Monday 29 May 2017

Shamrock Rovers boss Bradley reveals the advice he received from Arsene Wenger

Stephen Bradley got advice from Arsene Wenger
Stephen Bradley got advice from Arsene Wenger
Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley. Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Advice from Arsene Wenger and regular texts from Michael O'Neill have helped Stephen Bradley to prepare for his first season as Shamrock Rovers manager.

But the young boss knows that, ultimately, the responsibility for making the Hoops a force again sits on his shoulders.

He is enjoying it at the moment, buoyed by a winter of transfer activity and a warm-weather break in Spain that has allowed his squad to get to know each other a little better.

It is the calm before the storm. Rovers start their campaign away to champions Dundalk on February 24 and their March calendar includes Dublin derbies with Bohemians and St Patrick's Athletic and showdowns with fellow European qualifiers Derry City and Cork City. The 32-year-old will quickly find out where his team stands.

That opening date in Oriel Park will be especially informative and the rookie boss feels that Hoops followers will like what they see.

"I think we're close to Dundalk," he says. "If you look at our squad with the personnel and the characters we have, I don't think we're a million miles away. But to say we will overtake them and win the league next year would be silly."

Shamrock Rovers' Ronan Finn. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
Shamrock Rovers' Ronan Finn. Photo: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

Bradley knows that the expectations in Tallaght will be higher. "If you're not winning 3-0 at half time you'll get booed," he quips, with tongue firmly in cheek.

He views Stephen Kenny's side as the benchmark but asserts that Rovers are capable of finishing ahead of every other contender. If that turns out to be the case then he will have to start talking about a title challenge at some point.

But he wants his team to do the talking first, something he feels wasn't happening enough when he assumed control as caretaker last summer. Rovers haven't ticked every box in their winter shopping list.

Adapted

They were searching for another centre-half and striker at the start of pre-season but the way in which teenager Michael O'Connor has adapted to Rovers life since leaving the fringes of Dundalk's squad has suggested he might ease their striking worries. "He's better than what I thought to be honest," says Bradley.

He might still be on the look-out for a defender, yet he has strengthened in other departments. The capture of Ronan Finn (right) from Dundalk was significant and the addition of Ryan Connolly from Galway and Paul Corry and David McAllister from spells in England has boosted his midfield area. They bring quality, but what Bradley wanted more than anything is character, a word he kept returning to at a press event to announce eir Sport's live coverage of the season-opener.

Wenger and O'Neill both advised him to concentrate on that initially. The former Arsenal trainee continues to function as a European scout for the club and has a strong relationship with the hierarchy - Wenger urged him to take the chance - while he played for Rovers under the current Northern Ireland manager.

"That was my number one thing," he said. "When I spoke to Michael O'Neill and the boss at Arsenal, that was the number one thing they said to me about characters. 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 (Sporting Director) and said, 'How are we going to recruit?'

"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."

A discussion with Connolly was particularly revealing in terms of the perception that other sides in the league had about Rovers.

"Ryan just tells you what he is thinking. He doesn't mess about," explains Bradley. "We signed him and we were sitting having a cup of tea, and he said he used to love coming to Tallaght. He said it was easy to play against your midfield and your team.

"For me, that was frightening. But it was brilliant. It just confirmed in my head what I felt. Coming to Tallaght, you didn't fear us. In the big games last year, the teams we played didn't fear us. We need to get that back.

Advice

"I speak to Michael (O'Neill) regularly. Michael's been brilliant in terms of his advice and comments on where he thinks we are, the players we've signed - he gives me a bit of s**t over one or two of them but that's Michael.

"No, he's been really good and character was definitely the big thing for him.

"I asked him what he thought when he walked into the Rovers dressing room and why he signed me, why he signed other players and his big thing was characters that could come here and play.

"And you know when they're not in the team that they're still going to be with you. He said that's more important than having a good player who is going to whinge and moan."

Bradley did have a few issues with senior players last term when he concentrated on promoting youth and those players have since left the club. It's his team now and, with a new training facility in Roadstone, this is an intriguing period of transition.

However, Dundalk's desire to emulate Rovers' famous four-in-a-row achievement from the 1980s has put pressure on the current Hoops crop to stand in their way; their audience will demand it.

"The fans are the fans," says Bradley, shrugging off the reference. "It doesn't bother me whether it's three or four in a row for them. I want to come in and do what Stephen's done and win leagues.

"We've got to be strong, stay together and show them we're progressing. As a club, we've lost our way for three or four years. If we show progression on the pitch, then they will stay with us."

Irish Independent

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