A lot has changed for Ronan Finn since he was last at Shamrock Rovers. In his two year spell with Stephen Kenny’s wildly successful Dundalk side, Finn has won two League of Ireland titles, one FAI Cup and the only League of Ireland Player of the Month award of his 11 year career.
The Dubliner has blossomed playing alongside the likes of Richie Towell, Daryl Horgan and Stephen O’Donnell over the past two seasons in Dundalk, and now he returns to Rovers in a new look midfield alongside fellow new signings Ryan Connolly and Roberto Lopes. But since Finn left the Hoops in 2014, Rovers have added a new coach in Stephen Bradley, they’ve found a new home for their senior team at the Roadstone Group’s sports complex in Clondalkin, and they have a new sponsor in Pepper Money which is believed to be worth up to €400,000.
They also have a thriving academy which they hope will produce a core nucleus of their first-team for many years to come and they’ve also added Ireland internationals Damien Duff and Stephen McPhail, first as players and now as coaches, additions that bring a wry smile to Finn’s face.
“We’re blessed with the backroom staff that we have at Shamrock Rovers,” said Finn.
“I know all the lads understand how lucky we are because having the likes of Glenn Cronin, Stephen McPhail, Damien Duff, Darren Dillon and Stephen Bradley… they’re exceptional people to bounce ideas off and just to talk to whether we have any issues on the pitch or off the pitch. They’re great people.
“You’re learning from really top pros that have been successful in the game and just watching their work ethic; Damien has been phenomenal with that, and that’s just me from the outside looking in, I’m still a bit in awe of him.
“He’s helping the young lads off the pitch and just getting them in the right frame of mind. You’re going to learn from the best and he’s definitely up there with the best.”
The last two years have been a huge learning process for Finn who left Rovers in 2014 in search of a new challenge and found it in the form of a Dundalk side that was about to embark on an unprecedented run of success.
Stephen Kenny’s side became the first Irish team since Dermot Keely’s 1987/88 Shamrock Rovers side to win three league titles in a row and the lilywhites are now once again the favourites to defend their crown even without the likes of Finn, Daryl Horgan and Andy Boyle.
Finn knows how tough it is to win the league, and how it’s even tougher to defend it with the added weight of a Europa League campaign and a run in the FAI Cup, but he also knows how important it is to take care of your body and your diet, factors of performance that he never really considered during the earlier years of his League of Ireland career.
“As you get older you learn the importance of the gym work and anything you can do off the pitch to make yourself a better player at the weekend,” added Finn.
“In fairness, that’s what I learned the most in Dundalk is the lads attitude to training, the lads attitude to preparing right, whether that be with be food or just simple things like recovery and sleep.
“It’s something that I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older, but as a young lad, you don’t really understand how important it is but now as a more senior player I do. It’s something that you try drill into the younger lads now at Rovers because they have unbelievable ability and I think their careers can be really bright if they apply themselves correctly.”
Finn left Rovers looking for a new challenge and he now returns to a vastly different club as their captain, buoyed by the support of his head coach, his idol backroom staff and a sense of knowledge and experience that can only come with time and winning. Two factors he hopes he will have an abundance of in his return to Tallaght.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena