2018 Season Preview - Shamrock Rovers

Sun, Feb 11 2018

Stephen Bradley is just 33 years of age. Credit: Michael P Ryan

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Manager: Stephen Bradley

 

Stadium: Tallaght Stadium (which will increase its capacity during the season to 8,000 with construction underway of the new south stand).

 

2018 Players in: Greg Bolger (Cork City), Ethan Boyle (Finn Harps), Ally Gilchrist (St. Johnstone), Joel Coustrain (Ballynanty Rovers), Joey O’Brien (West Ham United).

 

2018 Players out: Paul Corry (retired), Danny Devine (released), Simon Madden (St. Pat’s), James Doona (St. Pat’s), David Webster (Waterford), Ryan Connolly (Galway United), Darren Meenan (Longford Town), Sean Heaney (Bray Wanderers), Cameron King (Lynn Town), Aaron Dobbs (on loan to Wexford), Michael O'Connor (on loan to Finn Harps),

 

 

Extratime.ie Key Man: Joey O’Brien

It is two years since Joey O’Brien played for West Ham United – in an FAI Cup win over Liverpool – but the Hoops have taken a punt on the 31-year-old player. Rovers have had a few former Ireland internationals like O’Brien at the club in the Tallaght era with a poor return on the pitch from those former Boys in Green.

 

Only Stephen McPhail made a telling contribution for the team while Graham Barrett, Keith Fahey and Damien Duff had just one injury too many by the time they lined out in Tallaght. It remains to be seen if that is also the case for O’Brien.

 

On his signing Bradley spoke about being “aware of Joey's history with injuries. We went into this with our eyes open.” The club went with a pay-for-play type arrangement with Paul Corry’s contract last season and it seems likely the case for O’Brien who made over a century of appearances for Premier League side West Ham United across five seasons.

 

 

Extratime.ie One to Watch: Ethan Boyle

 

Throwing your eye on the Rovers squad for 2018, the case can well be made that it is an improvement on last year. However there were some eyebrows raised with the departure of both James Doona and Simon Madden to St. Pat’s.

 

Madden in particular was a main stay of the Rovers team over the past few seasons – making 123 consecutive appearances at one stage during his second spell at Rovers - but maybe his age profile meant that it was time for the 29-year-old to move on.

 

With one eye on a replacement for Madden, Stephen Bradley has brought Ethan Boyle in from Finn Harps. The Ireland under 21 international was at the club on trial during Pat Fenlon’s tenure as manager in Tallaght and Bradley noted that Boyle is “a good age” going on to say “I think he’s a great fit for us. I believe we can help take Ethan’s game to the next level, make him into a top right back, centre-back and midfielder.” 

 

 

How they did last season:

 

League: Third

 

Last year was Stephen Bradley’s first full season in charge and as Hoops Head Coach he made wholesale changes to the squad. Over a dozen players left the club, with another dozen coming in. Successful signings such as Ronan Finn, Graham Burke and Dave McAllister outweighed ones who failed to make the grade at Rovers - albeit players like Paul Corry and Dan Devine had underlying injury issues that they couldn’t overcome.

 

While the Hoops didn’t mount a league challenge, they were able to raise their game and beat both Cork City and Dundalk twice during the season. Those defeats of Dundalk in the league also went some way to stopping the Lilywhites equalling Rovers’ record of four league titles in a row – which meant a successful season in the minds of some supporters in Tallaght.

 

By holding off Derry City to secure third place and European football – a minimum requirement for any manager at Rovers – the Hoops made it four seasons in a row qualifying for Europe.

 

FAI Cup: Semi-final

 

Rovers fans thought maybe, just maybe, their three decade long cup drought was about to end last year. Wins over Glenville, Shelbourne and Bluebell United saw them make the semi-final against Dundalk.

 

They drew in Oriel Park 1-1 with the replay back in Tallaght going to extratime. However, a bench clearing donnybrook after Stephen Bradley had an altercation with Stephen O’Donnell saw Rovers lose momentum and ultimately lose 4-2. It wasn’t the only time discipline cost the Hoops, as they had an eye watering ten red cards during the 2017 season across all competitions (they have had two men sent off in pre-season this year).

 

EA Sports Cup: Final

 

For the sixth season in a row, the Hoops made it to the semi-final stage of this competition and they went on to make the final but couldn’t add to their tally of two league cup wins down the years. They beat Bohs, Longford and Cork City before facing Dundalk in Tallaght Stadium final but they lost to Stephen Kenny’s men 3-0 in the final.

 

Europe: Second Round Europa League Qualification Round

 

With European football providing such a windfall for League of Ireland clubs, it was certainly a case of job done by Rovers in Europe. Bradley’s men put in a professional performance against Stjarnan of Iceland – winning 1-0 in both the first leg away (the 100th win for an LOI side in Europe) and the second leg in Tallaght.

 

That earned them a place in the second qualifying round, along with a cheque of €225,000. That went with the €215,000 they received from UEFA for simply qualifying for Europe – this compares with €35,000 they received for finishing third from the FAI. They were eliminated by Czech side Mlada Boleslav 5-2 on aggregate in the second qualifying round.

 

What to expect this season:

 

Rovers have brought in some strategic additions to their squad (with striker Dan Carr due to be added to the roster this week) and arguably Cork City and Dundalk being slightly weaker than the squad they possessed at the start of the 2017 season. So as they being their tenth season in Tallaght, is this the year for Rovers to make their first meaningful title challenge since the days of Michael O’Neill managerial reign?

 

City look likely to be too strong for the Hoops but a runners up spot is certainly not out of reach and it could be an intriguing battle between the Hoops and the Lilywhites who ‘straight up, don’t like one another.’

 

Although with Dundalk’s new owners talking about splashing the cash to improve their side’s squad, that remains to be seen.

 

Away from the first team the club are making progress – the new stand in Tallaght is under construction with further developments about to start in their Roadstone Academy – but they need to back that up on the pitch.

 

Stephen Bradley’s willingness to speak to the media – with Rovers doing a press conferences ahead of each home league game – generated plenty of headlines in 2017; some of which have ended up being pinned to opposition walls.

 

It is sometimes easy to forget how young the Hoops boss is and you expect that the 33-year-old gaffer will have learned an awful lot during his time leading Rovers and he will bring that to bear in the 2018 campaign. His side look to play football and improved during the 2017 season. Will that improvement be enough to bring silverware to Tallaght? Bradley knows what it takes to win the league at Rovers having been part of the 2010 team that secured Rovers’ first league title since the RDS era.

 

Rovers are continuing to mix both youth and experience epitomised by both Bolgers in Bradley’s squad; Aaron Bolger who turned 18 just this month has shone when given game time while Greg Bolger, 11 years older than Aaron, brings title winning experience from his spells at both St. Pat’s and last season at Cork City.

 

Title Odds: 7/1

 

First game: If you don’t already have a ticket for this one, you’ll have to tune into RTÉ to watch it instead as a sold out Dalymount Park is the venue for Rovers’ first league game of the season. They travel across the city to take on rivals Bohs in a cracking Dublin Derby opener to the league season (kick off 7.30pm).