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Dublin: 9 °C Wednesday 12 December, 2018

'You do think about England, but I’m only 19. There's no better club to be at than Rovers'

Ahead of tonight’s Dublin derby with Bohemians, last season’s PFAI Young Player of the Year, Trevor Clarke, says he’s happy to continue to learn his trade at the Hoops.

Clarke at the Aviva Stadium this week.
Clarke at the Aviva Stadium this week.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

WHEN SHAMROCK ROVERS earned bragging rights over Bohemians with a 2-0 win at Dalymount Park last season, it was a 19-year-old’s strike that everyone was talking about.

Just before the half-hour mark, Trevor Clarke closed down Lorcan Fitzgerald to win possession before advancing down the right-hand side, cutting inside the Bohs full-back and whipping the ball beyond the out-stretched arms of Shane Supple.

The Dubliner’s emergence was one of the real positives to come out of the club in 2017, and his progress with the Hoops didn’t go unnoticed as Clarke picked up the PFAI Young Player of the Year award alongside a place in the Premier Division Team of the Year.

Having returned from a spell at Middlesbrough to join the Hoops in 2015, the winger — who was often used as a full-back in the absence of Luke Byrne — reportedly attracted interest from England for his performances last term.

Many expected him to make a switch back across the water, but with the new campaign set to get underway this evening, he remains a Rovers player.

It’s always in your mind that you want to get back away,” Clarke told The42 this week, adding that he feels he is in the best place to learn his trade at this point in his career.

“Obviously, I’ve been over there before and come home. Then you look at someone like Sean Maguire, who returned from England and ripped it up at Cork City. That earned him another chance to go back and he’s doing the same over there now.

“You do think about it, but I’m only 19. I could go over at 23 or 24, realistically, but I’d probably be looking to do it at around 21. It takes time and you need to gain the experience. If I stay here at the club that I’m at now, Rovers, for a couple of years — with the players that I’m around, the manager and the staff — there is no better club to be at. This is where I want to be.”

Trevor Clarke celebrates scoring He scored a cracker at Dalymount last season. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Apart from honing his skills by playing week in, week out at senior level in a competitive league, Clarke has been able to develop under people like manager Stephen Bradley, coaches Damien Duff and Glenn Cronin and director of football Stephen McPhail, along with the squad’s more experienced players.

“Since I’ve come back, I’ve been enjoying my football — at U19 level and now with the first team,” he says. “If you’re not enjoying it, there’s no point being there.

I wouldn’t have a bad word to say about Rovers. I’m learning everyday from the likes of Ronan Finn, Dave McAllister, Graham Burke and, now, Joey O’Brien. They’ve been around and done it all, so it’s good to rub off them. They will keep you on your toes and tell you if you need to do this or that.”

Former Ireland international O’Brien is one of the recent signings to arrive in Tallaght along with the likes of Greg Bolger, Ally Gilchrist, Joel Coustrain, Ethan Boyle and Daniel Carr.

Having spent the majority of his career in the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers and West Ham, O’Brien could prove a fine addition if he manages to get himself fully fit after years of injury problems.

“He’s been there and done everything that you can do,” Clarke says of his new team-mate. “He came in the day before we went on tour to Portugal and he’s great craic. He has been great to have around the dressing room, he has the banter but he knows when to take it seriously as well.

“He has fit straight in. It’s like he’s always been here.”

Joey O'Brien O'Brien with Bradley. Source: Twitter/ShamrockRovers

After a terrible start to the season, Rovers recovered well to finish third in the Premier Division behind Cork City and Dundalk, while also losing out to the Lilywhites in the FAI Cup semi-final and the EA Sports Cup final.

This group aren’t a million miles away from winning some silverware and Clarke believes the necessary improvements can be made.

“When all the new players came in last year it was like a new team,” he explains. “We were hoping to start off great but we didn’t. The first period of games wasn’t so good but as we got used to each other we began to pick up points and we went on a bit of an unbeaten run.

“When you look at cup competitions, we lost to Dundalk in the FAI Cup semi-final (after a replay) and in the EA Sports Cup final. You need to be winning those games and you want to be playing in the FAI Cup final here at the Aviva Stadium.

“We got so close last year and that was as a new group that was gelling together. We’ve had more time now so we’ll give it a go.”

Unfortunately for Rovers, they are without Clarke to tonight’s league opener against their Dublin rivals as he is suspended for the first two matches of the season.

“Aside from Trevor, everyone is fine to play,” says Bradley. “I think we’re really strong at left-back. Luke Byrne and Ally Gilchrist can play there and Joey O’Brien has played at full-back most of his career.

“Whatever the other teams have done in terms of their squads and players, we just concentrate on what we’re doing and we believe that we’re in a stronger place than we were last year. We’ve got to go and show that now on the pitch but there wasn’t much change this year and we’re really happy where we are. We looked at how we can improve as a team and as a squad and I think we’ve done that with the people we’ve brought in.

We know we have to start better than we did last year. We dropped too many points in the first round of games and we can’t do that again this year. It obviously left us well off the top two points-wise come the end of the season so we know we have to start right.”

It’s the first time since 2005 that this fixture has featured on Week 1 and the game, which is being televised on RTÉ 2 (7.30pm), has been a sell-out for a couple of weeks now.

“You always look forward to the first game of the season but this is Bohs away,” added Bradley. “It’s a Dublin derby, it’s a sell-out and we should bring a great crowd. If this game doesn’t whet your appetite then you shouldn’t be involved in football and that applies to everyone, player, fan, coach or whatever.

“It’s going to be a tough game. Bohs are good at what they do and we know what to expect. We went there last year and won and we’ll be looking to do that again. The lads are really looking forward to it. We’re ready to go.”

Eoghan Stokes Stokes was unveiled yesterday. Source: Twitter/bfcdublin

The Gypsies have been buoyed by yesterday’s news that striker Eoghan Stokes has joined the club. 21-year-old Stokes, who was at Leeds United up until last month, had also been a target for Rovers and the former Ireland U19 international could be in for quite the LOI introduction if he makes his debut this evening.

He joins fellow close-season signings Darragh Leahy (Coventry City), JJ Lunney (St Pat’s), Rob Manley (UCD), Dylan Watts (Leicester, loan) and Ryan Swan (Cabinteely) — although Swan will be out for foreseeable future after recently rupturing cruciate ligaments.

“This fixture is a great way to start the league campaign,” said Bohs boss Keith Long.

The sell-out signs have been up in Dalymount Lane for two weeks, which is great to see. It’s just a pity Dalymount no longer has the capacity of years gone – there has been massive interest.

“It’s a big occasion for the supporters and everyone involved with both clubs. But for both sets of players, it’s about getting it right on the pitch.

“Our players have worked hard in pre-season and we believe they will be focused and disciplined in their approach.”

On the gulf in financial power between the clubs, he added:

“It’s no secret that we don’t have the resources that they have, we have tended to go into games against Rovers as underdogs. But we can enjoy that tag a little bit too and try use it to our advantage and have our supporters behind us.

“That bond between players and fans is something I’ve preached about since coming in, that was key for us last year.

“There was a definite connection there. Even when we were under pressure, fans didn’t waver. That helps players grow in stature and we’ll need that for this game as well as every other one this year.”

This week’s fixtures:

LOI Prem 1

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