Planes, trains and automobiles – League of Ireland away days

Published in the Finn Harps match programme (Finn Harps v Shamrock Rovers – 1 April 2022)

Finn Harps welcome the most southerly team in the Premier Division to Ballybofey this evening. Usually the southernmost club is one from Munster but this year it is Shamrock Rovers. The club who play their home games in the South Dublin County Council owned Tallaght Stadium have the honour in 2022 rather than a club from way in the south of the country like Cork City or Waterford.

With five Dublin clubs in the top flight of the League of Ireland this year (Bohemians, St. Patrick’s Athletic, Shelbourne, Shamrock Rovers and UCD) plus two up the M1 from the capital in Louth (Drogheda United and Dundalk), it limits the mileage for Dublin based supporters on the road watching their team this year – something to be thankful for with the current sky rocketing fuel prices.

Finn Harps supporters know all about the sacrifices following their team around Ireland with matches against Derry City and Sligo Rovers given the derby feel even if they don’t have the proximity between the clubs like you get from the northside v southside Dublin rivalry of Rovers v Bohs or the Pats v Rovers games between two clubs that are separated by just 11 LUAS stops.

David Sneyd’s excellent recent article on gave a snapshot of travel for training and matches for a couple of Dublin based Harps players. Sneyd grabbed a lift with David Webster and Bastien Hery from Dublin to Ballybofey and he provided a very entertaining snapshot of the travel experience for the likeable playing duo. 

Recently Thomas Tuchel noted that his Chelsea side were having to travel to Middlesbrough by bus on a ten hour and 500 mile+ round trip rather than fly due to the financial restrictions brought about by the sanctions on the club owner Roman Abramovich. “It isn’t about luxury and bling-bling,” said Tuchel. “This is just a pro level of sports, where we play with two days between matches with our opponent having four days between matches and we arrive with the possibilities of injuries. For that, it is better to arrive with a plane rather than a bus.”

The Finn Harps twitter account quote tweeted the story saying ‘cry me a river’ as Ollie Horgan and his men know all about having to play matches in such a short turn around requiring several hundred kilometres of travel by bus.

The talk of travel on buses and flights got this Shamrock Rovers supporter thinking back to away days in 2006. Back then with work requiring me on a regular basis to travel to Waterford, Limerick and Dundalk, I bought my first car and was thankful for the corporate mileage I accrued at that time to help pay for it. 

That year saw Shamrock Rovers play there one and only season in the First Division and they were the only club from Dublin in the second tier that year. 2006 became known as the ‘Discover Ireland’ tour amongst Hoops fans as they descended in huge numbers to grounds many of them had never visited before. My trusty Ford Focus helped me to make my supporting debut in St. Coleman’s Park, Buckley Park, St. Mel’s Park and Hogan Park that year.

The ‘derby’ match that season for Rovers was a trip to Newbridge to take on Kildare County. After one away win in the Station Road ground, the Rovers fans that were returning to Dublin by train stood on the platform in Newbridge in high spirits after a 3-0 victory. The Iarnrod Éireann official in the station wasn’t used to his Saturday evening viewing being disturbed and announced over the PA “could the patrons at Platform 2 please be quiet as you are disturbing my watching Match of the Day.” He was met with a chorus of “You can shove your English football up you’re a***!”

Late that season there were two standout trips to Munster. First was a 2-0 win in Hogan Park with Andy Myler’s goals – and Dundalk’s loss that night in Monaghan – putting the Hoops on the brink of promotion. Having to drive back to Dublin in November in the dead of night with no rear passenger window on the right side thanks to someone throwing a rock at us when we were leaving the carpark beside the “stadium” makes that match linger in the memory.

In the final game of the 2006 season, we had the First Division coronation in Cobh. This was Celtic Tiger days remember and so Rovers supporters availed of fairly cheap Ryanair tickets to fly to Cork and travel onwards to Cobh to see the Hoops get the draw they needed to lift the trophy in St. Coleman’s Park and get back to the Premier Division.

We still managed to get a bus journey in on that trip though as due to poor weather in Cork the following day meant our plane flying from Dublin was diverted to Shannon Airport. Ryanair ended up busing us to Shannon before we could fly back home. League of Ireland away days involving planes, trains and automobiles are definitely not about the ‘luxury and bling-bling’ if I can misquote Thomas Tuchel!

Andy Lyons: ‘I’m coming into a winning culture and probably the biggest change for me is the expectancy at Shamrock Rovers’

Published in Hoops Scene No. 3 2022 season

Five game into the league campaign and tonight is the third Dublin derby that Shamrock Rovers will play in so far this season. However, with due respect to UCD and St. Patrick’s Athletic, this is the first Dublin Derby of the season as the Hoops welcome Bohemians to Tallaght Stadium.

Always a fiercely contested game, come 10pm this evening whoever is the winner will have the bragging rights in Dublin, at least until the Dalymount Park version of the Dublin Derby which is set for the end of next month.

Through the end of 2017, across 2018 and half of 2019, the red and black side of Dublin were in the ascendancy when Rovers couldn’t find a derby win. The turning point came in August 2019 when Graham Burke gave Rovers their first derby victory in nine matches and the Hoops would go on to win five consecutive derbies, including the memorable semi-final win that enabled the Hoops to go on and win the 2019 FAI Cup securing the club’s 25th cup crown.

But the last four derbies, have seen three Bohs win and one draw. Richie Towell’s goal earned a point for Rovers in what was the last game between the sides here in Tallaght, while the most recent derby was a 3-1 win for Bohs in Dalymount in November – that was the first league match between the sides won by more than a goal since February 2018. 

