Since we last met…

Published in Hoops Scene 1/2012 (Shamrock Rovers v Cliftonville FC, March 5)

Reigning Airtricity League of Ireland champions Shamrock Rovers began their 2012 season last Friday when they travelled to Drogheda. This week Rovers have two home games as they begin their defence of the Setanta Sports Cup against Cliftonville and then play Monaghan United in their first home league game.

Whilst it is four months since Rovers retained that League of Ireland crown, it has been a short and eventful close season for the back-to-back champions. The curtain didn’t come down on the 2011 season for Rovers until the very late date of December 15th. On that night, the Hoops welcomed Harry Redknapp’s Spurs side to Tallaght for their final Europa League Group A game. That was Michael O’Neill’s final game in charge of the Hoops as Rovers then entered the market to replace the man now in charge of Northern Ireland.

Rovers looked north of the border for their new man, headhunting Stephen Kenny from Derry City. In the normal quiet period between Christmas and New Year, Kenny was unveiled in Tallaght Stadium as the new manager. He was soon casting his eye over his squad and getting most to put pen to paper to re-sign with Rovers for the 2012 season and was looking to bring in new blood along side them.

Photo by George Kelly

A number of players have left Rovers since last season. Those include all three goalkeepers, defender Pat Sullivan, who headed down under, former captain Dan Murray who was released and subsequently went back down south to Cork City and two players who went to England. Karl Sheppard headed to Reading and Enda Stevens to Aston Villa.

Early in January, Rovers unveiled a host of new signings at Tallaght Stadium including players very familiar to fans of the League of Ireland. Graham Gartland was a player that had come close to signing for Rovers last summer from Scottish side St. Johnstone. Injury prevented that happening back then but Kenny was quick to sign up the Tallaght native when the opportunity presented itself.

Left back Conor Powell came in from Sligo and he will be looking to build on his career honours to date that already include two league titles and two FAI Cups. Stephen Kenny brought in a player he managed when they were both at Derry City as Killian Brennan made the switch from the red and black stripes of Bohemians to the green and white hoops of Shamrock Rovers. Daryl Kavanagh came in up front from St. Patrick’s Athletic where he scored seven goals last season.

Kenny has also brought in plenty of new faces into the Rovers back room team. Colin Hawkins has been brought in as a player/coach with Stephen O’Brien returning for his second spell as the Shamrock Rovers goalkeeping coach. Stephen Glass is the new number two as Kenny brought in the man who he worked with as a player when he managed Dunfermline.

In the last few weeks, additional key signings were made including two new goalkeepers. Conor Winn came in from Galway United and Oscar Jannson signed on loan from Spurs. Jannson is rated highly at Tottenham but currently has the combined age total of 109 years in front of him in the ‘keeper pecking order with Friedal (40), Cudicini (38) and Gomes (31). Harry Redknapp was happy to send Jannson out on loan to Rovers having seen the set-up in Tallaght on his visit in December. The defensive and attacking options were also increased with former Arsenal player Kerrea Gilbert and Sligo player Aaron Greene added to the squad.

During pre-season Rovers played a series of friendlies against First Division opposition. In preparation for this week’s Setanta Cup game, they also played Irish League opposition, losing to Glentoran 2-1 in Belfast on St. Valentine’s Night. In addition the Hoops took the opportunity to take in a weeks training camp in the UK. The results got better with every home friendly match as Rovers doubled their goal tally with every game. They first beat Mervue United 1-0, next beat Wexford Youths 2-0, followed that up with a 4-0 win over Longford Town and finally thumped Waterford United 8-1. Expecting 16 goals tonight may be a bit much to ask for!

At the start of 2011, there was a certain level of expectation at Rovers but nobody could realistically have expected the success that the season brought. Along with retaining the league title and winning the Setanta Sports Cup at the first attempt, the season brought unparalleled success in Europe for an Irish club side. Their twelve game European campaign which saw Rovers play in the Europa League group stages means that there is an even higher level of expectation this year.

Stephen Kenny will need to manage that expectation level and hasn’t made, and isn’t likely to make, any rash predictions as to what 2012 will bring. “I will be trying to win matches and challenge for trophies,” said Kenny. “You want to be as successful as you can. I’m looking forward to coming here to put out a team to play exciting football.” The fans in Tallaght Stadium will get their first chance this week of seeing how Kenny’s exciting football fares in competitive football.

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