Former UCD AFC title winner Ronan Finn was back at The Bowl with Shamrock Rovers on Friday night, before the game he spoke to UCD's Jamie Moore
Tonight sees the return of another former league winner to The Bowl, Ronan Finn or ‘Finner’ as he is fondly remembered around these parts, won the First Division title with UCD back in 2009 before moving on to Sporting Fingal and now current league champions Shamrock Rovers.
“I have great memories of my five years playing for UCD and there's not much I'd like to change. The scholarship years at U21 level were amazing, we were like a dream team in certain games and I won my first league in football in 2005.”
Finn’s first major trophy in senior football though, came with the First Division, and a final day of the season victory in Athlone.
“Another huge achievement in my career was winning the Division 1 title under Martin Russell, we had such a young side but I think everyone that year would agree we were worthy winners! We had a really strong team that year, we were very young side but Martin and Diarmuid McNally gave us the confidence to believe we could win the league, and its great see all the boys doing so well.”
Finner played over 100 games for the club while studying for his Sports Management degree at the same time, and says he would like to play under current gaffer Martin Russell again in the future:
“Martin was a top coach when I arrived at UCD and was always very welcoming to the young scholarship lads who were coming in but it's only when you play at first team level on a day to day basis do you realise how good he is.”
“He's now proven over last few years he's a top manager, as well as a coach and that is going help UCD. He's someone I have utmost respect for and would like play under him again before I hang up my boots.” Top praise from a top player!
Recent negative media coverage prompted UCD to complain to RTE MNS about comments from some of their contributors but Finn explains the challenges players and staff at the club face:
“UCD will always have its negative press from certain people but anyone who knows the club realises how professionally it's run! Combining studying full time for a degree and playing football at the highest level at the age of 19 brings its own stresses and pressures and not a lot these people realise that!”
Currently bottom of the Airtricity League Premier Division, three points off 10th placed Dundalk, Finn thinks his old side can stay up:
“I think UCD will maintain their Premier Division status, they have a lot of quality in the side and are more than capable of picking up points to get them up the table.”
He also had some kind words to say about some of his former teammates:
“Paul Corry, Paul O’Conor and Graham Rusk are three players who have continued to play well since I've left and are still doing so this season.”
While looking back happily on his time with The Students, Ronan’s loyalties lie firmly with The Hoops, as Stephen Kenny’s team look to improve on a difficult first half of the season.
Last year’s successes were always going to be hard to repeat, but the manager and the players have heard a chorus of boos at the end of the recent home results, but a win tonight is all that’s on Finn’s mind:
“I enjoy playing back at UCD, its great see all the old staff, and I still have great relationships with everyone involved within the club. Hopefully it will be an entertaining game but we really need three points so all sentiments are forgotten about and I'm positive we can get a good result tonight.”
Rovers clinched the league title at The Bowl last season, with a late Dean Kelly winner so no wonder Finn is in confident mood ahead of tonight’s game.
The 24 year old midfielder admitted it will be difficult to top last season’s highs, when Rovers won the league title as well as becoming the most successful Irish club in European football for a number a years, competing in the UEFA Europa League group stages:
“Last year was unreal for everyone involved, something I'll never forget. I’m very disappointed it can't be replicated again this year but retaining our title, winning the FAI cup and league cup is something everyone is thriving to achieve.”
Although Rovers have failed to produce the winning form of last season, on a personal level Finn has received rave reviews for some of his performances and whispers of a move across the water won’t go away. But he’s just focused on the job in hand:
“I'm 24 at the moment, playing for biggest club in Ireland and recently signed two year extension to my contract so I can't really ask for much more. I don't really think about it (moving away), I’m 100% committed Rovers and trying now to keep my form consistent and help the team move up the table to where we should be. If something was to happen in the future I'd have to deal with it then.”
The UCD AFC pathway of playing professional football in the top league in the country as well as studying full time for a degree is something that has helped numerous LOI footballers, including Finner’s former teammates, Boh’s Evan McMillan, fellow Rover Ciaran Kilduff and Shelbourne’s Andy Boyle to name just a few. And Ronan plans to go back to college and get more qualifications at some stage but at the moment football is his only focus.
Shamrock Rovers fans often chant “Shamrock Rovers Ireland’s Number 1” and nobody can argue with their unquestioned and vocal support for their Hoops. Attendances at the top class Tallaght Stadium are always the best in the country every weekend.
And Finn finished by saying how the fans help the players on the pitch:
“The fans at the club are unreal, the stadium in Tallaght is fantastic and they really can generate a great atmosphere on a Friday night! They travel with us in great numbers throughout Europe which is great as a player to see when you are out there.”