Stephen Bradley’s Shamrock Rovers revolution yet to get going
Manager made bold claims ahead of new season but progress has been slow so far
Stephen Bradley’s Shamrock Rovers have made a slow start to the season. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
It is one of the great double standards of sports journalism that interviewees are criticised for playing it endlessly safe in interviews but then routinely put through the ringer for going out on any sort of limb. If you are, say, a club manager, getting the balance is something that comes with experience and so we can probably expect Stephen Bradley’s chats with reporters to get a little bit duller over the coming seasons.
His side’s start to the season has clearly been less than ideal but he has not helped himself with the confident predictions made during preseason that Shamrock Rovers would make significant strides forward over last year’s form and fourth place finish.
Specifically, he talked about Cork City being very catchable for second place; a notion that looks a little far-fetched just now although, to be fair, nobody quite saw John Caulfield’s side playing their way through the first third of the season without dropping a single point.
That sort of start generally paves the way to the title although City have more games left to play than any of those who previously pushed on to win it and in Dundalk they have rivals who, if they can finally find their stride again, have the potential to string a long run of wins together. Bradley’s men are getting to the stage where they might yet have to do that just to get back into Europe.
Rovers finished 15 points behind Cork last season, 22 adrift of the champions and the stated ambition was to dramatically narrow the gap this time around before pushing on then push on again next season. Instead, they are eight points adrift of where they were at the same stage last year and six short of their points tally in 2012 under Stephen Kenny.
The hope in Tallaght will be that a League Cup defeat of Longford might provide a springboard to a victory over Dundalk and their former manager on Friday night but the best reason really to believe it might actually be possible is the visiting side’s indifferent recent form rather than the recent displays of a side that has already lost six times and kept just one clean sheet in the league.
Bradley made much before the campaign started of the club having signed an array of club captains but, not for the first time, his side looked as though it sorely lacked leadership on the pitch against Limerick on Friday night.
The visitors were almost invited forward by Rovers once they had taken the lead which worked well enough as long as the home side were able to pressure their opponents and disrupt their passing as they pushed into the final third.
There, a succession of errors by the Limerick midfield meant that possession was repeatedly won back and Rovers ’keeper Tomer Chencinski was hardly required to make a save.
Towards the end of the game, though, it was a very different story with Willie Boland’s side clearly posing a very major threat and at that stage there was nobody, it seemed, on the Rovers side who could inspire a halt to the gradual retreat and get the team back on the front foot again.
Bradley might point to the problems he has had with injuries and suspensions and certainly with Ryan Connolly, Trevor Clarke and Danny Devine out the other night, his lack of options from the bench was a problem.
Having been one of those to come on, Paul Corry might do enough against Longford to start against Dundalk. He was regarded as a key close season recruit but has barely featured and his fitness must have been a concern when the club decided to sign him.
A couple of the red cards picked up - Graham Burke’s in Oriel Park, Michael O’Connor’s in Bray - have, meanwhile, been completely needless and the latter, a young striker who looks as though he has a lot of maturing to do, has so far made his manager’s suggestion that he might manage 15-20 league goals seem, well, optimistic.
There are, it has to be said however, challenges to be overcome in just about every department just now. Of the new signings, Graham Burke and David McAllister have probably shown the most promise but most have struggled to make much of an impact.
It is a pity because so much else that is going on at the club just now - the academy obviously, but also the way the first team’s games have been marketed - is very impressive, but if Rovers fail to compete effectively at the level that matters most to fans then everything else will become that much more difficult. Already attendances have started to drop off towards last season’s average and that process is bound to continue if things don’t improve during the coming weeks.
On the face of it, at least, the club has, in not just Bradley himself but Stephen McPhail and Damien Duff, people who should be able to get much more out of the group. Perhaps, the players are simply still adapting to life at a club where, as the manager pointed out back in February, the supporters expect them to win. Perhaps, though, life would be just a little easier if he done a little more to dampen that expectation. Next year, one suspects, will be different assuming of course, the club doesn’t lose faith along the way, something that seems unlikely at this stage even if there is some recent precedent for mistakes being made on that front.
Anyway, Dundalk at home then Bohemians at Dalymount. No pressure, eh.