Rovers bring in the crowds

by Dave Donnelly

Shamrock Rovers are now the biggest club in the League of Ireland according to the attendance figures for the 2019 season.

The Tallaght side have overtaken Cork City as the best-supported team in the country, registering an average attendance of 3,445 – the only club to break the 3,000 mark.

That represents an increase of 588 on 2018 – or a percentage uplift of almost 23% year-on-year – and a total attendance of 62,005 across 18 league games.

The six best-attended games in the division all came at the newly 8,000-capacity Tallaght Stadium, including a league record attendance of 7,021 for the 1-0 victory over rivals Bohemians in August.

Indeed, Rovers feature in 14 of the top 20 best-attended games according to the leading League of Ireland website, which collated the figures.

The two visits of Bohemians to Tallaght top the list of attendances, with the April game seeing 6,414 file through the turnstiles, while the two meetings with champions Dundalk are next.

It correlates with the vastly-improved fortunes of the Hoops, who ended a 32-year drought to lift the FAI Cup at Dundalk’s expense in the Aviva Stadium last month.

“With an FAI Cup in the bag and a second-place Premier Division finish, they can include the title of best supported club too,” said author Gareth Penrose.

“Rovers have been making steady progress over the last four seasons. This season they recorded an average attendance of 3,445, the only club to break the 3,000 mark.

“The 62,005 people that came into Tallaght Stadium represent 13.27% of the total league attendance.”

Stephen Bradley’s side recorded their best league finish in seven years in 2019 as they finished second behind the Lilywhites and led the table at the halfway point.

It’s been universally good news for the Hoops as they recently secured a seven-figure investment from Irish entrepreneur Dermot Desmond to further their aim of becoming the island’s top side.

Rovers came within a whisker of a Europa League third round qualifier as they were edged out by Apollon Limassol in July, having beaten Norway’s SK Brann in the previous round.

Defender Roberto Lopes and midfielder Jack Byrne earned senior international debuts for Sierra Leone and Ireland respectively, bringing to six the number of full internationals in Bradley’s squad.

Rovers last week confirmed the signing of Republic of Ireland under-21 defender Liam Scales, their first major signing of the off-season.

Scales is the third member of UCD’s First Division-winning side of 2018 to arrive in Tallaght following his fellow under-21 international Neil Farrugia and midfielder Gary O’Neill in the summer.

Both O’Neill and Farrugia played a key role in Rovers’ Cup success in November, with O’Neill calmly slotting home the decisive spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out.

Defender Lee Grace has signed a three-year contract with the club after Hull City opted not to take up an option on the Tipperary man following a trial last month.

Midfielder Greg Bolger has signed a new contract while Bradley is expected to unveil a new striker in the coming weeks following the departure of Dan Carr for Apollon Limassol in the summer.

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