Home > Shamrock Rovers Player Interviews for programme > Tallaght or the Caribbean?

Tallaght or the Caribbean?

Last week, Shamrock Rovers made the trip twice to the UCD Bowl.  Both games against the Students, one in the League Cup and one in the Airtricity League, saw away wins for the Hoops with Thomas Stewart appearing in both games as a substitute.  It was against UCD earlier in the season that Stewart made his debut for Shamrock Rovers.  This was after he turned down the opportunity to play with the Carolina Railhawks in America.   If he had signed with the Railhawks, he would have been making the journey this week to the Caribbean to take on the Puerto Rico Islanders.  Instead, he got to go back to College twice last week and as he told Hoops Scene this week, he is quite happy to be playing in Ireland.  “I made the right decision to come back,” reflected Stewart, “things were in place for me to sign but I wasn’t convinced.”

The Railhawks play in Division 2 of the Professional League of the United States Soccer Federation which is one level below Major League Soccer (MLS).  The D2 Pro League, as it is known, is split in two regional divisions.  The Railhawks play in the USL Conference alongside five other clubs, with another six clubs playing in the NASL Conference including the Portland Timbers.  It was with Portland that current Shamrock Rovers manager Michael O’Neill played for back in 2001 and Stewart discussed the possibility of playing in America with O’Neill when he travelled out to see the set up in Carolina.  “I wanted to take a look at it so I went out to see it for myself but it wasn’t what I wanted.  I kept in touch with Michael O’Neill who had been out in America himself.  I had to go out to see it for my own piece of mind.  You can rush into decisions but if you don’t go you are always going to wonder.”

So it was with Shamrock Rovers he signed for and there were a couple of familiar faces in the Rovers squad when he joined.  Earlier in his career, Stewart played under 21 international football with Chris Turner and played club football with goalkeeper Alan Mannus.  “Chris Turner played in younger teams with me and a number of under 21 Northern Ireland international squads that I was in as well.  I got 19 caps and a couple of u23 appearances.  It was great to be involved with that and to captain them as well.”

Former club team mates at Linfield, Stewart was quick to compliment Alan Mannus.  “He is a good keeper and his record speaks for himself.  He has been good for us this season and kept us in games and got points for us himself”.  He was also quick to point out how unlucky Mannus was in the league game last Friday.  “Nothing you can do with that goal,” he said about UCD’s deflected goal.  Stewart, who was struggling with a cold last week, had to be satisfied with viewing a lot of the game from the substitutes bench but felt that Rovers were “the better team.”  He added that “we approached the game well.  Obviously it was a freak goal by UCD but it just shows you that you have to stay tuned in the whole time but we were delighted with the win.   Obviously it’s nice to be playing good football.”

It was with 15 minutes to go in the game that Stewart got onto the pitch, lining out on the left wing.  He was unlucky that his late cross was not rewarded when a UCD defender just nicked the ball away from the incoming Sean O’Connor at the back post.  Asked what position he liked to play, the Ulsterman stated that he didn’t mind “as long as you are getting a game.  I can play on the left or up front.  And the manager knows I can do a good job in either position.  Versatility is good.  I’m trying to stay on my toes and I’m striving to do better.”

At Linfield he had the unenviable task of trying to keep Northern Internationals and Linfield legends Barry Ferguson, scorer of 285 goals for the Blues, and Peter Thompson, with 152 goals, out of the team.  He often got starts on the left of midfield or up front, sometimes as part of a three player strikeforce.  As Stewart outlined, Ferguson and Thompson “were scoring all round them so I was just happy to get a game.”  He won two league titles with Linfield in addition to two Irish Cups and he remembers his time there fondly.  “It was great.  Some players don’t get to win trophies so to make an impact with a successful team is good.  Linfield is one of biggest club in Ireland and I’m proud to have played for them.  I am very happy with the things I achieved there.”

The other medal in his collection is a league cup medal which he picked up after his move from Linfield to Derry City.  The Derry club have won an amazing nine League Cups since they joined the League of Ireland in 1985 winning their first in 1989 and their last in 2008 when Stewart was in the team.  He joked that they call it the “Derry Cup” up on Foyle side.  Following last Monday night’s win for Rovers in the EA Sports Cup second round against UCD, where Stewart played the last half hour, it is Derry City that the Hoops will play away to in the quarter final on June 1st.    “It will be good to go back.  I enjoyed my time in Derry.  It will be an important match for them.  It will be a big crowd,  they are going well in the First Division and it will show the direction they are going.”

Having already played a full season with Linfield in the ‘winter’ Irish League season, he signed for Derry mid-way through the League of Ireland season.  “I joined during the summer and played for a year and a half.  It wasn’t too bad playing right through the season.  I had three weeks off in between leaving Linfield and joining Derry so I felt refreshed.  I adapted well, got off to a good start and ended up being their top goalscorer.   I was happy with my contribution”.  His contribution last season also included a goal in Tallaght Stadium when he helped Derry, who played all of the second half with ten men, to a shock away win in Rovers’ first ever defeat in Tallaght Stadium.  Over the season the Derry City team were not able to keep with the pace that Rovers and eventual Champions Bohemians set at the top of the table.  The season then ended in disgrace for the club when the club were expelled from the League of Ireland for having secondary unofficial contracts with players before eventually being given a First Division licence.  “It was a team with big ambition but it was difficult to get a consistent run.  We lacked a bit of an edge.  It was disappointing.  As for the contracts, it’s in the past now.  They learned from it and have survived.”

Stewart is enjoying his time at Rovers with his recent decisive brace in Inchicore being the highlight.  “Yeah I enjoyed that derby match.  Pats had been going well so it was good to get the win.”  He is also enjoying living in Tallaght where he notices the numbers of people with Rovers colours on during the week.  “People come up to say hello which is great.  Rovers are a well supported club and people are very passionate about the team”.  It is another derby for Rovers tonight with the clash of second placed Rovers with fourth placed Sporting Fingal which will shape the top of the league table on a night when all ten teams face league action.  “It will be a tough game as it’s another derby game.  We are joint top of the league so we have to keep going.  We are in a good position so we will be looking for another three points.”

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