One of Kevin Grogan’s plans when he took over as head coach of the New York Shamrocks Soccer Club was to recruit younger players. The goal: to create a more competitive team, one that would eventually return to the Division I level of the Cosmopolitan Soccer League.
He knew in the process of building a younger, better squad, however, that some of those players might not play with the Shamrocks for long. As the team’s talent grew, so too did its platform as a feeder program for professional soccer leagues.
Recently, former Shamrocks midfielder and fullback Sean Reilly signed a contract to play for the Rochester Rhinos, a professional club in the United Soccer League.
Westchester-born Reilly, 25, played professional soccer in Ireland, birthplace of his parents, before joining the Shamrocks. Prior to playing overseas, he attended Bryant University and St. Thomas Aquinas and played soccer there as well.
“We were very fortunate to have Sean for a while,” Grogan told the Irish Voice during a phone interview.
“He was the first player I tried to headhunt when I came in to coach the Shamrocks. He’s a great guy with a great attitude, a very good player who’s always tried to learn and become better.”
Not only did Grogan understand that a younger, more talented Shamrocks roster would draw more attention from professional clubs, but he also embraced it. Grogan knew of Reilly’s professional aspirations upon recruiting him.
“When the opportunity came for him to go to the next level, we were the first ones to tell him that’s what he should be doing,” Grogan said.
“We’re obviously trying to build for the future, but we’re also trying to bring some quality players in here, coach them in the short term and give them a platform to get to the next level.”
Playing for the Shamrocks, Reilly told the Irish Voice, was essential to his seemingly simple transition to the professional level, especially because of Grogan’s coaching style and own background as a professional player.
The Rhinos’ practice schedule is the only significant difference Reilly has experienced during his jump from amateur to professional soccer. With the exception of games, the Rhinos practice every day; the Shamrocks practice two times per week, Reilly said.
“The way that coach Grogan coached, the things he was teaching us to try and do both on the field and off the field, made the transition much easier,” Reilly said. “I had good habits coming in because I played under Grogan.”
Combine those good habits with natural skill and it isn’t surprising to see Reilly develop as quickly as he did.
Technically sound and left-footed, Reilly’s biggest attribute in Grogan’s eyes is his versatility. He played center and left midfield, as well as left and center back with the Shamrocks, effortlessly transitioning between the four positions.
Despite Reilly’s versatility, Grogan said he sees his former player progressing and eventually settling into a steady role as a professional left fullback because of his strong left foot. Still, being able to play four positions doesn’t hurt.
As one would imagine, Reilly’s professional jump not only establishes the Shamrocks as a legitimate professional feeder program in the eyes of professional teams, but it also shows prospective players that Grogan’s club could be the bridge to fulfill their professional aspirations.
“It shows there’s not that big of a gap and standard between the Cosmopolitan League and the USL,” Reilly said. “With the right coaching, like the Shamrocks have, and the right staff, and obviously, with your own hard work, anybody can (go professional) as long as you keep the right head.
“If that’s what you really want, it’s definitely out there.”