Friday, 25 May 2012

Is This The Year?

With our last FAI Cup success now 25 years ago we all feel we are overdue an FAI Cup win, with two cup final losses against Galway and the Derry City the final against Sligo two years ago seemed like destiny as the first one in the new Aviva Stadium looked all set to be the scene of a double winning success until a penalty shoot-out nightmare!
I don’t usually buy into superstition and faith but after waiting 16 years before we eventually won out 16th league title in 2010 could it now be that we could win our 25th FAI Cup after a 25 year wait?!! It sounds like a nice story and hopefully it will have a happy ending but it got of to a difficult start as the first chapter put us up against Division 1 title favourites Limerick. With many experienced Premier Division players in their squad it seemed like this would be a tricky proposition but with Joe Gamble and Dennis Behan missing and Stephen Bradley only fit enough for the bench our task was made slightly easier.
After a bright start the game went flat and we went into the break 0-0. Similar to the Monaghan game on Monday we failed to create many chances until the introduction of Daryl Kavanagh for O’Neill. It was also good to see the re-introduction of Stephen O’Donnell who played so well against Pats a few back in the Leinster Senior Cup and it was the substitutes that made the difference when Kavanaghs 25 short was parried by former Hoop Barry Ryan and O’Donnell slotted home to put us 1 up.
After that you would think we could relax and play football and hopefully extend our lead but due to our fragile confidence we looked edgy and Limerick pushed hard for an equalizer, they introduced Bradley, substituted a centre half for an extra striker but they were hampered when Paudie Quinns high tackle on Gilbert was punished with a straight red card. We managed to see out the game but not before some nervy moments particularly from corner kicks but a much needed clean sheet was enough to see us into the next round.
After Sligos shock loss to Monaghan it means the champions of the last 2 seasons are out and we will now be the favourites to win but with no other shocks tonight there is still a very strong list of teams involved and we will be hoping for another home game in the next round.
Keep on Hooping!

Away Day Blues

After Fridays positive result the perfect follow up was surely a game against the leagues bottom side but with only one win away from home this season which was on the opening day of the season we should have foreseen what was going to happen!
Although Stephen Kenny selected the same team that beat Drogheda I was disappointed to see that we didn’t select a more attacking line-up. We started off well and as Monaghan played with no centre forwards our two centre backs were getting plenty of time on the ball but the constant long diagonal balls from Sives and Oman was getting frustrating. We had some half chances but we went into half time level at 0-0 and we had failed to have a single shot on target.
The second half started off better with more balls going to O’Neill and Twiggs feet but we still failed to breach the Monaghan defence and it wasn’t until Daryl Kavanagh was introduced on the hour mark that we got our first shot on target. From that point on we put constant pressure on the Monaghan backline and although we huffed and puffed we lack the quality needed score and we were handed 3 guilt edge chances all from 6 yards or else we hit the post, fired wide and Bennion stopped Sives late effort which he knew nothing about and we ran out of time as the game finished scoreless.
It was a frustrating night and we were left wondering why we couldn’t have started off on the front foot and played with the high tempo we finished with as Monaghan were certainly there for the taking, its also worrying that unless Twiggy gets on the scoresheet we really struggle to score as we lacked another goalscorer but most worrying of all is that we have now played 6 away games and only won 1. This is certainly not the form of potential champions and we will need to get a lot more wins on the road it we are to retain our league title. The cup game against Limerick on Friday will be a welcome distraction from the league!

Keep on Hooping!

A New Series of Games, A New Start

After a disappointing 19 points from the first series of games, the start of the second series of games was seen as a fresh start and thankfully we started with a good win against Drogheda. It took 30 minutes to open the scoring as Gary McCabe finished off a great team move with a fine strike although Sava would be disappointed he was beaten at his near post.
The second half started off well with Twiggy doubling the lead and continuing his fine early season form, it was a superb bit of interplay between the two front men as Twigg headed down to O’Neill who chested it back to Twigg and he finished superbly with a curling right footed effort.
We had loads of chances to extend the lead but it took until the 82nd minute to make it 3 when Omans header from a Dennehy corner was cleared off the line but Twigg was on hand to head home. All that was left now was for Rovers to keep a clean sheet but typical of the way we have defended this season we did end up conceding as Declan O’Brien took advantage of poor defending from Sives and finished past Jansson.
All in all it was a good performance and kept our unbeaten home record going and we have started the weekend with 3 points which we will hopefully double on Monday night in Monaghan.

Keep on Hooping!

Unwanted 4 in a Row!

For the first time ever we have now lost 4 games in a row against Sligo. On the way down we felt that this was the real starting point of our season and a win in Sligo would be a boost of confidence for the whole team and would certainly appease the fans.
Pre-match optimism was high amongst us as we enjoyed a bit of grub and a few pints in Mooneys and when we got into the ground the pitch was in perfect condition and the fans were in high spirits. Then I saw the team sheet and I was a little disappointed but we started pretty well and it was an even game until the opening goal. Poor defending allowed Quigley to run unchallenged until Brennans well timed tackle unfortunately fell into the path of North who finished at Pieterse’s near post as the debutant got his angles all wrong. We needed to hold out from there and re-group but within 10 minutes we were 2 down when Pieterse’s poor punch fell to the edge of the box and McCabe failed to clear and Cawley finished superbly. From there it was always going to be an uphill battle and we rued Gary Twiggs early missed chance when it was still 0-0.
The second half started brightly as we took the game to Sligo but the game was all over when Chris Turner was sent off for a push on Alan Keane, the first yellow was in no doubt after a bad tackle on Ventre but when Keane needlessly got involved Turners reaction was stupid but Keanes theatrics were disgraceful and to see a grown man go down holding his face when he was pushed in the chest was very disappointing.
A third goal duly arrived when Sives was replaced by Hawkins the big Galway defenders first involvement was a fresh air kick that left North in the clear and another questionable piece of goalkeeping from Pieterse left North celebrating his 12th of the season. A depressing day was capped off when Gartland was sent off for a second yellow, again it was harsh but the way the day was going it was inevitable.
The drive home was full of debate most circled around team selection and a hope that Stephen Kenny would soon turn things around before our season slips away.

Keep on Hooping!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Back to Winning Ways

