By Michael Hannan
There's a neat symmetry between Shamrock Rovers manager Trevor Croly and the team he hopes to beat on Saturday in the Setanta Sports Cup Final. Croly spent four years at Drogheda United as a player, and by a strange twist of fate which it seems sometimes only sport can throw up, made his league debut in 1992 against the Hoops.
With nothing between the two sides in terms of the league table, his opposite number Mick Cooke acknowledged the different challenges and pressures facing Croly in taking over at Tallaght Stadium. "It’s Trevor's first final," he told Goal.com. "Obviously he's had a very unpredictable start. It's the biggest job in the country. He's been thrown in the deep end with a massive squad, and sometimes it's possible to have too many players to pick from. He'll be a fantastic manager down the road, once he’s got his feet under the table, which will hopefully start after next Saturday!"
Croly, like Cooke, predicts a tight game, noting that the familiarity of both teams with each other will be a contributing factor in how the pattern of the game develops. His priority right now, though, is to ensure his own squad is at its optimum level for Saturday. "I'm concentrating on having everyone available to play," Croly told Goal.com. "We both know how the other team plays and the formations used, and the weather can play a role as well. I think we’ve a lot of quality in the group, as do Drogheda, but we have to concentrate on our own strengths, as of course do they."
The Hoops had been tipped to challenge for league honours this season. However, they currently find themselves in sixth place, but Croly refuses to point the finger of blame, with a reminder that success with a new system doesn’t occur overnight. "I don't think it's gone wrong for us this season," he said. "Yes, we haven't got the results we would have liked, but in any league period, you have your ups and downs."
He continued: "We've created a lot of chances, but just haven't put them away. People tend to blame the strikers for missing chances, but midfielders and defenders can score as well. We've had times where we've conceded soft goals from set pieces, but it's the same with all new managers coming in; things take time, and people don't like taking time, people want everything instantly."
Croly's side have shown a degree of character in recent weeks, salvaging late draws against Cork City, as well as against Sligo Rovers in a league encounter at Tallaght Stadium. And the Hoops boss felt that this tenacity would stand to his team on Saturday and the remainder of the season. "I think the guys have shown great character," he said. "We played Sligo and were excellent, the better team. But we gave them a goal. Mistakes happen."
He added: "The main thing was the character and the mentality of the players, we created enough chances to win it. You keep doing the right things, and then good things will happen. Sometimes when it doesn't happen for you, in some ways, when you play poorly and lose or draw, you actually feel better about yourself than playing well and then losing or drawing."
Croly speaks with warmth of his time as a Drogheda United player, but is not overly concerned about nullifying the threat his old club might pose, preferring to talk about his own team's preparation. "We'll look at Drogheda of course, but you can affect yourself more than the opposition, so the emphasis and greater percentage of concentration will be on us.
"A certain percentage will be devoted to Drogheda - but if you start worrying about what way a team is going to play, if they'll use certain players or a certain set play, and then on the day, it doesn't happen, you run the risk of wasting your energy. We'll work on Drogheda and different scenarios that they might use, but the bulk of the preparation will be on us."
Despite this, Croly does not see victory on Saturday as essential to being a springboard for the remainder of Rovers' league season. "I'm not a big believer in that," he said. "Your destiny's the same in one game, good or bad.
"I think it's just that Saturday will be the closing chapter of the Setanta Cup, and we want to win it, as I'm sure do Drogheda. Then we'll move to the next game and prepare for it as well as we can, physically, mentally, tactically and technically; that's all you can do."
Shamrock Rovers will face Drogheda United in the final of the Setanta Sports Cup on Saturday, May 11. Kick off 15:00 BST.