Shamrock Rovers head South to take on fellow Europa League qualifiers Waterford at the RSC on the opening night of the 2019 season, a season that promises much for the Tallaght based side.
With more or less a settled squad, including a couple of outstanding midfield additions in Jack Byrne and Arron McEneff, many pundits are predicting that Rovers will be the side that mounts a serious challenge to last season’s double winners Dundalk
Rovers manager Stephen Bradley is happy that he has a fully fit squad to start the campaign, “I think pre-season went well. We were good on the injury front, not too many knocks and that’s the main thing when you come out of pre-season, that you have a fit squad for the first game.”
“It’s hard to see for people on the outside watching games. You can obviously only judge on what you see but you don’t see what the players have done that day or the day before. Brentford was the first game where we were fresh going into it, we’d had double sessions before all the other games so the players’ legs had been very heavy. I wouldn’t read too much into it and you’d expect games to be like that.”
Speaking about the clubs new acquisitions Bradley said, “It’s good that Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff have been in since the first day, so they’ve settled in really quickly. Orhan Vojic (striker) and Leon Pohls (goalkeeper) have been with us only the last 8-10 days but the new players have had a lot of time around the group to get to know each other. It’s great to have Trevor Clarke back too, you’d forget that he was missing for all of last year. He’s going to be an important player for us this season.”
“We’re not sure if Orhan will get clearance. It’s been sort of a long road officially getting it done because of all the clearances that he needs to go through with the German FA and Wolfsburg. It’s been five or six days since we agreed the deal but we didn’t announce it until Wednesday. We’re hoping now he gets cleared for Waterford.”
On their opening night opponents, “I think Waterford will be up there again. They’ve invested again in the squad so it’s going to be a really tough game like it was last year but it’s one we’re looking forward to. There was a lot of action in both of our games down there last year and tomorrow will be no different. It’ll be two good teams looking to go and win the game. Our end is sold out and I’m sure Waterford supporters will sell out theirs if it hasn’t been done already so it’ll be a good atmosphere. The first game of the season are always special nights and both teams will be up for it. You always want to win games, the fact that it’s the first one of course we want to win it but we just have to concentrate on our jobs.”
He says the team are ready and raring to go, “The off season is too long and the players have worked hard since the start of December. They just want to go and get on the pitch and play for three points. We’re raring to go, the players are chomping at the bit and you could see that against Brentford last week. It’s about keeping them settled until tomorrow and then being ready for what should be a great game.”
For Waterford and their manager Alan Reynolds it’s going to be very difficult to match last season’s brilliant 4th place finish. Recruitment was slow in the off-season, most players were only signed in the past few weeks, including some this week, so it’s going to take time for everyone to gel. In a further blow to the Blues striker Izzy Akinade and defender JJ Lunney are expected to miss the game having missed the end of pre-season through injury, while talented midfielder Bastien Hery is also doubtful with a calf injury.
Reynolds said, “Everyone is looking forward to getting started. It’s been a long off season so it’s great that we can now focus on competitive action.”
“Stephen [Bradley] has strengthened really well so we know that this will be a very difficult game. The clubs played out some great games last season so let’s hope for something similar again.”
“On the field, we’ve been happy with our pre-season; we’ve played some good First Division sides as well as local side Hibs and we’ve built from game to game, culminating in last Friday’s win over Shelbourne. It’s important in these games to build up fitness and give lads a chance to show what they can do on the pitch and that’s what we’ve done.”
“We’ve got a few new lads in this week too so we’re hopeful some might be available for Friday. It’s going to be another tough season, we’re under no illusions but we’re here again to compete with the best in the league this season.”