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Aaron's rallying call to the hoops

'We need to dig deep to make up for lack of fans' demands McEneff

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Aaron McEneff of Shamrock Rovers

Aaron McEneff of Shamrock Rovers

SPORTSFILE

Aaron McEneff of Shamrock Rovers

The first Dublin derby since the League of Ireland season emerged from lockdown put a halt to Shamrock Rovers' gallop.

And as the Hoops head into what is the second of three successive derby games in the league, Rovers' Aaron McEneff believes the players need to find something within themselves to replicate the derby tension which is missing because of the lack of fans.

After tonight's game at home to Shelbourne, Rovers have two cup ties, against Ilves Tampere (Europa League) and Cork City (FAI Cup),

Tonight's game against Shels tonight is the second of three derbies in a row in the league. The Hoops drew with St Patrick's Athletic 0-0 draw last Sunday and Bohemians are next up in the league after tonight..

Of course no fans will be admitted to any of those games and Derry native McEneff admits that the paying public are missed.

Brilliant

"They're brilliant games, for me coming to Dublin and playing in so many derbies," says the 25 year-old, who has been hailed by manager Stephen Bradley as the most complete midfielder in the league.

"It's brilliant because, as players, you want to play in big games. But we also know the importance of those games and how they can swing because of the derby feeling.

"It's a strange one now with no fans, that atmosphere has to be created by the players. ."

He feels the lack of atmosphere held his side back when they were held to a draw, ending a seven-game winning run, away to St Pat's on Sunday.

"When there are fans in the stand, the momentum in the game can swing, maybe the fans getting louder. With us, it was more, so can we take that derby feeling out of St Pat's, because we knew that they'd be up for it because they're a good side.

"You have to give them credit as well because it's a derby, they put their bodies on the line. And maybe if there wasn't that derby feeling, they wouldn't have defended so much.

"But you have to give them credit for what they did, maybe that showed the derby feeling."

A trip back to his native Derry the previous week was an odd experience for McEneff who, for the first time, was not targeted verbally for his move from City as there were no fans there.

"Sometimes you feed off that atmosphere and you enjoy it," he joked.

"We've played three games now, all the players around the league are used to it. It's a profession we're in, there is a job to do and we have to get the three points.

"You have to see past the fact that there are no fans, there's no atmosphere and go and create that yourself. I think we've been able to do that since we came back."

Previously at Tottenham, McEneff had three and a half seasons with Derry before a move to Rovers and Bradley claims that he has blossomed into the best midfielder in the league.

"I always felt there was more to come from Aaron than what we were seeing at Derry," Bradley said this week. "I felt we could take him on to another level and make him a better player. He is a different player physically when you look at him now, he's in unbelievable shape, the fittest he's ever been. As a midfielder, I'd hate to play against him."

McEneff shrugs off the praise but admits he has worked hard to move up a level.

"When I came down here there was a lot of parts to my game that I had to work on and the coaching staff here has been excellent for me in that regard," he said.

Shels struggled to cope in the derby against Rovers in their last spell in the Premier Division, two draws and four losses from six league meetings (2012-13).

And the 2020 version of Shels is hard to work out, a side capable of away wins (Cork, Finn Harps) and a derby victory (St Pat's) but with patchy form.

"I think we'll see the best Shels," Bradley says when asked what he expects from the Reds tonight. "I think they'll enjoy coming to Tallaght, a nice pitch, nice stadium, and we have to be ready for that.

"I watched their last three games, I watched their games before lockdown and they are fairly similar in how they set up and approach the games and we have to make sure we are ready for that, have a game plan to go and break them down and win the game," said a determined McEneff.