Friday 23 February 2018

Flying Finn determined to showcase Hoops' class

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

RONAN Finn is a realist and expects others to be the same. He would hope that critics of Shamrock Rovers' approach to the game are aware of the folly in coming to Tallaght anticipating a Barcelona or Arsenal-style exhibition.

Tonight, the Hoops welcome Dundalk to their own patch for the Setanta Cup final, a meeting of two teams whose clashes have provided no shortage of thrills and spills in recent seasons.

In the Rovers camp, they bristle when credit is applied to the Louth men for that. Earlier this week, Michael O'Neill expressed frustration at the approach which some challengers adopt against his side, a factor which he believes is central to some of the boring encounters involving the Hoops this term.

Ian Foster's Dundalk are incapable of taking a negative stance with the personnel at the Englishman's disposal: ball-playing wingers Daniel Kearns and Ross Gaynor set the tone, along with the roaming genius of Mark Quigley.

However, Rovers also have plenty of creative talent in their ranks, nobody more so than Finn, who contests any suggestion that O'Neill's side lack attacking ambition.

"If someone said to me: 'Rovers don't play good football,' then I'd say: 'Well, you haven't been watching'," says the chirpy Dubliner, who has revelled in his fresh start after the winter collapse of Sporting Fingal set his career off in a different direction.

"Look, with Fingal last year, we played too much football at times. But what I'd say is, and no disrespect to anyone, but we're in this league because we're not good enough to play like Barcelona or Arsenal.

"We try and find a happy medium. We play neat football at the right time, we play angled balls at the right time. I'd hold my hands up and say at the start of the season, even though we were winning games, the camp wasn't as upbeat as it could have been, and Michael was saying that we weren't playing as well as we could.


"But now we're getting it together, and playing with a bit more shape."

Finn, who was on trial with Crystal Palace, Wolves and Celtic before committing to the Hoops, is relishing his first senior final. The 23-year-old is getting used to the attention that comes with life at Rovers. At his first club UCD and then at Fingal, crowds were small, with silence often the soundtrack. This is a welcome change.

"The whole matchday experience is different," he stresses."It's everything. Even coming in after the warm-up, we get applauded. It's a bit special."

The increased profile brings extra attention. In the recent league draw between these sides, Dundalk midfielder Stephen McDonnell was sent out to keep tabs on Finn. Restricting his influence is crucial.

Yet Rovers know well how the Louth men can hurt them. And they will have to monitor an old foe, Jason Byrne, who is accustomed to a hostile reception at the stadium which has transformed his locality.

Byrne grew up down the road in Brookfield, but, as a high-profile ex-Bohemians striker, his relationship with Rovers followers is fractious. It's fair to say that both parties enjoy winding the other up.

"The day they don't start giving you stick, you start to worry," smiles Byrne, who won this cross-border competition with Bohs 12 months ago to complete a full set of domestic medals.

Nevertheless, putting the antagonism to one side, he acknowledges what Rovers have brought to his area.

"It's fantastic, it's phenomenal. They've brought it into the schools as well, to my old school (St Aidan's) and it's given the area a lift because it's got a bit of a bad name over the past few years."

The Setanta Cup has, perhaps, lost a bit of its initial lustre, yet there is plenty of enthusiasm ahead of this showdown.

Dundalk, who knocked out Northern heavyweights Linfield, Glentoran and Cliftonville on the way to here, have relished their debut year.

Shamrock Rovers, by contrast, have taken a less eventful route. But their philosophy is simple.

"As soon as I knew I was staying in Ireland, I was going to sign for Rovers," declares Finn. "They want to win everything."

They won't find it easy against a Dundalk outfit capable of finding gaps where others can not.

Whatever happens, it should at least be entertaining.

Irish Independent

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