Continuing our look at the 2018 League of Ireland season, Shamrock Rovers are the next outfit to be put under the spotlight.
2017 was far from a negative season for Rovers, finishing the season in third place, albeit 15 points behind runners-up Dundalk. European football was secured once again by Stephen Bradley’s young guns and the feeling around Tallaght is that a real joust for the league title is on the horizon.
The club’s #FootballLovesUs campaign on social media has been a revelation of late, encouraging young players to get back playing football on the nation’s streets. Their training complex at Roadstone is another welcome development.
But focusing on first team matters, Rovers have seen numerous comings and goings in the off-season with the core of last year’s squad remaining and the likes of Ronan Finn, Roberto Lopes and Graham Burke will be key figures once again.
It’s difficult to believe that Brandon Miele is still only 23 years of age. The Tallaght native has had three consistently impressive seasons at the Hoops having returned to Ireland in 2014 after a spell with Newcastle United. The midfielder has garnered a reputation for scoring impressive goals and picked up the Player of the Month Award in October, finishing the 2017 season on a personal high.
While Gary Shaw is the club’s main talisman, Miele will also be tasked with racking up the goals and will be a key asset once again this year for what is still a young Rovers side.
Key new arrival
The acquisition of the versatile Ethan Boyle from Finn Harps could turn out to be a shrewd one by Stephen Bradley. The 21-year-old can play in midfield and in defence and is well used to the league having begun his career with Waterford in 2014.
The Ireland under-21 international came of age at Harps and that experience should stand to him in Tallaght.
Young talent is in abundance throughout Rovers but Aaron Bolger undoubtedly stands out from the rest.
Bolger became the league’s first post-millennium-born footballer in 2016 and has been tipped for major things in the game.
2017 proved to be the making of the former St. Joseph’s teenager as he even featured in Rovers’ European tie with Stjarnan. Capped at under-17, under-18 and under-19 level, the midfielder will battle it out with namesake Greg for a place in Bradley’s starting eleven.
One to watch
Scottish defender Ally Gilchrist recently joined the club from St. Johnstone and could be a valuable addition to the Hoops squad.
He made 49 appearances in Scottish football in loan spells at Elgin and Peterhead. Players joining the League of Ireland from other nations can often find it difficult to settle but Gilchrist appears promising and is certainly a player to watch out for.
Rovers are evidently a club going in the right direction. A solid underage set-up is starting to reap rewards and in Bradley they have a coach who is not afraid to put faith in youth. The likes of Lee Grace, Ronan Finn, Gary Shaw and goalkeeper Tomer Chencinski add welcome experience, leaving Rovers with a squad well-capable of at least matching last year’s third place finish.
The loss of experienced defensive duo Simon Madden and Dave Webster is not ideal but this could be the year that Cork and Dundalk’s duopoly in the top two positions comes to an end, particularly with the recent inclusion of the experienced Joey O’Brien at the back.
Injuries have hurt Rovers in the past and a lot rides on forwards Shaw and Graham Burke remaining fit throughout the campaign.
They begin their 2018 campaign away to fierce rivals Bohemians before hosting Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk. A win there would be huge that early in the season and put immediate pressure on the Louthmen.
Home matches against Bray and Derry as well as a trip to Limerick make up the club’s opening five fixtures. It’s certainly a period that could see the club gather points in abundance and make an early charge towards the top of the league.
Pundit Arena Prediction: 3rd
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