Shamrock Rovers captain Ronan Finn says he doesn’t know exactly what to expect from Dundalk this season but still expects the FAI Cup winners to be challenging the Hoops for honours on all fronts.
Speaking to the media at the announcement of SSE Airtricity’s renewal of the sponsorship of the League of Ireland for the next two seasons last week, Finn was asked about who the biggest threat to Rovers would be this season.
While he said it was hard to judge Dundalk this season given he was not familiar with many of their signings to date – Albanian goalkeeper Alessio Abibi, Faroese centre half Sonni Nattestad, Latvian full back Raivis Jurkovskis and Norwegian striker Ole Erik Midtskogen – the former Lilywhite star said he fully expected Filippo Giovagnoli’s side to be there or thereabouts when it came to the top honours.
“It’s a hard one to judge because Dundalk are recruiting externally outside the league so you don’t know what they’ll be like,” said Finn.
“It’s maybe hard to gauge the calibre of player. I’m sure they’ve no doubt done their homework and are signing really good footballers so you’d expect them to be challenging on all fronts as well.
“St Pat’s I think have been building over the last couple of years and undoubtedly they’ll be pushing and will want to challenge for honours. Then Bohemians will be there again.
“Like I said over years and years, in this league if you don’t respect your opponents then you’ll get turned over. We genuinely respect everyone. We do the same amount of homework for Milan as Finn Harps. That’s the level of detail that the manager goes to and when you let them standards slip he tells you.”
The 33-year-old admitted last December’s 4-2 FAI Cup final defeat to Dundalk at the Aviva Stadium was a real blow but said it would be the driving force for Rovers when they returned to pre-season training this week.
“The chance to do a double was on the cards and we desperately, desperately wanted it,” said Finn.
“We had gone the season unbeaten and had been playing some really good football but we never for a second underestimated Dundalk because they’ve been there for years and are a talented, talented group. So for us it was a really hard one to take.
“On reflection, we probably didn’t play our best game but we played quite well and sometimes football just doesn’t work out the way you want it to. It was a blow, a real blow. Doubles are very hard to come by but that gives us the aim for this year. That has to be the plan, to go and try to achieve success – league titles, cups – it’s all part of what is on the menu for the football club. It wasn’t an easy one but that’s the beauty of football, you go again and that’s the target.”
As well as Daniel Mandroiu and Chris McCann, Rovers have added former Dundalk stars Sean Hoare and Sean Gannon to their ranks for the 2021 season and Finn is delighted with the business carried out so far by manager Stephen Bradley.
“Sean Hoare and Sean Gannon have been serial winners with Dundalk so I think the recruitment has been good.
“We’ve got to a stage within the group where you don’t need to sign eight, nine or 10 players because the group is strong but it always needs improving and I think that’s what the manager has done.”
Indeed, Finn admitted to playing a part in convincing Sean Gannon to return to Tallaght Stadium after seven seasons at Dundalk despite the possibility he could provide direct competition for him personally, given he occupied the right wing back berth throughout last season.
“I spoke to Sean. He’s someone I’d have been very close to throughout the years. I played with Sean 10 years ago and always got on great with him and again at Dundalk he was someone I travelled up and down withs so we naturally always had a good relationship.
“The opportunity to get Sean into the football club on the back of Rhys (Marshall) leaving was such a coup for the club because he has been such a stand out player in the league. I played with Sean for years so you know what you’re getting and the quality that he has.
“Then, from my own point of view, not necessarily (is he coming to take my place). Naturally you want to play every game. When it comes down to it, is he my direct competition? I don’t know. Maybe he is but I’ve played a lot of my career in the middle of midfield or behind the striker but that’s down to the manager. I’ll let him deal with that but, for me, to have Sean at the club is a real plus. It’s a real good signing from the manager,” said Finn.