Posts Tagged ‘Enda Stevens’

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 “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.”

Coming to Rovers was a step up (Enda Stevens Interview)

September 23, 2010 Leave a comment

Interview with Enda Stevens for Hoops Scene
(Issue 18 Shamrock Rovers v Galway United, FAI Ford Cup Quarter Final, 17 September 2010)

Last Friday night, the clash of Saint Patrick’s Athletic and Shamrock Rovers gave the packed crowd in attendance in Inchicore and the viewing public watching live on RTÉ great entertainment. It was live sport at its best with the stakes high for both teams. In a competitively fought fixture Shamrock Rovers prevailed by three goals to one. It was very different scenario from the corresponding fixture at the end of last season. Back then the home side were desperate for a result to avoid relegation while the Hoops were by then only playing for pride as Bohs had beaten the Hoops to the league title. That night Enda Stevens was lining out for St. Pats but between then and now he has made the switch from the Richmond Park home dressing room to the away one as he lined out for Shamrock Rovers last Friday. When Hoops Scene talked to the player after the game, but before the disappointing defeat to Dundalk last Monday, there was no doubt that he enjoyed the result of the Dublin Derby and the switch to Rovers.

Photo: Bobby Best

“It was a great win to be fair and it knocks them out of it,” Stevens said of St. Pat’s title ambitions. This was something their manager Pete Mahon had acknowledged ahead of the game when he said that a defeat for the home side would effectively rule them out of the league. “It is a bit different for me from last season,” said Stevens. “At Pats last year we were playing for our lives trying to stay up and not get relegated. So it was a step up for me to come here to Rovers.” The first half saw Pats put real pressure on the away team and the Hoops went behind for the first time in over 500 minutes of league football after only two minutes of the game. The Rovers full back recognised the pressure Pats put on Rovers in the opening part of the game. “I thought they did well, pressed us really high up the pitch. They got the early goal which was a setback for us. But after that I thought we did well and got on top of the game. We had a couple of chances ourselves before we equalised.”

The equaliser was scored by Gary Twigg as he pounced on the rebound off the post from a Craig Sives chance. Twigg was on the ball in a flash to get the decisive touch for that all important equaliser just before half time. He proved yet again that given even half a chance he can convert it into a goal. “From Pats viewpoint it was probably the worst time to have conceded a goal. It was a massive goal by Twiggy.” The sides were level at half time and the difference in the second half was two players who also are in a rich vein of goal scoring form.

In Tommy Stewart’s case, his goal scoring form is all about hitting the target against St. Pats. The Ulsterman has made a knack of scoring goals against the Saints this season. Stevens was quick to point out that Stewart’s 56th minute strike was his “fifth goal in his three games against Pats this season which is something else.” Rovers, however, saved the best for last with the runner up in the August Player of the Month (to Rovers defender Aidan Price) Billy Dennehy getting the third goal. As the ball rocketed into the top right hand corner of the net, the Rovers fans on three sides of the ground who had snapped up the 1700 away tickets went into delirious celebration. There were many Rovers fans who had ‘acquired’ some home end tickets and it was difficult for them not to get to their feet to celebrate the Kerryman’s goal. Following his free kick winner in the previous game against Sligo, if Dennehy keeps his fine performances going, it might be two months in a row that a Rovers player will get the Player of the Month award. “Billy’s scored with a fantastic strike. He has been on top form lately,” said Stevens. “Six goals in the last eight games is very impressive.”

It took some time for Stevens to break into the Rovers team. It wasn’t until half way during this season when the games were coming thick and fast that he got his opportunity. Ironically enough it was a game against his former employer St. Pats that cemented his place in the side when the Hoops won a dramatic game 2-1 with Alan Mannus saving a penalty in stoppage time. “I wasn’t on form at the start of the season and I wasn’t doing it in training. I was waiting for my chance which actually came against Pats. From there on, I kept my head down and tried to follow what we had to do. We’ve got a massive squad with great players for every single position. If you are not performing well the gaffer [Michael O’Neill] will not hesitate in dropping you. He can change the team around anytime.”

Photo: George Kelly

Stevens came into the team as Rovers began their European campaign and he brought his own experience of European football following his involvement in Pats’ lengthy run in last year’s Europa League. “Europe was great. To play against the likes of Juventus was fantastic. Last year it was good as with Pats I got a few great trips and got a few matches. With Rovers it was great to go over and win in Israel and to play against Juventus in the biggest game in my career so far.”

Rovers’ unbeaten run in the league came unstuck in a wet and windy Oriel Park last Monday night. The last time Rovers had lost a league game was in the same venue back in May. Stevens was not involved on Monday but speaking ahead of the game he had warned that “it could be a banana skin to be honest following on from our tough game last Friday. We have to stay focussed and hopefully come out with the right result. It is a hard place to go to and they beat us there earlier this season. We are expecting a tough game.” And so if proved on a night when Rovers trooped off at half time 4-0 down. In the second half, Rovers certainly improved but could only register a bizarre Twigg goal in that second half and then conceded a fifth. Following that disappointing result, Rovers lead Bohemians by four points with six games to go and so are still well in the hunt for their first league Championship since the 1993/94 season. “We are focussed one game after another. We aren’t expecting to have to go to Bohs to beat them to go and win the league. We want to keep progressing every game and tie the league up.” After Monday’s result, it means that Rovers won’t be taking anything for granted as they chase that elusive league title.