Saturday 24 March 2018

Rooney should be in Ireland running

Aberdeen FC's Adam Rooney during the UEFA Europa League third round qualifying first leg match between Real Sociedad and Aberdeen FC. Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images
Aberdeen FC's Adam Rooney during the UEFA Europa League third round qualifying first leg match between Real Sociedad and Aberdeen FC. Photo by Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images

Eamonn Sweeney

All hail Ireland's most unsung football hero. Last season Adam Rooney topped the Scottish Premier League scoring charts without getting much credit for it on this side of the water. This season the Aberdeen striker is on fire again, currently second in the Scottish charts he's already equalled the 18 league goals he hit last term. More of a fuss should be made of this man who is, after all, a Dub.

You might say 'big deal, it's only Scottish football'. But Scottish football gets plenty of notice here when Celtic are involved. Anthony Stokes, for example, got nine Irish caps on the back of his achievements with Celtic. Yet his Scottish Premier League strike rate, 58 goals in 135 games, is much inferior to the 43 goals from 75 matches scored by Rooney.

There's also the fact that scoring goals for Celtic in the Premier League can be pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel given the dominance the Glasgow giants generally enjoy over their rivals. Rooney's had to work a bit harder for his. Yet there's no doubt that if Anthony Stokes had been top scorer in the Scottish Premier League last season and was contending for top slot again this season there'd be a clamour for him to be restored to the Irish team.

Rooney, on the other hand, remains uncapped and relatively unheralded. Yet he's central to a title challenge which is even more unlikely than the one being mounted by Leicester City. When former Sligo Rovers boss Ian Baraclough was manager of Motherwell, he commented that there was no reason Scottish clubs couldn't have ambitions of challenging Celtic for the title. Rangers boss Stuart McCall pooh-poohed this and said that brave words are all very well but Celtic's enormous advantage in terms of resources made it impossible for anyone to come within an ass's roar of them.

You couldn't fault that reasoning. Last season Celtic won the league by 17 points, the year before it was 29 and the year before that 16. Yet prior to this weekend, Aberdeen were level on points with Celtic, who had a superior goal difference and a game in hand. A league which is usually a canter is currently a contest. And Rooney isn't the only Irish connection to Aberdeen's extraordinary season. His fellow Dubs Jonny Hayes and Willo Flood are both operating in midfield, as is former Derry City man and current Northern Ireland international Niall McGinn.

It's still unthinkable that Celtic won't win the title, they're 1/20 to do so with the bookies and you have to go back to 1985 for the last time a club outside the Old Firm won it. Yet in prolonging the contest to this stage of the season Derek McInnes and his team have already given soccer's equivalent of the Armagh senior football championship a much-needed shot in the arm.

In doing so they've further exposed the wretched job Ronny Deila has done at Parkhead. Because it really requires a very special talent to make Celtic look vulnerable in that league. And though I'm fond of Celtic myself, not least because of their Sligo connections, I'll be rooting for Aberdeen to make history this season. Among other things it might wake Celtic up and confirm what their abysmal European performances have revealed to all but the most blind - that they are now a major club in name only.

There is one way Adam Rooney might manage to win an Ireland cap. He could change his name to Hamish Claymore and pretend that he's a Scot who wants to declare for Ireland on account of a Donegal grandparent.

Rooney's only other option might be to move to Celtic. They could do a lot worse.

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