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King Billy from the Kingdom

Shamrock Rovers sit top of the league with three other clubs after the opening three games of this year’s league campaign. Both Rovers and Shelbourne, tonight’s visitors to Tallaght Stadium, have two wins and a draw so far in the league. Stephen Kenny has named the exact same starting line up for each league game this season and it might be four in a row tonight. If it is, it will mean Billy Dennehy has continued this season for Rovers in a similar vane to last. As well as being ever present in the starting line up, he has been getting assists and also scoring goals.

Dennehy was involved in every one of last season’s league games bar, due to suspension, the game against UCD in Belfield on the night that the Hoops retained their league title. He finished the season as Shamrock Rovers’ top goalscorer in all competitions. He also finished top of the assist charts with the Hoops. His 13 assists showed the great value he brought to the team in terms of supply of goals to go alongside the important goals he also scored in the league, FAI Cup, Setanta Sports Cup and the Europa League. Hoops Scene caught up with the Kerryman ahead of tonight’s game and started by asking him what was his favourite goal from last season?

“It would probably be scoring in the Europa League,” said Dennehy recalling his goal in the game in Tallaght Stadium against PAOK. “It was a big thing for me to score on such a big stage. All my family were at that home game in Tallaght. I scored 16 goals last season and that was my best season so far. I will continue to try and help the team and chip in with goals at times to take pressure off the strikers.”

The man from Tralee opened his league account for the season in the game against Monaghan United with a superb left foot strike from outside the box. “It was nice to score. It was my first league goal of the season and in our first home game as well,” said the winger of the goal in the 3-1 win. “It came in a game where we found ourselves drawing 1-1. It was nice to score a goal that put us in front and get me off the mark in the league for the season.”

In the celebrations after the goal, Dennehy also picked up his first yellow card of the season. The celebration in front of the East Stand, which also involved Hooperman, was deemed excessive by referee Graham Kelly. “I said it to the ref afterwards that I thought it was a bit harsh but it is his job to make those decisions. I just have to be more careful next time!”

It took a late equaliser from Gary Twigg to rescue a point for the Hoops in Turners Cross in Rovers’ last league game. Tommy Dunne sent his Cork side out to contain Rovers, a tactic that many opposition managers will inevitably use also here at Tallaght Stadium during the season. “They obviously made it a bit harder for us the way they played and the way they set up,” said Dennehy of the system his former club used in the game. “They got a lot of men behind the ball. We had a lot of possession but they dropped kind of deep. That made it hard for us to create lot of chances. Overall I thought we did quite well and we probably thought we deserved to have won the game.”

“It happened an awful lot last year,” said Dennehy about teams putting out defensive formations against Rovers. “A lot of teams set out to stop us scoring and stop us playing. That is a challenge for us. It is up to us to go beat that, score the goals and win the games. I’m sure we will do that. It is just about being patient. We have a lot of good footballers in the squad so somebody will make a good pass or score a good goal. I think we learned a lot from that last season and that will help us this year.”

Last Friday, with Rovers down to ten men, it was Cork City that looked to have the game wrapped up but Dennehy got a cross over in the 94th minute that Ken Oman knocked back across for Twigg to score with his head. Both fans and players alike enjoyed the celebrations in front of the large travelling Rovers support. “It was great to score so late on. Though we did that and got a point, we were still disappointed because we were good enough to win the game. Possession wise, we dominated and had a lot of the ball. We probably deserved to have won the game. Under the circumstances being 1-0 down and having a man sent off, getting a draw was probably a good result. Everyone kept going and kept digging in. It was a good point in the end.”

Photo by George Kelly

Being top of the league after three games is a nice position to be in but as Dennehy rightly points out “it is still very very early days. We need to get into the season and then it is the end of the season that counts. It is vitally important to start well and pick up points early. I think we aren’t playing at our best. There is a lot more to come from us. Hopefully we will continue to pick up the points and the performances will improve as the season goes on.”

Rovers will be looking to build on last season’s incredible campaign that was led by Michael O’Neill. New manager Stephen Kenny is now setting his stamp on the Rovers squad. “It is a massive change,” said Dennehy about Rovers making the switch of managers. “It goes without saying that it has been unbelievable winning two leagues and playing in the Europa League. It has been phenomenal over the last two years. It is important that everyone makes their mark this season. We need to go again, be ambitious and win more. That is what the new manager wants. As a player that is why I’ve come back to try, continue to do well, to win and compete for trophies. I’m sure Stephen Kenny, Stephen Glass his assistant and Colin Hawkins are the same. They want to be involved in winning things and I think we are all pulling in the same direction which is good for everyone.”

Whilst the line up has been consistent in the league, Stephen Kenny has mixed it up in the Setanta Sports Cup games against Cliftonville and in Rovers’ game in the Leinster Senior Cup where the Hoops knocked out Bohemians on penalties. Utilising the Rovers squad to its fullest worked really well for Rovers last year and will be required if the Hoops are to retain the League and Setanta Sports Cup as well as challenge in Europe.

“When you are winning, it is good to continue the confidence and get used to playing together,” said Dennehy of a consistent starting 11. “But I think you’ve seen that on Friday making substitutions can help and it is important that you have good players that you can bring on; players to make an impact on the game. It is important that everyone performs because there are other players who can come in and do a good job. It is good for the squad that everyone knows they have a big part to play this season and it important that everyone does the best for the team and we can get the results that are needed. Last season was the club’s first time ever competing in the Setanta Sports Cup and obviously it was our first time winning it. It was great for us last year. It is a good competition. It is good to be in it and if your can make a final it is good as it is so early in the sesaon. Our aim will be to play well and hopefully try and retain that Cup as well.”

Published in Hoops Scene 2012 Issue 3 (Shamrock Rovers v Shelbourne – 23 March)

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