McCabe on the move

The three main domestic trophies in League of Ireland football were shared last season between the two Rovers teams who meet in tonight’s Airtricity League game here in Tallaght Stadium. Shamrock Rovers are the reigning League of Ireland champions. Meanwhile Sligo Rovers, as well as finishing third in the league last season, obtained a domestic cup double winning both the EA Sports Cup and the FAI Cup, where they beat the Hoops in the final.

At the start of this season, most commentators had established Shamrock Rovers as the favourites for the league title with Sligo Rovers being the main contenders. Following last Monday’s 1-1 draw up in Dundalk, Shamrock Rovers go into tonight’s game on top of the league. Opponents Sligo Rovers, who had an impressive 3-0 win at home to Derry City on Monday, are in fourth place four points behind the table toppers. Last season Gary McCabe was part of that double cup winning Sligo Rovers squad before making the switch for this season from The Showgrounds to Tallaght Stadium. McCabe’s last kick of a ball in a Sligo jersey was scoring the crucial final penalty for the “Bit O’Red” in that FAI Cup Final penalty shoot out. So who better to give an opinion on the strengths of this Sligo team than the young 22 year old?

“They are brilliant in the middle of the park with Richie Ryan, Joey Ndo and John Russell,” said McCabe who went on to single out his former Sligo roommate Ryan for additional praise. “With Richie Ryan they are very strong in midfield. Richie got player of the year last year. He is a very good player and deserved that award. With that midfield I can see them kicking on during the season.”

Looking back on his season with Sligo, McCabe enjoyed his time there but he felt in order to progress his career a switch to Shamrock Rovers was the right one for him. “Last season the lads were great and the football we played was great as well. However, it was time to move on for me as I wanted to win leagues. Here at Shamrock Rovers, it is my best chance to win a league medal.”

On opening night in the league, McCabe made a scoring debut for the Hoops grabbing the first league goal of the season for Shamrock Rovers. It was a superb strike that night against Dundalk in a game Rovers went on to win 3-1. In the next game McCabe returned to the Showgrounds where he kitted out in the away dressing room for the first time since his move to the Hoops. It was a happy return to his former hunting ground as McCabe scored early in a game that the Hoops won 1-0. “I couldn’t ask for a better start to the season.,” said McCabe about scoring against Dundalk and then Sligo. “I was delighted with the goals but it wasn’t really that I scored against Sligo. It was more for the team where it meant we got two wins out of two. It kept ourselves top of the league and with a 100% record. I was delighted for the team.”

In the third game of the season, McCabe had a great opportunity to make it three goals in three games when he stepped up to take a penalty in the game against Saint Patrick’s Athletic. However, it was to be another penalty miss at the car park end of the Tallaght Stadium. Shamrock Rovers record from penalties is not the best and it was hoped that McCabe may help over turn that and who’s to say that he won’t later in the season. McCabe was one of only two players who managed to score in that FAI Cup final shootout (the other player being former Hoop Eoin Doyle).

That FAI Cup win is the highlight of his career to date. “Yeah to win the cup was great and I was lucky enough to pick up two medals last year with the EA Sports Cup as well. It was great being so young to pick up medals like that so early in your career. Lansdowne was brilliant especially walking out before kick off. You couldn’t ask for more with 36,000 there. It was unbelievable and then to do so well in the game was great. You couldn’t even describe it, it was that good a feeling. Hopefully I can get there again with Rovers this year and pick up another winners medal.”

Discussing practicing penalties, McCabe described Sligo’s methods last season. “We did some after training with seven or eight of us staying back and practicing with the keeper after training from around the time of the semis. It was more a bit of fun to be honest but it obviously helped us in the long run even though only two of us scored!” McCabe hasn’t been put off with his subsequent penalty miss for the Hoops. “I hope to take next one. The miss was just one of those things but its all about having the confidence to take another one and put it away.” Rovers had a few big shouts for penalties up in Oriel Park on Monday but none were given.

In the recent EA Sports Cup game, Rovers got an opportunity to put the shoot out behind them when the game against Saint Patrick’s Athletic ended 1-1 after extra time. McCabe didn’t get the opportunity to help in that shootout, which Rovers lost 3-1, even though the plan was for him to play in the game. “I only found out I was still suspended about half an hour before kick off. I was actually due to start that game. The manager came and said actually your suspended. He didn’t know and I didn’t know.” It meant his return from suspension, due to his red card in the 1-1 draw away to Bohemians, didn’t take place until last week’s trip to Galway. McCabe made an immediate impact on his return with his cross on six minutes converted by the head of Karl Sheppard against Sheppard’s former team. Sheppard’s goal, his fifth in his last six games, was the only goal of the game which meant Rovers stayed top of the league. “It was my cross so I was very happy coming back from the suspension to be involved in the goal and hopefully I can keep my place in the team for the next few games. I thought we played well that night and it was one of our best performances of the season. The only thing missing was more goals. We just couldn’t get the second goal. We played great football especially in the second half. We just didn’t take our chances and we should have beaten them by four or five goals.”

Tonight is Shamrock Rovers sixteenth competitive game in just nine weeks since the start of the season. With the exception of two of the weeks of the season so far, the team have been playing two games every week. This has been a test of the young Shamrock Rovers squad but a test that the squad have passed with flying colours. While the squad is quite young it still has a lot of experience. Even though he is just 22, McCabe has already broken the 100 league appearance barrier during his time at Shamrock Rovers. He began his career at Bray Wanderers and spent some time on loan with Shelbourne. “I made my debut when I had just turned 18 so I was fairly young. I came straight from Leinster Senior League. It was great to get the experience as I was with a few older lads in the Bray team then who were good. They weren’t too harsh if I made a mistake and that was good. I’m glad I made my debut that young as I’m a few years in the league. I’m only 22 so it is good to have all those games under your belt. The games are coming quickly at Rovers but we should be all right as we’ve a strong squad.

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