Last season in the FAI Cup, Bohs beat the Hoops en-route to the final (where they lost on penalties to St. Patrick’s Athletic). The winning goalscorer for the Gypsies in that cup derby win in Dalymount over Rovers was Andy Lyons and over the winter he made the move across the Liffey from Dublin 7 to Dublin 24 – a transfer that Pico Lopes, Dylan Watts and Danny Mandriou have all done in recent years. It will mean Lyons will likely be the lightning rod for boos from the Bohs fans in the East Stand this evening.

However, as Lyons explained to Hoops Scene this week, he will be concentrating on his own performance tonight as Rovers look to get back to winning ways after losing last week’s game 1-0 away to St. Patrick’s Athletic. 

“You can’t really control what anyone else does,” said Lyons about what might be directed towards him by the fans of the club he signed for at underage level in 2016. “Look, it is just part and parcel of the derby. You can’t control what the fans do. The only thing that you can control is how you perform on the pitch and that is all I’ll be concentrating it on. That is my job.

“Every Dublin derby is the same. Everyone knows what it means for the fans and the players know what to expect. Sometimes it takes a moment of special quality to win the game and other times it is a set piece. They are games where you have to concentrate the whole time. Most derby games in the last few years, it has only been the odd goal between the teams. They can be cagey affairs at times because of everything that comes with the derby.”

Lyons explains he is settling in well with the Hoops following his move from a Bohemians side who enjoyed fine European and FAI Cup runs last season, although they missed out on Europe for 2022 – a factor in why Lyons decided to leave Dalymount Park and join the back-to-back League of Ireland champions.

“I’ve enjoyed it coming into the group,” said the 21-year-old player about joining the Hoops. “I know a few of the lads before as I played with Dylan (Watts) and Danny (Mandroiu) at Bohs. It was a bit different as I’m coming into a winning culture and probably the biggest change for me is the expectancy at Shamrock Rovers.

“There are a few lads who’ve been in my position before coming across the Liffey. Overall it has been brilliant with the set up (at Roadstone) and working with the manager. I’ve shown my versatility playing on the left at times and I feel I’ve really settled in. I’m now looking forward to playing more games and hopefully getting a few more wins and seeing where it takes us.

“When I look back on last year (with Bohemians), the biggest moments were the cup and the European run,” said Lyons who was part of a Bohs team that went three rounds in Europe, winning all three of their home European games (all of which were played in the Aviva Stadium). “Not getting Europe with Bohs for this year was massive as getting European football is huge for every club. For me, over the last two years, the best experiences I had were in European football and with Bohs not getting that this year, I knew that was something I really wanted to play in again. I know that it brings your game to another level and it allows you to play against the best in Europe which is a great experience. I want more of that.

“With Rovers, we have the Champions League qualifiers and will have the Champions Route. I want to push on now and play in more European games. The attraction of European football was huge. Most club’s biggest fixtures of the year are the European ones, with everything that comes with it in terms of finance and the experience for us as players and for the crowd. That was something that I wanted to do again and that was a big reason why I came to Rovers.

“I was full time (with Bohs) but we trained in the evening. Some people say it is very similar as you are training the same amount of hours but to me it has been a big transition. You go from the evening to training bright and early in the morning. It was something that I wanted to do.

“Full time football is critical for me. I’m waking up every morning now to go play football. Having the facility (at Roadstone) to use when we need and have the whole day free after that is great. It helps with recovery. I can go in for a heavy session and then I can come home have a nap and I have rest of the day free. I can go to bed at the righttime and get a good night’s sleep.” 

A Chris Forrester set piece header for the Saints was the difference between St. Pat’s and Rovers last Friday night at a sold out Richmond Park. This evening’s game at Tallaght Stadium is a sell out and with similar sold out signs up for Rovers’ away game in Derry last month, the Hoops will have played half their league games so far this season in full stadia.

“It is to great see these crowds. It makes it a better occasion and brings more publicity to our league which is great to see. Most Dublin derbies are going to be sell out games and now Shels are back in the Premier Division with their big fan base. The big crowds adds that edge to everything.”

Reflecting on Friday’s game in Inchicore, Lyons thought his team were very much in the match and “we felt we were the better team, especially in the first half. We kept the ball well and created a few chances. In the second half, I thought we had a lot of the ball.

“Set pieces sometimes decide games and they scored from one which was a pity for us. Overall in the grand scheme of things we were the better team; we had more possession and the better chances. It is obviously disappointing that we lost but performance wise it was probably the best of the season so far. If we take that performance into the next few games we will have no problem.

“Sometimes if you scrape a 1-0 win and get a result and you didn’t play particularly well, it can create a false sense of security. The fact we have that performance there, we know that is good even if we didn’t quite get the result. If we put that performance in then nine times out of ten you win the game and the results will look after themselves.”

Lyons played his schoolboy football with a St. Joseph Boys team that contained a number of now familiar names and he came up against his former skipper with the Sallynoggin club last Friday in Richmond Park. “I played with Joeyswhere Joe Redmond (St. Pat’s) was the captain of that side and the team included (two former Hoops) Brandon Kavanagh (Derry City) and Aaron Bolger (Cork City), Glen McAuley (Athlone Town) and Jonathan Afolabi (Celtic).”

Lockdown life and the recreational graveyard visit

November 16, 2021 Leave a comment

We have come in and out and in and out of lockdown over the last 18 months. Today some restrictions have been put back in place but hopefully we aren’t going back to a situation like before when we were restricted to a 2km, 5km or the county boundary limit. 

During those previous lockdowns, my evening walk took me along the street where my grandfather and great grandfather on my mother’s side of the family once lived – see Exploring 2km from home and some family history. You could venturing outside your alloted zone back then for a number of reasons such as food shopping, attending a medical appointment or visiting a grave.

Whether you are in lockdown or not, visiting the graves at Deansgrange Cemetery is a worthwhile journey – at least I think so anyway. Buried in the cemetery you have a couple of Taoisigh, the former parish priest of Craggy Island, and a famous Irish poet who my grandmother once worked for. In the cemetery are the graves of my grandmother and grandfather, my Aunt and my cousin (all on my father’s side of the family).