It may only have been the Leinster Senior Cup but it was important for us to bounce back after Fridays disappointing draw with UCD. Only 750 in attendance for a game that many viewed as irrelevant but with the disgraceful lack of a reserve league this competition is important for keeping squad players fresh so they have games under their belt if they are needed to step into the first team.
It was a comprehensive 3-0 win against a poor St. Pats side and I went home pleased with the performances of both the first team and U-19 players on show. Pieterese had very little to do in goals but anything he did he did well. He was quick off his line to deal with any threats Pats posed and he made a few good saves when called upon. His distribution was good from his hands and his kicking off the ground was excellent, all in all it was another good game from the young South African.
At the back Memery had another decent game but I can’t see him being good enough to remain with the first team and we still are in big need for another left back in the June transfer window. Gilbert was just average and although only back from injury I would have expected more from him. Branagan was very composed alongside the experienced Hawkins, who once again really impressed me. I taught he was finished when he came here as a coach but he still has a lot to offer and his reading of the game is second to none in our squad. It was positive that we kept a clean sheet and hopefully we can starting doing it more often in the league now.
In midfield I was delighted to see Conor McCormack but he was very poor and it was disappointing to see him so sloppy in possession as I have been campaigning for him to play in there in the league games, I still believe he is the man for that position but he would need to play a lot better than he did on Monday! Alongside him O’Donnell was very good, nothing spectacular but he controlled the whole game and everything went through him when we got possession. Sean Gannon played in an unfamiliar right wing position but did well and got the vital first goal with a fine finish just before half-time. Left winger Lorcan Shannon was the most impressive of the young lads and had a superb first half, he got in plenty of crosses, set=piece deliveries were good and he was a constant threat, in the second half he began to tire as the game went on, as he did in the last round against Bohs as well, so with that in mind he would surely need to improve his fitness levels to play for the first team on a regular basis.
Up front Aaron Greene was very disappointing again but then he had a 10 minute spell towards the end where he smashed the crossbar with a cracking right footed effort before he scored the third goal after a superb turn and left footed finish. I was expecting better from Aaron when he signed but he has failed to get going and looks set to just be a squad player. Alongside him young Dean Ebbe showed his potential with a really well taken goal, our 2nd on the day, he collected Conor McCormacks pass from just inside the box he curled home a fine left footed effort. His game isn’t about running and pressing the opposition and its something he will need to work on if he wants to step up a level but he does look to have a touch of class, if he wants to play centre forward at this level he will also need to learn how to hold the ball up better and he could learn a lot about movement by training alongside players like Gary Twigg.
None of the substitutes had long enough to impress but all in all it was a good win and we now face Shels in Tolka Park in the semi-final on May 28th. With UCD and Pats CY in the other semi-final it is a good chance for us to earn some silverware by winning the famous old cup.
Keep on Hooping!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Bring Back SRFC TV

There was outrage amongst Rovers fans last month when the online SRFC TV was ordered not to stream live games by the FAI. This volunteer, free of charge service was being provided by a group of dedicated Rovers fans who put their own matchday experience second to the job of providing coverage for the many Hoops around the world who couldn’t make it to Rovers games on Friday nights.

I do see the FAI’s point that showing the games live online could affect attendances and could affect MNS viewing figures but I think this isn’t the case and they have got this one grossly wrong. In my opinion they should be thinking how to embrace the excellent work of SRFC TV and how other clubs can do something similar to enhance the interest in the league both at home and abroad.
I think the FAI should be providing a small grant for all clubs to set-up an online TV channel. I think the clubs should be asked to add this service to their main club website. The grant could be used for clubs to buy the necessary camera equipment and put in the necessary ISDN line and everything else needed for live streaming.
With video analysis becoming a big part of coaching in recent years most managers will ask for their clubs to provide them with DVD’s of the game each week so they can analysis it and use it as a coaching tool when they do video analysis with their players in preparations for the following game. With this in mind most clubs have somebody videoing games each week anyway so if they could put this on a live stream on the club websites as part of the club TV channel then this could be streamed to anybody who wants to watch the games outside of Ireland. You can easily block people on this island from watching the stream but we should be trying to promote to league to people living abroad. You can easily do this the same as the RTE player and BBC iPlayer can stop people in certain regions watching certain TV shows, so the current technology for live streaming in certain regions is already in place all we need to do is use it.
One of our Trim Hoops members is currently in Cambodia doing volunteer work and relied on SRFC TV to watch games every week but now he can only see Rovers games if they are on RTE which is a big disappointment to him and countless others who used SRFC TV around the world.
Then after MNS the clubs should be encouraged to post up extended highlights on the new club TV channels like SRFC TV do at the minute, this could be an official part of the media strategy for the league and it would bring traffic to main club website as well. The online channels should also be used for regular player interviews and coaching staff interviews as well as giving a view of what goes on behind the scences at the LoI clubs on a daily basis. Clubs should also be encouraged to post highlights from there U-19s and Women’s Teams games.
With children increasingly using the internet more and more each day the best way we can get them to fall in love with their local club rather than foreign teams is to provide them with enjoyable and interactive ways to stay in touch with the latest news and updates from their club. Most clubs are embracing Twitter and Facebook well at the minute and club TV channels would be a big boost to this and with the little or no coverage the league gets on national TV the internet is the best tool we have to market our clubs and our league.
I would urge the FAI to re-visit this decision, relax the rules on it and use SRFC TV as a benchmark for other clubs and then work with clubs to develop their online TV channels.
Keep on Hooping!

Friday v Saturday

I think that Friday fixtures are detrimental to attendances with people coming from work, school, college etc its hard for families to get there and very hard for fans to get to long distance away games. Further to my previous blog on creating an 18 team Premier Division I would much prefer to see 8 of the 9 fixtures take place at a new 7pm kick-off time on Saturday evening, this would be late enough that anybody who plays Saturday football, works on a Saturday or even wants to watch football on TV earlier in the day can do so and still manage to get to their local LoI ground in time for kick-off. It would be much easier to get to away games and would be much better for groups travelling together to meet up and enjoy pre-match drinks etc. People would still be home in time to go out on a Saturday night if they wish and kids wouldn’t be out too late either!
The perfect build up to this would be the other remaining game to take place at 8pm live on TV on a Friday night. A decent TV deal that demands one game every Friday with decent pre-match and post match coverage would be prefect viewing for all LoI fans and a chance to convert others who then might be convinced to go to any of the other 8 games on the following night. At present the random nature of the TV coverage means its not ingrained into the mind of the public that Friday night is “live game night” and Saturday night is “go to a match night”. This would surely boost attendances I can guarantee you that.
Monday night MNS could still remain as the perfect way to end the weekend with all the highlights from the weekends action but this programme needs to be improved also with more match highlights and less talking!
There is a reason that no other top flight division in Europe plays on a Friday night because it is a terrible night for fixtures and attendances but could as I said be a good night for a single game live on TV.
Furthermore no other league in Europe plays games at the same time as a live game is on TV, this is just bizarre. Take England for example, no live football is allowed at 3pm on a Saturday because if a live game was on then a lot of fans wouldn’t be bothered going to games in League 1, League 2 or the conference etc. Fans are encouraged to go to games at their local club and then watch the big game of the weekend live on tv on a Sunday or even before or after the teams games on a Saturday. So by us having for example Rovers v Sligo live on TV at the same time as other league games you are basically hitting the same target markets twice and that’s why TV viewing numbers are so low and that has knock-on effect when looking for TV money because TV companies say: “well look when we put on a game not enough people watch it so we aren’t bothered putting on anymore matches”. Its a very simple concept and I can’t understand why the FAI, League of Ireland department and the League of Ireland clubs can’t see this.
I would love all clubs to read this and take it on board then try this for one season. If I’m wrong fine but I think you will find that attendances will go up, TV viewing figures will go up and the league will be a better place for this.
Keep on Hooping!

Too Many Competitions?

