Stuey Byrne: 'It's finally dawning on Shamrock Rovers that they're in a league title challenge'

Fri, Jun 14 2019

Greg Bolger of Shamrock Rovers in action against Dundalk's Jamie McGrath. Credit: Michael P Ryan (ETPhotos)

Multiple title-winner Stuey Byrne has backed Shamrock Rovers to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season despite a recent wobble that’s seen them knocked off top spot.

The Hoops were 13 points clear at one point – albeit with two more games played – but have suffered a downturn in form and slipped five points behind the champions Dundalk.

Victory on Friday night would cut the gap to two ahead of Dundalk’s visit to Tallaght Stadium at the end of the month, but they’ll have to navigate a tricky Dublin Derby to do so.

Speaking to the Sportscast ahead of the final round of fixtures before the summer break, Byrne backed the Hoops to rediscover their blistering early-season.

“I think this could tighten back up again,” the former league winner with Shelbourne and Drogheda United said.

“I’ve quite fancied Rovers since the start of the season. As I’ve watched them, especially in that early two-month spell, they were very impressive, by far the best team in the league at that time.

“I think what’s happened now, and it was always going to happen to them, a little bit of mental fatigue [is] probably creeping in.

“Because they got off to such a blistering start, and they were really motoring from early on, I think it was always inevitable they were going to hit a little bit of a flat spot.

“They’ve had a couple of sendings-off and suspensions, missing player, and it’s slightly interrupted that momentum they’ve had.

“You would always, at this stage of the season, look at who in the league has the ability to bring in players and who is going to have to do with what they have?

“If you look at Dundalk and Rovers, I think both have the resources and the option to bring in a couple of players. How the two teams play that part of it will have a big say.”

Byrne, who won a league title with Drogheda alongside Hoops boss Stephen Bradley, puts Rovers’ dip in form down to reality smacking the group in the face as the realised they were real contenders.

The midfielder, who also played alongside Dundalk coach Vinny Perth at Longford Town early in his career, says the Hoops will get over it and make a real fight of the league run-in.

“The little bit of a dip in the past month is possibly doing with the fact it’s probably finally dawning on the squad they’re in a league title challenge and maybe it’s taking a little while to sink in.

“The first weeks of the season it’s all very much fresh and you’re just doing your stuff, not thinking about league titles, you’re just thinking about your match fitness or your place in the team.

“That’s when you’re playing your best stuff. It was always going to happen, at some stage, they were going to have to accept the fact that they’re in a league title challenge, and the manager as well.

“There’s going to come a time in the league when Stephen is going to have to say ‘alright lads, this is happening.’ That might have been a factor in the slight dip in form. It’s mentally taxing.

“I think they’ll deal with it and settle down, and I think we’re all hoping they get back to the form we saw at the start of the season and we’re going to see a cracking second half between themselves and Dundalk.”

Byrne wasn’t surprised to see the Lilywhites shake off their middling early-season form to regain their place at the top of the league table.

His own experience playing in league-winning teams taught him such teams tend to peak as the Champions League fixtures begin to appear on the horizon, and Dundalk are no exception.

“I’m not surprised at all to see Dundalk get into their mojo at this stage because, when you look down the last four or five years, this is the stage of the season when they’ve kicked into gear.

“Primarily [that’s] because of European football, and I would know it myself from my days of playing in Europe and, especially, the Champions League stuff.

“As soon as May comes in, you start to really kick into gear and you’re focusing on the next six or seven weeks in the lead-up to that first Champions League game.

“You tend to go up the gears a couple of notches and it’s not surprise to see Dundalk do that in the last couple of weeks.”