League of Ireland previews: Rovers look to find their stride in Ballybofey

Three-in-a-row title chasers figuring out how to juggle players who might demand minutes

Stephen Bradley is effectively a talent manager this season. Take Aidomo Emakhu and Richie Towell. Two players at the opposite ends of their careers, both emerged last season as key figures in Shamrock Rovers's next great leap.

Emakhu cannot break into the team while Towell has been a peripheral midfield option in the early part of this campaign despite Rovers sitting fourth in the table with three wins and two defeats from seven matches. This is nowhere near a crisis situation for Bradley, even considering the need to bring Ireland international Jack Byrne off the bench to salvage a draw at home to Sligo Rovers before the international break.

The three-in-a-row title chasers are the only fully professional outfit in the league, with a squad built to reach the Europa Conference League group stages, but they still need to figure out how to juggle players who might eventually demand more minutes.

"We didn't want to involve Jack because he'd been sick," Bradley explained, "even leading up to the Bohs and Dundalk games he was struggling for those as well. But he came on, he was very good and so was Neil [Farrugia]. Both had a real positive impact on the game."


Bradley was unconcerned by Sligo taking a two-nil lead in Tallaght.

“I was pleased with the majority of the game and the performance. I thought it was very good. We were 2-0 down and it was a strange feeling because we were playing really well in most aspects of the game. In the second half, I felt that our tempo did go up a little bit, but it was just carrying on from the first half.”

The Rovers squad received a boost in the aftermath of Cape Verde victories over Guadeloupe, Liechtenstein and San Marino as Roberto Lopes returns fit and available for the trip to Ballybofey. Andy Lyons also comes backs from the Ireland under-21s win in Sweden, where the wing back did not feature.

“Pico actually came back early after his first game with Cape Verde because he’d broken a bone in his hand,” said Bradley. “So, he came back to get that looked at. Thankfully, it’s not too bad and he’ll be able to play.

“We know we’ll have to go up [to Finn Harps] and work extremely hard. That’s what the game demands. We’ll respect everything they’re going to bring to the game and then impose ourselves on the game as soon as we can.”

No panic, just a squad built to win trophies struggling to find stride.

League of Ireland fixtures

Bohemians v Derry City
Dalymount Park, 7.45pm

As Michael Duffy enters a period of rehabilitation at least Will Patching has caught the scoring bug. Ruaidhrí Higgins brings the Candystripes title challenge to north Dublin where anything short of three points will almost certainly see Shamrock Rovers cut into their lead at the top of the table.

St Patrick's Athletic v Drogheda United
Richmond Park, 7.45pm

A flock of Irish underage talent returns to Richmond Park, to play alongside the ubiquitous Chris Forrester, as St Pat's manager Tim Clancy faces his former club in what should yield a clean win despite Drogheda United's recent success in the Louth derby.

Finn Harps v Shamrock Rovers
Finn Park, 8pm

Less than a year ago Danny Mandroiu was part of Stephen Kenny's Republic of Ireland senior squad, now the 23-year-old's best position is being debated by the Rovers faithful. One eagle eyed observer thinks his natural touch is best suited as the front man in the 3-4-2-1 system.

Dundalk v UCD
Oriel Park, 7.45pm

Unused off the bench in Sweden, UCD's under-21 striker Colm Whelan will have witnessed the standard set by Mipo Odubeko on the international scene, as the students need him to make an immediate return to fashion a first win of the campaign. Dundalk have a miserable one win from seven.

Sligo Rovers v Shelbourne
The Showgrounds, 7.45pm

Liam Buckley, 61 years young, brings a lifetime of tactical nous to his first eye-balling of Damien Duff, as the Sligo manager's 25 years experience in the League of Ireland goes up against the rookie Shels manager. The smart money is on Buckley, especially after a recent draw in Tallaght.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent