Sean O'Driscoll: Where does he rank among best ever Doncaster Rovers managers?

This week, as part our sports nostalgia series, we can reveal who is second on the list of Doncaster Rovers’ best ever managers.

Friday, 5th February 2021, 8:08 am
Sean O'Driscoll. Photo: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

It’s Sean O’Driscoll, the man who got Rovers playing an attractive brand of football and guided them back to the second tier of English football for the first time in 50 years.

Next week we will reveal the best Rovers manager of all time.

2 SEAN O’DRISCOLL (2006-2011)

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Dave Penney’s replacement, Sean O’Driscoll had played for Fulham before enjoying a 22-year association with AFC Bournemouth as player, physiotherapist, coach and manager.

His teams were respected for playing good football, but he was little-known away from the south coast.

That was soon to change.

O’Driscoll’s first task, as he saw it, was to change the culture at the club, particularly encouraging players to think for themselves.

This took time and meant that Rovers ended up in mid-table in a season notable for two highlights.

The first was the move from Belle Vue to the newly completed Keepmoat Stadium, marked by an emotional final day at the old home and a thrilling first game at the new one.

The other highlight was a run in the Football League Trophy, which saw Rovers reach a major final for the first time.

They overcame Bristol Rovers in an exciting 3-2 victory after extra time at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

Promotion to the Championship remained O’Driscoll’s top priority and by December 2007 things were not going well.

Rovers had struggled for consistency in the first half of the season and there were some calls for the manager’s dismissal.

O’Driscoll tweaked the team, including a recall for the dynamic midfielder Paul Green, and they won 13 of the next 16 league games.

They just missed out on automatic promotion but reached Wembley for the first time in the club’s history after James Coppinger’s stunning hat trick disposed of Southend United in the play-off semi-final.

At Wembley James Hayter’s goal secured victory over Leeds United and Rovers were back in the second tier after a 50-year absence.

It seemed that getting to the Championship might prove easier than staying there, and on Christmas Day 2008 Rovers were bottom of the table with only four wins.

The recall of striker Paul Heffernan was to change things, starting with a 4-2 win over Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day which showcased O’Driscoll’s brand of football at its thrilling best.

Rovers won seven games out of eight and finished a respectable 14th.

With the signing of Billy Sharp, Rovers enjoyed an even better season on 2009-10, spending time on the fringes of the play-offs before ending up 12th, their best finish since 1953-54.

An excellent first half of 2010-11 produced genuine hopes that a play-off place could be achieved. However, the rot set in after Christmas and Rovers won only two games after New Year’s Day.

They managed to stay up, but O’Driscoll suggested that the club might need to go down and rebuild before they had another tilt at promotion to the Premier League. This did not go down well with the club’s hierarchy.

Rovers made a few additions before the 2011-12 season, including the promising Kyle Bennett and the returning Chris Brown, but their squad looked thin for the challenges ahead.

They endured a wretched start, earning only one point from the first seven games.

On 23rd September 2011 O’Driscoll and his assistant Richard O’Kelly were told that they were being replaced and left the club. It was a sad end to a great time in Rovers’ history.

O’Driscoll deserves to be remembered alongside Peter Doherty as one of Rovers’ greatest managers. He not only got the club up into the second tier but managed to keep it there for four seasons.

He wasn’t a natural communicator and sometimes appeared off-hand, but he was loved by his players and generally appreciated by supporters. In the late 2000s he helped put Doncaster Rovers on the football map and for that he should always be held in high regard.

Senior record with Rovers

First match: 12th September 2006 v Huddersfield Town (away) drew 0-0

Last match: 17th September 2011 v Reading (away) lost 0-2

P265, W98, D69, L98, Winning percentage: 37.0%

Recap: The Top 10

10 Fred Emery

9 Stan Anderson

8 Sammy Chung

7 Lawrie McMenemy

6 Billy Bremner

5 David Menzies

4 Jackie Bestall

3 Dave Penney