With all the games already played this season is there too many competitions in the current League of Ireland structure? I believe there is and here is the new format that I would love to see the FAI adopt to benefit the future of the League.
League: Ideally I would love to see an 18 team All-Ireland Premier Division with the top 9 League of Ireland and top 9 Irish League teams in one league and then two regional divisions playing below that. Now this unfortunately will not happen as both associations would need to merge and the clubs have very little foresight into what’s best for the football in this country. I think this type of league would gain a real interest in the public domain and we could even get a decent TV deal and more lucrative sponsorship deals if we created this.
As I don’t believe this will happen anytime soon here is what I would like to see happen right now: one 18 team Premier Division, this debate has rumbled on for years but I believe the 10 or 12 team format is outdated and too small. There is not one decent league in Europe with 16 teams or less so why do we think we can make a decent one here? We need a bigger league to stop the monotony of teams playing each other so many times each season. I know people believe we don’t have 18 teams strong enough to compete but it is my opinion that we would have if we organised it right. 34 League games would be a perfect amount as well. Allied to the 12 current Premier Division teams we could add Limerick, Finn Harps, Waterford, Longford, Athlone and a single team from Galway instead of the farce of a set-up in that county at present. Wexford Youths would then miss out but I believe they should join clubs who want reserve teams and then teams like FC Carlow, Tralee Dynamos etc in a newly created division 1 which could be split into two 10 team regional sections with the winners of each section playing off to see who gets promoted to the Premier Division.
The reserve teams would not be allowed to gain promotion even if they won the league but the bigger clubs like us would just be happy to a have a format for reserve team football to keep all players in the squad fresh and keep the best U19s on board after they finish at that level as they might not be ready to go straight to the first team and without a reserve league will end up signing elsewhere or worse still dropping back to Junior or Intermediate football.
FAI Cup: The only competition that I would leave in its current structure, it is a great competition and the magic of the cup gives non-league teams a chance to qualify through the FAI Junior and FAI Intermediate Cups to pit their wits against the league teams. The final being in the Aviva as the last match of the year is also the best way to end the season. The last 2 years have been great for this competition and I hope it continues to grow in stature like it has done recently.
Setanta Cup and League Cup: I would merge the idea of both these competitions and make it one competition. Currently the league cup is pointless, it adds nothing to the season and the prize money is not worthwhile for all the games you must play. The Setanta Cup has brought back the All-Ireland competition which I personally love but people keep saying it hasn’t capture the imagination, I don’t believe that’s right I just think that because season tickets don’t over the games and with 5 other competitions to play in for Rovers the fans prioritise and they just can’t afford to keep shelling out for Setanta Cup games. I would put all the League of Ireland and Irish League teams in an open draw competition, straight knock-out, single leg games and it would run during the current timeframe of the Setanta Cup with a May final. I think amalgamating these two competitions would decrease the needless games clubs currently play, increase attendances, increase interest and sponsorship and increase the prestige for the All-Ireland champions! I think the final carrot for the clubs would be that if both associations asked UEFA if the winner could take a place in the Europa League. Teams would then make a real effort to win the competition it I think it would be a fantastic success.
Leinster Senior Cup: Another competition which people believe is a waste of time and it really does get in the way of preparation for more important games during the season. The competition is historically very important and has a great tradition so my compromise would be to use it as a pre-season tournament played over a week in February with Round of 16 games on a Saturday, Quarter Final games on a Tuesday, Semi-Final on a Thursday and a Final on the following Saturday. It would mean the manager could give games to all the squad whilst getting valuable competitive pre-season games. The competition would be over in advance of the league and I think managers of all the Leinster based teams in the League would be in favour of moving it to this format.
Europe: With the change from 5 in-season competitions to my new idea of 1 pre-season and 3 in-season competitions our clubs would then have a great chance of concentrating on the big European games without fear of a massive fixture back log. The financial implications of a run lack Rovers got last year could be crucial to clubs so the FAI and League of Ireland department should be trying to aide this in any way possible and I feel my new proposed format would do just that.
Hopefully you agree and if so then inform your club and bring this new format to the League of Ireland AGM for clubs to vote on and start the Trim Hoops revolution for a new brighter future for League of Ireland football!!!
Keep on Hooping!

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Problems

With most in the stand blaming the manager I think that people need to open there eyes a little more and see that we have more problems that just the gaffer. The way I see it we have 3 problems right now: The Board, The Management Team and The Players. Here is why:
The Board – Now nobody can deny the unbelievable work they have done in getting us to this point and the tireless work they have done is above and beyond the duty of any fan but is it a case of them now getting too big for their boots and/or the job being too big for them? I know many fans are behind them in the stance over O’Neill’s wage demands but I felt then and I still feel now that we were very na├»ve in our dealings. The boards approach of take what you’re offered and we won’t break our budget for anybody was foolish. Yes he was looking for too much but that’s what negotiations are for and I’m sure we could have met him somewhere in the middle. After all continuity is so important and we had the chance to offer him another 3 year deal to ensure we had that stability. O’Neill also had great plans for the schoolboy structure and other facets of the club, this extra work would have earned him a wage increase and in turn brought in bigger profits in the long run. This was all overlooked and I feel the different priorities between the two parties were the big problem, I for one was and still am a big O’Neill fan and was very sad to see him go.
The fact the board then wanted rid of all MONs backroom staff and allowed Kenny to just give jobs to all his mates is a disgrace. We had the best backroom staff in the country and one which the players respected but by allowing our Goalkeeping Coach, Physio and Sports Scientist to all join our former assistant manager on the Pats backroom staff we started the process of losing the dressing room. I’ve already mentioned continuity and stability and we just decided we can start from scratch completely and expect it to work. Now that can happen at a team who hasn’t won anything and needs a fresh start but a team who are on the up and on the crest of a wave after the success of the past 3 seasons needed continuity, if it’s not broke don’t fix it. The board should not have allowed this to happen and it should have been part of the negotiations with any potential new manager.
I also feel that the board have let us down by not looking for new blood in the club staff. It is my opinion that all season ticket holders and members should be surveyed each year through a simple online set-up and we should be getting ideas from our broad range of fans who have very different professional backgrounds and many will not have the time to go on the board or will not be allowed due to other business interests or career conflicts but can give ideas and help progress. Not once have we been asked what we would like to see happen and the AGM is not the time and place to do this, the AGM should just be where votes on these new ideas should happen but they should be planned out long in advance. I also feel that being asked to just re-elect board members who have sent us no material on their plans for the future and no mandate is just ridiculous. In essence we are just being told “vote for me because I have worked to get us here”. With no alternatives they will be re-elected and maybe they are the right people for the job but we should at least have been given an idea of why we should vote for them and what their plans are. The lack of communication is disgraceful and unacceptable, why was the AGM two months late as well? I still don’t know because nobody gives us any information.
The above needs to be rectified ASAP and this year I will expect a better and more professional performance from our board. They need to find out the skill set of others around the club and open up their little clique to more people, many of whom who have a lot to offer but are not being utilized.  I know the response will always be that these "people should put themselves forward if they want to be involved" but similarly to a manager needing to improve his squad, he doesn’t wait for players to come to him, he goes out does he research and recruits them to improve his team. The same approach should be taken at board level.

The Management Team – As I said above the decision to allow our backroom staff from last year to leave is a disgrace. We had the best goalkeeping coach in the league and allowed him to leave to our rivals when he wanted to stay just because Kenny wanted to give a job to his mate, who in my opinion not good enough to be at this club. Don’t take my word for it, just speak to goalkeepers around the league and you will see I am right.
We had a fantastic young and enthusiastic physio who was excellent at his job and the players trusted and we let him go to our rivals as well only to replace him with another of Kenny’s mates who will also be disappearing with Ireland when the Euros come about as he is one of their 3 physio’s and we will need another physio to take his place.
MON brought in a sports scientist last year which was a great addition and again Kenny deemed his services unnecessary and let him go to our rivals also as he opted for 2 assitant coaches instead of the one assistant that MON had. Now in this day in age where managers are head coaches and should be coaching on the field there should be no need for two assistant coaches and it’s a sign of real weakness that Kenny needed to get rid of all the links to the old regime and surround himself with mates.
Every manager will have an assistant that they trust and will bring them with them and I have no problem with this but when we had such a good backroom team that everything should have been done to keep them in place to make the transition between managers a lot smoother than it has been.
The fact that Pats have hovered them all up shows how highly in demand and how highly taught of they are and I’d say Liam Buckley couldn’t believe his luck when they became available.  All this hasn’t helped Kenny settle in and hasn’t helped his reputation in the dressing room. He caused himself undue problems that will be hard to recover from.

