m sure he was as well. We had a sitdown and I said: ‘You’re 28, Chris, you’re not 38’, people shouldn’t be speaking about you in the past tense, you are coming into the prime of your career,” explained O’Donnell.

“It’s easy for people on the outside as well to talk and treat boys as machines . . . it’s automatically his job to go out and entertain us and do something magical. It’s only when you’re out there in the middle of it and it’s helter-skelter that you realise that it’s pretty difficult.

“The main thing I wanted from Chris – because of the rest of it follows with good players – is application. We’re not dealing with a player here that has no ability and you’re trying to get him up to a level.

“You’re dealing with a player that has so much ability, our job as a coaching staff is to try and give them a platform to put them in the right situation to go and fulfil their potential. Chris has responded.

“He’s a lot more settled now outside of it too. He comes in and has a huge influence on the rest of the group because ability gets you respect. The younger boys and even the seasoned boys would rarely have played with someone as naturally talented as Chris.”

O’Donnell was even asked this week if Forrester could come into contention for another Ireland call having made provisional squads while with Peterborough. Even though he didn’t really engage, he did say the playmaker was different to other local options.

“He’s gone over and shown against top-level opposition – when he played against Chelsea in the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge – he’s shown he can mix it technically with the top players. He’s not as much unproven as say a player who’s (only) done it in the League (of Ireland).”

Rovers boss Stephen Bradley also gave Forrester a mention in his pre-match ruminations, with the Hoops respecting the challenge presented by their closest pursuers after some tight battles last term and in a 1-1 draw on day one.

“Forrester is obviously on top form at the moment,” said Bradley. “By all accounts he had to deal with stuff away from football, and he has, so credit to him and he’s finding himself on the pitch again which is great for him. Look, it’s great for the league when we have good players playing well.”

With plenty of midfield talent in the Rovers ranks, a compelling encounter lies in store.

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