Plenty of Republican plots

There are a number of graves in the cemetery relating to the 1916 rising. The first woman to be Lord Mayor of Dublin Kathleen Clarke is buried in the St. Brigid section. The former TD was the widow of Tom Clarke, who was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising. He was executed by the British Army for his participation events in Easter 1916 and was buried in Arbour Hill cemetery (that is located within a 2km zone from my house).

Dr. Kathleen Lynn, the Chief Medical Officer of the Irish Citizen Army, is another historic figure buried in Deansgrange. She was arrested during the War of Independence but was released due to a previous pandemic – she helped with dealing with the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

Amongst those buried in the Republican plot in the cemetery are three volunteers who were killed in the Easter Rising and the plot also contains the remains of Fiona Connolly Edwards. She was the youngest daughter of James Connolly, founder of the Labour Party, signatory to the Proclamation of the Republic. He was also executed by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol and buried in Arbour Hill after the rising.

Just a few steps away for that plot and set amongst a group of trees are a number of Commonwealth war graves containing the remains of British Army servicemen.


Two heavyweight political figures coming from either side of the big Irish political divide and buried very close to one another. There is the two time Fine Gael Taoiseach John A Costello located in a grave a short stroll away from one containing Ireland’s fourth Taoiseach Sean Lemass who led the Fianna Fáil government between 1959 and 1966.

A more contemporary grave close by is the one containing the remains of comedian Dermot Morgan. The grave of the actor who played Father Ted had a small ‘lovely horse’ toy on it on the day I visited.

The poet Pádraig O’Siochfhradha is buried in the St. Patrick’s section of Deansgrange. He wrote his poetry as Gaeilge under the pen name ‘An Seabhach’ and across the cemetry are the graves of my grandfather Tom Ferris and grandmother Nora Ferris (née Brennan) who worked for many years for The Seabhach.

Tom and Nora Ferris

My grandmother was born in Kerry in 1905, living in Reenard adjacent to Valencia Island. She moved to Dublin in 1923 to live on Morehampton Road to work for The Seabhach as a nanny to his son. When she first came to Dublin she didn’t speak English and the rules of the house were for her to only speak Irish to her charge.

After marrying my Grandfather in 1936, his job as a signalman with Iarnród Éireann saw them move around the country before they settled in Ballybrack (the village where former Taoiseach Sean Lemass was born). 

My grandfather died in 1983 but my granny lived till 92 years of age dying in 1997. The pair are buried in the same plot along the perimeter wall of the graveyard over which their great grandchildren play football most weekends for Granada Football Club.

Categories: The Political Wing

Postcard from the World Cycling Championship Men’s Road Race

September 26, 2021 Leave a comment

What a day at the races it was. Just an incredible sporting occasion to be at – a joy to see such a race live from Leuven in Belgium.

It was like attending a World Cup final with hosts Belgium playing in it alongside the Netherlands, Denmark, France and Italy. The train out to Leuven from Brussels early on Sunday morning was a riot of colour with fans decked out in the flags of their nation. The one day road race is like a festival of cycling and with the race doing loops in and out of Leuven, it is such a great spectator event as you get to see the race multiple times.

My arrival was timed to see the riders on their first lap of Leuven and I got to wave my Irish tricolour at Rory Townsend who was in the early break (with Eddie Dunbar and Ryan Mullen later to have ‘Go Ireland’ shouted at them). With a 90 minute gap between the next lap, I found myself what looked like a good spot on the Sint Antoniusberg climb and settled in to await the race again.

It was a cracking atmosphere at this corner with the church opposite creating tiered viewing on the steps. The Belgian fans were out in force singing for home favourite Wout van Aert but there were plenty of Dutch supporters for Mathieu van der Poel. The singing went back and forth between the fans like home and away ends at a football match.

When the riders next appeared, we got to see them do four laps with a gap of just over 20 minutes between each viewing. The incoming police lead car, motorbikes and helicopter overhead worked the crowd up to a crescendo on each lap and the clapping and cheering was deafening as they echoed off the narrow walls of the Belgian town.

The riders were preceded by some VIP cars with former Rainbow Jersey winners sitting in the back seat with the window down looking at the crowds. I spotted one and my thoughts were ‘That looks like Roche. That looks like Stephen Roche’ because of course it was Stephen Roche – winner of the World Championships in 1987.

A Belgian fan leant out of his first floor window with his trumpet playing ‘Seven Nation Army’ and what I’ll call the ‘Wout van Aert’ song and in between each lap I watched bits of the race on the phone of the Dutch fan beside me so I can keep track of the attritional nature of the race – just the 263.3km of racing with 2,562m of climbing.

When they come by a fourth time, we won’t see them for another hour so I go back down the hill to grab some lunch and take up a position near to the train station where there is a big screen to follow the action.

I head away from the train station to get close to the action and the race is really hotting up when they come through on their penultimate lap. It is a strong group including Julian Alaphilippe, van Aert, van der Poel, Tom Pidcock, Neilson Powless, Michael Valgren Dylan Van Baarle and Jasper Stuyven on his home streets of Leuven.

My phone struggles to pick up the 4G so I’m unsure of the situation on the final lap. A single rider appears in blue…its Alaphilippe with a 25 second gap. Wow. Can he do it again and retain his rainbow jersey?

A group of four then come through – Stuyven, Valgren (Denmark) and Van Baarle (Netherlands) and then another group with Van Aert – this group is too far back so he won’t win this race but the Belgians do have a rider up there.

Venturing back to the train station I watch the conclusion of the race on the big screen and there is grudging applause for Alaphilippe when he wins and groans from the home crowd as Stuyven misses out on the medals with Van Baarle getting silver and Valgren bronze.

