Keegan on Rovers revenge mission
THEY ultimately won the war, but for the players of Bohemians, the scars of their battles with Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght last year remain.
Twice, Pat Fenlon's charges made the trek to Dublin 24 to visit the brand new home of their arch rivals. Twice, they left with tails between their legs, with the taunts of delighted Hoops followers ringing in their ears.
Both matches were decided by late goals from the hosts, with a Gary Twigg brace swinging it in May and Padraig Amond hitting the winner in the October showdown -- a goal which was followed by an embarrassing Jason Byrne penalty miss. That game left Michael O'Neill's side two points clear at the top of the table with six games games remaining.
"They celebrated as if they'd won the league after both those games," reflected Bohs midfielder Paul Keegan earlier this week, repeating a sentiment that many Gypsies stars expressed in the wake of their eventual Premier Division title success.
The irony is that Bohs are one of the few sides to endure real trauma in Tallaght.
Rovers fell from their perch last season after a tame home defeat to Cork and their habit of making visitors to the venue far too welcome has continued into this new campaign. They have accrued just one point from a possible nine on home soil in 2010, scoring no goals and conceding four.
"They've got a big stadium and teams are going out to prove themselves against them," suggests Keegan.
"At Bohs, teams come out against us with a point to prove. Shamrock Rovers have improved a lot and maybe last year they didn't have that pressure, but this year maybe they do, although they've had a lot of injuries.
"You want to start well and get the fans turning on them a bit. That's what comes with pressure. It can happen us as well, although our fans were great on Tuesday night when we started poorly (in a 1-1 draw with St Patrick's Athletic).
"But we want to put things right in Tallaght; it's one for the fans really. They did a job on us over there last year and we don't want that to happen again."
Rovers boss O'Neill believes there is little to be gained by looking back at those victories and would instead prefer to concentrate on the here and now. The Northern Irishman feels that an injury crisis, particularly the absence of Twigg, has been a contributing factor to their early-season struggles, although he says it is no excuse for the poor displays -- especially in their own backyard.
"We haven't played well enough and we've been in a situation where we've had five or six missing," he said, yesterday. "But if I'm honest, I believe the team we have put on the pitch every game has been strong enough to win that game, but that hasn't been the case.
"It's not down to lack of effort. Sometimes in football you get periods where things don't go your way."
Given the sense of anticipation surrounding this fixture, O'Neill hopes that the quality of the fare lives up to the billing.
Remarkably, the five Premier Division games earlier this week, and the four matches which took place last Friday, all ended in draws. Some managers attribute the odd statistic to an enhanced degree of competitiveness, but the 40-year-old reckons there are other factors.
"The biggest disappointment is that the conditions have been horrendous," he suggested. "The pitches are very, very poor and that tends to be a leveller between teams. A lot of draws are because of those circumstances.
"Also, there's a lot of teams that have been able to pick the same side week in, week out. Over a season, that's not going to happen, and their squads will be tested."
In that event, the accepted logic is that these sworn enemies possess the deepest panels. Yet if the Hoops are to compete, some momentum is required. It's premature to declare this a must-win game, but their need to win is pressing.
"It might give us a kick-start," claims midfielder James Chambers, eagerly anticipating his first such derby. "I don't think we've played as well as we possibly can do."
No better time to start than tonight.
Shamrock Rovers v Bohemians,
Live, RTE2, 7.35