Football returns to Tallaght Stadium for the first time since mid-March with Finn Harps the visitors for this 5pm kick off. Shamrock Rovers started the season so well – with five wins out of five – before the COVID-19 break.
Across the coronavirus and winter breaks, the Hoops are on a run of eight league wins in a row – another victory on Saturday and that will be their longest league winning streak 1966. A win would also put them five points clear at the top of the table with a dozen games to go in this shortened season.
“Everyone else outside can talk about whatever they want to talk about in terms of run-ins and games left,” said Stephen Bradley when talking to the Shamrock Rovers media team on Friday.
“What we've got to do is concentrate on the next game and that's Finn Harps. We want to fully impose ourselves on the game and go and get three points.
“They have caused real problems for the teams they played and I think they have one of the best squads that we've faced. When you look through it they have Dave Webster and Ryan Connolly who were here (with Rovers), and Barry McNamee, they have quality all over the pitch. So it's going to be a difficult game.”
The Hoops have lost Greg Bolger to injury for the rest of the season after an awkward fall in a pre-season friendly resulted in an shin injury that required surgery.
Sean Kavanagh has returned to training after his knee surgery but had a minor set back during the week and is not available for this weekend's game. Graham Burke, Jack Byrne, Gary O'Neill and Rory Gaffney all have minor issues but are expected to be part of the Hoops squad.
“I think we've worked so hard the last seven or eight weeks now and the players are just itching to get back on the pitch,” said the Hoops Head Coach. “You can see it, especially the last ten days to two weeks, the intensity level has gone up and the players are just itching to get back.
A tough task await Finn Harps in Tallaght on Saturday evening when they face a team they failed to score against five times last season and they have lost their last nine games against the Hoops.
Harps sit in eighth place in the early season table having earned four points from the four games they have played to date.
They started the season well with a win on opening night against Sligo Rovers and followed it up with an excellent point away to Derry City before they lost to Dundalk and Cork City (who sit one point below them in the table having played one game more).
Harps boss Ollie Horgan is hoping to have new signing Stephen Folan available to him, subject to international clearance.
The Galway man was previously on the books at Newcastle United, Limerick, Sligo Rovers, Cork City, Galway United and Dundalk. He most recently spent some time playing with South Melbourne in Australia but returned to Ireland some weeks ago.
"We are very happy to have Stephen with us for the rest of the season,” said Horgan speaking to finnharps.ie. “We have a massive battle on our hands and Stephen brings a lot of experience in the league.
"There's a bit of a sprint onto the finish now and we'll need all the bodies we can gather to be able to compete."
Folan said he is "delighted to join the club and am looking forward to the battle ahead. I can't wait to get going and hopefully making a contribution to a successful campaign."
Referee: Neil Doyle.
Harps have lost their last nine games against Rovers – eight in the league along with a 1-0 FAI Cup defeat last season in Tallaght. Last year the Hoops beat Harps in the league 3-0 and 1-0 both at home and away. In 2017 Rovers won all three league games against Harps, with 3-2 and 4-1 victories in Tallaght and a 1-0 win in Ballybofey, while the previous year Rovers won 2-0 in August 2016. The last time Harps avoided defeat to Rovers was the 1-1 draw in Tallaght in May 2016.
Saturday’s game is a personal milestone for Hoops Head Coach Stephen Bradley as overtakes Ray Treacy to become the longest leader in the Hoops dugout since the John Giles reign at Rovers.
Graham Burke is Rovers’ top goalscorer with five goals - all scored in the one game against Cork City. Rovers have scored 15 goals this year whereas Harps have just the two with Ryan Connolly and Karl O’Sullivan the goalscorers.
2-0 home win for the Hoops
Injured: Greg Bolger.