Football managers and players are always on the move – so to stay at one club for the best part of a quarter of a century is a major accomplishment.
It was no surprise then that the mood around Bournemouth’s Dean Court ground on Friday was one of shock as the news sank in that Sean O’Driscoll was to leave the club.
After nearly 23 years with Bournemouth, O’Driscoll will start work as Doncaster’s new manager on Monday, after bowing out following Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Crewe.
It is rare these days for someone to be so indelibly associated with one club.
“He was Mr Bournemouth,” said one Cherries fan. “I can’t imagine the football club being there, and Sean not being there.”
Born in Wolverhampton, O’Driscoll was a latecomer to the professional ranks, making his League debut for Fulham in 1980, aged 22, after signing from Alvechurch.
He went on to win three caps for the Republic of Ireland – but a loan move to Harry Redknapp’s Bournemouth in February 1984 began his long association with the Cherries.
A tireless runner in midfield, O’Driscoll was ever-present in 1986/87 as the Cherries won the old Third Division title with 97 points – a record at the time – to reach the second tier of English football for the only time in their history.
“If ever I have to have a heart transplant, I want Sean’s heart,” quipped Redknapp.
Given the ironic nickname of “Noisy” by his team-mates, O’Driscoll remained a key figure under Redknapp and went on to make 423 league appearance to break the club record – which he held until recently overtaken by his own club captain, Steve Fletcher.
As his on-field career drew to a close, O’Driscoll combined playing with spells as community relations officer and club physio, before taking over as youth team coach following Mel Machin’s appointment as manager.
O’Driscoll’s spell in charge of the youth team produced an excellent crop of players, such as midfielders Carl Fletcher and Brian Stock, who earned moves to Championship clubs and international honours with Wales.
Others, like Eddie Howe, Karl Broadhurst and the prolific James Hayter, have been key first-team players for Bournemouth since coming through the ranks.
O’Driscoll took over as manager one game into the 2000/01 season when Machin stepped up to become director of football.
O’Driscoll did not have the easiest of starts – but the loan signing of then-unknown teenage striker Jermain Defoe proved a masterstroke as the Cherries came with within a whisker of the play-offs.
Despite suffering relegation the following year – and being given a 10-game ultimatum by chairman Peter Phillips to save his job – O’Driscoll led his side back in style, winning promotion via the play-offs after beating Lincoln 5-2 at the Millennium Stadium.
Two more close brushes with the League One play-offs followed, all against a continuing backdrop of long injury lists, financial constraints and serious threats to the club’s future.
But O’Driscoll – whose quietly-spoken demeanour hides a passionate and determined character – was never one to complain or make excuses.
He stuck to his principles of building a young side playing attractive football, which has earned him the respect of others within the game – and handed his side the best disciplinary record in the division for the last two seasons.
When the final whistle blew against Crewe after the supporters had chanted his name for much of the game, O’Driscoll typically sought to avoid the limelight – until the players, led by Warren Cummings, encouraged their manager to take a final salute.
“It was a difficult day, saying goodbye to people,” O’Driscoll admitted.
“I hoped that the team’s performance on the pitch would get the headlines – the players’ professionalism was heartening in the circumstances.
“But the supporters stayed and clapped, so it would have been disrespectful not to acknowledge them.
“I’m a Wolves fan and I played for Fulham, but this will be the first result I look for.
“You don’t often get perfect days in football, but this was probably as close as you’re going to get.”
Crewe boss Dario Gradi – one of the few men in football to have been at one club longer than O’Driscoll – commented: “It’s strange that he’s gone from one club in this league to another club in the same division – and all his supporters applaud him for it.
“That shows he’s got a great deal of respect. You might expect that of Sean, but you wouldn’t expect it normally.”
Like many smaller clubs, Bournemouth has long been a breeding ground for players who have moved on to enjoy success higher up the ladder.
But this time, it has been their manager who has caught the eye of ambitious Doncaster chairman John Ryan as they prepare to move to a new stadium.
It will be interesting to watch O’Driscoll’s progress, now he is moving to one of the wealthiest clubs in League One.
Cherries fans are used to reeling off names of succesful ex-players like Jamie Redknapp and Matt Holland, and are used to taking some reflected pride in their accomplishments.
So, it should not be a surprise if Doncaster’s results receive a cheer or two from now on at Bournemouth.