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No Christmas in July – Postcard from the Arctic Circle

With the official home of Santa Claus just a few miles from the venue for the RoPs v Shamrock Rovers match, it was no surprise to hear an old ‘winter football’ Rovers tune being sung by the Hoops fans in Finland.

 

“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way. Oh what fun it is to see Rovers win away!”

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For some of the Europa League First Qualifying Round second leg in Rovaniemi, it seemed that Rovers might get that precious away win in Lapland but ultimately it was an early ‘Finnish’ to the Hoops European adventures for 2016.

 

It was quite an experience for everyone involved at the club – traveling to the edge of the Arctic Circle where the sun doesn’t set during the summer months, trailing 2-0 in the tie with a new boss in charge. The departure of Pat Fenlon from the manager’s role after the disappointing first leg defeat, meant it was Stephen Bradley who was the new man in charge.

 

I was lucky enough to be one of the dozen or so club members who got a place on the club charter for the trip. So membership not only gets you a parking space in the Tallaght Stadium Car Park but also gives you the chance of spot on the club charter! The managerial change also meant one fan essentially got the seat on the flight that was freed up because of Fenlon’s departure from the managerial hotseat!

The Rovers squad and ‘entorage’ checked in early on Wednesday morning beside some Welsh fans who were making their way to France via Dublin and Switzerland for their Euro 2016 semi-final later that evening. The lady at airport security said she would light a candle for a 3-0 Rovers win. All help was required for the Hoops as they looked to do what no League of Ireland club had done before and progress in a European tie after losing the first leg at home.

 

With the Rovaniemi runway close for repairs, it was a three hour flight in our 48 seater plane to Kemi. From there it was a further 90 minute bus ride through the Finnish countryside with a vista of trees, water and a few Moose munching grass at the roadside. The players were well fed themselves en-route, on the flight and coach trip; the benefit of having a caterer amongst the Rovers support who was able to provide his services on the trip – with some spare meals making their way to supporters too!

Rumours that the team was staying in the Hotel Santa Claus were true but rumours of the match venue being snowbound proved a work of fiction! Many of the travelling supporters took the chance to sample the local cuisine on Wednesday evening – I can recommend the Fell Highland Reindeer at Restaurant Nili!  RoPS also hosted their pre-match meal with the Rovers Directors and Finnish FA Officials in the same venue, so you knew the food was going to be good!

 

Afterwards most ‘retired’ to Oliver’s Bar to watch the Euro 2016 semi. That match ended close to midnight with Portugal defeating Wales. Midnight came and went with no sunset. We truly were in the land of the midnight sun being so far north.

For Stephen McPhail the Rovers club captain and now player-coach under Stephen Bradley, he knew what to expect. “I’ve been to Iceland and Norway for preseason at this time of year so I knew what was coming. It is still strange though going to bed and it is still bright as a button outside! It was a bit of work to get those curtains to stretch all the way across in the room but got a goodnight’s sleep.”

The next morning quite a few supporters made the 8km trip further north from Rovaniemi to the Arctic Circle. There were plenty of photos taken standing either side of the line at 66 degrees north, 32’ 33’’. The location is surrounded by plenty of shops, with Santa Claus also available to meet visitors, so it didn’t exactly feel we’d travelled north of the wall Games of Thrones style!

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On match night the Rovers support from the charter flight was boosted by about 20 or so fans who had travelled independently to the game. The away section was at one end of the bottom tier of the very impressive steep two tiered 2,000 seater stand built in recent years. The floodlights were on for the 7pm local kick off time, not that they would be needed here at the Arctic Circle!

 

Gary McCabe had the captain’s armband for the game and his first half goal halved the deficit in the tie. His penalty, the third goal he has scored in Europe, moved him to joint third in the all-time list of Rovers European goalscorers.

 

An unfortunate Hoops error though handed RoPS an equaliser and Rovers couldn’t make any additional breakthroughs themselves in the second half despite the impetus brought about by Bradley’s introduction of youth off the bench. Sean Boyd, Trevor Clarke and Aaron Dobbs came on, with the teenagers gaining some valuable European game time, but a couple of late goals couldn’t be conjured up.

McPhail was an unused substitute on the night so was able to give me his assessment from the vantage point of the bench. “When we played over in Finland, the most pleasing thing if I put my coaches hat on was that the lads responded to what we wanted them to do. They gave it everything.

 

“We went 1-0 up and I was confident we would score more. We conceded a goal off an error but these things happen. We didn’t get the rub of the green. Their ‘keeper made an unbelievable save with about 20 minutes to go. It could have been different. Performance wise the boys were spot on.”

 

Everyone at Shamrock Rovers was made feel very welcome on our visit, with the hospitality extended to the away fans after the game with food and coffee supplied by the RoPS American goalkeeper from their women’s team.

