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Irish Mirror
Irish Mirror
Stuart Byrne

Stuart Byrne column: Derry City will go close but Shamrock Rovers to make it four-in-a-row

I’m sure Shamrock Rovers are already sick of the ‘four-in-a-row’ talk, but tough!

They better get used to it as it’ll follow them every step of the way this season. And what’s the harm in it?

They can’t ignore the fact they can emulate the great Rovers team of the 1980s, so they must embrace it.

A team like Stephen Bradley’s Shamrock Rovers needs to feel pressure if it wants to develop and progress.

Four-in-a-row talk should fuel the fire and while I think it’ll be a tighter league this season, I fully expect Rovers to be kingpins again.

From what I’m hearing, their Estonian international Markus Poom is a proper player and it’s clear they have one eye on Europe again.

Johnny Kenny is a shrewd signing and while he’s only 19, he knows the league. So does Trevor Clarke and he’ll be hungry to get back on track.

They are smart signings and Rovers look stronger than before.

The lads I’ve named, as well as Liam Burt, will all be hungry to perform and they’ll keep the senior players honest.

If last season was a test of how Bradley kept his squad happy (and he did), this year is about keeping the fire burning in the bellies of those senior lads.

They’re the leaders that a manager will look to, but they can lose their hunger and I've seen it happen in dressing rooms.

Last season, the chasing pack didn’t ask enough questions of Rovers and allowed them win at a canter after Derry imploded mid-season.

More competition and a tight race will keep the Rovers dressing room in check and bring the best out of them.

Derry are still best placed to challenge Rovers for the title and should have some momentum behind them after winning the FAI Cup.

But it’s as much a mental battle for the Candystripes as it is a physical one.

They can say what they like, but they bottled it when top of the league going into last summer.

They sprinted to the summit but struggled to deal with it and ended up having a horrendous mid-season.

And it was far too late when they eventually got going again, although the FAI Cup win was a source of comfort

Derry will have to handle the pressure of being top of the pile but at least they have the experience of last season.

They’ve a better idea now of what’s needed to maintain it for 30+ games, knowing that injuries and suspension will be par for the course.

Setting the pace and dealing wit the resulting pressure is water off a duck’s back to Shamrock Rovers as they’ve been in that space for the last three years.

That’s invaluable.

As a player, I loved this time of the year. The week building up to the first game of the season was like seven Christmas Eves.

The torture of pre-season is behind you and there’s a lot going on in terms of media work, profiling, hysteria and outrage at predications.

It’s time for business and everyone is thinking it could be their year.

The English Premier League is pretty open this season, and I’d love a League of Ireland title race with three or four teams in the mix going into the final month.

But the closer the race, the better I think Shamrock Rovers will be and I don’t see them coming up short in their push for four-in-a-row.

Fenlon's not to be feared

If Declan Devine is smart, he’ll view Pat Fenlon as an asset not a threat.

Bohs have pulled off a masterstroke, appointing their former manager as Director of Football.

That club needed to get its focus back on football and Pat will do that.

People quickly forget that he’s one of the most successful manager’s we’ve ever produced.

Pat Fenlon (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

And Devine should be asking him as many questions as he can because Pat is a fountain of knowledge.

The reason we were successful under him at Shels was because of Pat’s winning mentality.

He has a drive that’s ingrained in him and Devine needs to develop a ‘kick your own mother if you have to’ mentality.

It doesn’t mean you have to go around like a p***k all wek. It’s just for 90-minutes on a Friday night.

Devine shouldn’t feel threatened. It’s a positive to have Pat around and the manager must embrace it.

Shel shock could stir something in Reds

A lot has been made of Shelbourne’s horror show in the FAI Cup final.

I get that. They froze on the day and Derry City wiped the floor with them.

But few people are talking about the confidence boost that reaching the showpiece game will give them.

It was an outstanding return in Damien Duff’s first year as manager.

He had to jump into it all head first, learn on the job and not give it too much thought.

But he will be wiser for the experience and far more streetwise this season.

Duff has done a great job galvanising the club and I want more of the same this year.

I’m hoping that reaching the FAI Cup final will make some of his players realise they are better than they thought.

Whatever the order, everyone has Rovers, Derry, Pat’s and Dundalk in their top four in 2023.

But one of those will struggle and there’s always a spot up for grabs. Shels can be that surprise package.

No excuses for Saints and Lilywhites

St Pat’s and Dundalk have no excuses this year.

Tim Clancy and Stephen O’Donnell were new to their respective managerial roles last season and it fragmented going into the campaign.

That played out, with both sides blowing hot and cold even if Dundalk punched above their weight for the most part.

The fact they were briefly surprise contenders at one stage of the season was reflective of the wider issue across the 2022 league.

None of the chasing pack could put it up to Shamrock Rovers yet a team thrown together could, for a time.

This year, there is continuity in the hot seat at the top four clubs and all appear to have signed well.

I’m expecting a lot more from Pat’s and Dundalk. They are well equipped to have a pop at the top two and there’s no excuses.

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