Ahead of their Premier Division opener against defending champions Dundalk this Friday evening, Shamrock Rovers striker Gary Shaw believes there is a much healthier atmosphere around the club than there was in 2016.
Following a spell as interim boss at the Tallaght Stadium, former Arsenal trainee Stephen Bradley has been handed the Rovers job on a permanent basis. They defeated the Leeds U23s in a friendly encounter last Sunday week (February 12), and after getting his name on the scoresheet in this pre-season run-out, Kildare native Shaw feels he is up to speed for the trip to Oriel Park.
“Looking forward to it. It just feels like there’s a much better atmosphere around the club this year. A lot of changes. I was injured for the first two weeks of pre-season, so it was nice to get game-time [against the Leeds U23s],” Shaw remarked.
“It wasn’t the best conditions, but I came on for 25 minutes and managed to score as well. That is always nice, to start off the pre-season like that. I’m happy with how it has gone so far, and looking forward to the season obviously.”
While a number of players have left the club during the off-season, Rovers have also made several high-profile acquisitions to their squad for the upcoming campaign.
The return of Ronan Finn to south Dublin from Friday’s opponents is a significant statement of intent, and with Darren Meenan also joining from Dundalk, Shaw is adamant they are on the right track towards success in 2017.
“He [Bradley] has brought in some very good people around him. A lot of players were released last year. He’s brought in some brilliant players. Ronan Finn coming in was obviously the marquee signing, and that was a big coup for us. Look at Dundalk, who they’ve lost from last season. We’re definitely on the right track.
“[Meenan is] another ex-Dundalk player. They obviously believe in what Stephen is trying to do at the club, and it’s great to see. It’s great to have those players in. Having him [Meenan] as well is just another addition. He’s full of experience, and for a striker as well obviously, he’s ideal for me.”
On his last trip to Oriel, Shaw claimed the Rovers goal in a 1-1 draw with Stephen Kenny’s outfit. It was also the venue for his League of Ireland debut seven years ago, and although he doesn’t see it as a make or break game for either team, Shaw is still aware of how important it is to hit the ground running.
“Yeah, it’s a huge game for us. A huge game for Dundalk. It’s not going to be a season-defining game. It’s obviously the first game of the season, but it will set the tempo for us or Dundalk. Obviously we want to get the win, there’ll be a sold-out crowd there.
“Oriel Park has been a good place for me. I made my debut there in the League of Ireland in 2010, and I scored on that day. I scored during the season against Dundalk in the 1-1 draw. I’ve missed a couple of weeks, but hopefully I can try to cement a place in that starting 11.”
Along with Bradley, Rovers also appointed former player (and 10-time Ireland international) Stephen McPhail to the role of sporting director. Damien Duff also joined the first-team coaching staff midway though last year’s campaign – and will continue to combine his senior duties with his new position as U15 manager – and Shaw is delighted to see them involved behind the scenes.
“It’s surreal at times. You realise what they actually did. Duffer has won Premier Leagues. It’s just crazy to think what he’s done. The career he has had with club and country, and then you have Maccer there as well.
“He’s played for Ireland. He’s played in an FA Cup final, he’s captained in an FA Cup final. It’s just crazy what you’re around, and any time they talk, you listen. It’s great having them on a daily basis out on the pitch, just throwing in the odd bit of advice here and there. That’s what you want as a player. All those little things will definitely benefit you in the long-run,” Shaw added.
This article originally appeared in the Kildare Nationalist (http://www.kildare-