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Lia O’Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024




When Shamrock Rovers Women announced their intention to end their state of dormancy and re-enter the Women’s Premier Division, many expected them to put up a strong fight for the top-flight title. They have a rich history of winning trophies and are generally recognised as one of the Republic of Ireland (RoI)’s most successful sides.

Their first campaign back in existence largely followed that script. Rovers competed hard under head coach Collie O’Neill and secured a commendable third place. Their well-rounded squad and attractive front-footed style of play both played a key role in their successful campaign.

There were many who helped their 2023 campaign to be so promising, with the likes of striker Stephanie Zambra and utility player Áine O’Gorman immediately standing out due to their status as experienced international stars. However, it was a team effort, and there were others who deserve a lot of credit, too, with one being Lia O’Leary, who largely featured at left-back but who constantly demonstrated her ability to operate in all three areas as the season went on.

The consistency of her performances led to her scooping up the league’s Young Player of the Year award and led to interest in her from elsewhere, with reports linking both newly promoted WSL side Crystal Palace Women and Sassuolo Femminile with her and both inviting her to spend time with them during the off-season period. The positive start that she has made to the 2024 campaign will have only enhanced that interest and this tactical analysis will take a closer look at why she is seen as one of the hottest talents in the Irish game at this moment in time.

Defensive contributions

As referenced, Lia O’Leary did end up featuring in a number of positions as the 2023 season went on and has continued to do so in 2024, but the position that she has started in more than most is left-back. Her key responsibilities have revolved around making important contributions in dangerous situations and ensuring that Rovers are as secure as possible whenever they have been without the ball.

Lia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tacticsLia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Lia O’Leary has played with a calm demeanour in 1-v-1 defensive duels.

When looking at how O’Leary has approached this side of the game, it is clear to see that she is not the type of player who is happy to simply sit back and wait for the ball to enter her vicinity. Instead, she likes to win the ball at the earliest available opportunity and to ensure that the opposing side has as little chance as possible to get into areas from which they can try their luck. As a result, situations like this, when she has moved out to close down Treaty United Women’s Cara Griffin, have been common to see in Rovers’ matches.

When watching her engage in these 1-v-1 duels, what really stands out is her ability to stay calm and composed whenever it appears as though she is under pressure. She rarely panics and always looks after the ball. In this case, she managed to win and manoeuvre it in such a way that Griffin had to give up all hope of continuing her attack. Instead, it was cleared from danger once O’Leary had sent it towards those behind her.

Given that a key aspect of Rovers’ tactics relies on their ability to play out from the back with long passes, there is always an inherent risk that the ball will be intercepted before it reaches its intended target and that the opposing side will look to utilise the spaces that are immediately available to them. With O’Leary in the back line and getting up to the ball early, Rovers will always have a chance of preventing those attacks from coming to anything, though, and the fact that she has succeeded in 72% of her defensive duels this season to date shows how this has made her an important member of their squad.

Lia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tacticsLia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Lia O’Leary’s defensive territory map at Shamrock Rovers Women for the 2024 Women’s Premier Division season.

Whilst the majority of her defensive contributions have come in areas higher up the pitch, as this graphic indicates, it would not be correct to say that that is the only way in which she defends.

Instead, as is highlighted in the image, there have been times when she has dropped deeper into her own third to win the ball, which adds another dimension to her play and highlights how adaptable she can be. It is this that will particularly interest those clubs keeping an eye on her progress, with it giving them flexibility in how they can tweak their tactics during and between matches as they look to ensure that they can deal with any in-game situation that they might come across.

Lia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tacticsLia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Lia O’Leary has looked to alter the way that she depends as necessary.

That theme of being adaptable is also shown in O’Leary’s clear understanding of when to commit to tackles and when to defend more subtly.

