Season Review 2022: Shamrock Rovers
- Macdara Ferris
- Mon, Nov 14 2022
Team: Shamrock Rovers
Head Coach: Stephen Bradley
Top Scorer: Rory Gaffney (15 goals in all competitions)
Stadium: Tallaght Stadium
Highest Attendance: 7,726 (1-0 win over Derry City in November)
Star Player: Rory Gaffney
The Galwegian was central to Rovers’ success this season. With his superb hold up play and strategic goalscoring, Gaffney grabbed ten league goals (giving him a joint fifth position in the league top scorer list) and 15 goals in all competitions.
His three goals in Europe – added to the two he scored last year – place him only second to Graham Burke (7) in European goals for the Hoops with Gaffney joint ninth in the all-time list.
Seven of Gaffney’s league goals came against the Dublin clubs. Remarkably the striker scored the winner for Rovers in the derbies in Tallaght twice against Bohs, twice against Shels and once against St. Pats.
His 94th minute winning goal for the Hoops against Shelbourne, as they twice came from behind in early October, was crucial in Rovers’ title success.
How are the Hooped hearts after that then? 🥴— Shamrock Rovers FC ☘️ (@ShamrockRovers) October 9, 2022
What a finish, what drama, what scenes 💚 pic.twitter.com/Frg0blzNnl
Best Young Player: Andy Lyons
With nine goals and nine assists in all competitions, 22-year-old Andy Lyons’ was a standard out player for the Hoops all campaign.
With Sean Kavanagh out injured at the start of the season and Neil Farrugia picking up an injury in the first half of the opening league game of the season (a 3-0 home win over UCD), Bradley deployed Lyons on the left which proved pivotal to the season’s success. Lyons score five goals across Rovers’ six games in April.
Later in the season when Farrugia returned from injury, Rovers’ inverted full back set up with right footed Lyons on the left and left footed Farrugia on the right proved highly effective.
He will make the move to Blackpool in the new year, earning Rovers a €350,000 transfer fee plus add ons.
Best New Signing: Jack Byrne
Stephen Bradley made two signings at the start of the season with Jack Byrne and Andy Lyons coming in. Lyons, who joined from Bohs, could well have been chosen for this ‘award’. Similarly, Dan Cleary could easily have laid claim to be best new signing.
He joined the club in the summer from SPL side St. Johnstone just as the Hoops had to cope with the loss of Pico Lopes with a three month injury. Cleary played 22 of the 25 games after joining the club – scoring five goals (including four in the league) and provided vital stability in the centre of Rovers’ back three.
However, the best signing for Rovers was the return of Jack Byrne to the club after an injury hit sojourn in Cyprus. While the Irish international didn’t start a league game across June, July and August due to injury, when he was available, he brought the usually creativity to the team with much of Rovers’ best play going through Byrne.
Looking at details from Wyscout, he topped several of the League of Ireland player stat charts: Assists 12 – averaging one every 180 minutes of action; Passes – 66 passes per 90 minutes; Key passes – 3.67 per 90mins; Passes to final third – 15.21 per 90; Deep completions (a pass excluding a cross that was received in a 20m radius from the opponents goal) – 2.02 per 90.
What we expected they would do:
The extratime.com team predicted that the Hoops would be champions (see here).
What they actually did:
SSE Airtricity League Premier Division
Rovers backed up expectations by winning the league by a 13-point margin, meaning they won their three in a row by a collective 40 points from the runners up behind them.
The 79 points total for the 2022 season beat their club record by a point set last season and they also equalled their highest number of wins in a league campaign of 24 (also set last year). They kept 17 clean sheets in 36 league games.
Rovers lost their first two away matches - falling to defeats in Derry and at St. Patrick’s Athletic. However, after losing to the Saints in Inchicore, the Hoops went on a 13 game unbeaten run – picking up 33 points from the 39 on offer.
In May it looked likely that Lincoln City would successfully headhunt Stephen Bradley as their new manager but Bradley announced he was staying with the Hoops on the morning of their home game against Finn Harps. It led to a party type atmosphere during Rovers’ 3-1 win over Harps later that day.
Their unbeaten run of 13 league matches came to an end with a 1-0 loss in Drogheda in a game the Hoops dominated. They also lost their next away game by the same scoreline in Dundalk. That was in mid-June but they wouldn’t lose again in the league till early September.