 

Following Rovers’ elimination from Europe, inevitably it was a quiet bus ride from Roveniemi. The small airport in Kemi was kept open for our departure midnight departure and it was still daylight when we boarded our flight to Dublin. The end of European football for Rovers for another season but a short memorable adventure all the same.

 

 

An abridged version of this article was first published in the Shamrock Rovers match programme – Hoops Scene 11 (Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians/Leeds United July 2016)IMG_2456

SD Galway 0-2 Shamrock Rovers

Match report for extratime.ie (April 9, 2012)

http://extratime.ie/fixtures/detail/18328/2/

After Good Friday’s filleting by five goals to one, Shamrock Rovers arose and appeared to put that defeat to Pats behind them as the beat SD Galway in the EA Sports Cup. Two first half penalties from Gary McCabe were the difference between the sides in a game that the Dubliners dominated from start to finish.

The Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Kenny gave a debut to goalkeeper Reyaad Pieterse and his first touch after three minutes coming to claim a ball looked to be outside the area. However the match officials gave the big South African ‘keeper the benefit of the doubt.

The game was just seven minutes old when Shamrock Rovers won a penalty. Conor McCormack and Stephen Rice linked up well on the right with Rice feeding in Gary McCabe. The right-winger was taken down by Timmy Molloy and McCabe took the penalty himself to make it 1-0 to the visitors.

Rovers dominated possession in the first half and Devon found it very hard to penetrate the Rovers defence. Ronan Burke in the Devon goal could only parry a free kick from Killian Brennan but he did very well to save the follow up from Gary O’Neill from point blank range. The 100 or so Shamrock Rovers fans thought their side were about to go two up but Daryl Kavanagh’s shot from outside the area flashed inches by the right hand post.

It was a hectic last five minutes of the first half as the home side created their only two real chances of the period. Nicky Curran punted a free from his own half and Pieterse came to punch at the edge of the Rovers box. In the swirling wind he did not get a good connection but was fouled as the ball dropped in the box. Devon followed that chance up with Enda Curran getting an opportunity to strike a shot in the box but the ex-Devon man Colin Hawkins blocked his shot down.

Just on half time, Shamrock Rovers doubled their lead with another penalty. Rovers got the opportunity after good work by Gary McCabe and Conor McCormack. They played a one-two that saw McCormack get away down the wing. He put a weak cross in that defender Paddy Quinlan dwelt too long on and Daryl Kavanagh just nipped in front to take the ball. Quinlan took him down as he tried to clear. McCabe took this penalty to make it 2-0 choosing to slot the ball away in the opposite left hand corner from his earlier goal.

In the second half Daryl Kavanagh went closest to extending Rovers’ lead. He had a goal ruled out for offside after 49 minutes, forced Devon ‘keeper Burke into a good save on 74 minutes and he also hit the bar after a Gary O’Neill step over allowed him in on goal five minutes later.

The Hoops deserved a third for the fine passing move they put together on 75 minutes. Reyaad Pieterse, who had to be quick out of his box to head clear a through ball minutes earlier, threw the ball out quickly to his full back Conor Powell. Powell linked up with Gary O’Neill who fed Killian Brennan. Brennan then played in Powell who had gone on a fine run and his shot was pushed onto the post by Ronan Burke.

Devon played out the final nine minutes with ten men as Willie Enubele picked up a second yellow card, this time for dissent, but Rovers couldn’t exploit the additional space in those final minutes. Devon still await their first win of the season while Rovers move onto the quarter final of the EA Sports Cup.

SD Galway: Ronan Burke; Nicky Curran, Paddy Quinlan, Brian Geraghty, Tommy Bradshaw; Colm Horgan, Willie Enubele, Luke McConnell (Michael Harty 77), Timmy Molloy (Eugene Greaney 73), Brian Gaffney; Enda Curran (Michael Tierney 67).
Subs Not Used: James Keane, Ronan Conlon, Gerry Dolan, Charlie Burke.
Bookings: E Curran (22), Geraghty (24), Enubele (59), Greaney (87).
Sent Off: Enubele (81).

Shamrock Rovers: Reyaad Pieterse; Conor McCormack, Colin Hawkins, Graham Gartland, Conor Powell; Gary McCabe (Lorcan Shannon 91), Killian Brennan, Stephen Rice, Aaron Greene; Gary O’Neill (Dean Ebbe 91), Daryl Kavanagh.
Subs not used: Oscar Jansson, Sean Gannon, Craig Sives, Chris Turner, Billy Dennehy.
Bookings: K Brennan (55).

Referee: Phil Caschera.
Attendance: 250 (estimate)
ExtraTime Man of the Match: Gary McCabe.

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.