Bradley and Rovers deserve the plaudits for a job well done

Cork City’s return to the top flight a boost for the Premier Division and football on the island

As the SSE Airtricity League draws to a close, the winners proved predictable in the end, but other stories took root underneath Shamrock Rovers’ enduring success that should bear fruit in the coming years.

Rovers retained the Premier Division, securing their 20th league title and a third in a row, by fending off the challenges of Derry City, Dundalk and St Patrick’s Athletic.

With one game remaining, Stephen Bradley’s charges have 10 points to spare and even though the run-in got a little sticky at times, Rovers and Bradley held their nerve.

To win the title and accommodate European games, a squad needs genuine depth, and that means two strong players in every position. Otherwise, getting results in the Europa Conference League can ruin domestic consistency.


If there’s a choice to be made, the manager must prioritise the League of Ireland because you need to guarantee that success to ensure the European place for the following year and with that, the finances to develop your squad.

Romance gives way to pragmatism. Jobs depend on it.

This cycle can create a stronger competitive dynamic within a club that will naturally evolve over time. And Rovers are taking their time.

As their collective mindset changes to fit with a bigger picture, team goals supersede a player’s “what’s best for me?” mentality. This requires expert man-management which only comes with experience. Bradley may only be 37-years-old but, to my mind, he’s got this in abundance.

As a coach, watching another coach grow in recent seasons, Bradley has been so impressive. The Rovers job is a big one and year on year you can see the growth in his approach, when it comes to managing the small stuff with ease and understanding what really matters. Because football is not the big stuff in life.

Stephen’s son, Josh, is battling an illness and I know myself how difficult it is as a manager when someone in your family becomes ill and you realise what the big stuff truly is.

This happened during my time as manager of London City Lionesses and while it was a tough decision to resign and come home to be with my family, it was also an easy one. The significance of football in your life changes and you learn what’s really important to you. Football will always be there and there will always be another opportunity and another game.

The scenes at the trophy presentation in Tallaght were heart-warming as young Josh shared the moment with Ronan Finn and Roberto Lopes. The big stuff and the little stuff captured by a snapshot in time.

Moments like that are all about the people involved and the impact they make on others. It was a special moment for Josh, Stephen, the Bradley family, and wider Shamrock Rovers football family.

Money doesn’t buy those moments, the collective will does, and I’m glad the RTÉ cameras were there to capture it all.

Similarly, in the First Division, Cork City captured the title in impressive style. A young, growing team with not just a great manager, but a great person at the helm in Colin Healy, who also knows all about the big stuff.

City are a big club with some brilliant people involved and the Premier Division will be all the better by having them back. The Cork swagger and rebel mindset is unique and it’s great for the Premier Division and football on the map of Ireland.

A feisty encounter is guaranteed in Limerick tonight, with Galway United and Waterford contesting the First Division play-off final. There’s real quality and some great personalities in this Galway squad and in John Caulfield they have a manager who knows the league inside out and has his formula for winning big games.

Waterford have been hugely impressive under new boss Danny Searle. Their record since he took over in June saw them finish above Galway in the final standings and the games between the two sides have been very tight this season. Since Searle took over in the summer, Galway won 1-0 in Eamonn Deacy Park in July and Waterford won 2-1 in the RSC in August.

This game will be epic and whichever team wins will be a very tough opponent for UCD, in the promotion/relegation play-off.

It was genuinely sad to see Finn Harps drop out of the Premier Division. Ollie Horgan’s great escapes have been an important part of the narrative for years and hopefully they will rebuild and climb back up soon.

Competing in the Premier Division is increasingly difficult for squads not operating as full-time professionals. It poses real decisions for boards of clubs as it requires the development of sustainable business models.

The women’s national league has also been intriguing with Shelbourne finally nailing top spot despite haemorrhaging players to professional leagues abroad. This is something the FAI need to deal with; the professionalisation/semi-professionalisation of the WNL cannot wait any longer; a value must be placed on the talent that is being developed in this country.

With Shamrock Rovers entering a women’s team in 2023, and Galway United taking over the baton from Galway WFC, the league will improve. Especially with the emergence of teams like Athlone Town this year.

Athlone can become the football story of the year by beating Shelbourne in Sunday’s FAI Cup final and Derry City versus Shels in the men’s cup final on Sunday week means the season has plenty more to give.