'Little bit of extra needle' won't distract revitalised Rovers from top-of-the-table Dundalk task

‘We’ve got to stand up and really show our worth, show we believe we can challenge for this title,’ says Hoops captain Ronan Finn.

Ronan Finn and Stephen Bradley.
Ronan Finn and Stephen Bradley.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

STEPHEN BRADLEY INSISTS the best is yet to come from his Shamrock Rovers side as they prepare for a potentially season-defining game against league leaders Dundalk in Tallaght tomorrow.

The Hoops missed out on a chance to move back within two points of the Lilywhites as they fell to their third successive defeat to arch-rivals Bohemians this season two weeks ago.

Defeat meant Rovers not only lost to the one team they can’t least bear being bested by, and failed to capitalise on their game in hand, but they had the two-week mid-season break to dwell on it.

Neither Bradley nor captain Ronan Finn felt the time off was a negative and, for Finn at least, the opportunity to tune out from football for a few days was a welcome change of pace.

“It’s nice to switch off, mentally even more so than physically. Football, after a defeat, can be tough but it was a good opportunity to have your break,” Finn told the The42.

“We’ve moved on from the Bohs game. It was bitterly disappointing at the time but it’s how you bounce back from it. We’ve got to stand up and really show our worth, show we believe we can challenge for this title.”

Ronan Finn Ronan Finn in action for Rovers against Bohs. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Like Finn, Bradley is enthusiastic about the daunting challenge they have to face – that of becoming only the second side in six years to deny Dundalk on their march to the league title.

One source of optimism is that, over his tenure at the club, Rovers have been significantly better in the second half of the season as the first, as new players and systems gel.

“We’re excited. We’re confident. We’re in a great position. We’re challenging for the league, we’re in the FAI Cup and we have a good draw in Europe [against Brann],” Bradley said.

“We go into every game trying to win the game and Friday is no different. But we also have to understand and remember that there’s 30-plus points to play for after Friday.

We’ve always been stronger after the break. That won’t change. We’ve got ourselves in a really strong position and it’s one we’re looking forward to. The run-in is going to be very exciting.

“When we won the league here (in 2011, when Bradley was a player alongside Finn), we won it out in Bray on the last day.

“There’s a long way to go. We’ve got ourselves in a fantastic position to challenge for the league and we’ll do that right until the last day.”

Stephen Bradley dejected after the game Hoops boss Stephen Bradley. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Rovers unveiled the twin signing of Ireland under-21 winger Neil Farrugia and midfielder Gary O’Neill from UCD on long-term deals on Wednesday.

While Farrugia is still a couple of weeks away from returning from a hamstring injury that kept him out the Toulon tournament, O’Neill won’t be available for Monday’s derby with St Patrick’s Athletic due to FAI bureaucracy:

The way the FAI do it is you have to send it in by registered post on the 1st [of July] and it can only be received on the 2nd, which is frustrating and a bit silly to be honest.

“The 1st of July is the window so you should be able to play from the 1st of July, but obviously everyone is in the same boat and it’s not going to be the case.

“I think both are really exciting signings for us. Both are really good ages (O’Neill is 24 and Farrugia 20) for us and both fit what we do.”

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Gary O'Neill inspects the pitch ahead of the game New recruit Gary O'Neill will be unavailable against Dundalk due to red tape. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Previous meetings, most notably the FAI Cup semi-final replay in Tallaght two years ago, have seen tempers flare.

Celebrations on both sides tend to linger a little longer — a sign not just of how little love is lost but the level of mutual respect — but Finn insists emotion will take a backseat to getting the job done.

“Maybe there’s a little bit of extra needle between the two squads,” says Finn.

“It’s always good to beat your rivals, but tomorrow is just another game. It’s just another three points and you’ve got to detach yourself from that. You can’t get caught up in that.

Sometimes you do that and the game passes you by, and you take the game as what it is. We’re at home and the onus is on us, we feel, to dominate, to get on the ball and play.

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