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We want to retain the cup that we worked so hard to win – Roberto Lopes

December 4, 2020 Leave a comment

Interview from Hoops Scene No. 11 (2020) – Shamrock Rovers v Sligo Rovers, FAI Cup semi-final, Sunday 29 November 2020

Everything about this year has been quite different including the fact that with a shortened SSE Airtricity League season due to COVID-19 the league finished up before the quarter-final stage of the extra.ie FAI Cup.  With Shamrock Rovers 2-0 down at half time away to Finn Harps in their quarter-final last week, those looking in on WATCHLOI might have felt that the Hoops had only another 45 minutes of football to go in 2020. On a miserably cold and wet night on a sticky pitch in Ballybofey, it wasn’t looking too good for Rovers. 

However the Hoops weren’t happy with letting their unbeaten run in the league and cup that goes back to August 2019 come to end. Awarded a remarkable three penalties in five minutes – with Aaron McEneff missing the first and scoring the next two – coupled with Graham Burke’s winner saw the Hoops through to tonight’s semi-final.

 “We went a goal down after 15 minutes and you are thinking this is going to be hard work,” said Roberto Lopes when he spoke with Hoops Scene this week. “Then for them to get a second one so quickly, your thoughts are we have a mountain to climb on that pitch, in the form they are in and how hard they work for one another but there was no panic. 

“The important thing was to be calm and trust what we do. We just needed to increase the energy and the tempo. We got that reaction in the second half – we got more in their face and we turned the screw and the pressure told in the end. We got our reward.

“We know that if we lose a game now, it is the season finished. It became real that Friday night in Harps – you live to fight another day or the season either ends. For me, I can’t imagine finishing the season and there are other teams still playing games. You want to be there at the end.” 

Lopes recalled that his captain Ronan Finn told his teammates that were well prepared to take on Harps in such difficult weather conditions. “Finner said it before the game that we had the best preparation of this quarter-final which was playing them two weeks before. The conditions that night were maybe worse then as there was a threat of the game being called off.

“We had to change slightly the way we played, but the principals were still there in how we attack, create chances and be patient and the opportunities will come. Having that experience of playing up there a couple of weeks ago and knowing what it was going to be like really prepared us for the game.”

The Hoops became the first League of Ireland club to go through a league campaign without a defeat since the 1920s and Rovers are focussed on retaining the FAI Cup which would also mean the club going through the full domestic season without a defeat. 

“The drive for this team is to remain unbeaten and we need to win this cup or else we will be beaten. We want to retain the cup that we worked so hard to win. The fans waited so long for Rovers to win the cup and for most of the players like myself it was the first time to win it. There is a massive motivation to win the cup and cap a great year off with a double.”

The statistics are quite remarkable for Rovers this year. In the 18 game league campaign the Hoops conceded just seven goals – the fewest ever in League of Ireland history. They kept 13 clean sheets and in the final 11 league games of the season, they conceded only one goal. 

“Defenders earn their crust on clean sheets and how well you defend. It isn’t just about getting your body in front of the ball, giving no chances up but when you have the ball can you keep it long enough so your opponents don’t get it. Can you be brave and play out from the back and through midfield without giving the opponent an opportunity to attack. That is a big part of defending – when you have the ball.

“We have such a fantastic goalkeeper in Alan (Mannus) – he gives us that confidence. 

Joey (O’Brien) is top class. We know what Lee (Grace) is capable of. In his first season at the club, there is nothing that fazes Liam Scales – he has fitted right in and been brilliant. You go through the team and we defend from the front. It is so important what Aaron Greene does for the team. The ability to win the ball high up and in midfield like we’ve done this year, it really does take the pressure off us defenders. Keeping that mentality throughout the team we will concede fewer goals.”

Lopes has played a crucial part in those clean sheets but his late goals have been invaluable too – all scored from set pieces. With Rovers trailing 2-1 to Dundalk in February, Lopes popped up with the equaliser on 71 minutes before Jack Byrne got the winner in front of over 7,500 fans in Tallaght – the last time supporters have watched a game in the stadium. Lopes got the winner nine minutes from time in the Brandywell as Rovers came from 1-0 down to win in August. In the Europa League later that month, it was the defenders’ flicked goal on 78 minutes that forced the game to extra-time before Rovers won the most remarkable penalty shootout (with Lopes scoring his side’s seventh spotkick).

“It is very important to chip in with goals throughout the team. When you have the quality of delivery with Jack Byrne, Aaron McEneff or Sean Kavanagh at set pieces you need to be scoring off them. We have great opportunities from set pieces and we work really hard on them. Goals win games and if we can chip in with a few goals between us that can make a difference. It is a team effort.”

Lopes was a half-time substitute in the 3-2 win over Finn Harps having just returned from being part of the Cape Verde squad in home and away Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Rwanda – both of which finished scoreless.

“It was a fantastic trip,” said Lopes. “It was professionally done. We were COVID tested four times in eight days when I was there plus the test before I left Ireland. They were really on top of it. You had a room to yourself and it was mask and hand sanitiser like here. 

“We were disappointed that we didn’t get three points in both games. There are some great quality players in the squad who are playing across the world. We are trying to qualify for the Cup of Nations – we will probably have to beat Mozambique and get something off Cameroon in the games next March. I’d love to be a part of the team who can qualify.”

