Signings will help Rovers recover fighting spirit this season says Stephen Bradley
Champions Dundalk will offer opening night test of credentials for Dubliners
Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley is looking forward to their opening Airtricity League Premier Division game away to champions Dundalk. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley has promised that the players he has brought to the club will make his team a very different proposition this season to the one that finished 22 points adrift of Dundalk at the end of October.
Speaking as Eir confirmed that they will broadcast the opening night match between the Dubliners and the champions at Oriel Park on Friday, February 24th, Bradley was at pains to play down his side’s chances of actually winning the title but he insisted that they would be unrecognisable from the team that won just half of their home games in Tallaght last season.
“Players don’t fully understand it until they come,” he said. “The feel of it; it’s a different club, you’re expected to win and I don’t think many clubs have that in the country. So we need to get characters who understand that and want to go and meet it head on; who don’t want to shy away from it or walk away when the going gets tough. I know we have that because I’ve seen that in the last couple of weeks; we have different people, different characters.
“I think it’s great we’re playing them [Dundalk] so early because they’re the benchmark. They’re at the level we all want to get to. There’s no getting away from that. They’ve been the best team for the last three years and they are still the best team in my opinion. It will give us a good indication of where we are.
“I don’t think we’re a million miles away,” he continues, “but to say that we will overtake them and win the league next year would be silly. We have to concentrate on ourselves and keep working hard to catch them over a period of time. It’s not going to happen in three months or in one season; it’s going to take time. They’ve built that squad over three or four years and they deserve all the respect in the world.”
Overhauling Cork, he suggests, and taking second place might be the initial targets for what will be a much changed side with Bradley believing that the likes of Ronan Finn, Ryan Connolly and Mikey O’Connor can all make an immediate impact after which the club will look to keep improving.
“Yeah, of course we can,” he says when asked if his side can finish higher than John Caulfield’s men in 2017. “I think Dundalk are the best team and there’s no getting away from that but I don’t think there’s much between the rest . . . I really don’t.”
There was a bit between City and Rovers last season – 15 points to be precise, with City taking seven from the three meetings between the sides – but Bradley believes he has added enough character to his squad to close the gap in one fell swoop.
“That was my number one thing. When I spoke to Michael O’Neill [a predecessor at Rovers] and the boss [Arsene Wenger] at Arsenal, that was the number one thing they said to me: take a player with less ability and more character over the others.
“It was number one for me when I sat down with Stephen McPhail and said ‘how are we going to recruit?’
“We identified where we were really weak and where we wanted to strengthen. Then when we looked at those positions, what did we want out of the people in those positions and character was one of the big things that jumped out at us.
“If you’re looking now, most of the people that signed have been captains in other clubs. It’s something we haven’t had on the pitch and now we have five or six that are leaders and have been captains at other clubs. Straight away, that takes us to another level.”
“The [other] key was, could we add goals from midfield and wide areas and I think we’ve done that. Darren Meenan will always get you assists and goals, Ronan will get you assists and goals, Ryan Connolly will get you assists and goals, David McAllister will do the same so we’ve added goals to the team.
Obviously Mikey’s an unknown. Will he get you 15, 20 goals? We don’t know but we’ve added goals around that. We’ll wait and see but we’re going to be a different team to play against.”