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'Does winning this game define the season? I think that's fair to say'

Ronan Finn is hoping to lead Shamrock Rovers to a first FAI Cup triumph since 1987 on Sunday.

Shamrock Rovers' Ronan Finn.
Shamrock Rovers' Ronan Finn.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

RONAN FINN KNOWS more than most just what it would mean for Shamrock Rovers to end 32 years of hurt on Sunday.

The Hoops play league champions Dundalk in the FAI Cup final, having not won the trophy since their famous four-in-a-row side triumphed in 1987 for the third season in succession.

It is the fourth time Rovers have reached the final since then, coming up short in 1991, 2002 and 2010 against Galway, Derry and Sligo respectively.

On Sunday, they face Dundalk, the team they finished 11 points behind in the league and who have been the dominant side in Irish football for much of the past six years.

As a former Lilywhites player, Finn has experience of both winning and losing the cup final, triumphing in 2015 and missing out in 2016, both times against Cork.

The 31-year-old midfielder is coming to the end of his seventh season with Rovers, encompassing two spells, leaving for Dundalk ahead of the 2015 campaign and returning two years later.

Finn has not been a particularly popular figure among Lilywhites fans since departing the club, though he is not especially bothered by their antipathy.

The way I look at it is you take it as a compliment. If they don’t give you stick, that means they didn’t care that you were there. The fact that they give you a bit, it means that it hurt that I left.

“Listen, that’s football, that’s the way it goes. Our league is probably slightly different to other leagues around Europe in that it’s smaller and players maybe tend to move clubs more. Maybe a player in Belgium will move to Germany or Poland. In our league, it’s internal. That’s the way it is. I’m back now with Rovers and we are really building the last couple of seasons. I think there is an opportunity here on Sunday to showcase that.”

Winning is easier said than done, however. In the four occasions the sides have met this season in the top flight, Dundalk have won three and drawn one. The Lilywhites are on course for a domestic treble and lost just four league matches all season, two of which they suffered after having already wrapped up the title. Rovers have been impressive too, picking up 21 clean sheets and 23 home wins in all competitions. There is a sense that they have been improving year on year since Stephen Bradley took charge in 2016, even if they are not quite where they want to be just yet.

“We are growing as a group. You look around at our dressing room and it’s full of talent. I think the type of football we play, we’ve earned a lot of plaudits throughout the season. But you need silverware to get that real respect.”

Those losses to Dundalk as well as dropped points against bitter rivals Bohs proved costly ultimately, as despite a very promising start to the season, Rovers’ title bid eventually petered out.

“The game in Tallaght [against Dundalk] where we got beaten, we dominated. I’m sure Dundalk players would agree with me that we dominated. And they’ve scored and won the game. No one cares if you dominate. They won the game. That really was a big point in the season for us. But we’ve learned from it.”

jack-byrne Finn has been impressed by Jack Byrne since his arrival at Shamrock Rovers. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Nevertheless, Finn is confident Rovers are moving in the right direction. Players of the calibre of Ireland internationals Jack Byrne and Graham Burke have been added to the squad over the past year, making a considerable impact in the process.

 “The difference since I’ve come back in 2017 to now is huge in terms of quality in the dressing room. If you are not at it in training, you are found out straight away. Training games are as hard as any game you play on Friday; harder sometimes in terms of the levels of technical skill that some of the players possess. It’s superior to what I have ever seen in any dressing room. 

“In terms of individual technical ability, people like Jack and Graham can do things that I’ve probably never seen an individual player do. Seeing a pass that no one else can see. Graham shooting from 25 yards, consistently putting it past the keeper, that individual talent is clearly evident.

I didn’t know Jack until he really came into the group. I’ve obviously heard how talented he was and you keep an eye on Irish players when they play away and you wish success for them all. Jack coming back was a massive coup for us, because he was obviously a talented player. But then seeing him and seeing how fit he is now, how fit he was when he first came in and how much he bought into everything that we do, you see his relationship with the manager and how close they are… I didn’t know how good Jack was, but I know how good he is now.”

Asked if winning on Sunday will define Rovers’ season, Finn replies: “I think that’s fair to say. Football is like that. Maybe that’s a fair comment. If you are going to be critical, you need silverware. We know that, we are building towards that. So, yeah, potentially we win the cup on Sunday, you go: ‘Right, we finished second, we won the cup, let’s build and let’s keep going for next season.’”

And what if they lose? “I’m not thinking like that. We’ll treat Sunday as it comes and you prepare to win.”

He continues: “I think playing for this club, the pressure is huge. I noticed that as soon as I signed back in 2011. It was maybe slightly different for me, because I’d come from UCD, from Fingal. You noticed it from day one. I remember playing in a friendly against Waterford. It was my first home game and I was like: ‘I’m at a proper football club now. This is what it’s about.’

 “It was just different. No disrespect to UCD, because I absolutely love the club, it was so good to me, and Fingal was different, Fingal was a start-up company almost. But you sign for Rovers and you realise from day one that this is a proper football club. Nothing has changed. That pressure of stepping onto that pitch every Friday, you feel it. And you feel it when it’s not going well as well, you feel that frustration from the fans. Listen, it’s such a big club. They demand success. 

“That’s why when Rovers come knocking, you’ve got to go. Because it’s what it’s all about. That’s why you play football, having that sense of pressure.

“Captaining Rovers to the first cup success since 1987 would be huge. You’d write yourself into the history books straight away.”

It’s Rugby World Cup final week! On the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly, Murray Kinsella joins Gavan Casey and Sean Farrell to preview Saturday’s showdown between England and South Africa.


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Paul Fennessy

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