With my freebie Flanders 2021 yellow cycling casquette perched with some luft on my head, I skip into the train station and head back to Brussels having witnessed one of the great World Championship races.

Chapeau to Julian Alaphilippe who adds another rainbow jersey to his palmares.

Categories: Cycling, Travel Tags:

A host of firsts await Finn Harps in the future

September 5, 2021 Leave a comment

Published in the Finn Harps match day programme – Issue 13 2021 – Finn Harps v Shamrock Rovers

There is something special about the first time. Tunde Owolabi fired home his first hat-trick for Finn Harps recently with the Belgian bagging all three goals in the 3-1 win over St. Patrick’s Athletic.

“What an insane night,” was how Owolabi described it on twitter afterward with a couple of on fire emojis also included and sure why not! “Feels like a dream. Super delighted with my first hat-trick for the club. The boys were unbelievable tonight. We are on [fire emoji]. Thank you for your wonderful support…the atmosphere was absolutely electric.”

It was a different type of temperature and atmosphere when Jason Colwell scored in Finn Park back in 1999 for what was his first goal for Shamrock Rovers. Colwell came from a staunch Shamrock Rovers supporting family – his father Joe was Rovers’ chairman and both Colwells were part of the club in the difficult years when the Tallaght project was stalled for a long period.

Jason joined the Hoops after several seasons with UCD and he got his first goal for Rovers on a Ballybofey pitch blanketed in snow in mid-April 1999.

“My first goal for Rovers was up in Finn Park in a rescheduled mid-week match,” said Colwell when he spoke recently to this writer. “It was snowing, we played with an orange ball and I scored with a diving header! Out of everything that shouldn’t be, it was, because I wouldn’t have scored too many headers [at five foot seven] and I wouldn’t have played too many times in snow with an orange ball! 

“We lost the game though so it didn’t really count for much. Probably nobody else remembers it but I’ll always remember it because it was my first goal for Rovers.”

A look back through the records shows that Harps won the game 4-1 with James Mulligan scoring twice, along with a goal from Eamonn Kavanagh with Peter Murray scoring an own goal putting the ball by Rovers ‘keeper Tony O’Dowd.

Colwell had the frustration of seeing a partially built stand in Tallaght Stadium lay idle during his playing career with the club. And his thoughts may be echoed by Harps players and supporters alike as the wait on further developments on the new ground in Stranorlar – although there was good news on that front earlier in the year with the government allocating a provisional grant of close to €4m for the project.

“We could see the stand being built and we were training on the pitch so we thought we’d be playing there soon but it didn’t happen,” said Colwell. “It’s a shame that the years I was playing we didn’t have our own ground but to have Tallaght now – I hope the players know how fortunate they are because plenty who went before them weren’t afforded that.”

Last week in the North West derby Owulabi got the winner in Harps’ first ever FAI Cup victory over Derry City. When the new stadium comes for Harps, the first goal and the first derby win will be massive events for the club. 

For Shamrock Rovers supporters the first win over Bohemians in Tallaght Stadium back in 2009 has gone down in history. Stephen Rice, the newly appointed Republic of Ireland senior men’s team chief scout and opposition analyst, was part of that Hoops team who somehow conjured a late win over the Gypsies who were leading 1-0 with a couple of minutes to go in that game in May 2009. 

“If anyone says to me ‘the Bohs game’ – and I’ve played in I don’t know how many Rovers v Bohs games – I know the one they are talking about,” said Rice. “It is always the first one in Tallaght. It was a great night with Gary Twigg getting real poacher’s goals. 

“Typical Twiggy, out of nowhere he got two goals in the 88th and 89th minutes to win the game. When the first goal went in you could see the crowd went off the wall. When that winning goal went in, it was unbelievable.” 

Rovers rowing in the right direction – Liam Scales interview

Published in Hoops Scene No. 13 / 2021 (Shamrock Rovers v KF Teuta Durres / Longford Town)

In a four week period, the Hoops will play across four different competitions – League of Ireland, FAI Cup, Champions League and Europa Conference League. So plenty of football to concentrate on for the Shamrock Rovers players. Getting a break away from the game is also important so enjoying the July heat wave with some sea swimming and golf while watching the Olympics has been a nice distraction for Hoops player Liam Scales.

The interest in the watching events from Tokyo is heightened for the 22-year-old as a number of the athletes with Team Ireland were on scholarship with Scales during his time at UCD. Not only that, the Hoops defender lived in first year with Paul O’Donovan, one of just eight Irish Olympians to have won a gold medal.

“The sports scholarship I was on at UCD wasn’t just the football scholarship but included other sports,” said Scales. “There are good few from that scholarship system who are out at the Olympics including swimmer Darragh Greene in the breaststroke (the Ireland record holder at 50m, 100m and 200m), Lena Tice is on the hockey team (and an Irish international cricket player) and I lived with Paul O’Donovan in first year in college.

“He is an insane athlete. Living with him, I could see the amount of work he put in, eating the right food and all the hours he spent in training. I would have seen him in the gym training beside us. He would be on the rowing machine going flat out and often he’d end up going over to the bin to throw up. The rowers push themselves to the limit and they can’t do anymore.”

While sea swimming has become very common during coronavirus times, Scales has always been fond of a dip in the Irish Sea. “Being from Brittas Bay, I’m well used to the sea. I enjoy sea swimming. It is not like I’m forcing myself to hop in only for recovery. Even if I wasn’t playing, I’d do it anyway but it is still great for as part of my recovery with football. It is like an ice bath and I always feel much better after.

“On the days off you have to be able to take your mind off football so I love sea swimming and I play golf with a few of the lads in the squad too. With the lockdown we have had a tough few months where you couldn’t do much but now the golf courses are open it is good to be able to enjoy yourself on the days off. With the weather we’ve had in the last few weeks, we have made the most of it but with football in the mind we haven’t done too much.”

