Virtual National Game Awards 2019-20: Mark Harrod Player of the Year – John Rooney

John Rooney celebrates his dazzling strike against Barnet
IF THERE is one moment that encapsulates the stardust John Rooney has provided for Barrow’s National League title, it was his goal against Barnet in November.
Pulling the ball out of the sky on the right-hand side of the pitch just outside the penalty area, he lets it sit up before arcing a wonderful, unstoppable, strike across and over keeper Scott Loach.
“I think that’s one of my favourite goals I’ve ever scored – they can end up anywhere,” Rooney laughs, the day after the Bluebirds’ Football League return was confirmed.
That goal was the former New York Red Bull, Wrexham, Chester and Guiseley midfielders ninth of the season, on his way to an eventual total of 20 in all competitions. 
He had to beat off competition from team-mate Scott Quigley, but it’s little surprise he was voted the National League Player of the Year.
“It’s been a great season all round,” Rooney says. “I’ve obviously scored quite a few goals so I’ve personally had a good year as well but I’d take not scoring them and winning the league anytime. To do both and win the league has been fantastic for us all, the staff and the club.
“The manager brought his style of play in. Every day in training we trained how we were going to play, watched our opposition so we knew everything. Even last year we had a good season considering it was a brand new squad. This year he recruited perfectly and everything has been spot on.”
Not many had Barrow in their pre-season title predictions. A tricky start backed that up but Ian Evatt’s side were full of internal confidence and an 18-game unbeaten run catapulted them into the running. When they went top, they didn’t relinquish their seat. And Rooney says they always had belief.
“We did on the inside, that’s what we talked about, but on the outside it was probably bottom half of the table,” he admits. 
“But we knew it in our dressing room that we could do something. We had a slow start really. We changed formation and never looked back from there. We went 18 games unbeaten.
“It was after the Notts County game. We were there or thereabouts but when we went top we didn’t look back and we didn’t let the pressure get to us. We all kept our heads down and got our reward at the end of the season.”
Rooney, 29, added that bit of experience and nous to a young squad. Evatt’s brand of football has brought out the best in him and the manager hailed Rooney’s quality. 
“I think we’ve just given him a platform to express himself and go and be fearless,” Evatt, who has since joined Bolton Wanderers, said. “He really enjoys the way we play – it suits him and it suits his game. He’s got so many strengths.
“He’s technically very, very good. Underrated. He can hit all ranges of passes. He can shoot from anywhere. His set-piece delivery is incredible. He’s deadly from the edge of the box. He’s a fantastic talent.
“Not only that, he’s a great person as well. He’s a winner first and foremost. Sometimes that can boil over but that’s only because he wants to win. I can’t speak highly enough of him. The way he trains is exceptional and he’s a great leader for us in the dressing room.”
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