The Players – On the pitch we aren’t covering ourselves in glory either and although the players are undoubtedly unhappy with how things have been going so far they also need to stand up and take responsibility. On many occasions this season we have been in winning positions and with professional and experienced players in our squad we should have been able to see out games but we seem to feel sorry for ourselves and end up dropping points and losing games that last year we would have not.
In goal I have no doubt that we should have kept Ryan Thompson and although he was eccentric and little wild he made some of the most unbelievable saves I have ever seen a Rovers keeper make. People used to give out about him but I can guarantee you that had he been in goal this year we would have not conceded half of the goals we have. Doesn’t mean he would have saved all the shots that ended up in the back of the end but good keepers make less saves because they organize and command their back four which Ryan did really well and the inexperienced Oscar Jansson is struggling and although I was initially impressed with him in pre-season he has really struggled since the real stuff began. Bring back Ryan!
At the back we lost the best two full backs in the league and unfortunately failed to replace them with Powell struggling and Gilbert not getting enough games yet to judge him but his replacements during his injury haven’t stepped up to the mark and now the best two full backs in the league are Keane and Davorean at Sligo and we need to sort this area of the pitch out soon as we are ineffective going forward and dismal defending.
Centre back partnership of Sives and Gartland is our best in my opinion and Omans injury has allowed this to happen in the last two games, I hope they get a run of games together because they will be our best partnership in the long term.
Up front we have finally found our partnership as well. We definitely need a front two if Twiggy plays because he needs a partner and Kavanagh is the man for that job. Since Bray he has been excellent and they complement each other very well. Twigg will do his thing and continue to score goals when we create the chances for him and although he is already in double figures he would have more if we moved the ball quicker in midfield because his movement is excellent and it’s just a pity we haven’t the ability to create more chances for him.
Now for the real problems – midfield – right across the midfield we have been a disgrace. A pet hate of mine last year was how deep our central midfield players were going to receive the ball and this year that has got worse. Rice, Turner, Finn all dropping in on top of our back four and inviting teams to press us high is creating massive problems. Only Dundalk so far this season have sat off and we punished them, everybody else particularly Pats, Bray and Drogheda have pressed us and forced us into mistakes but all them sides have played with one central striker and we need to use our centre half as the extra man to carry the ball into midfield. Midfielders need to push up and find space, we need to receive the ball higher up the pitch and learn to play forward rather than sideways and back. It baffles me that the manager can’t see this! When we do break into the opposition half we really need to play to the front mans feet and look for combinations. At the minute we constantly get 30 yards from goal and instead of having the ability to slip players in to create chances or even shoot from distance we constantly play the ball wide and then look to get crosses in and we are so predictable its east for teams to defend. Teams just play narrow and let us play wide then when we do they press and double up on our wingers who are the most predictable wingers in the league, first touch down the line, head for the end line and try cross, only McCabe ever attempts anything different and this is another area we definitely need to strengthen. In the middle I think in McCormack, Turner, O’Donnell and Finn we have quality but the problem is the set-up, the coaching they receive and game plan we have.
The good news is it’s easily fixed the bad news is I don’t see this management team fixing it! In the meantime our players need to show some pride and stop sulking, stop locking managers out of the dressing room at half-time and start taking the game by the scruff of the neck. They won’t ever play for a better club in this country so if they want to stay and be apart of something special like a possible 3, 4 or even 5 in a row title winning team then they need to stand up and be counted. Its time to earn their wages and get on with the job at hand and not look to blame the manager for everything.
Keep on Hooping!

Same Old Story

Another abysmal night tonight after we threw away a 2 goal to slump to our 3rd successive league draw and now we find ourselves 5 points off the top with a trip away to Sligo to come. From the start it was a bizarre team selection, it was my opinion that this was the perfect type of game to throw McCormack back into midfield and bring Gilbert back in at right back. Despite that we dominated earlier possession and scored from a predictable Billy Dennehy free-kick, low and hard to the keepers side and although I was delighted to see it fly in, I am amazed how goalkeepers in this league can’t see that it’s the only free-kick he has in his locker and it should have been saved.
The second goal was a screamer from Daryl Kavanagh, who was our best player on the night, he picked the ball up from the throw in on the left, turned and ran at the UCD defence before curling home a superb effort from 25 yards that gave McGinley no chance in the UCD goal. Everybody happy at half-time as we looked like we were cruising to three points and it was surely just a matter of how many we would score.
Unfortunately it didn’t work out like that and we started the second half very sloppy in possession and playing far too deep. On the hour mark we were punished as poor defending from McCormack to concede a penalty gave UCD a route back into the game which they duky took.
So 2-1 up 30 minutes to play, at home against a bottom half of the table team, what do you do? Well Stephen Kenny take off our best player on the night in Kavanagh and to a large chorus of boos he replaces him Brennan to give us an extra man in midfield and leave Twigg up front on his own, a position which we all agree by now he cannot play.
The problem in midfield was the fact we were too deep and allowing the UCD midfield to drop in and pick up possession of their back four. We need to push Turner on to the midfield player receiving the ball and by putting an extra man in there we just let Turner and Rice sit deeper rather than just matching UCD in midfield and ensuring they couldn’t pick up possession so easily of their back four. So with the extra man basically ineffective we gave more an more possession to UCD as with one up front their was no room for their full backs to push our wingers back and for their spare centre half to come into midfield and build attacks.
The second goal was inevitable and when you see it again you will see one centre midfielder receive the ball in his own half runn unchallenged into our half and slip a through to his midfield partner who calmly finished to level the game up at 2-2 in stoppage time.
It highlighted the crux of our whole problem this year which has been in central midfield where we have failed to dominate a single game. Week after week I stand look at so many similar poor tactical and positional play in midfield and week after week our coaching staff fail to see it and allow it continue. Sometimes I wonder what they are looking.  
Plenty of more poor performances all round and the lack of desire and work rate shown tonight was very disappointing. Its time the players took so of the blame and they need to stand up and be counted now over the next few weeks. Whether they agree with the managers decisions or not they need to be professional and get the job done, tonight’s 3 points should have been a formality with the talent at our disposal.
All that said booing the team is not the solution, if you have a bad day at work and you get slated for it you’re hardly going to improve the next day. Fans need to stand up and be counted and show why we are Irelands best fans by supporting the team in full voice on Monday and next Saturday in Sligo, we can and will turn this around.
Keep on Hooping!

Monday, 30 April 2012

Familiarity Breaths Contempt

Playing Derry for the third time in 11 days hardly got the pulse racing but we went into the game with optimism after Mondays performance. We were disappointed to see a change back to 4-4-2 but it was understandable that we wouldn’t throw caution to the wind straight away. We missed some great early chances and when Gary McCabe cut inside two defenders to win a penalty it looked like we eventually had the breakthrough but another change in penalty taker ensued and Dennehys spot kick was saved by Doherty, leaving fans to ask why Twiggy didn’t step-up and take it.
0-0 at half-time and the overriding feeling was that we should have been 3 up at least and hopefully we wouldn’t be punished for missed chances. A minute into the second half our fears were temporarily alleviated when Twiggy hooked home to put us one up. We continued to dominate and when McEleney received a second yellow for diving it seemed like we would go on and press home our advantage. O’Neill came on for Kavanagh and we never really looked like scoring after that.
Gartlands silly foul gave Derry a rare chance to push men forward and when Sives failed to deal with the first ball we allowed Derry to grab an equalizer as we conceded from yet another set-piece. Greene had a great chance late on to grab a winner but typical of his poor recent form he slide the effort wide and the game finished 1-1.
Again fans were disgruntled and despondent at the final whistle with the only positive thing being the 1-1 draw between Sligo and Pats at the Showgrounds. So after only 1 win in our last 4 league games we somehow only find ourselves 3 points of the top of the table and wins against UCD and away to Sligo in our next two games mean we can still end the first round of games on top of table, always look on the bright side of life!
Keep on Hooping!