It was a long journey home for Lopes with a flight from Rwanda to Uganda then a nine hour flight to Amsterdam where he had a further six hour layover before landing in Dublin the day before the game against Harps.

It has also been a journey for Lopes to win his first League of Ireland title. He was one of Stephen Bradley’s first signing for the Hoops moving across the Liffey from Bohemians. He is a player that Rovers fans mark out as one who has improved the most since his arrival in Tallaght. Playing in one of the club’s strongest ever teams, the 28-year-old defender is one of those in contention to win the club’s player of the year award.

It has also been a journey for Lopes to win his first League of Ireland title. He was one of Stephen Bradley’s first signing for the Hoops moving across the Liffey from Bohemians. He is a player that Rovers fans mark out as one who has improved the most since his arrival in Tallaght. Playing in one of the club’s strongest ever teams, the 28-year-old defender is one of those in contention to win the club’s player of the year award.

“One of the reasons I signed for Shamrock Rovers was to improve as a player. I knew my strengths coming here and I knew my weaknesses. One of the big things I said coming here is that I can learn the game. I can become a better footballer. 

“The fact that people said I couldn’t pass water when I signed here and say now that I look like a footballer, I see that as a massive complement to me. It is testament to the manager and all the coaching staff who have brought me to this level. I’ve worked really hard to learn. They have given me the tools to become the player that I have. I am still not there yet and I can improve

“Winning the league wasn’t just something we’ve been trying to achieve this season but something we have worked towards over the last number of years. It was a fantastic experience and that is my first time ever winning the league. I’ve been trying to do it over the last ten years so it was a really special moment for me. We enjoyed the night of the trophy presentation and we made sure we celebrated as it is important to do that and acknowledge what we had done.” 

A hardcopy and digital version of this programme is available to purchase from Shamrock Rovers here.

Noel, Noel, Super Noel, Super Noel Larkin

November 9, 2010 1 comment

Guests at this year’s FAI Ford Cup Final will be the victorious Shamrock Rovers Cup team from 25 years ago. In 1985, Noel Larkin was the match winner for the Hoops scoring the only goal of the final against Galway United. Larkin, who lives in Australia, won’t be able to make the game so Shamrock Rovers got in touch with him in Brisbane to talk to him about the 1985 win and his recent visit to Tallaght Stadium.

Larkin was the club’s guest of honour at the game against Sligo Rovers in September. The Hoops won that night thanks a great free kick by Billy Dennehy and also thanks to the support from the stands according to Larkin. “I could not get over the support the fans gave the players,” recalls Larkin who was on a trip back to Ireland in September attending his first game in Tallaght. “It really lifted them on the night especially in the second half. I had a great night at the magnificent Tallaght Stadium so thank you so much to all at the club who made it so special for me and my son,” said Larkin who attended the game with family, friends and former teammates Pat Byrne and Mick Byrne.

With Shamrock Rovers becoming champions in such dramatic fashion at the end of this league campaign, Larkin had a message for the management team, players and also the fans. “I would like to congratulate Michael O’Neill and the players in winning the Championship and reaching the Cup Final. More importantly thanks to the true supporters of Shamrock Rovers who, through thick and thin over the years, did everything in their power to ensure the survival of the Hoops. They put them back to where they rightly belong, the number one club in the country and champions of Ireland again.”

Noel Larkin had won league titles prior to joining Rovers and dreamed of winning an FAI Cup. “I joined Rovers from Athlone the year after Rovers won the first of the four in a row but had lost the cup final against UCD. I had won the first two of my six championships with Athlone but had never been to a cup final having lost two semi finals. Athlone’s one and only cup victory was in the 1920’s. There was a hotel in the centre of the town called the Royal and in there was a very large photo on the wall of that cup winning team. Anytime I was in the hotel, I would look at it and dream of what it would be like to play and win a cup final and maybe score the winning goal. Well what do you know, dreams do come true and Shamrock Rovers and the great Jim McLaughlin gave a lad from Athlone that opportunity!”

It was in the 57th minute of the 1985 cup final played in Dalymount Park that his dream came true. Mick Byrne brought down the ball in midfield and played the ball through to John Coady who made a penetrating run on the left. Despite two defenders between him and the goal, he fired in a cross and Larkin nipped in ahead of a last gasp tackle to score with the outside of his right boot to win Rovers’ 22nd Cup. Rovers would go on to retain the trophy for the following two seasons making it three doubles in a row for the Hoops. “The goal for me was a simple tap in,” says Larkin modestly of his goal. “I remember running away with my hands in the air and I think it was Noel King I had on my back. With it being my first cup final I had my Dad, Mum and other members of my family from Athlone there. I wanted to make sure I was going to enjoy it. The only way you can do this is to make sure you win it. Then to be able to do this three times in a row was unbelievable. They were great memories and I hope this will give so many others at the club the same memories.”

(Photo Albert White)

For more memories of the 1985 FAI Cup win for Rovers be sure to get a copy of the official FAI Ford Cup Final match programme on sale at the game. As well as further from Noel Larkin, Rovers legend and midfield maestro Pat Byrne will give his thoughts on that win 25 years ago and what winning the league this year means for Shamrock Rovers.