On the pitch, Scales has been one of the standout players for the Hoops this season who sit top of the table in the League of Ireland. Coming into the UEFA Europa Conference League home qualifier against Teuta, he has played in every game so far this season starting all bar the recent 2-0 cup win over Galway United. In that match, he made a substitute appearance for the final half an hour of Rovers’ 20th win in a row over United.

“The first half goals were taken really well,” said Scales about the strikes from Rory Gaffney and Dylan Watts. “We controlled the first half. With John Caulfield in charge (of Galway), you have to expect a reaction from them like we saw in the second half. To be fair to them, they came out and had a proper go in the second half, creating a couple of chances. 

“I think overall we were comfortable and happy enough. It would have been nice to go and dominate the second half like we did in the first but it is rare that games work out like that. It is all about getting through to the next round and the draw for that means we are  really looking forward to playing Bohs.

“We have lots of games to focus on between then and now but if you want to win the cup, you have to play big games,be it last-16 stage, quarter-final or semi-final. You are going to have to play the likes of Bohs, Dundalk or Pat’s and win those type of ties if you want to win the cup. 

“We have a big European tie before then and tough league games too but we are looking forward to playing Bohs down the line and hopefully get the same result the lads got a couple of years ago in the semi-final when they went on to win the cup.

“It is nice to be in the team every week but I know I need to keep playing well and working hard as the competition is so strong. When you look at our bench, there are players who would be playing week-in week-out in the league with other teams. I’ve been playing between centre-half and wing-back and that is helping me be picked as I can slot in for either position. If I want to keep playing every week, I have to keep up my form and stay fit.

“I’ve scored twice this year, both against Dundalk and they are two of the best goals that I’ve scored in my senior career. As a kid I would have played higher up the pitch in midfield or as a winger and scored a few goals. Playing as a wingback you can get into these higher positions and every now and again there is going to be a chance that will fall to you. It is about taking it. I’ve been in the right place at the right time to score those goals this season. It is nice to chip in with a couple of goals and assists.”

Rovers come into their home European tie three points clear at the top of the table having won four matches in a row in all competitions – including last week’s 3-1 win over St. Patrick’s Athletic – putting behind them a difficult period when, struggling with an injury crisis, they earned only eight points from the 21 on offer in the league. 

“We went through a tough spell in June. We lost a couple of games after being on that long winning streak. To lose a couple of games in a month was tough. We bounced back really well from that. The spirit is high. We have players back from injury and Richie (Towell) has come in and done really well. It is all positive in the camp at the moment. It is such an important busy month in August and so it is a good time for us to be kicking into form and playing well. 

“Last year when we were winning every week and on that streak of unbeaten games, we always just took it game by game. We never looked beyond our next game. That is all we can do now especially with so many games coming up. This isn’t time to be thinking about different games, only the one coming up. We have been in this situation before. Every year the schedule gets hectic when Europe and the cup is around. Hopefully we can stay on top of it, stay fit and go on another run.”

Joey O’Brien: ‘I wanted to win the league. I wanted to win the cup. I wanted to put the club back at the top’

Published in Hoops Scene (Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers May 2021)

There have been plenty of crucial late goals this season that have helped propel the Hoops top of the league and cement the record run of games undefeated in League of Ireland history but for Shamrock Rovers defender Joey O’Brien a few run of the mill wins built on the back of clean sheets would do just as nicely.

“It is always something we talk about in the dressing room that clean sheets win leagues,” said O’Brien. “It is obviously great to get last minute winners. We know if we can get a clean sheet, a win will be easier as the lads are going to score goals. 

“The foundation at the back allows you to be in the game and control the game. A single goal can win you the game with that clean sheet. We would like to get a few more this year. Come the end of the season, the team with the most clean sheets will probably win the league.

“It has gone on so long across three seasons,” said O’Brien about the record of undefeated games for Rovers. When the Hoops hit 31 unbeaten following the win in Finn Harps, they beat a record that had stood since 1927.  “It is a great achievement but it is probably something that you will only look back on in years to come as at the minute it is just on to the next game and the next game. 

“To be honest there isn’t much talk on it in the dressing room. Let’s just win the game in front of you and that is what we were at. It isn’t about keeping the run going. It is about winning what is in front of you. Keep rolling on to the next game.”

It took an injury time winner for Rovers to earn all three points against St. Patrick’s Athletic in Richmond Park, while Rory Gaffney’s goal on the back of a quickly taken throw in from Liam Scales got the Hoops a point last time out here in Tallaght.

“You can’t beat a last minute winner,” said O’Brien about Danny Mandroiu’s goal against the Saints. “It was a tough hard game against Pats. Tackles were flying in. It is a local derby so it makes the win that bit sweeter. It was first against second in the league which added to it and made the win that bit more important.”

The current Shamrock Rovers squad is one that has been created by Stephen Bradley since he took up the Head Coach role at Rovers. The acquisition of O’Brien in 2018 was a crucial one – bringing in a player with both Premier League and international football experience but just as important a player with a driven attitude who is a crucial member of the leadership group in the squad.

“I wanted to win the league. I wanted to win the cup. I wanted to put the club back at the top,” said O’Brien about his ambitions on signing for the club. “That was it. Nothing else. Speaking to the manager when I first came in, that was why I came here. 

“I maybe didn’t realise how far off we were at the start. We weren’t really near the top then. We were qualifying for Europe but there was Dundalk and Cork battling each other and we were below that. 

“You could see the change in the team with the players who left and those who came in. There has been a huge turnover in players since I came to the club. The quality has come into the group and players have improved and improved. 

“The manager has changed the system of play and that has really benefited us. He has brought in really good players who have really fitted into the system. It has been really good over the last 18 months and more from when we won the cup. 

