Macdara Ferris reports from the Shamrock Rovers Academy at Roadstone
There is plenty at stake at Tallaght Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday afternoon when Shamrock Rovers take on Waterford (kick off 2pm). The Hoops are looking to move three points clear of St. Patrick’s Athletic at the top of the table with the Saints not playing until 5.45pm in Sligo.
Having beaten Finn Harps 2-0 on Friday night, Rovers equalled the all-time League of Ireland unbeaten record set back in 1927 and on Monday they can break that record. The Hoops have won 24 of those 30 undefeated matches.
And for defender Lee Grace who comes from the Tipperary side of Carrick-on-Suir, he can get one over on the county that is on the south bank of the Suir river.
“In the hurling there is a big rivalry between the Tipp side and the Waterford side of Carrick, so for me it would be a good day to get a win over Waterford,” said Grace when he spoke with extratime.com at the Shamrock Rovers Academy on the eve of the game.
“I knew about the (all-time undefeated) record but I only saw that the other day that we had so many wins. We aren’t just nicking draws here and there but we are winning games and not conceding too many goals either.
“It makes the game a bit bigger [against Waterford] but there are still only three points on the line. That is all you can think of. It would be a shame to not get that 31 game record but we have to show up and do our job and I think we will be alright."
Grace broke the 100 league game mark for the Hoops in last month’s 2-1 win over Bohemians. “This is the biggest club in the country so it was brilliant to hit that many games. Hopefully I can get a few hundred more. When you look back since I made my debut we won the league and added the cup and hopefully there is more to come.”
Reflecting on Rovers’ victory in Finn Park on Friday, Grace said “we were very pleased to get the win. You never get anything easy up there. To come away with three points and a clean sheet is brilliant.
"We went up there with the right frame of mind and we got the job done.”
In recent seasons Pico Lopes, Joey O’Brien and Grace have had a bet between the defenders as to who would score more goals. Last season Lopes scored three league goals with O’Brien and Grace getting one each.
Sean Hoare is now top of that central defender chart after he got the Hoops’ second in Ballybofey the other night – his first goal for his new club.
“Sean is off the mark for that competition but I’m delighted for him. It was a great header. We were saying it on the bus on the way up that we need to start adding goals (from the defenders) as we were seven games in and none of us had scored.
"We are all six feet plus. We can all attack the ball well and head the ball well, there are no excuses. It is a long season so I can catch him!”
With Pico Lopes missing on Friday (see story linked below), Joey O’Brien came into the back with Liam Scales pushing out to a wing back role. “Liam has been brilliant. He can play anywhere. He is so technically gifted on the ball and he is so fit so he can get up and down the line no bother. He has been brilliant.”
Last Friday the Hoops earned their third clean sheet of the season – last year they managed 13 in the shortened 18 game season – and Grace says a large part of that is due to the Hoops goalkeeper.
Alan Mannus, who turns 39 later this month, has played 142 league games for Rovers across two spells conceding 83 goals. Since returning to Rovers in 2018, he has kept 44 clean sheets in the 73 league games he has played.
“With Al behind you, you are always safe. When the opposition get shots away, more often than not Al will take you out of a hole. He is in such great shape and it is a credit to him the way he works. He works incredibly hard.
“Al’s distribution is so good. He can drop the ball so easily into those pockets of space. When you are going back to him, you always feel safe. He knows when it is on to play and he’ll play it and he knows when not to. He has worked really hard on that.”
Pico Lopes spent Friday night in hospital rather than playing in Finn Park.— Extratime.com (@ExtratimeNews) May 2, 2021
However the defender trained today and is available for Monday's game against Waterford.https://t.co/ODH0GOfirp pic.twitter.com/09kdKOiWJv
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