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Conor's keeping his cool

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Conor McCormack, Shamrock Rovers, in action against Sean O'Connor, St Patrick's Athletic. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Conor McCormack, Shamrock Rovers, in action against Sean O'Connor, St Patrick's Athletic. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Conor McCormack, Shamrock Rovers, in action against Sean O'Connor, St Patrick's Athletic. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

CONOR McCORMACK believes that his comrades at St Patrick's Athletic can keep their heads in a high-octane Dublin derby against Shamrock Rovers at Inchicore tonight.

The battles between the two southside clubs have been tight over the last couple of seasons. Since the 2011 season, when Rovers dominated the fixture (Pats scored just one goal and managed only two points from four league games against the then champions Rovers that term), Pats have had the edge, losing just one of their last six league clashes with the Hoops.

The fixture throws up unusual scorelines – a 4-0, a 3-0 and a 5-1 in the last two years alone, where players like Conan Byrne (four goals in one game) and Christopher Forrester enjoyed career-defining moments.

But they are rarely quiet affairs; three league clashes last season produced 15 yellow cards and two reds, with Hoops men Derek Foran and Seán O'Connor dismissed during a 4-0 win for Pats, ideal revenge for a 3-0 hammering by Rovers earlier in the season.

GESTURE

The picture of O'Connor – a former Pats player – making a one-fingered gesture to the Saints fans as he walked having seen red was one of the defining images of the season. O'Connor later issued an apology for the act.

O'Connor had made himself a target before the game when he stated in an interview that he left Pats as they lacked a "winning mentality", words which came back to haunt the player as Pats went on to win the league, while Rovers failed to even qualify for Europe.

That sort of sniping in the media has been part of the analysis of Rovers' failure last term, with current Pats player (and former Hoop) Mark Quigley responding quickly to a claim by Karl Sheppard that Rovers' woes last term could be attributed to the presence of too many "egos" in the Hoops' dressing room.

The fact that five players released by Rovers at the end of last season moved across town and joined Pats was an underlying part of that "egos" jibe and gives added spice to the game at Inchicore tonight, where tensions are bound to be high and it would be a surprise if referee David McKeon does not reach for the red card at least once. "I think we will have a chat before the game about how to keep cool, to keep our heads and not let the occasion get to us," said McCormack, one of the famous five who left Rovers at the end of last season and moved to Pats, the biggest transfer en bloc between two Dublin clubs since Shelbourne signed Glen Crowe, Colin Hawkins and Bobby Ryan from Bohemians in 2005.

"As players, we know what's at stake, we know the history between the clubs and we know that tensions will be high. The crowd will be worked up before a ball is kicked, so the players have to leave that to one side and focus on the game and getting three points.

"These are the games when tensions boil over and you expect to see a lot of bookings, and I suppose there is added tension as you have so many players who played for both clubs," added McCormack.

The 23-year-old, who had three seasons with Rovers after a spell in Italy, accepts that there is extra motivation for the ex-Hoops in the Saints panel tonight. "You always want to do well against your former club, but I suppose some of us have a point to prove," said McCormack, who deputised at right-back for the injured Ger O'Brien – another ex-Hoop – in Monday's win over Bray Wanderers and who is on stand-by to fill in again tonight against the club where he won a league title in 2010.

"I had three great years at Rovers. But I had to move on, I am happy at Pats now, and if we do win this game tonight, we'll get the same three points as we'd get if we beat anyone else."

After a bad night away to Cork City, a 3-0 loss last Friday, Rovers got back to normal with Monday's 2-0 win over UCD and, for Hoops fans, one of the most encouraging aspects was seeing Stephen McPhail complete 90 minutes in the league for the first time.

Should Keith Fahey shrug off his injury woes, the former Ireland internationals could face up to each other tonight in Inchicore.


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