“That was a huge turning point for us,” said O’Brien about the team winning the FAI Cup in 2019 beating Dundalk on penalties in the Aviva Stadium  – the first Rovers side to achieve that success in 32 years. “Winning the cup was a massive massive moment. There is no hiding from that. 

“The club had waited so long. The size of this club and the magnitude of this football club, the players realised how long it was. On cup final day, you could see how big the crowd was, the outpouring of emotion, to see fans who had waited so long or those that had never seen us win the cup. 

“That gave the players in the group a huge amount of satisfaction and enjoyment. But also confidence in our ability – we were the team that ended that cup drought. A huge part of football is the having the confidence to go out and to excel. We got that from the cup final and it rolled on to the following season. 

“It isn’t just being about an older player going around as an older voice of having seen it and done it,” said O’Brien about the leadership dynamic in the Rovers squad. “You don’t really want that. It is about creating the right environment in the dressing room where there are no issues. No cliques.

“If there are any issues, you want the younger lads to be comfortable and confident to go and speak to one of the senior players. You have the experience in the dressing room but it isn’t authoritarian and that these lads are the main men who run it. It isn’t like that. It means you are there to give guidance if you are asked and if there is something that is worrying them. It means you’ve been there and can offer them some advice on how to handle it.

“I am an older player so my life experience is different. I’m going home to play with my kids whereas they younger lads are going home to play on their PlayStation. What you have in common is playing football and the dressing room. 

“The competitiveness and intensity of training are things that will never change. The older lads in the group probably do demand more in training, we put the demand of each other. That then leads on to match day.”

After last Friday’s visit to Oriel Park, the Hoops welcome Sligo Rovers to Tallaght Stadium this evening. When the teams last met a Rory Gaffney deflected shot off John Mahon two minutes from time earned the Hoops a draw. O’Brien knows this evening’s game will be difficult against the Bit O’ Red. 

“I’ve always had a lot of time for Liam Buckley looking at his teams from the outside. Looking at the level and clubs that he played at and also his Pats team and how he had them play. Even now at Sligo you can see how he has changed them. He has brought in some really good players and he has improved the squad. They are right in the race. Sligo have done really well. 

“It will be a tough game and that has been the case when we have played the last few times. The scorelines maybe haven’t reflected the game. They have been a lot tighter games than the final outcome.”

Toasting a Harps win and a Rovers title win

Published in the official Finn Harps match day programme Issue 4/2021 (Finn Harps v Shamrock Rovers)

There has always been a good relationship between Finn Harps and Shamrock Rovers dating right back to when the Hoops provided the opposition in 1969 for Harps’ first League of Ireland game. As a Shamrock Rovers fan I’ve always enjoyed travelling up to Finn Park and cannot wait to get up to Ballybofey again when restrictions allow – and the new stadium in Stranorlar when finances for opening the venue allow. 

There is always a great welcome for the travelling supporters in Donegal; there is the wonderful soup and from a Hoops perspective in recent years the results have gone Rovers way. You have to go back to November 2008 for the last Harps win over the Hoops with Marc Mukendi and Conor Gethins on the scoresheet in the 2-0 victory in Finn Park.

Cementing the relationship of good will of course is Finn Harps’ role last season in handing Shamrock Rovers the title. Yes, the Hoops went through the COVID-19 shortened season unbeaten, conceding just seven goals and keeping 13 clean sheets in the 18 games but it was a Finn Harps win in November that got Rovers over the line to confirm the league title – even better from a Rovers perspective was that Harps’ crucial win was against Rovers’ rivals Bohemians.

Harps had lost 12 in a row in Dalymount Park but came up trumps that night. I was probably the only Shamrock Rovers supporter who was present to see Rovers win the league. I was in the Phibsborough venue reporting for Come the final whistle I was thankful of the mask I was wearing so I could have some semblance of neutrality as people couldn’t see the wide grin going across my face as Rovers had secured their 18th league title.

Aaron McEneff described the scenario on the night when I spoke with the former Rovers man recently. “I was sitting at home and looking at the Bohs v Finn Harps game on WatchLOI. The Finn Harps ‘keeper had a stormer pulling off great saves. Around the 75 minute mark with Harps 2-0 up and Bohs down to ten men, our players WhatsApp group slowly started to take off. When it got to 85th minute, I had the drinks open. We then went on FaceTime with the lads to celebrate.” The Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley wasn’t even watching that night and was only alerted to what was unfolding thanks to his assistant coach Glenn Cronin messaging him with ten minutes to go.

The 2-0 win for Harps was their first win over Bohs in Dalymount Park this century and was quite a time to do it. Ollie Horgan’s men were battling to avoid relegation and the three points that night, as well as making the Hoops champions, sent one of their relegation rivals Cork City down.

Mark Russell was the hero for Harps (and the Hoops!) scoring a goal either side of the half time break. It left Harps five points behind Shels but with two games in hand and it was a gap Harps would overcome to stay up so that tonight they could welcome once again the Hoops to Ballybofey in Premier Division action.

Alan Mannus: ‘We have a style of play where we want to keep possession’

Published in Hoops Scene Issue 3/2021 (Shamrock Rovers v Longford Town – 17 April 2021)

Looking back on last season’s title winning campaign for Shamrock Rovers, the defensive statistics for the Hoops are worth highlighting. Across the 18 league campaign, the team kept 13 clean sheets and conceded just seven goals – the fewest in the history of the League of Ireland (which includes 22 seasons which were 18 game campaigns or less). In the final 11 matches of the 2020 Premier Division, the Hoops conceded just the one goal.

“It was remarkable,” said Shamrock Rovers goalkeeper Alan Mannus reflecting on the title success built on that defensive strength. “Normally when it is a team like Shamrock Rovers who are competing to win the league, you set yourself a target of 20 clean sheets over a 36 game campaign. 