In this case, the latter approach was required, with DLR Waves attacking down the wing in the same manner as Treaty did. However, O’Leary, this time, didn’t close the ball down and instead hung back slightly. By doing so, she allowed Michelle Doonan to find Freya Roche with her pass, and that might initially have looked like a mistake as it allowed Roche to control the ball in space and to look for a teammate.

However, O’Leary had noticed that teammate Melissa O’Kane had tracked towards her and that doing so had limited what Roche could do. The presence of both players meant that her only options now were to either dribble up the wing or send the ball forward for Doonan to run onto. In the end, she went for the latter, which then allowed O’Leary to get to the ball ahead of Doonan and to see it out of play for a Rovers throw.

Defending is not only about simply moving to win the ball; there are times when positioning is the name of the game. As this situation shows, O’Leary understands that well, and it again highlights the adaptable nature of her game that has led to her becoming so highly sought after.

Transitions

The key thing about playing for Rovers, though, is that, regardless of what position a player is in, they must be capable of contributing to their transitions. Her ability to execute quick passing sequences and to continually progress the ball through the thirds has made them such a difficult side to contain, and it will continue to be as this season goes on.

Lia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tacticsLia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Lia O’Leary has been vital at moving the ball around the pitch at speed.

Fortunately for Lia O’Leary, this has never been a problem, with her once again moving forward to win the ball here by intercepting the pass made by DLR midfielder Isobel Finnegan.

However, while she has averaged 4.9 interceptions per game during the ongoing campaign, what happens afterwards really stands out. O’Leary instantly spots the open territory on the far side of the field and sends the ball in that direction. By doing so, she takes those DLR players nearest her out of the game and sets up a potential counterattack for her side.

Therefore, when considering why Rovers have largely dominated matches, with them averaging 60.3% possession per outing this season, this has to be factored in and shows how vital she is to this aspect of their tactics.

Lia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tacticsLia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Lia O’Leary has got into good positions whenever Shamrock Rovers Women have been in transition.

It is not the only way that O’Leary has proven herself to be of use in transitional moments, though, and this is where her aforementioned positional flexibility comes into the equation. Here, she has occupied a more central position between the DLR lines (this time during their All-Island Cup meeting), using the fact that they have left too much space open in the middle of the pitch and have therefore provided Rovers with a clear route to move the ball through as they once again look to instigate a transition.

The significance of O’Leary’s positioning here is that Maria Reynolds now doesn’t have to make such a long pass when moving the ball out from the back. Rovers, instead, can make a series of shorter passes, which instantly decreases the risk of an interception. In this case, the ball found its way into the path of Scarlett Herron on the nearside wing (out of shot) without any issues, allowing Rovers to once again create a goalscoring opportunity.

There is nothing to say that this wouldn’t have happened had O’Leary not gotten into this position, but it certainly helped to make the transition more successful. The fact that she has averaged a 53.3% passing accuracy this year and registered a 67.7% accuracy last time out shows how this is another side of her game that her team has come to rely on her for.

Lia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tacticsLia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Lia O’Leary’s ball progression map at Shamrock Rovers Women for the 2024 Women’s Premier Division season.

However, it is not only passing the ball at speed that O’Leary can bring to the table whenever Rovers are in transition, and there have been times when she has needed to hold onto it for extended periods of play. However, this is not one of her main strengths, with this graphic indicating that there have been a number of unsuccessful dribbles made by her this season.

Nevertheless, she makes up for that by alternating the angles of her dribbles, with this graphic highlighting how she does not always move in a straight line and stay tight to the wing, as someone else in the left-back role might do. Instead, she tends to make plenty of inside runs, too, which again gives Rovers a flavour of adaptability and increases the unpredictable nature of their play, and the fact that O’Leary has seen 50% of her dribbles succeed this season shows how this is something else that she can contribute when required.

Attacking threat

Whilst it has been clear to see throughout the scout report that Lia O’Leary’s main roles come in the defensive and midfield areas of the pitch, her importance in the final third has been just as prominent, with a number of the key qualities highlighted so far in this analysis once again coming into use when she does push into that area of the field.

