Stephen Bradley has high expectations as he starts Rovers recruitment drive
‘It’s Shamrock Rovers, we need to be up there challenging and we will be’
Shamrock Rovers Press Conference, Tallaght Stadium, Dublin 18/11/2016Shamrock Rovers Manager Stephen BradleyMandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
Almost 40 years after John Giles arrived with a plan to transform Shamrock Rovers, they are at it again out in Tallaght thinking and talking big but determined this time that they can deliver on the dream of a club that operates in a different league to its rivals.
As Stephen Bradley was confirmed in the position in “head coach” yesterday, the proliferation of titles around the club certainly sets Rovers apart these days. In a league that the Conroy report found last year had less than one full-time administrator per club, the Tallaght outfit have recently hired a COO, Siobhan Keane from the FAI, to add to their CEO, and as they also unveiled four new players in Tallaght today it was their Sporting Director, Stephen McPhail who did the honours.
There is also the Academy Director, Shane Robinson, a driving force behind the development of club’s critically important new training facility at the Roadstone sports centre in Kingswood and the Community Officer, Graham Gartland as well as a string of pretty high profile coaches with Stephen Rice having returned to the club yesterday to take charge of the under-17 and so join a line up that includes Damien Duff.
With the players – Ryan Connolly, Roberto Lopes, Paul Corry and Dan Devine – being signed to full-time 52 week a year contracts, it is not hard to see where first team portion of the money Ray Wilson and Seumas Dawes have provided is being spent. Ultimately, it is envisaged that this year’s squad will comprise around 20 senior players and perhaps six graduates of the youth set up with the year around deals making it easier to prepare everyone for the earlier than usual start to the campaign.
It is easier still to see, however, how the level expectation so much expenditure will generate might come back to haunt the highly regarded Bradley in what is his first big management role.
“That’s management,” says the 31 year-old, once of Arsenal, “but it’s right that there will be expectations. The fans should have them and the players should have them because I have them. I want to go out and win things and I’m certainly not foolish enough to think I can come here, finish fifth or sixth in the league and everything’s going to be okay.
“It’s Shamrock Rovers, we need to be up there challenging and we will be. I think a bit part of the problem here over the last few years has been that players thought coming here and playing for the club was the achievement rather than going on and actually winning things.”
The saga surrounding Bradley’s appointment has been widely viewed outside the club with a little bemusement. Most people were convinced that it was an inevitability delayed only by problems over his coaching qualifications (he has just been admitted to the FAI’s next Pro License course) but he insists otherwise.
“People think it was a foregone conclusion but it really wasn’t and I know because I sat in on the board meeting where they drew up a shortlist of four or five candidates that they were going to going to speak to. I was there and gave my opinion on them but they came back three or four weeks later and said they didn’t want to go down that road. It was a surprise,” he insists, “but it was brilliant for me.”
Now, the club has completely bought into not just Bradley but the vision he espouses, the first sign of which was probably the initial appointment of Robinson a few years back. There will, Bradley acknowledges, be an emphasis on developing players but yesterday’s signings combined with the fact that another four to six are expected to be announced over the coming weeks clearly shows the club’s collective determination to do more than look on and plan for the future as Dundalk plot their domination of the league.
Connolly, who was full-time himself last year at Galway United when some team mates were not, talks about being drawn to what he sees as “a right, proper club; one that’s going to have its own training facilities, its own proper stadium.” For Lopes, still clearly a little ill at ease with the political aspect of having left Bohemians for their arch rivals, the attraction was the freedom to give up the day job and put everything he has into achieving his potential as a player. “It was a tough decision,” he says, “but it all boiled down to the fact that I’ve wanted to be a footballer since I was a little boy so having the opportunity to do it in Ireland, at such a big club, is great. It’s a decision that I felt I had to make so that I’d have no regrets in future.”
For the likes of Corry, who left UCD for Sheffield Wednesday four years and Devine, once one of the stars in a very good Aston Villa youth team, the set up on offer gave Rovers a clear edge over rivals for their signatures.
Still, the memory of Giles and Eamon Dunphy back in 1977 and how badly it all ultimately went wrong lingers. Failure now could potentially prove as costly as it did then when some felt it was a major factor in the eventual exit from Milltown but those running the club now seem certain that it cannot go so badly wrong.
“They came in and they just said this is what we are going to do; we want to be in every (underage) league and they were told no, that they had to build it up,” says club chairman Jonathan Roche. “Well that’s what we have done; we’ve had a youth section now for 20 years. We’re in almost all of the top leagues, the senior team is in the premier division, we’re in Europe. We have a pathway all the way through.
“We feel we have cleared most of the big hurdles; that has taken time but it’s done and now we want to take the next step. We are 100 per cent confident that we can deliver success for the first team and a continuing cycle of success for the football club. Maybe before we had a sometimes brilliant first team that played in the League of Ireland. Now we have a proper, functioning club.”
The fans will like that alright but nobody, especially Bradley, should underestimate how much the brilliant first team matters and how impatient they can get while waiting for it to deliver.
Former Shamrock Rovers player Conor McCormack has become Cork City’s latest signing. The 26 year-old was at Derry City last season and follows Jimmy Keohane and Achille Campion to Turner’s Cross.
And Dundalk have finished top of the Fair Play League for 2016. The club receives €4,000 from the FAI as a reward for the achievement and could yet win additional funds from Uefa.