“It was different last year with the season cut in half (due to COVID-19) but we had 13 clean sheets so if we had played double the games we would have had over 20. I wasn’t that busy in terms of making saves and that shows how good the team was especially the defenders but we defend from the front. Everyone contributes towards that.” 

While Mannus mentions that defending that starts with the strikers, the way the Hoops play it also works the other way – with the attacks starting from the goalkeeper. In Rovers’ recent 2-1 win over Dundalk in the last game played here in Tallaght, it was noticeable how involved Mannus was in beating the press that Lilywhites exerted on Rovers in that game.

Possession and beating the press

“We have a style of play where we want to keep possession. We have worked hard on distribution, particularly in the last few weeks. We are trying to progress with that in training as a goalkeeping team. We are working on not just hitting it to the player but to their chest or feet over an opponent rather than just close to them. I’m trying to learn to do that as a goalkeeper. 

“Previous to being at Rovers, it was usually about hitting it as far as you could into an area where you strikers can challenge for the header. It is very different now where you are trying to pick people out and maintain possession.

“The way Dundalk set up their press, I couldn’t really go to the centre half a lot of the time but that meant there was someone else who was free. We should always have an option if I can’t get to the centre half. They players need to be in certain positions to create space and then I need to recognise that and be good enough to try and get it to that player.

“I think that football is changing and evolving. You can see the way the best teams in the world play. Teams like Man City and Barcelona are playing that way for years and, while we are not comparing ourselves with them, it is about seeing can we progress with what we are doing. 

“We all know the role we have and we have a purpose to either receive the ball or create space for someone else to receive it. That puts a certain responsibility on me for where I need to be after I make a pass.” 

Rovers were made work for the win against Dundalk with Mannus pulling off a number of saves that helped the Hoops to all three points.

“In the second half I was quite busy and you’d expect that against a team like Dundalk. Any team that has players up front like Pat Hoban and Michael Duffy, they are going to cause you problems. I thought Liam (Scales), Sean (Hoare) and Lee (Grace) were excellent in front of me as a back three – they defended really well. 

“I was pleased with that save when I pushed in onto the bar even if it was offside. We were working on that thing in training during the week with Jose [Ferrer – Rovers’ goalkeeping coach] with a header that bounces around you. The main thing against Dundalk was we won and I was pleased that I was able to contribute.”

Behind closed doors

The atmosphere in Tallaght Stadium for that behind-closed-doors win over the Lilywhites was very different from a little over 12 months ago when over 7,500 fans packed into the same venue to see a Rovers 3-2 win. “You do miss the crowd especially when you walk towards the goal and the supporters are behind the goal, you hear your name being sung and we clap one another. It is different but I’m quite used to having no supporters now.

“Some players can get an edge off the adrenaline of a big crowd. I’ve always tried to be quite relaxed on the pitch. I don’t want to be pumping adrenaline too much. I want to be calm. That’s the way I want to try and play.”

The Hoops haven’t been able to have their usual gym regime with COVID-19 regulations meaning only outdoor facilities can be used. Mannus has built up his own home gym over the years and it has come into its own during lockdown. The goalkeeper feels the strength and conditioning work he has done over his career has been massively beneficial to him.

“We have an outdoor set up at Roadstone which we call ‘the rig’ and Darren Dillon does a great job organising that work for us. I also have a set up at home that I’ve had for a while. Outside of goalkeeping training, that has been the most important thing for me. There is a saying that the best ability is availability. If I look back over my time, one of the biggest things for me is that I’ve been available to play where as other goalkeepers have picked up knocks. I’ve had a few injuries along the way but I’ve missed less time over 20 years than most goalkeepers and for me it is has been through that strength training and the gym work.

“Other goalkeepers might have been better than me but they got injured and allowed me get by them in the pecking order and that is down to the training I was doing. I’ve put the time in over the years and that has helped me.” 

Gavin Bazunu

When Mannus re-joined Rovers during the 2018 season he worked closely with Gavin Bazunu who last month made his senior international debut for the Republic of Ireland. “Me and Gavin still text each other and I congratulated him when he was called up to the squad. I was delighted to see how well he has gone on to do and nothing has happened by chance for Gavin.

“The very first training session when I came back to the club, he came over to me and said ‘if you see anything that can help me, please tell me’. He was only 16 then and hadn’t played for the first team and that was really impressive to me. With a younger ‘keeper,  there are two parts as to how good they are. There is the technicality of their game and then the mental side – not just on the pitch but attitude and desire and determination to be the best. 

“Gavin had good levels of both but his desire and determination was the main thing for me. He has been excellent. He should be in the senior squad in future and not the under-21.”

We want to retain the cup that we worked so hard to win – Roberto Lopes

December 4, 2020 Leave a comment

Interview from Hoops Scene No. 11 (2020) – Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers, FAI Cup semi-final, Sunday 29 November 2020

Everything about this year has been quite different including the fact that with a shortened SSE Airtricity League season due to COVID-19 the league finished up before the quarter-final stage of the FAI Cup.  With Shamrock Rovers 2-0 down at half time away to Finn Harps in their quarter-final last week, those looking in on WATCHLOI might have felt that the Hoops had only another 45 minutes of football to go in 2020. On a miserably cold and wet night on a sticky pitch in Ballybofey, it wasn’t looking too good for Rovers. 

However the Hoops weren’t happy with letting their unbeaten run in the league and cup that goes back to August 2019 come to end. Awarded a remarkable three penalties in five minutes – with Aaron McEneff missing the first and scoring the next two – coupled with Graham Burke’s winner saw the Hoops through to tonight’s semi-final.

 “We went a goal down after 15 minutes and you are thinking this is going to be hard work,” said Roberto Lopes when he spoke with Hoops Scene this week. “Then for them to get a second one so quickly, your thoughts are we have a mountain to climb on that pitch, in the form they are in and how hard they work for one another but there was no panic. 

