SOCCER: CRAIG HYLAND INTERVIEW
Hyland enjoys positive 2015 with Rovers
By Daire Walsh
The 2015 League of Ireland season was a highly encouraging one for Naas native Craig Hyland, who featured prominently as the last line of Shamrock Rovers’ defence in the Airtricity Premier Division.
Experienced shotstopper Barry Murphy did regain his place in the side by the end of the year, but given how limited his game time was in 2014, Hyland was delighted with the progress he made under Pat Fenlon this term.
“For me personally, I think last season was a massive step in the right direction. Coming off the back of my first season with Rovers, where I only played four league games, to have played 20 last year. Then four European games, as well as another six, I think, cup games,” Hyland remarked.
“I think, is a massive step-up. I played quite well, and had a good run in the team. For me, it was great really. I suppose, second season it really was a step in the direction I wanted to go.”
It was a productive season for Rovers, whose third place finish in the top-flight was an improvement on their three previous league campaigns. Hyland certainly feels that the club are taking steps in the right direction, and also acknowledged how influential the departing Richie Towell was for league winners Dundalk.
“When you look at how well Dundalk did, and subsequently how well Richie Towell has done in terms of personal awards, and terms of getting his move [to Brighton & Hove Albion], I think if you were to take his goals out of it, the league would have been a lot closer.”
“Now, obviously that’s not the case, and they won it comprehensively, but I don’t think we had a bad season. Finished a spot ahead of where we finished the previous season. Obviously disappointing not to probably compete at the top for a little bit longer, but ultimately we missed out on second place by a couple of points.”
The profile of the club (and the league) received a major boost when international centurion Damien Duff joined Rovers in July. His very presence was a massive lift to the club, and although another ex-Republic of Ireland midfielder – Stephen McPhail – remains in Tallaght, the retirement of Keith Fahey meant that Duff’s arrival was ideally timed.
“Yeah, losing Keith [Fahey] less than half-way through the season was a big blow because obviously Keith was a great player, and he had a big influence on the pitch.
“For Damien then to come in, brought the same again, only probably with a little bit more experience even than Keith. He came in, and he was just kind of a breath of fresh air around the training ground. The way he works, and how hard he works, and how down to earth he was really.”
“Now, don’t forget also that we have Stephen McPhail around as well, who is also not only a great player, and a great person to have around the dressing room, but he’s also doing his coaching badges. He has an awful lot of insight into football.”
While this is an uncertain time for a lot of League of Ireland players, Hyland (who has enjoyed spells with Naas AFC and Newbridge Town in the past) knows exactly where he will be playing his football in 2016. He signed a new contract with Rovers last Friday morning, and considering how difficult it can be to find employment in the league, he is thrilled that he has put pen to paper for the coming season.
“Yeah, funny enough I only actually signed my contract this morning [Friday], so it is a very uncertain time of the year for a lot of people. Luckily, I was aware of my situation probably for a good while now, where I was going to be, and how it was going to work. For other players, I know that can be very stressful, but you have to give a good mention to the PFAI.”
“They run their out-of-season training camps, and help players – that haven’t been signed up – to stay fit and then get themselves in the shop window by friendlies, and then they go over to a tournament in Norway. That’s really an effective way of doing it,” Hyland added.