Doncaster Rovers today announced the names of the players set to be released by the club this Summer. Six of the first team squad from the 2009-10 season have been let go by the Rovers in total, and whilst there are no real surprises amongst those clearing out their lockers, it is certainly a shame to see some very loyal players move on. Hopefully they all managed to get their training shirt signed with good luck messages, innuendo and abuse from their team-mates before leaving.
The six players to be released by the Rovers, or rather not to be offered a new contract are goalkeeper Ben Smith, defender Sean McDaid, midfielder John Spicer, forwards Lewis Guy and Paul Heffernan and youth team graduate Charles Fisher. Though Fisher made a number of appearances in pre-season, he has spent much of his first professional season with the club on loan, so much so that I actually read up on what position he plays. The young central defender may have failed to make a single first team appearance for Rovers, but the other five players have all had a healthy impact on Rovers recent history.
Ben Smith, or Benjamin as BBC Live Text likes to call him, is actually one of Rovers longest serving players having initially joined the club in 2006. After numerous goalkeeping departures and injuries Smith found himself as first choice goalkeeper for a time in 2007, but has spent much of his time with the club as understudy to the experienced Neil Sullivan. Smith may have made only 21 appearances for the club in his time here, but he has been a well-liked member of the squad. Despite his lack of games, whenever I’ve seen him he has always been happy to share a joke with his fellow players and supporters and I suspect his presence will be missed. Smith’s successful loan spells at Lincoln City and Morecambe suggest he’ll have no problem finding another club.
Sean McDaid is another player who’s limited appearances belay his longevity, but for very different reasons. McDaid joined the club five years ago having been let go by Leeds United. Snapped up by David Penney McDaid proved an inspired signing, making forty appearances at left-back in his first season and notched the double of Players Player and Young Player of the Year at the end of the season having only just turned twenty. Despite McDaid’s obvious talent at left-back new manager Sean O’Driscoll saw much more in the player and often deployed him in midfield after taking over, especially following the arrival of Gareth Roberts.
However a knee injury suffered against Accrington Stanley saw him miss three months of the 2006-07 season and large chunks of the following season though he did appear to score his first goal for the club in his 94th appearance, against Swindon Town as Rovers resurrected their play-off push. Just as things looked to be panning out for McDaid he suffered a dislocated knee on the verge of the 2008-09 season and missed almost eighteen months. He returned to the fold for his one and only Championship appearance, against Middlesborough this season, where he was heartily applauded onto the pitch, but sadly that will be the last Rovers action for a very effective and determined player.
John Spicer joined the club two years ago on the verge of Rovers first Championship season. Touted as a replacement for Paul Green it was clear early in the season that Spicer’s game was not at its best. However, O’Driscoll gave Spicer time to adjust and as Rovers sparked their impressive post Christmas recovery Spicer was a key component of a gloriously effective midfield unit. Spicer was a vital part of Rovers transition to the second tier and made over fifty appearances for the club, scoring one goal, a scorcher of a half volley at Plymouth last season. The midfielder ended the season on loan at Leyton Orient.
Its safe to say that Lewis Guy will not be forgotten easily by Rovers fans. Often the scapegoat for many fans over the year, the striker has been much derided by large numbers of Rovers supporters, ever since it is was once quoted that he was ‘brilliant in training’. Guy is not a poor footballer, and he since March 2005 when he initially joined from Newcastle he has provided Rovers (often only) source of attacking pace. According to my sources he finished his Rovers career having made 74 starts and 74 sub appearances in the league, for which he returned eighteen goals. Not great for a striker by any means, but Guy’s contribution to the club’s rise has been vital.
Most notably it was Guy who struck Rovers’ first goal back in the second tier with a typically opportune finish at Derby on the opening day of last season. A goal he followed up the week after with a strike against Cardiff. He struck key goals as Rovers righted their 2007-08 season towards promotion. And in the big Cup games against Tottenham, Arsenal, Aston Villa and Manchester City he made very good defenders look very average. Guy has been a loyal servant to this club despite never being taken to by the support and for that he deserves much praise.
And lastly, but certainly not least, we come to Paul Heffernan. Another long time Rover Heffernan has been at Doncaster for five seasons, though injuries mean he’s rarely enjoyed a full campaign. A true old-fashioned opportunistic striker, Rovers have owned no better goal-getter than Heffernan for as long as I’ve watched the club. He may not have the pace of Gregg Blundell, nor the nous (or girth) of Paul Barnes, but he’s had a knack of being in the right place at the right time like no other.
Heffernan’s final goal total for Rovers was 53, with 18 of those coming in the Cups where he seemed to excel, especially when you consider that total of eighteen was scored just thirty-three games (and incredibly only 21 starts). His goals were never outstanding strikes, but they were often important, such as those against Villa at Belle Vue and against Bristol Rovers in the Millennium Stadium. Heffernan has often been described as a ‘form’ player (as if there is any other kind), but its worth noting that his goals have come in runs.
Rejuvenated by the run in the Johnstones Paint Trophy, the back end of the 2006-07 season saw Heffernan score seventeen goals in a run of nineteen games. And of course his ten goals in the second half of last season went a long way to securing Rovers’ Championship status. However, sentiment cannot cloud judgement, Heffernan hasn’t found the net for Rovers this season, albeit the first in four in which he hasn’t finished as the club’s top scorer. A great Rovers player moves on, and will undoubtedly find himself a suitable home in League One, a return to where it all began with Notts County could certainly be on the cards.
On the official website Doncaster Rovers thanked all of these players for their services to the club and wished them well. We can only echo those sentiments really. It is a shame to be losing players who have been with us for a significant period of the club’s history, but the time is certainly right.