Derry City’s Mark Connolly: Shamrock Rovers still the team to beat

Derry City’s Mark Connolly is already looking ahead to next season
Derry City’s Mark Connolly (second from right) believes they have enough quality in the team to push Shamrock Rovers this season

Centre-back Mark Connolly believes that while Shamrock Rovers haven’t drastically added to their squad, he does believe the champions are still the side everyone has to beat.

The Hoops, who defeated St Patrick’s Athletic 3-1 to win Friday night’s President’s Cup, have added Josh Honohan, Darragh Burns and Aaron McEneff to this season’s squad.

However, Stephen Bradley has kept the likes of Jack Byrne, Rory Gaffney, Markus Poom, Trevor Clarke and Johnny Kenny for the 2024 campaign, while Conan Noonan looks a tremendous talent and because of that Connolly knows they are going to be as strong as ever.

“At the end of the day, I know it’s a cliché thing, but we just look after ourselves,” he insisted.

“I’ve seen that they have made one or two signings, nothing drastic but listen they’ve won the league the last four years, so do they need to strengthen, I’m not too sure.

“But look for us we needed to get someone in, especially up front to score goals, we obviously have Danny Mullen along with Daniel (Kelly) and Pat (Hoban). so the manager (Ruaidhrí Higgins) has strengthened in that area.

“Someone like Daniel Kelly can play anywhere in those forward areas, he’s a clinical player, who’s proven at this level, he’s scored big goals in big games.

“Look for us personally we’ve strengthened and we’ve a squad now that we look at and you can see the competition right across the room. There’s a hungriness because we really want to win this league, because it has been too long and everybody is going to give it a right go.”

The former Dundee United defender also knows it’s a huge season for the Candystripes, especially having added the likes of Hoban and Kelly to their squad.

“It’s a massive year for the club and we know what football is all about, in terms of what’s needed and stuff,” he added.

“Obviously the manager has brought in Daniel and Pat, two very, very good players, who know the league, they’ve won things, so we know it’s a massive year for us ahead.

“These big players thrive on the pressure, big moments and stuff like that. You find once pressure goes away your game probably lacks a bit and I think Pat’s definitely one of those, who likes big moments and big games.

“Pat’s come here whenever he probably could have stayed closer to home to Galway and stuff, but no, he’s come here, he’s committed to the club and he’s come to us and see the project that the manager has here.

“The minute he walked through the doors he also knew what type of players we have here and he knows that he’s come into a team that’s going to provide chances for him and I’m hoping he takes them.”

The 32-year-old is keeping his fingers crossed that Higgins has a tough selection headache for every game and he also insists that the whole squad is going to have to play their part if they harbour hopes of securing honours.

“Seeing the boys and speaking to them over the off-season, everyone has looked after themselves and done everything they can to make sure that this year we can all stay injury free and give it a right go,” he added.

“There’s no excuses from any of us but looking at last year we had a lot of injuries over the course of the season at different times, so if we can keep the majority of players as fit as we can then there’s no reason why we can’t run the league close.

“From the manager’s point of view there’s probably an annoyance an awkwardness of having to pick and chose players, but at the end of the day we’re all here to win the league and if you’re playing well, you’ll play and if you’re not then someone else will play and the good thing now is that we’ve a big group of players to pick from.

“We’ve got quality all over the pitch, we’ve probably at least two players every position, who can easily play, so it’s a good headache for the manager.

“He’s recruited really well, the manager has been really clever in terms of his recruitment and now he’s built a squad to go and give the league a rattle.”