Bradley wasn’t in the dugout for that Dundalk defeat for family reasons. The Rovers boss explained later that week that his eight year old son Josh had been diagnosed with leukaemia. The manager contemplated stepping back as manager during his son’s treatment but with the support of his wife Emma and his backroom team Bradley continued in the role.
Having returned from a European tie in North Macedonia early on Friday morning in early August, the Hoops faced a difficult trip to face Derry City the following Sunday. The Candystripes were proving to the be only team that could keep up with the Hooops at the top of the table. The scoreless draw in Derry was a point well earned with Alan Mannus’ penalty save crucial. It left the Candystripes eight points behind the Hoops.
Rovers played two games across a five day period that was designated an international ‘break’ at the end of September. After a pretty dour scoreless draw against Shelbourne in Tolka Park, UCD came to Tallaght and Rovers won 1-0 leaving them five points clear with six games remaining.
Rovers put in one of their best performances of the season in the Showgrounds on the first day of October beating Sligo Rovers 3-1, before Shelbourne came to Tallaght Stadium and twice took the lead with the Hoops still trailing going into the 83th minute.
Dan Cleary equalised with his second goal of the game before Rory Gaffney scored a superb winner in the fifth minute of injury time to keep Rovers five points clear at the top.
When St. Pats came to Tallaght for Rovers’ penultimate home game of the season, the Hoops knew that a win over the Saints and against Derry City in the next league game and they would be champions again.
They fell behind to an early St. Pats goal but Rovers rallied to win 4-1 on a night when Derry City drew with Shelbourne seeing the Candystripes drop eight points behind the Hoops. Rovers secured the title just three days later with two games to spare and without kicking a ball as Derry City couldn’t get a win away to Sligo.
There was an emotional trophy presentation in Tallaght after Rovers’ 1-0 win over Derry City in their final home game of the campaign. Stephen Bradley's son Josh lifted the trophy alongside Hoops skipper Ronan Finn on the pitch after the final whistle.
Looking at the Wyscout stats for the league season, Rovers scored the most goals of any team (61), conceded the fewest (22), played the most passes (467 per 90 mins) with the most accuracy (82%), had most ball possession (59%), most progressive passes (79 per 90 mins), most deep completions (7.6 per 90 mins), most touches in the penalty area (19) and earned the most corners (229).
The Hoops had a superb season in Europe while also defending their league title. Across 17 weeks with 35,000km of travel (with virtually all of the air miles starting from Shannon Airport) they played a record number of games for a League of Ireland side in Europe (14).
They boosted the club’s coffers by earning €3,936,500 (with a six figure TV sum still to come) as they made a return to the group stages of a UEFA competition for the first time since 2011.
Their 12 goals in the campaign is a club record beating the 11 scored in the 1966 Cup Winner’s Cup.
Having fallen at the final group stage qualification hurdle last season, this time around the Hoops made no mistake. They were helped by being seeded (which was only confirmed following Russia’s expulsion from European competitions due to their invasion of Ukraine) and helped by what was a couple of reasonable draws in the Champions League opening round and the Europa League third qualifying round.
For their first tie they had a one in five chance of getting Lech Poznan when the draw groupings were confirmed on the eve of the event in UEFA HQ in Nyon. However by being drawn to play the Maltese champions Hibernians and going on to win 3-0 on aggregate, it provided a back door route for Rovers.
They used it to their fullest advantage allowing them to drop into the Europa League qualifiers when Ludogorets beat them in the Champions League second round (4-2 on aggregate).
They beat Shkupi (home and away) in the Europa League third round qualifier. The victory in North Macedonia was only the club’s ninth ever away win in Europe – three of those victories have come under Stephen Bradley (and no manager has won more games in Europe than Bradley’s dozen wins).
European Group Stages!🔜— Aidomo Emakhu (@AidomoE) August 10, 2022
A memorable night for this special club , Proud to be a part of this team😍💚 pic.twitter.com/52kJR5LGOm
The 5-2 aggregate victory over Shkupi assured Rovers of group stage football and after the 4-1 aggregate defeat to Ferencvaros in the Europe League play-off round the Hoops were directed into the Europa Conference League group stage.
