Collie O’Neill on Shamrock Rovers’ re-focus ahead of crucial Shelbourne clash on Saturday

Hoops Head Coach Collie O'Neill

Hoops Head Coach Collie O'Neill Credit: Eddie Lennon (ETPhotos)

Macdara Ferris reports from Tallaght Stadium

With just a 20 game season, every match in the Women’s Premier Division is a crucial one. That certainly seems to be the case this year with several teams showing the capability of being part of a title race.

This Saturday afternoon sees Shamrock Rovers travel to Tolka Park to take on Shelbourne (kick-off 2pm). The fact the Hoops secured the services of several Shels players last season as Rovers returned to the top flight of Irish women’s club football added a new element to a very old Ringsend rivalry.

Last year the teams played out a 1-1 draw in Tolka Park early in the season, with the Hoops winning the return league game in Tallaght 3-1 in October. However, it was a painful result for Rovers in the FAI Cup semi-final the following week as the Reds ran out 2-0 winners in Dublin 24.

O’Neill’s side conceded an injury time goal in their final league game of the season allowing Shelbourne to secure runners-up spot at Rovers expense.

The Hoops have lost just the one league game across this season and last and that only defeat was crucial in the 2023 title race as it was a 1-0 away loss to Peamount United just before the lengthy World Cup break. The Peas wouldn’t falter in the subsequent title run.

With the 2024 season starting for Rovers with three consecutive draws, they come into Saturday afternoon’s game two points behind Shels (and six points off league leaders Galway United). 

For Hoops Head Coach Collie O’Neill, the defeat to Shelbourne in the cup last year forced him into a review of his team’s formation. His side played a back four consistently throughout the last campaign but in 2024 they have gone with a three at the back system 25% of the time in the league.

“We realised in the Shels game in the cup that we were one dimensional and we wanted in pre-season to use it (three at the back),” explained O’Neill to

“It is a way of being able to flip in the middle of a game so we could be a little bit more flexible from one to the other and the players would know their jobs. We stuck with it for a game and a half and have reverted back to four but it gives us an extra option.”

There was dissapointment for Rovers last time out in the league as they gave up a very early lead through Áine O’Gorman against Treaty United in Tallaght and had to battle back to claim a 2-2 draw with Joy Ralph scoring the equaliser. 

“Overall it is probably the most disappointed I've been after one of our performances,” said O’Neill about that Treaty match. “I never really do get caught up on results. It is performances I look for and we were no where near the level we are capable.

"The only option you have when things don't go your way and you feel you aren't getting the rub of the green, you just have to work a little bit harder and that is all that we can do.”

Rovers have had a week off from matches due to the international window with Ireland’s EURO 2025 qualifiers against France and England. “It is a good thing. It lets us calm down a little bit. Let's us get the group together and try and refocus and gives us a chance to go again.” 

A trio of O’Neill’s squad didn’t get a break from football but had a very succesful international break away with the Ireland under-19 team securing qualification for this summer’s European Championship at that age group with Rovers represented by Lia O’Leary, Aoife Kelly and Joy Ralph (who scored in Ireland’s first two qualifiers).

“She is has been really really good,” said O’Neill about Ralph who won the club’s player of the month award for March. “She has great pace and hunger and a little bit of aggression but that is what you want. I think she will have a bright future in the game. She is one of the good ones.”

Additional reporting by Christine Allen