'Stranger things have happened': Aaron McEneff refuses to give up on title

Goalscorer, Aaron McEneff applauds the travelling Rovers support after victory over Derry City at Brandywell.
Goalscorer, Aaron McEneff applauds the travelling Rovers support after victory over Derry City at Brandywell.

AARON McENEFF hasn't given up hope of capturing his first League of Ireland title as victory over his hometown club on Friday night ensured Shamrock Rovers remain in hot pursuit of champions, Dundalk.

The Cornshell Fields native was coolness personified as he took control of the ball and expertly sent Derry City keeper, Peter Cherrie the wrong way from the penalty spot to give Rovers a 64th minute lead at the Brandywell.

He was determined to take the spot-kick into the Showgrounds end and even denied Republic of Ireland international, Graham Burke his first goal since returning to the Hoops on loan from Preston.

"Graham Burke wanted to get himself off the mark but there was no chance I was going to let anyone else hit it, especially coming back here," explained McEneff.

"I have so many good memories here and that just adds to it really," he smiled. "Obviously it's on the other side but I kept my composure and waited for the keeper who has gone a bit early and I slotted the other side."

The ex-Tottenham Hotspur youth admitted he felt Derry were harshly penalised when the referee, Rob Hennessy pointed to the spot after Jack Byrne went down under the slightest of touches from Greg Sloggett.

"I'll be honest with you, I think the two penalties were soft," he said. "Our one was soft and I think he's tried to even it up again by giving another soft one up the other end. That was my view."

McEneff was criticised by Derry fans for his cheeky 'Panenka' penalty which sealed the 2-0 win over the Candy Stripes in Tallaght back in February. There was no such nonchalance on this occasion but he showed nerves of steel in front of the City support to tuck away his penalty and give Rovers the upper hand.

The last time he was at Brandywell in the green and white, he hit out at sections of the City support who, he claims, subjected him to 'disrespectful' and 'personal' abuse.

On his second visit to Foyleside since his close season move to south Dublin, he insists there wasn't any heightened emotions as he viewed the encounter as 'just another game'.

"I think the first time up here I found it hard coming back. Even coming into the ground felt a bit weird. That was done then and coming up tonight was a different story. It was just another game and we're working on getting the three points.

"I didn't really pay attention to anything going on. I knew I would get shouted at and whatever but I'm here to do a job and play football and I think we did that well as a team."

The midfielder expected a tough encounter against City but he was confident they would eventually wear the home side down.

"We knew it was going to be a tough game because Derry have been in a good run of form and have been playing good football.

"David Parkhouse has been on fire from what I've seen every week. So we knew it was going to be a tough game coming up here.

"In the first half we had a lot of possession but they frustrated us and defended key areas of the pitch well. We just had to keep moving the ball and try and take the legs out of them a bit. I think that showed at the start of the second half.

"The opening goal came at a good time for us at the start of the second half and the second one killed the game off.

"It works at times when teams sit in a frustrate teams but if you do keep the ball, even mentally it makes it harder for the other team.

"We came up here to try to take the game to Derry and I think we did that first half without really hurting them. You're moving the ball and they have to run to close you down and it does take the legs from you."

With Rovers' European aspirations ended in Cyprus after an extra-time winner by Apollon Limassol and progression to the second round of the FAI Cup secured following last week's win over Finn Harps, McEneff is happy to start concentrating on the league again.

And while Dundalk are seven points clear with a game in hand, McEneff believes Rovers still have a chance to reign them in.

"Anything can happen in football. We've seen stranger things happen. All we can do is look after our own business. Go out and try get three points every games and then it's out of our hands really. As long as we do our job each game then let's see where it takes us. The rest will look after itself."

When asked about the thrilling race for the third European spot between Bohemians and Derry City, McEneff said he was hoping his old club made its return to the Europa League.

"I just want to wish the boys all the best. I've still got a lot of mates in that changing room and hope they get a European spot because they've been brilliant this year for lads all coming in together.

"It happened a few years ago with us when we were tipped for relegation and ended up in the European spot. So it's good to see and I hope they go and do it."