Finnerty in to replace Simon at Steelers

FORMER Sheffield Steelers forward Ryan Finnerty has returned as the club’s new player-coach less than three days after championship-winning boss Ben Simon quit.

The former fans’ favourite spent two-and-a-half seasons with the Steelers under former head coach Dave Matsos, winning two play-off trophies and a regular season league title.

The last two seasons have seen him lining up against the Steelers, captaining the Cardiff Devils to a runners-up spot in both the league and play-offs in the 2010-11 Elite League campaign.

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But now, after holding talks with Steelers owner Paul Ragan - who also owns the Devils - 30-year-old Finnerty is returning to South Yorkshire to take his first steps in a new coaching career.

Current players Ashley Tait and Kevin Bolibruck are known to have also held talks with Ragan this week, but it is Finnerty who has been given the nod.

The decision by Simon to leave after just one season - after claiming the new playing budget restrictions and proposed league wage cap for the 2011-12 season would leave him unable to put together a competitive team - stunned many supporters, coming two weeks after securing a third Elite League title.

The return of Finnerty will go some way to appeasing some of those supporters who felt Ragan had erred in allowing American-born Simon to exit.

Finnerty, like Simon, arrives as a rookie player-coach, but armed with a more in-depth knowledge of the UK game after playing here for the last five years.

After the more defensive-minded, yet successful tactics employed under Matsos, the arrival of Simon last August heralded a more aggressive on-ice style which, as well as also proving successful, was appreciated by supporters.

Finnerty - well-known for his aggressive, feisty playing style - will look to continue with a similar approach when moulding his team.

A number of players who shared the delight of winning the double in 2009 with Finnerty are still at the club, including imports Jeff Legue, Joe Talbot, Jason Hewitt and captain Jonathan Phillips. The next few weeks will determine which of those remain although some, like Steve Munn, have retired from playing.

Finnerty’s return to Sheffield will be a further blow to the team rebuilding plans of Devils’ player-coach Gerad Adams, who is already resigned to losing star imports Craig Weller and Scott Matzka.