Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley has added to his wealth of midfield talent with the capture of UCD captain Gary O’Neill along with his teammate Neil Farrugia from the Belfield based club.
Farrugia, who will continue his studies at UCD for another year to complete his science degree, will provide additional width to a Rovers team who have played quite narrow this season, while O’Neill will provide additional creativity, even if the player typically lines out in a deeper lying midfield role.
O’Neill joined UCD back in 2015 after spells in England with Port Vale, Southport (on loan) and Hereford United. He was part of UCD’s Europa League squad that year and was top scorer in the First Division that season.
He grabbed nine goals for the Students last year, helping UCD to promotion as First Division winners. The 24-year-old player has scored twice in 19 appearances in the top flight this season.
O’Neill describes himself as “a technical player. I like to get attacks started as opposed to being in the final third. I like to give the ball to the attacking players and let them do their flair.
“I think it was the perfect move for me at the perfect time. I was coming to the end at UCD, maybe I over stayed a year, there’s always the question of when you should leave UCD, but I’ve no regrets with that, now it’s time for me to prove myself now. I’m out of my comfort zone now and I’m looking forward to being tested every week.
“I’m under no illusions, it’s not going to be easy me coming here, it’s not my thinking at all. I want to be challenged. I want to be challenged every day in training. I want to be challenging for the jersey. Competition in midfield is so strong but the manager obviously saw something in me that he likes, and I’m going to try and bring that to the team the best I can."
With Greg Bolger, Aaron McEneff, Jack Byrne, Ronan Finn, Dylan Watts, Dylan Kavanagh vying for positions in the central areas of the Rovers midfield, Stephen Bradley has only added to his selection headache with this week’s acquisitions.
"He fits how we play,” said Stephen Bradley. “He's a good age and he has some really good attributes. I said from day one that we have goals from all over the pitch in this team and Neil and Gary will just add to that. They've shown that they can create and score goals and I'm sure they'll bring that to us.”
Farrugia, who is recovering from a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Ireland under-21 squad at the Toulon Tournament, played his schoolboy football at Belvedere, before joining UCD in 2015.
He has scored twice in 26 starts and eight appearances off the bench in two-and-a-half seasons with the Students’ first team. Like O’Neill, he picked up a First Division title during his time in Belfield.
“Neil is very athletic, quick and direct,” said Bradley. “He's different to what we have currently in the squad and a player we've liked for quite some time. We've known about other interest in him but we're delighted that he sees his football at Shamrock Rovers. He's only young, he's done well so far and there's still so much more to come from him.”
"I think I’m a versatile player,” said Farrugia. “I can play on the wing, I give 100% every game and that’s how I like to see myself going into games.
"Rovers is a club that has one of the greatest histories in Ireland,” said Farrugia. “Twice I’ve played here in Tallaght, I’ve just thought that the atmosphere has been electric and it’s somewhere I wanted to be playing every week, week in week out, in front of a crowd this big. I think Rovers overall are a really good team. I wanted to join a club that had ambition to win cups and trophies so that’s why I signed."
Both O’Neill and Farrugia will be eligible to play for Rovers in the upcoming Europa League qualification campaign.
“I think it’s time now for me to step up to professional football,” said 20-year-old Farrugia. “I think Rovers is the right step forward, and I’ve got ambition for myself but also for the team to win trophies, to compete in Europe at the highest level."