2020 Season Preview: Shamrock Rovers

Tue, Feb 11 2020

Ronan Finn lifting the FAI Cup in front of the Shamrock Rovers fans Credit: Brian F Smyth (ETPhotos)

Head Coach: Stephen Bradley    

 

Stadium: Tallaght Stadium

 

Players in: Rhys Marshall (Glenavon), Liam Scales (UCD)

 

Players out: Sam Bone (Waterford), Sean Boyd (Unattached), Ethan Boyle (Linfield), Graham Cummins (Waterford), Ohran Vojic (Unattached)

 

Extratime.ie Key Man: Jack Byrne

Rovers are certainly not a one man team but so much of their very best play comes through the Republic of Ireland international Jack Byrne. The PFAI Player of the Year lit up the league last season from first game to last.

If his form continues in the same vein, he will be back in the Republic of Ireland squad for the playoffs in March and all going well could be part of the squad for the Euros in Dublin. If that is the case the speculation about a transfer away from the League of Ireland will reach fever pitch and Rovers may look to cash in on a player who could break the transfer record for a move away from the domestic game.

 

Extratime.ie One to Watch: Neil Farrugia

Farrugia made the switch from UCD during the summer but due to injury Rovers supporters only got to see him play the last four games of the season and boy did they like the look of him raiding down the wing. He played an impact sub role in the FAI Cup final coming off the bench on 68 minutes to replace Sean Kavanagh.

With the Ringsend player out injured for the medium term, Farrugia is likely to play the left wing back role in place of Kavanagh for the first couple months of the season if Bradley continues using the wing back system that proved so effective for the Hoops in the second half of last season.

 

How they did last season:

League: Runners-up

The Hoops raced into an early season 13 point lead in the league over the Lilywhites (albeit with a couple of games extra played) before Dundalk gradually reeled Rovers in and went on to win the league by 11 points.

Runners up spot was an excellent achievement for Rovers but they will rue the points dropped when Aaron McEneff was out injured in June. During that spell when the Derryman was missing, across those eight games the Hoops dropped ten points.

They finally got the win over Bohs in the league they’d been waiting so long for but that came in the final derby of the season having lost the other three. Those defeats plus the failure to beat Dundalk in any of the head-to-heads (losing three and drawing one) meant the Hoops had to settle for second place.

FAI Cup: Cup winners

The “Cup Specialists” finally won their 25th FAI Cup after a 32 year wait. A late winner in Galway set up a Dublin Derby semi-final against Bohemians at Dalymount Park. The stakes were so high in that semi-final but Rovers were the better team on the day to gain the bragging rights over Bohs and send Rovers to the Aviva for the first time since 2010.

In the final they faced familiar foes in Dundalk but the Hoops seemed to have the measure of the league champions in this match and a late goal looked to have secured a win before a dramatic injury time equaliser from Dundalk sent the match to extra time.

It was a nervy 30 minutes that followed and only a lasp gasp Alan Mannus save stopped the Lilywhites from winning a treble. In the shootout Mannus did his job, allowing Gary O'Neill to net the winner in front of the emotional and jubilant Rovers supporters - many of whom had never seen the Hoops win the FAI Cup. 

EA Sports Cup: Eliminated in first round

Knocked out in the very first round on penalties by Bray Wanderers after a scoreless 120 minutes by the seaside in Wicklow.

Europe: Eliminated in second qualifying round

The Hoops put in a credible performance in Europe beating SK Brann 4-3 on aggregate in the first round. Pico Lopes’ late equaliser in the 2-2 first leg draw in Norway gave them the platform in the second leg back in Tallaght where Rovers came from behind to win 2-1 on the night.

In the second qualifying round, the Hoops won the first leg against Apollon Limassol in Tallaght 2-1 and in Cyprus an Aaron Greene screamer took the second leg to extra-time before the home side prevailed.

 

What to expect this season:

There has been constant progression for Shamrock Rovers under Stephen Bradley. Working with the club’s Sporting Director Stephen McPhail, Bradley has completely reshaped the squad from when he took over full time for the start of the 2017 season.

The reward for Rovers last season was the FAI Cup crown they claimed and a title race that they played a part in for about half of the season. To that cup winning squad he has added the versatile Rhys Marshall and Liam Scales who both make the step up from part time football with Glenavon and UCD respectively.

Although they have only signed a couple of new players probably just as crucial is the fact that the Hoops have held on to Jack Byrne and Lee Grace – the players who won Rovers player of the year in the last two seasons. 

Alongside the obvious desire to retain their cup, they will want to challenge Dundalk all the way this season and if things go their way an 18th league title might be coming to the team from Tallaght come the end of the season.

First game: Bohemians (away).