Ronan Finn wants Shamrock Rovers to take inspiration from Liverpool as they plan title challenge

The Hoops are widely regarded as the main rivals for Dundalk this season.

Ronan Finn (file pic).
Ronan Finn (file pic).
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

2019 UNDOUBTEDLY REPRESENTED a year of progress for Shamrock Rovers. Most significantly, they lifted a first FAI Cup in 32 years.

The Hoops also finished second in the league — jumping up a place from 2018 and securing their highest finish since they last won the title under Michael O’Neill in 2011.

The only disappointing aspect was that, at one point, they looked set to launch a serious title challenge. They topped the table early on and at one stage held a 13-point lead over Dundalk. Even then, the Lilywhites had two games in hand, but from a psychological perspective, they were in a strong position, only to lose their grip at the top, ultimately finishing 11 points behind Vinny Perth’s men.

While it was disappointing the way it tapered off last year, FAI Cup success ensured Rovers finished the season with a bang, and captain Ronan Finn is hoping the club can build on that success this season.

“Silverware’s the first gauge,” he tells The42. “As a player at Shamrock Rovers, the fans demand success. Silverware is where you draw the line. FAI Cup success last year was brilliant. Obviously as players you want to go one further and have league success. It’s as simple as that really.

“Winning the cup does give you that bit of confidence as a group. From the manager’s point of view, he’s tried to instil his belief.

“But I suppose as a group of players, until you’ve actually won it, you’re always listening, you’re always hoping. But now that we’ve done it, we’ve proved we can compete at the highest level. But it’s going to be a long season and it’s never easy. Pat’s will be strong. Derry will be strong. Dundalk will improve again and they’ll be strong, so it won’t be easy.”

As that memorable triumph at the Aviva illustrated, the Hoops are good enough to beat anyone in the country on their day. Finn suggests it’s a matter of performing on a more regular basis and finding a way to prevail even on bad days, just like a certain Premier League team have learned to do.

I just think we need to maintain that level of consistency. That comes with experience. It’s a long season and even if we’re not playing at our best, you can look at Liverpool now. They don’t always play brilliant, but they win. 

“As a group of players, if we’re not firing on all cylinders, [it's important] that we find a way to win the game.

“We play a lovely brand of football and got a lot of plaudits last year, but you’ve got to win the game. What we’ve got to improve on is if we ain’t playing, just find a way to win the game.”

With the likes of Graham Burke, Aaron McEneff and Jack Byrne in the team, Stephen Bradley’s side possess no shortage of talent or technical prowess. 

Now 32, Finn has spent over a decade in the league, starting out with UCD in 2005 after a move to Cambridge United didn’t work out. Since then, he has had two spells at Shamrock Rovers, in addition to stints at Dundalk and the now-defunct Sporting Fingal. He says, in terms of ability, the current Rovers team are as good as any he’s played in.

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“The technical players in our dressing room are better than I’ve seen in others.

“You’re privileged to play with these boys, we’re a really strong group. But I suppose you’re remembered for silverware and you’re remembered for medals. That’s what we have to do. I’ve no doubt that the talent is there, but you’ve got to prove it and do it week in week out.

“You can’t switch it on and off. You work hard to throughout the week training and you’ve got to produce on a Friday night. There’s no point doing it 60 or 70% of the year.

“It’s not going to be good enough, you have to have high standards every day of the week.”

Success can prove a double-edged sword though. Rovers have done well to hold onto the majority of their players from last year, but as Dundalk have discovered in recent times, keeping players is not easy when you’re constantly winning.

Former Man City youngster and Ireland international Jack Byrne is one player in particular who has been tipped for an eventual return to a higher level, while there are others in the squad with the potential to do likewise.

“Undoubtedly there are players in the squad that could go and play abroad,” Finn agrees. “But it mightn’t necessarily be the best move for them right now.

Jack has come back to Ireland and really rebuilt his career. He’s become an Ireland international on the back of that and will hopefully be in the next squad. In March, I think Jack will be in that on the back of his performances for us.

“Going to the UK or Europe I’m sure is in players’ minds, but it’s not always necessarily the best move. For us, we’ve held onto all the players we wanted to hold onto. And we’re building into a really strong group. We’ve got a good core of experienced pros now. We’ve been together the last couple of years. The manager’s recruited astutely over the last couple of years. We may bring another one in, but if not, we’ll be ready to go.”

At 32, the midfielder is one of the more experienced players in the squad, though he is not the only one — the likes of Daniel Lafferty (30), Joey O’Brien (33) and Alan Mannus (37) complement promising youngsters such as Neil Farrugia (20), Brandon Kavanagh (19) and Dylan Watts (22). And more talented teens could follow, particularly if Rovers get their wish and are allowed to field a second-string team in the First Division this season.

“I’ve been captain of the club for the last three years. There’s quite a few experienced pros in the dressing room now so maybe when I first came back, we were younger. But as the seasons have gone on, we’ve gained more experience and we’re in a position now that we’ve got a good balance of young players coming through the academy that, when they’re ready, I’m sure the manager will put them in. We’ve got a lot of experienced players that have come to great ages in their career. So we feel that if we hit the right note, we’ll be there or thereabouts [in the league].” 

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Paul Fennessy

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