“The important thing was to be calm and trust what we do. We just needed to increase the energy and the tempo. We got that reaction in the second half – we got more in their face and we turned the screw and the pressure told in the end. We got our reward.

“We know that if we lose a game now, it is the season finished. It became real that Friday night in Harps – you live to fight another day or the season either ends. For me, I can’t imagine finishing the season and there are other teams still playing games. You want to be there at the end.” 

Lopes recalled that his captain Ronan Finn told his teammates that were well prepared to take on Harps in such difficult weather conditions. “Finner said it before the game that we had the best preparation of this quarter-final which was playing them two weeks before. The conditions that night were maybe worse then as there was a threat of the game being called off.

“We had to change slightly the way we played, but the principals were still there in how we attack, create chances and be patient and the opportunities will come. Having that experience of playing up there a couple of weeks ago and knowing what it was going to be like really prepared us for the game.”

The Hoops became the first League of Ireland club to go through a league campaign without a defeat since the 1920s and Rovers are focussed on retaining the FAI Cup which would also mean the club going through the full domestic season without a defeat. 

“The drive for this team is to remain unbeaten and we need to win this cup or else we will be beaten. We want to retain the cup that we worked so hard to win. The fans waited so long for Rovers to win the cup and for most of the players like myself it was the first time to win it. There is a massive motivation to win the cup and cap a great year off with a double.”

The statistics are quite remarkable for Rovers this year. In the 18 game league campaign the Hoops conceded just seven goals – the fewest ever in League of Ireland history. They kept 13 clean sheets and in the final 11 league games of the season, they conceded only one goal. 

“Defenders earn their crust on clean sheets and how well you defend. It isn’t just about getting your body in front of the ball, giving no chances up but when you have the ball can you keep it long enough so your opponents don’t get it. Can you be brave and play out from the back and through midfield without giving the opponent an opportunity to attack. That is a big part of defending – when you have the ball.

“We have such a fantastic goalkeeper in Alan (Mannus) – he gives us that confidence. 

Joey (O’Brien) is top class. We know what Lee (Grace) is capable of. In his first season at the club, there is nothing that fazes Liam Scales – he has fitted right in and been brilliant. You go through the team and we defend from the front. It is so important what Aaron Greene does for the team. The ability to win the ball high up and in midfield like we’ve done this year, it really does take the pressure off us defenders. Keeping that mentality throughout the team we will concede fewer goals.”

Lopes has played a crucial part in those clean sheets but his late goals have been invaluable too – all scored from set pieces. With Rovers trailing 2-1 to Dundalk in February, Lopes popped up with the equaliser on 71 minutes before Jack Byrne got the winner in front of over 7,500 fans in Tallaght – the last time supporters have watched a game in the stadium. Lopes got the winner nine minutes from time in the Brandywell as Rovers came from 1-0 down to win in August. In the Europa League later that month, it was the defenders’ flicked goal on 78 minutes that forced the game to extra-time before Rovers won the most remarkable penalty shootout (with Lopes scoring his side’s seventh spotkick).

“It is very important to chip in with goals throughout the team. When you have the quality of delivery with Jack Byrne, Aaron McEneff or Sean Kavanagh at set pieces you need to be scoring off them. We have great opportunities from set pieces and we work really hard on them. Goals win games and if we can chip in with a few goals between us that can make a difference. It is a team effort.”

Lopes was a half-time substitute in the 3-2 win over Finn Harps having just returned from being part of the Cape Verde squad in home and away Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Rwanda – both of which finished scoreless.

“It was a fantastic trip,” said Lopes. “It was professionally done. We were COVID tested four times in eight days when I was there plus the test before I left Ireland. They were really on top of it. You had a room to yourself and it was mask and hand sanitiser like here. 

“We were disappointed that we didn’t get three points in both games. There are some great quality players in the squad who are playing across the world. We are trying to qualify for the Cup of Nations – we will probably have to beat Mozambique and get something off Cameroon in the games next March. I’d love to be a part of the team who can qualify.”

It was a long journey home for Lopes with a flight from Rwanda to Uganda then a nine hour flight to Amsterdam where he had a further six hour layover before landing in Dublin the day before the game against Harps.

It has also been a journey for Lopes to win his first League of Ireland title. He was one of Stephen Bradley’s first signing for the Hoops moving across the Liffey from Bohemians. He is a player that Rovers fans mark out as one who has improved the most since his arrival in Tallaght. Playing in one of the club’s strongest ever teams, the 28-year-old defender is one of those in contention to win the club’s player of the year award.

It has also been a journey for Lopes to win his first League of Ireland title. He was one of Stephen Bradley’s first signing for the Hoops moving across the Liffey from Bohemians. He is a player that Rovers fans mark out as one who has improved the most since his arrival in Tallaght. Playing in one of the club’s strongest ever teams, the 28-year-old defender is one of those in contention to win the club’s player of the year award.

“One of the reasons I signed for Shamrock Rovers was to improve as a player. I knew my strengths coming here and I knew my weaknesses. One of the big things I said coming here is that I can learn the game. I can become a better footballer. 

“The fact that people said I couldn’t pass water when I signed here and say now that I look like a footballer, I see that as a massive complement to me. It is testament to the manager and all the coaching staff who have brought me to this level. I’ve worked really hard to learn. They have given me the tools to become the player that I have. I am still not there yet and I can improve

“Winning the league wasn’t just something we’ve been trying to achieve this season but something we have worked towards over the last number of years. It was a fantastic experience and that is my first time ever winning the league. I’ve been trying to do it over the last ten years so it was a really special moment for me. We enjoyed the night of the trophy presentation and we made sure we celebrated as it is important to do that and acknowledge what we had done.” 

A hardcopy and digital version of this programme is available to purchase from Shamrock Rovers here.