The Impossible Comeback

3-0 down seemingly already out many fans had given up on the Setanta Sports Cup after the first leg performance. Only 50 or so Hoops travelled up to the Brandywell for this one and we had a small bit of optimism on the drive believing that we were going to witness one of our greatest comebacks of all time.
After only 5 minutes the comeback was nearly underway but Twigg missed a great chance when one on one with Doherty and an early goal really would have made things interesting. We started the game playing 3-5-2 and it was a change welcomed by the fans as we went for the game right from the off. Unfortunately we lost Oman before the break with an injury and lost an attacking threat from set pieces as a result. Despite our dominance first half we went in 0-0 at the break and we felt the Setanta Cup slipping away from us.
An early second half goal from Twiggy gave us a glimmer of hope and we pushed on in search of a second to set-up an exciting finale, we eventually got it when Twigg scrambled home his second of the game with seven minutes remaining but we never really created another chance after that and despite the spirited performance we ran out 3-2 losers over the two legs and Derry will o play Crusaders in the final in the Oval on May 12th.
Despite the loss of the tie we went home happy in the knowledge that we gave it a go and we were all impressed with the 3-5-2 system which Derry failed to deal with. The 3 centre backs of Gartland, Sives and Hawkins played well and we all felt that a similar set-up on Friday in the league against Derry would be our best option.
Keep on Hooping!

Oh I Do Hate To Be Beside The Seaside

Bray is right up there with the venues in the League of Ireland that I hate most! Crap area to stand, no decent flag space, no roof when it rains and coupled with all that we seem to have played shite there for the last few years!
We started off well dominating possession but when we got in decent positions to cross or shoot with failed to deliver. We almost got caught on the counter twice before Bray eventually scored and Kieran Marty Watters eventually punished us by firing across Jansson and putting Bray 1 up. Surely that would kick start us into action you think, well no it didn’t we got worse and found ourselves two down when Sives got too tight to Watters who spun and showed his right peg was as good as his left with a fine finish that gave Jansson no chance.
Just before the break we were given a lifeline after Twigg won a penalty which seemed a very harsh award but we weren’t complaining as it offered us a route back into a game we had never looked like getting back into. Unfortunately Twigg missed it and Dennehy slotted home the rebound but was correctly pulled up for encroachment and Bray got a free-kick as we trundled off 2-0 down at half-time the fans were not happy and demanded better.
To our credit second half we battled hard but still failed to really put Bray under pressure despite our dominance. The game was calling out for a change of system, with Bray only playing 1 up front, the largely immobile and ineffective Jason Byrne, I felt we could have switched to 3 at the back and pushed another man up front, 3-4-3 would have been my choice but Kenny kept faith with 4-4-2 and we got one back when Ronan Finn made a superb run to get on the end of Daryl Kavanaghs flick on from Conor McCormacks long ball. Finn took a great first touch and coolly slotted home to give us some hope.
It was Kavanagh who was making the difference and he was running at defenders and causing the Bray back four problems, something we hadn’t done all game. After a ridiculous change at left back Greene for Powell I felt we wouldn’t get the second by playing the same way but Kavanagh managed to wriggle his way through 5 players and slide a through ball to Twigg who took it in his stride and struck it past Quigley to rescue a point.
With 7 minutes left there was still time for a winner and Turner hit the post with a header but we couldn’t find a breakthrough and in truth we didn’t deserve to win. Fans becoming disgruntled with our performances but we still remain only 3 points off the top of the table.
Keep on Hooping!

Setanta Semi-Final

I was really looking forward to the Setanta Cup semi-final against Derry but was shocked and really disappointed to see the abysmal attendance in Tallaght for the first league. Reigning All-Ireland champions and an important competition in terms of budgets I was hoping for a bumper crowd and a good performance……I got neither!
We started off brightly until a blatant dive resulted in a peanltu for Derry and a straight red card for Reyaad Pieterse in only his second game for us. I felt sorry for the young South Africian especially after I saw the replay and saw no contact and then to hear that referee Alan Kelly said “it doesn’t matter you don’t have to” in response to Reyaads when he said “I never touched him”, this was really sickening and when Derry scored the penalty to go one up I feared the worst.
In fact we dominated possession for the rest of the half even with 10 men and it was very frustrating that we never troubled Doherty considering the strong wind we had in our favour. I pet hate of mine recently has been our inability to shoot when we get into range with no pressure on the ball, Finn in particular was guilty of this first half.
At half-time the general feeling was that we just needed to stay in the tie and go up o Derry for the return leg with 11 men and take the game to them. Unfortunately the 2nd half was a disaster and Patrick McEleney showed our midfielders and strikers how to do it by using the strong wind and unleashing a thunderbolt from 25 years which flew past Jansson.
As we searched for a goal back we conceded a third after Ryan McBride headed home from a corner we failed to clear properly and Rovers fans left frustrated and angry at the referee, the managers team selection and the inept performances of a number of our players.  Only a miracle next week will see us reach the final on May 12th
Keep on Hooping!

Dundalk Hit For Six

It was the type of performance we had been hoping for since the start of the season, clinical, ruthless and professional, the perfect response to the shocking performance against Pats last week! The first half an hour was cagey and Dundalk defended well but as soon as Chris Turner headed home there was no doubting the result.
Twigg added a second before the break and the floodgates open 2nd half when Dennehy hammered home the free kick only a minute in. 3-0 up and cruising the fans demanded more goals and wanted the team to push on and show our dominance. To our delighted we did exactly that and after a period of possession with no end product the final 10 minutes brought 3 more goals.
Twiggy bagged a brace to complete his hat-trick and despite all Twiggys goals he had amazingly only scored one previous hat-trick for Rovers (away to Galway in 2009) so this was his first hat-trick in Tallaght. I suppose it was probably down to the amount of times Mick O’Neill used to take him off to rest him when we were winning games well but it was great to see him being left on to bag the hat-trick. Strikers thrive on goals and as long as he feels fresh leave him on and let him keep racking up the goals. He could conceivable reach 100 Rovers goals by the end of the season or next season at the latest which will etch the great man even further into Rovers folklore.
With the game already won Daryl Kavanagh rounded of the scoring with a deft header, his first league goal for the club and he enjoyed it. Hopefully the start of a good run for Daryl because we haven’t seen much out of him yet.
In truth Dundalk were awful and with a very young and inexperienced team they will really struggle this season and seem destined to be involved in a relegation battle. I hope they stay up because with a strong fan base they certainly add to the league and they are making great strides at Youth level with their U-18’s and U-19’s having great season. Clubs who put resources into their Youth set-up deserve to reap rewards but for now it looks like a lean period ahead for Sean McCaffreys men.
Keep on Hooping!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

More Penalties!

