Will 2020 be the year for Shamrock Rovers? That is the question everyone in the SSE Airtricity League is asking, ever since their FAI Cup final victory over Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium in November. Not just a significant moment in the club's histo
Will 2020 be the year for Shamrock Rovers?
That is the question everyone in the SSE Airtricity League is asking, ever since their FAI Cup final victory over Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium in November. Not just a significant moment in the club's history, securing their first FAI Cup since 1987, but a statement of intent to their title rivals for the upcoming campaign.
11 points separated the two sides in the Premier Division last season. A huge gap to breach in one off-season in any league. A lot of the talk at the moment is focused on the departures from Dundalk but maybe there should be more talk about the squad retention at Rovers.
Start with the obvious, Jack Byrne. An Ireland international and the PFAI Player of the Season, Byrne is hot property. In 31 league matches, Byrne contributed eight goals and nine assists. Even more impressively, in the InStat report published for the 2019 Premier Division season, Byrne was top of the 'Key Passes' index, averaging 3.5 per match and the 'Passes into the Penalty Box' index, averaging 13 per match.
InStat have him ranked as the top right midfielder in the country and rightly so. He has undoubtedly caught the eye of a number of clubs from the UK and abroad but Byrne looks set for another season in the #GreatestLeagueInTheWorld. The value of playing at home and being happy shouldn't be sniffed at, and as long as his performances stay at the high level he has set, his stock will continue to rise.
However, Rovers aren't just all about Byrne. Lee Grace signed a new three-year contract after a fantastic 2019 campaign and interest from Championship side Hull City. Grace went on trial with the Tigers but shunned interest to stay with Rovers, something Rovers should be given enormous credit for having created an environment players want to stay and thrive in. A tough-tackling defender, Grace also came second in the InStat index for most completed passes during the season.
A fans favourite, Aaron McEneff is one of the most important players in the league as his all-action midfield box-to-box displays kept Rovers ticking in the centre of the park. Second in the league for defensive midfielders according to InStat, just behind Chris Shields, he was also able to contribute nine goals last season. Whilst there hasn't been much reported interest in the 24-year old, his value will continue to soar next campaign and his contribution will be vital in any title race.
Whilst there has been change and movement amongst many clubs in the league, Stephen Bradley will have the benefit of squad stability going into 2020. Liam Scales has signed from UCD AFC, Rhys Marshall from Glenavon and Dean Williams, who has enjoyed a number of loan spells at First Division clubs, could get a chance at Tallaght Stadium. But other than that, it's pretty much as you were.
Graham Burke will surely feel the benefit of a full pre-season having came back to the league in July and Neil Farrugia is back to full fitness after an injury hampered his time at the club last season. Big things should be expected of Farrugia who has shown glimpses of his undeniable talent in the league and also for the Ireland U-21s having scored in the 3-0 win over Luxembourg.
So, back to the original question. Will 2020 be the year for Shamrock Rovers?
Rovers scored 11 fewer goals than their title rivals last year. Looking at their forward line, which has lost both Dan Carr and Graham Cummins in the last year, another striker could be the missing piece in the puzzle.
Aaron Greene had a fantastic 2019, scoring 11 league goals, but he will need help up top if Rovers are going to close the gap and fight on domestic and European fronts. You can only imagine this is top of Bradley's priority list with the start of the season just a month away.
If they can unearth that missing piece from at home or abroad, then yes, Shamrock Rovers could make 2020 a defining year in their history.