The Frontline

Article from Hoops Scene Issue 4 (Shamrock Rovers v UCD FC, April 2, 2010)

Shamrock Rovers picked up their first league win of the season last week with a 1-0 win against Galway United away in Terryland Park.  It has taken until the fourth game of the season for the Hoops to find a win which is a surprise to most with Rovers having strengthened their squad from the one that achieved runners up spot last season.  After a pre-season which saw Rovers go unbeaten and only concede one goal, the back to back home defeats in the opening three games were not expected.  Injuries and suspensions have not helped and it has meant a different formation for Michael O’Neill’s team with a 4-5-1 system being mostly adopted.  This system sees Graham Barrett lead the line up front on his own which is a new position for him.  His club career has seen the player at Arsenal, Coventry and a number of clubs in Scotland while his international career includes a UEFA U16 championship medal, a quarter century of U21 international caps, six senior international caps and two international goals.  It is this wealth of experience that Barrett brought to the Hoops midway through last season.  When Hoops Scene spoke to the Tallaght man ahead of the eventually postponed League Cup encounter with Shelbourne, he wasn’t getting carried away with the difficult start or indeed the win in Galway.   “Look you know, it was just good to get a win.  We were happy to get three points.  We are at the start of the season and we just want to get some wins on the board.”

After four league games, Rovers have four league points against their name which is actually the situation the Hoops were in at the same point last season.  Barrett outlined that the team are “just thinking about the next league game as the league begins to take shape.  You look at the next game.  We will get over Shelbourne first and then when the Shels game is over, we’ll think of UCD.  There is a danger with looking too far ahead.  We’ve got our first win now.  A start is only a start if you follow up on it.  It is a long way to go.  You start looking at the league table a number of games in.  Teams are finding their feet, finding their form and their fitness.  You are concentrating more on one game at a time because if you don’t you can get a bit ahead of it.”

Injuries to strikers Gary Twigg and Dessie Baker, coupled with carry over suspensions for some players from last season, has seen Rovers with unfamiliar lines ups including Barrett starting up front on his own in the first four outings.  Injuries are something he knows all about.  “They are just part of the game and you just have to deal with it.  It has changed the course of my career.  It is one of those things.  We have a lot of injuries, it is something that I just have to adjust to deal with.  We’ve got a big squad and hopefully our squad will be able to deal with that.  We have a few suspensions but they’ll be back and hopefully the lads injured won’t be too long away from being fit.  That’s why we have a big squad.  Most of my career I’ve played as a midfield player, I started off as a striker and moved into midfield. I’m obviously back up front again which is my preferred position but you have to alter your game a little bit more when you have to play up front on your own.”

Barrett alluded to starting his career up front and it was with the Arsenal youth set up, led by Liam Brady, which he joined as a young professional.  He is very complimentary about the manager that has returned full time to manage the Arsenal Youth Team from his part-time stint with the Ireland senior team.  “Liam Brady was the man that brought me over.  He is probably the biggest influence on my career.  He was unbelievable for me and a class act.”  The Ireland set up is something that Barrett is familiar with and is part of a select number of players in recent years that have brought international experience back to the League of Ireland.  His six caps included a full ninety minutes for Ireland in the Amsterdam Arena in 2004 when Ireland defeated Holland 1-0.  Barrett was managed at both youth level and senior level by Brian Kerr and he explained, “my first cap was under Mick McCarthy and the other five were under Brian Kerr.   I was part of the U16 squad that won the UEFA Championship in Scotland with Kerr who is a great man and great manager.”

Barrett scored two goals during his six international games and looks back with fond memories of those games and when asked where his jersey from his debut is replied “my mother has my jersey from my debut against Finland when we won 3-0.   Playing for your country is the highlight of my career and it was great when I was in and about the squad”.  He also is well positioned to comment on the standard of the League of Ireland having played International, Championship and SPL football.  “After Arsenal, I went to Coventry and then up to Scotland.  There is not a big difference anywhere in the standard apart from the top top level of the Premier League and top Championship clubs.  I don’t think there is a massive difference anywhere.  The league is very competitive here because Irish players by nature are extremely competitive.  I think the recent European results [by Irish clubs] show how strong the players are over here.”

Barrett would class himself as a fan of Shamrock Rovers with the connection through his father Gary, who played for Rovers in the 1980’s and the fact he is from Tallaght.  He recognises the fans support that Rovers have even with the difficult start to the season.  “The level of support at the club is unbelievable, the fans push us on.  For so many of them to come up on a Friday night [against Galway], especially when we’ve been beaten the two games previously is testament to the supporters.  It is great to see Rovers doing well in Tallaght because I’m from Tallaght.  I lived 12 years away but now I’ve moved back and I’m not living too far away.”

Barrett will be hoping to find the net tonight not just in front of the Tallaght support but also the next generation of Rovers supporters in the Barrett family. “My son has got into it all.  He is a Rovers fan.  He has all the Rovers gear.  He is enjoying it and comes to all the home games.”  And has young Barrett been introduced to Rovers’ new mascot Hooperman?  “Not just yet.  I’m sure he’ll meet him soon enough!”

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