Going down to Galway on Monday we all expected a big response after Fridays debacle and with the majority of Fridays team rested it was a chance for fringe players to force themselves into the managers thoughts with a good performance again Division 1’s bottom team SD Galway.
The game started in terrible conditions and it was a strange day of weather on the West coast. 150 or so Hoops made the journey and for those who couldn’t make it they didn’t miss much!! We needed two penalties to score against a team of journeymen and kids, most of whom wouldn’t even get in a Leinster Senior League team never mind a League of Ireland team.
The first penalty was early on when McCabe was fouled and he duly converted from the spot. We played poorly and created little and our bvest chance to extended the lead fell to Gary O’Neill shot straight at the keeper from 6 yards after the keeper had spilled a Killian Brennan free kick. The 2nd penalty was also converted by McCabe after a foul on Kavanagh and it was 2-0 Hoops at the break.
The goals galore we expected in the 2nd half never came and apart from one great passage of play which saw Powell hit the post after a quick counter attack we were poor again. Kavanagh missed a sitter late on when he fired over after finding himself one on one with the SD Galway keeper.
The change back to 4-4-2 didn’t seem to work and Rice and Brennan in centre midfield is a partnership I hope I never see again! In Kavanagh and O’Neill I have never seen two front men who look less likely to score, neither can run in behind and neither ever seem to want to shoot when they get into good areas. Greene and McCabe should have been far more capable of beating full backs in a game of this nature and they were both disappointing. Debutant keeper Reyaad Pieterse had little to do for his clean sheet but had one hairy moment when his attempted clearance was blocked and almost resulted in a goal, the young South African will hardly have an easier day in his career. The only positives on the day were the performances of Gartland and Powell and the return from injury of Conor McCormack. Powell surely needs to start this weekend and Gartland was a rock at the back although he was playing against the most toothless front line in the League of Ireland.
Another win but another frustrating day, surely there is better to come, please god tell me there is!!
Keep on Hooping!

Good Friday was a Bad Friday

For the third Friday in a row we had a Dublin derby to look forward to, this time away to St. Pats. We sold out our allocation of 1,000 tickets prior to last Friday and it was disappointing that Pats didn’t realise an extra allocation to our fans despite a large amount of empty seats in the round in the home sections. It seems silly that in this day and age clubs are turning down much need revenue, anyway back to on field matters and despite the return of Powell and McCabe from suspension it was somewhat of a surprise that Stephen Kenny decided to remain with the same team that defeated Bohs the previous week.
Pats were obviously a far stronger and much more attacking team so the decision to start Killian Brennan was one that surprised us prior to the game when we seen the starting line up. Sadly we were proved right and from the outset Pats bombarded Brennan and were rewarded when Forrester opened the scoring cutting in from the Pats right, past Brennan and fired a left foot shot past Jansson.
The 2nd goal again came from Forrester cutting in from that side and when his effort on goal was deflected it fell straight into the path of Russell who tapped home. Now by this stage everybody in the Rovers section could see we needed to change but Kenny kept it as we were and we got punished again with Brennan caught in the Pats half we lost possession and quick ball to Forrester was picked up by Fagan who back heeled to Forrester to audaciously lob the ball over Jansson and Pats fans were in dreamland, 3 up and cruising.
We managed to pull one back just before the break with Ken Oman powerfully heading home to make it 3-1 and give us a glimmer of hope. We expected changes at half-time and we really could have made all 3 but only Aaron Greene was replaced by McCabe. Nothing changed in terms of the flow of the game and late on with the game already getting away from us Christy Fagan scored twice to make it 5-1 and round of an embarrassing night for us all in attendance.
It was a shocking performance all round and Jansson had a nighmare between the sticks, the two full backs were poor and left exposed all to often. The two centre halves were seemingly doing the same job and were far too narrow providing very little cover for either full back and allowing our midfield to drop far too deep on top of them. Rice and Turner barely crossed the half way line and although Ricer was our best player in terms of effort and never say die attitude he was headless at times running out of position and trying to do jobs that others should have been doing. Finn was the least effect playmaker I have ever seen and provided absolutely no support to Twigg. Twigg himself was poor but very isolated and left to compete for 50/50 long balls and the few he won were easily picked up by Pats as we had nobody in support. Our wingers were terrible and looked they were neither playing as front men or wide midfielders.
It was an exhibition in how not to play 4-3-3 and looked like a poor 4-5-1 and we got what we deserved. A massive improvement will be needed next week and it was the opinion of most of the Rovers support that the result had been coming and we haven’t played well all year. Early days yet of course but Stephen Kenny is not endearing himself to the fans with our poor brand of football.
Keep on Hooping!

You’ll Never Win in Tallaght

With Tallaght becoming something of a fortress against our Dublin rivals Bohs ever since Gary Twiggs to late goals to secure victory in the first derby in 2009 there was plenty of optimism for this game especially considering the poor form Bohs had been in, failing to score in 4 outings so far this season.
We once again played a 4-3-3 formation should really have dominated possession particularly in the midfield area but Bohs playing a 4-5-1 frustrated and thwarted our attacks and would definitely have been the happier of the sides at the break with the score at 0-0.
Rovers fans expected better second half but it was more of the same and Stephen Kenny rung the changes after the hour mark with Gary O’Neill and Daryl Kavanagh entering the fray. It had the desired affect and with just over 12 minutes remaining, Ronan Finn managed to find some space and deliver a pin point cross to Twigg who expertly controlled and calmly slotted away in a crowded penalty area. He had been largely ineffective throughout the game but showed his true class at that moment to send the 5,000 plus crowd wild.
Bohs pushed on in search of an equaliser and could have had one in stoppage time after a dreadful error from Jansson lead to a chance which Bohs squandered much to our relief. Then with virtually the last kick of the game Billy Dennehy sealed the victory finishing off a quick counter attack which saw On’Neill find Kavanagh in the area and despite his poor first touch he found Dennehy who celebrated the goal with the home fans and of course our beloved Hooperman!
Chorus’ of “You’ll Never Win in Tallaght” rang out around the ground and thankfully we have yet to experience a Rovers loss against the old foe!
Keep on Hooping!

Shels Hit For Four

With our ineffective and unspiring performances to date, Stephen Kenny changed to a 4-3-3 formation for the game against Shels and it wasn’t long before it had the desired affect.Aaron Greene finding Dennehy who went to round Delaney in the Shels goal and the keepers foul resulted in a straight red and a penalty which Twigg converted to leave us 1 up and playing against 10 men after only 4 minutes.
A comical own goal led to our second as Stephen Hurleys back pass found the back of the net when substitute keeper Paul Skinner has drifted from his goal to try give an angle to receive the pass. Shels knew it wasn’t going to be there night and it went from bad to worse just before the break when Ronan Finns powerful drive went straight through Skinner and put us 3 up.
The biggest crowd of the season in the league with over 5,000 in attendance were left waiting until 15 minutes from time to see a fourth goal and it was another defensive mix-up that allowed Aaron Greene to steal in and tap home.
The game ended on a sour note when Gar McCabe was harshly adjudged to have dived and earned his 2nd yellow card and he was sent off after only being on the pitch for a little over 20 minutes. All in all it was a good result for us and an unhappy first competitive game in Tallaght for Shels!
Keep on Hooping!

Belfast Beckons

The 2nd leg of the Setanta Sports Cup Quarter Final against Cliftoville should have been a formality had we taken the chances we created in the first leg but instead we went to Solitude with a 2 goal lead and Cliftonville still in the tie. Scoring first we would have been a big part of Stephen Kennys team talk but instead we wnet into half time 1-0 down, playing poorly and again squandering the chances we created.
In the 2nd half we did create more and more chance but a combination of the woodwork, good goalkeeping and poor finishing meant we couldn’t finish of the tie and we got duly punished when Cliftonville forced extra time with a late goal to leave the scores 2-2 on aggregate.
After extra time and no further goals it was the 2nd consecutive Cup night penalty shoot out for us and thankfully it turned out to be the 2nd consecutive penalty shoot out success with Oscar Jansson again proving his worth with 2 saves and added to Cliftonville also hitting the post we won 3-1 on penalties. Dennehy, Turner and Gartland all successful from the spot  and it seems like the penalty hodoo has been lifted!
Again it was a matter of limping over the line rather than sprinting over it and we will need to do an awful lot better in the Semi-Final against Derry City, who overcame Irish League champions Linfield in their quarter final, if we have aspirations of retaining our All-Ireland title from last season.
Keep on Hooping!

