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Rovers Return for ‘Killer’ Kilduff

It is very much a new look in the forward department for Shamrock Rovers in their squad for the 2011 season compared with last season’s title winning campaign. Going into the new season, the Hoops were in need of new strikers as four of their five strikers from last year’s squad had left Rovers; three had retired from the game (Graham Barrett, Neale Fenn and Dessie Baker) and Thomas Stewart had headed off to play in Scotland. During the off season Rovers manager Michael O’Neill wasted little time in bringing in new strikers alongside Gary Twigg. The new players in the squad included strikers Karl Sheppard, Dean Kelly, Gary O’Neill and Ciarán Kilduff who was making a return to Rovers.

Kilduff won the Shamrock Rovers under 21 player of the year award with the club back in 2006 and he went on to make a couple of appearances for the first team the following year as a 19 year old. Like former Rovers player Padraig Amond before him, he went on loan to Kildare County. He then headed to UCD in a permanent move where he had a prolific couple of seasons with the Students. Last season, he finished third behind Twigg and Amond in the League’s top goal scorer table. Hoops fans were delighted when the striker re-joined Rovers ahead of this season’s kick off. Hoops Scene caught up with the player after last week’s first leg of the Setanta Sports Cup semi final where the Hoops put on a fine display winning 2-0 away in Sligo.

“I thought it was an excellent game,” said Kilduff about the win against Sligo Rovers. “We went with a different shape and it worked very well. I think Sligo put out a very strong team so I think it was a great result. But with the second leg to come, the job is only just half done.” Rovers lined out with an attacking 4-3-3 system and both Rovers teams played some fine football for those fans that made it to The Showgrounds or were watching live on Setanta Sports. “Sligo usually play with three in the middle and we matched them up,” explained Kilduff about the formation. “I think we got the rewards especially out wide with Karl Sheppard and Dean Kelly on the wings. They would probably class themselves as out and out strikers but they reaped rewards and it is as well as we’ve played all year.”

The Hoops were coping with some enforced changes to the team with players who had been making the starting line up, such as Gary Twigg and Chris Turner, out injured. For many people, it may have been the first chance to see Conor McCormack, who had signed for the Hoops from Italian Serie B side Triestina Calcio, in action. “I think Conor McCormack had a great game,” said Kilduff about the 20 year old. “Sligo’s centre midfield is as strong as anyone’s but I think Conor stood out. He was tough in the tackle and he really put it up to them. He deserves a lot of praise.”

There was praise also for his fellow midfielder Ronan Finn who opened the scoring with a cracking shot from 25 yards. There is no surprise to hear that there continues to be lots of banter in the Shamrock Rovers dressing room. In this instance, it had been Finn on the receiving end up until that game as the free scoring midfielder had yet to get off the mark for the Hoops. “We were giving him a bit of stick during the week. It was good to get the monkey off his back for his first goal. He was great and what a great way to do. He had a good touch before getting it out of his feet. The space opened up for him and he hit it. An absolute rocket!”

The prize for winning the semi final will be a place in the Setanta Sports Cup final which last year was played in Tallaght Stadium but at 2-0 from the first leg, there is still a lot to do in the second leg. “Sligo played on the Saturday night against Pats before playing us on the Monday. Maybe they weren’t as fresh legged as us [The Hoops had played on Friday evening]. In Tallaght, they have nothing to lose. They can come at it and good forbid if they get an early goal, it will give them something to chase. It would be great to get to that final. I know everybody in the dressing room would like to get to that final. It is something we will be taking very seriously. The final maybe in Tallaght, which would be great especially with it being the first time we are competing in the tournament. We are getting a bit ahead of ourselves there but if we did get to the final, wouldn’t it be great to have it in Tallaght?”

It was in the quarter final of the competition that Kilduff scored his first goal for Shamrock Rovers when he found the net in both ties against Lisburn Distillery. The Hoops, making their debut in the competition, won 3-0 with goals from new boys Sheppard, Stephen O’Donnell and Kilduff himself. “Lisburn weren’t as high a standard as the opposition in Sligo,” Kilduff explained. “The first night up there it was a wet and windy auld night but we did the job. At home we went 1-0 down but I think we were always in control. We won 7-2 in the end on aggregate with Paddy Kavanagh getting two late goals to wrap it up. I was happy to get on the score sheet in both legs.”

