Home > Shamrock Rovers Player Interviews for programme > Shakin’ Stevens at the Green Door

Shakin’ Stevens at the Green Door

Opening night in the 2011 Airtricity League of Ireland season saw Champions Shamrock Rovers defeat Dundalk 3-1 here at Tallaght Stadium. The Hoops followed that up in the next game with another win, this time away to Sligo Rovers. The Rovers fans in Tallaght Stadium and those that made up the sizeable away contingent in the Showgrounds in Sligo have been in fine voice so far this season. They have an extended vocal repertoire this season that now includes a number of “Champions” orientated songs. Nobody is getting carried away with two wins out of two in the league as these matches were hard fought and were certainly not easy victories. However, fans, players and management are no doubt pleased with the start to the season especially following the poor starts to the last two campaigns when it took six games or more to acquire six points.

Rovers’ opponents in the league have added incentive this season to beat the Hoops by trying to get one over on the Champions. If the trip to Sligo is any guide, Rovers will bring an even bigger away crowd this season than normal to be greeted by bumper home crowds hoping to see the Champions beaten. No doubt these home fans will be greeted with the chant from the Rovers away section that they “are only here to see the Champions!” The aim for Rovers will be to carry that Champions tag proudly all through the season and retain it. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But looking back on last years title chase between Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians any Rovers fan or player, such as Enda Stevens, will tell you that the league title does not come easy.

(Photo: George Kelly)

“It was a strange old last few games,” said Enda Stevens, Rovers’ left back. “We were seven points clear but then to find ourselves behind Bohs it was hard to believe. Then to get it back, it was crazy!” When the league campaign ended the season wasn’t of course over as there was the small matter of the inaugural FAI Cup final in the Aviva Stadium on Lansdowne Road against Sligo Rovers to take place. It was a memorably final with over 36,000 fans in the venue on match day and it was an experience that Stevens savoured and it whetted his appatite for more. “The Aviva stadium is something else. It was fantastic, one of the highlights of my career, up there with playing Juventus. That’s what you want to be doing so it was good to get a taste of it and hopefully we can do it again next year.”

In the cup final penalty shoot out four successive penalty saves by the Sligo Rovers goalkeeper made it equally as memorable an occasion but it is obviously not a sweet memory for Stevens. “I was gutted at the end. No one likes to lose in a cup final. It’s difficult to go so far, taking it all the way to penalties which is a lottery and then lose,” recalls Stevens who was asked was he not tempted to take a penalty? “I would have taken one in sudden death but it didn’t get that far. At least we brought in Gary McCabe (who scored one of Sligo’s two successful penalties in the shootout) to our squad this season to help us with penos!”

Shamrock Rovers gathered for pre-season at the end of January and played a series of friendlies and one Leinster Senior Cup game ahead of the kick off to their league campaign. The build up included a game against a Celtic XI but Enda Stevens was not available for that game as he was on duty for the Ireland Under 21 team. Stevens travelled to Larnaca for a friendly game against Cyprus where he was a second half substitute in a 0-0 draw. “I really enjoyed my first real taste of international football,” said Stevens. The team is managed by Noel King, a former Shamrock Rovers player and manager, and he was happy with what he saw from his team that night. “It was a good chance to look at everybody,” said King on http://www.fai.ie. “It was a clean sheet and you will always take that, particularly in such warm conditions.” Stevens will hope to be involved again with the Irish Under 21 squad who begin their UEFA Championship qualifying later in the year.

Stevens was a member of another Ireland international squad last season. That was the Under 23 squad for a game in the autumn against Estonia. The Ireland Under 23 squad is made up of players drawn exclusively from the League of Ireland and is the cream of the emerging talent in the league. Incredibly out of that eighteen man squad called up for the Estonia game, six players are now playing for Shamrock Rovers. Billy Dennehy and Enda Stevens were Rovers players at the time and manager Michael O’Neill has since signed Gary McCabe, Ronan Finn, Stephen O’Donnell and Karl Sheppard. O’Neill outlined ahead of the Dundalk game how crucial these new players are to the Hoops. “They are young, hungry players, who like to play football and want to win things. I am delighted to have added these players to our squad, and I’m sure they have great careers ahead of them.”

Also in that Under 23 squad was Dundalk’s winger Daniel Kearns who went head to head with Enda Stevens on opening night in Tallaght. Kearns is a highly regarded player who the FAI went all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne to ensure he would be eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland following his switch from the youth set up with Northern Ireland. Stevens relished the opportunity to defend against Kearns but also to take him on. One such run saw Stevens get to the by line and cross which saw Gary Twigg’s effort cleared off the line. “It is a good challenge to go up against players like Kearns. He is a very good player. The skills he has mean he will probably end up going over to England again.”

There had been some talk of Stevens himself going to England in the off season but the opportunity never arose. “I was supposed to go over,” explains Stevens, “but I got injured after the cup final playing in a friendly for the Ireland u21 team against the Ireland amateur team in the AUL. I would like the chance to go to England as I want to play football at the highest level. But I had no doubts about re-signing for Shamrock Rovers and when the Gaffer (Michael O’Neill) asked me, I jumped at the chance.”

O’Neill repaid that enthusiasm for pulling on the green and white hooped jersey by putting him in the starting line up which was unchanged for the first two league games. “It was a good win,” said Stephens about the first game of the league season in Tallaght. “Dundalk beat us three times last season so we were very much focused so that we could come out of the traps and get at them. Gary McCabe’s goal was a perfect time just after they had scored but before half time and their heads probably went down a bit. The sending off of their goalkeeper certainly changed the game but Twiggy was unlucky not to get a hat-trick having a couple of chances cleared off the line.”

The games are coming thick and fast at the start of the season especially with Rovers’ first ever appearance in the Setanta Sports Cup. Stevens made his debut in the competition in recent 3-0 quarter final first leg win away to Lisburn Distillery. Along with Ken Oman, Stevens was the only player that started that game who started the opening league games. With Rovers playing each team four times in the Airtricity League, Stevens is looking forward to the opportunity to play in this cross border competition and playing in matches in general. “I’d never played Setanta Cup. It is good to be playing against Lisburn Distillery. It is a real change, playing against new players and new teams compared with the same teams each week. We have six games in the first few weeks. Yes it’s a lot games but I’d rather play games than training sessions.”

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