Lia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tacticsLia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Lia O’Leary has looked to stay ahead of those around her when in attacking areas of the pitch.

The one that immediately comes to mind is her anticipation and ability to think ahead of those around her, with her constantly working hard to get into the right places at the right times and to affect the game in any way that she can. In this case, that is shown by Rovers duo Aoife Kelly and Joy Ralph passing between themselves in another quick transition and continually taking the ball up the field, using the space that DLR have left available to them.

O’Leary, meanwhile, has stayed ahead of the ball and has looked to make a run through the gap in the opposing lines to give them a forward pass that will then lead to a shot on goal. Whilst her effort is blocked by DLR’s Amber Cosgrove, and so doesn’t come to anything, the point still stands that her presence gave her teammates the opportunity to move the ball forward here and to get behind DLR’s back line earlier than they might otherwise have done, and that is one of the reasons that she has been a vital player for them to have when looking to get into dangerous areas of the pitch.

Lia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tacticsLia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Lia O’Leary has pressed well in attack as well as in defence.

O’Leary’s anticipation has been shown in other ways, too, though, with another being when Rovers have been out of possession yet inside the final third. What helps her here is her pressing and her desire to look after the ball once it has been regained. Griffin was taken by surprise and unable to react in time, and O’Leary found her way into the Treaty goal area with little difficulty.

At this stage, attention turns towards O’Leary’s record in front of goal and her ability to convert her opportunities. That is where there appears to be a slight weakness in her game, with her only netting on one occasion this season and assisting on one other, both in the All-Island Cup match against DLR.

However, the fact that she is averaging more touches inside the penalty area per game this time around (2.53 compared to 1.86 last season) means that those numbers are highly likely to increase as the campaign goes on, and that point is further highlighted by the fact that she scored five times last season and picked up three assists. This effort only just went wide of goal, so she did not miss by much, and anyone who does look to sign her will be getting a player capable of both creating and scoring goals when they get the ball in positions such as this.

Lia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tacticsLia O'Leary at Shamrock Rovers Women 2024 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Lia O’Leary gives her team layers when they are building attacking opportunities inside the final third.

However, what will really attract both Crystal Palace and Sassuolo to her is the fact that she shows plenty of pace and can, as a result, move between supporting an attack and tracking back to plug holes in an instant, with that appealing to Sassuolo due to their desire to have full-backs who enable their wider forwards to make inverted runs, as both Benedetta Orsi and Belgium’s Davina Philtjens have done in Serie A Femminile this season, whilst Crystal Palace also have a preference for players on the wings who are tactically flexible, with the January addition of RoI international Izzy Atkinson from West Ham United Women a key indicator of that.

What both should perhaps be wary of is that, unlike those players, O’Leary is not currently as strong when it comes to delivering balls into the middle, with just 26.1% of her 92 crosses last season and 42.3% of her 52 attempted in this one finding their intended targets. However, this should not be a reason to turn away from the 18-year-old and should instead be seen as something that they can develop if they did feel that she was the right fit for their squads.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this tactical analysis has examined Shamrock Rovers Women’s Lia O’Leary in detail, breaking down her key qualities and highlighting why she is a player that a number of reports have suggested will be on the move in the near future.

Throughout the analysis, what has become abundantly clear is just how adaptable she is and how many different things she offers around the field, with her tending to alternate between roles and demonstrating the same quality on the ball in each position. This is certainly something that Rovers have come to rely on during both of their campaigns since returning to the Premier Division, and it certainly makes her a desirable player and someone who will fit in wherever she goes.

Whilst the reports that have linked her with a move away from Tallaght are credible, what will reassure Rovers fans is that there does not currently appear to be any firm interest in her, with no teams yet to make a concrete offer. However, when looking at the quality of her play and the way that she has continued to thrive in each outing, it does seem inevitable that someone will ask the question at some point, and it will be interesting to see who that is and where she does eventually end up.