Rovers followed up that 4-2 second leg win with a draw in Derry and then scored another four goals, this time against Drogheda with Kilduff on the mark again. “It was another good performance,” recalled Kilduff on the 4-0 win in Drogheda. “It was my first league start and I was up for it. I think it was Stephen Rice’s first start of the season so he came in and did great. It was a great win up in Drogheda and I was delighted to score. I had a one on one miss in the first half so I was happy to get on the score sheet in the second half. Gary McCabe hit one and it hit the bar coming back out. He tried to tell me afterwards that it had crossed the line but I was having none of that! Billy followed the rebound up with a header that hit the post but lucky enough I was there to tap it in.”

The performance and result in our last home league game against Bray was not so enjoyable as Wanderers gave Rovers their first defeat of the season in any competition. “I think everything went well in the Drogheda game as opposed to the game against Bray. That was an off night all round. I just don’t think we played the way we can that night. If we had got the first goal, maybe it would have been different but to not register even a shot on target in 90 minutes is disappointing especially for me as a striker. With Twiggy going off, we lost a bit of our attack force as he is a great goal scorer and poacher. By the end of it, I think all five strikers featured in that game whether it was starting or coming off the bench. I think we tried to attack and tried to make a comeback but it wasn’t to be. On the night it just didn’t work out for us and we were disappointed as we were a bit flat. Credit to Bray as they deserved their win.”

Bray frustrated the Hoops following former Hoops player Danny O’Connor’s early strike for the Seagulls. They played solidly in defence and it was something that Kilduff recognised from his time at UCD. “I was at a team similar to Bray’s position when I was with UCD. I know when we came to Tallaght, there was a similar mentality. Teams go to contain Shamrock Rovers and maybe nick one in the mean time. At UCD we were always told to play football, but on occasions when we were coming up against the top teams you play to contain and hope to catch teams on the break. Bray’s goal coming early gave them the incentive that they could hang on. They threw their bodies in front of everything. The first goal was always going to be vital.”

Last season when playing for UCD, who are Rovers’ opponents in the league this week, Kilduff scored twice against the Hoops which included a goal in the dramatic 3-2 win for UCD in October which threatened to derail Rovers’ title ambitions. All told, he got 19 goals for the Students last year. This followed on from his free scoring time in the previous season where Kilduff and Ronan Finn helped UCD win the First Division Championship. “In my first season, when we were down in the first division I got 16 goals in all competitions and 14 of them were in the league,” says Kilduff of his time in Belfield. “In the premier division last year, I got 15 goals in the league. I was always scoring goals. I played up front on my own so I had to be the main goal scorer. I was never a student in UCD as I was in college in NUI Maynooth. I graduated last summer so it gave me licence to go to a more full time set up this year, and Rovers really ticked the box.”

Rovers have recently switched their training location to the AUL complex having been training for most of last season, and the start of this one, in Enfield, a location very close to Kilduff’s home. “I lost out there I think! There is a bit of slagging in that we have moved to the AUL. Enfield was pretty close to me, which suited me down to a tee. It was five minutes away from training. Now it is half an hour so it’s not too bad as I’ve finally got myself driving. Some of the lads car pool but there aren’t too many down in the Kildare direction! Johnstown House in Enfield had facilities like the hotel pool and the gym but the playing surface wasn’t as good as in the AUL. The core of the team is living around Dublin even the fellas that are from down the country who are renting up in Dublin. So it suits most.”

Rovers were actually playing out of Tolka Park in the first division when Kilduff first signed for the club in 2006. Five years later, Kilduff has returned to the club that now has the Champions flag flying above Rovers’ permanent home in the stadium here in Tallaght. He has noticed the difference all right. “The change is massive. We never had a home really when I was here. To be honest I was really only on the fringe then. Coming back now it is great. We have a great chairman and a great management team. It is all very professional a setup. It is as close to a full time set up as there is to offer in the country.”

For a player who has deferred his masters in economics to play football with the Hoops, it is unsurprising that he understands what Rovers are trying to achieve. The professional set up at Rovers, with playing contracts over 42 week rather than 52 week contracts that have caused many other clubs troubles, brings stability to the club. “There is no point living beyond our means. I think the whole country can learn from that! There are a lot of things that went on there. Once things are stable and we are not living beyond are means, then things are going well. Things are being well run at the minute and we should see that hopefully on and off the pitch.”

Published in Hoops Scene (Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers/UCD – April 2011)

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