Return of the Rebels

It’s great to have Cork City back in the Premier Division, or at least it was prior to the game but we our poor record in Turners Cross in recent years and our patchy form so far this campaign we should have expected what we got. A first half that lack quality and goalmouth action was disappointing for our large contingent of supporters who made the trek despite the early kick-off and the fact that the game was on tv.
In the 2nd half Cork were on top but never looked like scoring until Gavin Kavanagh picked up possession after a poor pass from Ricer and Twigg failed to get first to it. Kavanagh hit a speculative effort from distance more out of hope than expectation and Jansson who was the hero on Monday night turned into the villain as he let it hop straight over him into the net to send the Shed End wild behind his goal.
Conor Powell was then harshly dismissed after a terrible pass from Billy sold him short and he received a straight red for diving in and catching the Cork player. We looked doomed but to our credited we pushed in search of an equaliser and went to 3 at the back with Greene working tirelessly to fill the gap left by Powell at left full.
With poor deliveries from set pieces and wide areas ll match we had one last corner in stoppage time, again it was disappointing and didn’t beat the front man. It fell back out to Dennehy who over hit the 2nd cross but Oman managed to get a head on it and find Twigg who nodded home from inside the 6 yard box to rescue an unlikey point and maintain our unbeaten start to the campaign. Much to ponder for our fans on the long journey home
Keep on Hooping!

Who Are Ya?

It was a case of who are you when I saw the Bohs team trot out onto the Tallaght pitch for the Leinster Senior Cup tie, a mixture of fringe players and U-19s made up both sides but the obvious different in strength and depth was there for all to see with players such as Gartland, Turner, McCabe and Greene all on display for us and no real players of note for Bohs. Early injurys to Turner and McCabe halted their chances to impress the manager and it was a poor game that never really got the smaller than normal crowd excited.
We did take the lead through a Sean Dixon goal early in the 2nd half and the youngster can be proud of his finish but Bohs equalised 15 minutes later and we no further goals the groans were to be heard amongst the crowd when we realised we had to sit through 30 minutes of extra time!
Tired legs on both sides led to mistake creeping into the game and we were lucky on two occasions not concede and when substitute Niall Forrester was deservedly sent off for two silly challenges in the space of 5 minutes it seemed that hanging on for penalties was our best option but then again with our penalty record who knows!
Penalties it was and thankfully not at the car park end! O’Donnell, Greene and Gartland all showed composure to score our first 3 and Jansson saved Bohs third to put us in the driving seat, Sean Gannon saw his effort saved and then Jack Memery and Dean Ebbe converted before Jansson saved again to make himself the hero on the night! A less than inspiring victory in a less than inspiring competition but always nice to beat Bohs anyway!
Keep on Hooping!

Roddy Returns

I have never been a fan of Roddy Collins from his time at Bohs and his ill fated spell in charge of us but I must compliment how his Monaghan team attempted to play when they came to Tallaght. They started off brightly in our faces and scored from a set-piece, a worrying trend in our early season games. To rub salt into the wounds it was former player Willo McDonagh who scored.
At that point I felt they would sit back and put everybody behind the bal and try to frustrate and contain us and they even picked up a first half yellow card for time wasting although Reynor was unlucky to receive the caution that would later come back to haunt him. To their credit they continued to play ball and attacked at every opportunity despite their limited quality. They left their front 3 up at all times even on our set pieces and we were struggling to get into a rhythm. 
1-0 down at HT the East Stand was not impressed and luckily we equalised early in the 2nd half after a another poor Dennehy corner managed to find its way to Brennan who flicked home but in truth it should have been cleared. The players were buoyed by that and we took the lead 7 minutes later with asublime finish by Billy Dennehy but in truth he should never have got the opportunity to make room from the strike. Ricers poor pass was controlled at chest height by Billy and with no pressure from Monaghan he allowed it to hop 3 times vbefore setting himself to finish. Roddy would have been disappointed with his teams defending.
Reynor was then sent off after a late tackle on Ricer and this was a great sense of amusement to the crowd after he had taunted the East Stand in the first half when the score was 1-0, Karma is a bitch!! Aaron Greene wrapped up the scoring with an injury time goal after a nice move and we got the 3 points after another lacklustre display.
Keep on Hooping!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Setanta Cup Quarter Final

Monday nights game against Cliftonville was similar to the Drogheda game as Cliftonville came and played 4-5-1 as they attempted to curtail our attacking threat. It was a much changed Rovers team with 7 changes to Friday nights line up and it really showed our strength in depth.

Billy Dennehy, who scored the final goal in last years competition, got the ball rolling after he converted Gary McCabes superb low cross at the back post. In truth the Cliftonville defender should have cleared it out for a corner but he was unaware that Dennehy was behind him and Billy finished well. Chris Turner and Aaron Greene missed great chances to extend the lead before Colin Hawkins eventually gave us a two goal cushion when he headed home from a Gary McCabe corner.

At 2-0 you would have taught that we would go on and win comfortably but we tired at the back and as Cliftonville pushed 2 up front in search of the away goal they had 3 great chances to score and we were slightly fortunate to keep a clean sheet. The main thing is that we did keep a clean sheet and we are now in the driving seat to progress to the semi-final. Decent performances on the night from Hawkins, Turner and Greene.

There was a reasonable crowd of over around 1,500 and a decent travelling support but the fans still haven't taken to this competition and if all four Airtricty League teams prevail over the Irish League teams in the quarter finals then it is hard to see a future for the competition as the gap between the standard in North and South gets greater every year.

The League Begins

We always enjoy the short trip to Drogheda and although it was disappointing not to start the league campaign with a home game, it was a good night in Drogheda. We arrived up there at 5:30pm, got our tickets and then it was time for a few pints in the Windwill. With game an early 7:05pm kick off for tv it meant there was probably less Hoops than expected at the game but there was still 1,000 or so packed into the shed as the pre-game excitment built.

With high expectations going into the game, the most important thing was just to get the 3 points and that's what we did. We started well and dominated possession early on without really creating many chances, Drogheda played a 4-5-1 as most teams will against us this year and with Peter Hynes up front on his own they rarely looked a threat and seemed happy to sit and defend. We fell behind to a shock goal after Dean Marshalls free kick was aimed for the head of Alan McNally but missed everybody and bounced into the top corner of Oscar Janssons net. It was a set back but luckily we hit back before the break as Gary Twigg done what he does best by rounding keeper Gabriel Sava and finishing to level the scores.

We started the 2nd half strong and Twiggy put us into the lead after he vollyed home when the ball dropped to him in the 6 yard box following a Rovers free-kick. We expected to press home our advantage as Drogheda game in search of an equaliser but Drogheda still sat deep and only had one real chance to level the scores but Cathal Brady hooked the ball over Janssons crossbar.

It was a good 3 points and comeback from us and without hitting top form we played reasonably well. Gilbert and Powell impressed in the full back positions and look like good attacking options for us this year. Jansson had a few ropey moments but will still be happy with his debut and Sives and Oman where rarely tested, we flattered to decive in midfield and our centre midfielders will need to get to grips with being outnumbered if we are going to continue to play 4-4-2. Twiggy was quiet but still got 2, how often have we said that! Finding him a regular partner will be one of Stephen Kennys key decisions this year.