In the Europa League in 2011 Rovers lost all six matches with the worst record in competition. However, this time around they picked up two points up in the group stage - drawing at home to both the winners (Djurgardens) and runners up (Gent) in Group F.
Only Norwegian champions Molde defeated the Hoops home and away. Rovers were one of five teams from the eight groups who earned two points (with just one of them having a better goal difference than Rovers’ minus nine).
The Hoops did struggle away from home against higher quality opposition in Europe (Ludogorets, Ferencvaros and Molde) and prioritised their team selection for domestic action for much of the group stages. Rory Gaffney was rested in Rovers’ 3-0 away defeat in Molde but that meant he was still on the pitch in the 94th minute against Shelbourne three days later to score that dramatic winner that went a long way to winning the title.
Rovers’ home record was remarkable winning five and drawing two of their seven European games in Tallaght. Their only defeat at home was against Molde and that remains Rovers’ only loss in Dublin 24 in all competitions since August of last year. The Hoops earned 1.875 of the 3.375 coefficient points earned by the League of Ireland clubs this year.
The Shamrock Rovers four-in-a-row side dominated domestic action in the mid-1980s. Playing in four cup finals in a row, they won three doubles. In Europe though, the Hoops were a major disappointment, losing in the first round on each occasion.
For this 2020s Shamrock Rovers three-in-a-row side, they have progressed deep in Europe but in the cup the Hoops have had their disappointments. Rovers lost the behind-closed-doors Aviva final to Dundalk in 2020 and were eliminated in the quarter-final stage in the last two seasons.
Their cup campaign this year began against Bangor Celtic in an ‘away’ game in Tallaght Stadium. Stephen Bradley made nine changes to the team who beat Ludogorets earlier that week handing out four debuts – in came Rovers’ two new signings Daniel Cleary and Simon Power, as did 16-year-old Cory O’Sullivan and 17-year-old Justin Ferizaj.
Leon Pohls played all Rovers’ cup games in goal - he ended the season with seven appearances for the Hoops (including three in the league and one in the Europa Conference League). Rovers ended the game against Bangor with six teenagers on the pitch (O’Sullivan, Ferizaj, Aidomo Emakhu, Gideon Tettah, Michael Leddy and Seán Carey).
In the second round, Rovers beat Drogheda United 2-1 after the game in Louth went to extra-time with Andy Lyons scoring the winner.
The Hoops had a difficult three day turn around from their Europa Conference League game in Gent to take on Derry City in the Brandywell in the quarter-final. Lee Grace’s red card – Rovers third and last sending off in a 54 game season – made their task more difficult but having taken the game to extra-time, Derry City prevailed en-route to winning the FAI Cup.
What they need to improve on for next year:
Well one problem that looks to be resolved for Rovers is that Alan Mannus seems set to return for another season. Having broken the club’s league clean sheet record in 2022, the goalkeeper is one shut out off equalling Alan O’Neill’s club all competition record.
Rovers’ home form has been superb over the last three seasons. They have lost only one league match in three years (against Sligo Rovers last year) and have suffered just three competitive match defeats in that period (Sligo, Flora Tallinn and Molde). There is certainly room for improvement away from Dublin 24 though – losing five in the league, one in the cup and five in Europe – doesn’t make pretty reading for Rovers fans.
The talk always seem to be the Hoops need a number nine to lead the line but without a dominant Gary Twigg type striker Rovers seem to be doing more than adequate. However there is much speculation that a new front man will be brought in with Colm Whelan, Aidan Keena, Phoenix Patterson and Tommy Lonergan all being mentioned.
Securing four-in-a-row is certainly within the capability of this Rovers squad but no doubt Derry City will challenge strongly again. If the Hoops are to combine competing again at high level in Europe, they do need more depth.
It is also an ageing squad - with seven players in their 30s and Mannus in his 40s. Rovers had an average age for their starting XI against Ludogorets of 30, compared with Dundalk’s 26.5 for their win over BATE in 2016; excluding the goalkeepers Mannus (40) and Gary Rogers (34) the comparison is 29.1 to 25.8.
So Bradley will have to refresh the squad particularly with Lyons leaving, Aidomo Emakhu likely to move to the UK and Justin Ferizaj coveted by a number of continental clubs.
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