Shamrock Rovers celebrate a late goal in their FAI Senior Cup semi-final against Dundalk. Picture: Martin Doherty

SHAMROCK Rovers wrapped up third place in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division with a 2-1 win over Limerick in Tallaght on Friday night.
Stephen Bradley’s side were already assured of European football – and the minimum €225,000 jackpot it brings – but finishing third was important to demonstrate real progress on the pitch.
The Hoops improved on last season’s fourth-place finish by leapfrogging Derry City, whose good start came to a halt following the untimely death of captain Ryan McBride in March.
While Dundalk and Cork City once again occupied the top two positions, Rovers managed three wins from their meetings, compared to none in 2016.
Nevertheless, Rovers finished with one point fewer than they did in 2016, and 13 losses from their 33 games was more than relegated Galway United.
A new CEO and COO have been installed behind the scenes, while new investment has seen the second-phase of the top-class Roadstone training facility in Kingswood completed.
The off-season saw a huge turnover in the playing squad – 12 players in and 12 out – as Bradley looked to shape a squad that could take the club forward.
The manager cautioned his side would take time to gel and that’s borne out by results – just 13 points from their first series of games compared to 22 from the second and 19 in the third.
Defender Lee Grace was one of four players brought in during the transfer window, joining from Galway United with an undisclosed transfer fee paid for his release.
“My first game was a loss but after that we went on a seven-game winning streak, so that took us up the table and more or less overtook Derry,” Grace told GazetteSport.
“The last couple of games didn’t go as planned but we secured third and secured Europe, so it’s been a good second half of the season.”
Grace helped the Hoops to the semi-final of the FAI Cup, where they and Dundalk couldn’t be separated over 180 minutes before the Lilywhites won in extra time in Tallaght.
“To get to the semi-final of any cup is not easy so it is progress. We were so close to getting to the Aviva. Next year we’ll go one further and get into the final.”
Grace believes the squad can mount a stronger challenge next season if a few choice recruits can be summoned.
“I think the gaffer is going to recruit again now in the off-season. A couple of players I think we do need to try catch the likes of Cork and Dundalk.
“This season has been a learning curve for the gaffer and nearly all the players getting to know each other. I think next season we can push further.”

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