The Opposition

So with the league now underway and all squads assembled it’s time to take a look at the opposition to see who are rivals will be this season:

Bohemians
The old foe have had a dramatic fall from grace over the past two seasons and this year’s squad is a shadow of the all conquering teams of a few years ago. Aaron Callaghan was a surprise appointment as Bohs manager this year but he is a hugely experienced coach and they will be well organised and hard to break down. They certainly won't be the most exciting team to match and goals will be at a premium but survival will be Bohs aim and I think they will have enough quality stay off the bottom.

Final Prediction: 8th

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Karl Moore - The former Man City youngster never got a chance to show his worth at Rovers last year after his mid season signing from Galway and he will be keen to prove his worth and kick start his career at Bohs

Bray Wanderers
Bray have proven to be a tough nut to crack for Rovers in the past and it seems like Pat Devlin’s men always perform against us. We have been lucky to get some crucial results in the Carlisle Grounds in the past 2 seasons but we have also been beaten in Tallaght and we can't underestimate Bray again this year although their squad isn't as strong as last year and will particularly miss midfield stalwart Gary Dempsey. Much will depend on the emergence of the next crop of youngsters and trying to keep their first XI fit.

Final Prediction: 11th

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Danny O'Connor - re vitalised at Bray, Danny was a firm favourite for Hoops fans during his spell with us but put in some superb performances against us and scored a cracker in Tallaght last year. He was key to Brays survival along with Dempsey last year and will be their key man again this year.

Cork City
Great to have Cork back in the league and I'm already looking forward to the trip to Turners Cross on March 16th. They will be looking to push for a top half finish and former Hoops Tommy Dunne has added well to his squad to by bringing Dan Murray, Tadhg Purcell, Shane O'Connor and the excellent Colin Healy. They will pick up a lot of points at home and may even challenge for the top spots.

Final Prediction: 4th

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Tadhg Purcell - The former Hoops striker was deemed surplus to requirements by Michael O'Neill and after an excellent goalscoring spell at Darlington he moved to Northampton where injury curtailed his first team appearances. Tommy Dunne moved to secure the big man on loan last month and he could prove a handful for a lot of defenders in the league this year.

Derry City
Surprised most with such a strong season last year in their first season back in the Premier Division but with the loss of McClean, Zayed and Lafferty and a reduced budget this year it will be tough for Declan Devine’s men to compete at the top. There are still quite a few top players at Derry this year and trips to the Brandywell are always enjoyable but never easy.

Final Prediction: 6th

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Simon Madden - signed for Derry from Dundalk after he had an excellent season last year. Played in our first game ever game in Tallaght and if we didn't sign Gilbert he may have made a return this season. Good attacking full back who will provide a tough challenge for most LoI wingers.

Drogheda United
Mick Cooke worked miracles to keep Drogheda up last year after it had looked like they were set for the drop but a combination of being well organised and Galways poor form they ended the season well above the drop zone. This year will be about consolidating again Mick Cooke has signed well bringing in 5 players from his ex club Monaghan and it looks like a much stronger team this year. Special mention and best wishes to Drogheda left winger Philly Hand who is brother of our very own Trim Hoop Andrew ‘Giggsy’ Hand!

Final Prediction: 7th

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Mark O'Brien - began his LoI career with us and disappointed a lot of fans by leaving to join Bohs, has really fell from grace since that early promise but will be a key player for Drogheda.

Dundalk
Last season early promise under Ian Foster faded away with a poor second half of the season. Another club who have drastically cut their budget and new manager Sean McCaffrey will have to rely on youth this season and it could be a steep learning curve for the young players, luckily McCaffrey’s experience should be enough to keep them in the division.

Final Prediction: 9th

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Darren Stapleton, hardly a household name to many Rovers fans but after his brief spell with us 2008 he went on to play non-league in England and then America and is now back in league with Dundalk.

Monaghan United
Back in the top flight after a 10 year absence, Roddy Collins team were the surprise package last season in the First Division. They have lost a number of players to ex manager Mick Cooke at Drogheda this year and they will be just aiming to retain their top flight status come October.

Final Prediction: 12th

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Robert Bayly – was a last minute Michael O’Neill signing in 2010 and will always be remembered for his late goal at home to Bnei Yehuda but ruined his reputation at Rovers with a poor performance and sending off at UCD in the title run in before a heated exchange with Rovers fans. Ruined it further by signing for Bohs last year and now for Roddy! Has the potential to still be a good player but too temperamental and unreliable.

Shelbourne
Great season last year with promotion and a cup final and Shels will be relishing their top flight return. Alan Matthews teams are always very defensive and hard to break down and this Shels team is no different, kept all their key players from last year and have added well to the squad, I think Shels will surprise many and finish in the top half. Special mention and best wishes to Kevin Dawson who is a brother of our very own Trim Hoops Brendan Dawson!

Final Prediction: 5th

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Paddy Kavanagh – signed for Rovers from Bray with a big expectation and the winger showed glimpses of class but never commanded a regular starting place. After being left out of a squad by Michael O’Neill last year he claimed: “What a load of me sack” on Twitter and rarely featured for us last season!! Still a Trim Hoops favourite but hopefully he won’t come back to haunt us this year.

Sligo Rovers
Pushed us all the way last season and after 2 FAI Cup triumphs in a row they will have their eye on the league title this year. They have assembled a strong squad but losing Paul Cook just before the start of the season was not ideal and new manager Ian Bariclough will have to hit the ground running if Sligo are to challenge this season. Lack of strength in depth at the back will be their biggest worry this year and any injuries to Peers and McGuinness will see them struggle.
Final Prediction: 2nd  

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Mark Quigley – The former Millwall youngster had a ill fated spell with us where he never seemed like he was even trying and then signed for Pats where he had an excellent season before breaking his leg the following year, has played for Bohs and Dundalk since and now he joins Danny North in a potent Sligo frontline.

St. Patricks Athletic
Liam Buckley will bring an attacking brand of football to Pats this year which they lacked under Peter Mahon and Bucko has put together a strong squad of experience LoI players. They ran out of steam towards the end of last season and will be keen to stay the distance this year but a cup win will be a big aim for them and if coupled with a high league finish it will be a successful first season for Buckley.

Final Prediction: 3rd

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Dean Kelly – scored that all important last minute goal against UCD in the Bowl to secure the 2011 league title for us. Was a fans favourite with his effort and ability but injury prevent us from seeing the best of Deano. Had to move on this year due to work commitments clashing with our training and he will be a key man for Pats this year.

UCD
Martin Russell’s young side need to applauded for sticking to their guns last season and continuing to try play football in the right way. This led to a couple of heavy defeats against us and some of the other top teams but the students also showed some real top performances last year and some of their players will no doubt be stars of the future in the league. It will be another struggle this year and success will once again be survival. Special mention and best wishes to Trim lad David O’Connor who is now in his third season at UCD and improving each year, maybe somebody he will become the first Trim Hoop player!

Final Prediction: 10th

Former Hoop that hopefully won't come back to haunt us: Chris Mulhall – ‘Hip’ as he is known to Rovers fans is best known for appearing on the Rovers club texts as injured week on week as a hip injury kept him out for most of his Rovers career. Done well for UCD last season and will be key player in their midfield this season.

Hopefully you have enjoyed our review of our opponents and here is a summary of how we think the table will look at the end of October:

1.      Shamrock Rovers
2.      Sligo Rovers
3.      St. Patricks Athletic
4.      Cork City
5.      Shelbourne
6.      Derry City
7.      Drogheda United
8.      Bohemians
9.      Dundalk
10.  UCD
11.  Bray Wanderers
12.  Monaghan United