Thursday 19 September 2019

Bradley buoyed by spirit ahead of crunch night in Dundalk

Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley celebrates. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley celebrates. Photo: Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

For Shamrock Rovers, the mission this year is to bring their standing as Ireland's most successful club into the present tense.

With 17 league titles and 24 cups, they are the all-time top dogs.

The reality, however, is that they have registered just three of those league wins (1994, 2010 & 2011) since leaving Milltown in 1987 - which is also the last calendar year where they lifted the FAI Cup.

After some rocky spells under Stephen Bradley, they appear to have emerged on the other side as a stronger unit.

Talks with Dermot Desmond about taking a 25pc stake in the club are continuing and plans to expand the Tallaght Stadium are taking shape.

A record league crowd for the venue watched Tuesday's derby with Bohemians, a dramatic affair that ended with another defeat to their arch rivals for the Hoops and two costly red cards.

It means the league leaders are under a bit of pressure ahead of tonight's trip to take on Dundalk, the dominant team of this decade.

With 13 league title wins after claiming four of the last five, the onus is on the Hoops to stop the Lilywhites' march towards their tally.

Rovers are five clear of second-placed Bohs and seven ahead of Dundalk with a game more played.

With key men Lee Grace and Trevor Clarke suspended, it will be a good night's work for Bradley if the gap between them and the Louth club is the same after tonight.

In reality, a good degree of pressure is actually on the hosts and their rookie boss Vinny Perth as they will now be expected to seize upon the first clear sign of Rovers' vulnerability - especially as they had an extra 24 hours to recover from Monday's win at Belfield.

Bradley took strength from how the nine men performed in the second half against Bohs.

"I think the fans recognised that the players left everything on the pitch for them," he said.

"Outside of the result it was a proud moment. If we keep that right throughout the season this team won't be far away at the end of the year."

Dundalk made a longer-term move yesterday by tying midfielder Chris Shields to a new contract.

Shields was a part of the Dundalk team that fortuitously escaped relegation in 2012 but was kept on by Stephen Kenny and has grown in to a different animal.

"He gets better all the time," says Perth. "It is predominantly down to him and all of the hard work that he puts in.

"Myself and Stephen (Kenny) took him in as a utility centre-half, as a bit of cover, during that first year.

"It's hard to believe that is what we were thinking back then. What he has done at this club has been phenomenal."

Shields' return from injury has resulted in an upturn in Dundalk performances and Patrick McEleney's recovery has also boosted spirits.

Robbie Benson is still on the comeback trail from his opening-day leg break, yet he feels that McEleney - who damaged his foot in the same game - can really make his presence felt in the coming weeks.

"It's the most determined and fit I've seen him," said Benson, speaking on the new LOI Weekly.

"He's come back like he's never left."

  • Dundalk v Shamrock Rovers, Live, eir Sport 1, 8.0
  • (For the full podcast with Benson and St Patrick's Athletic goalkeeper Brendan Clarke go to independent.ie/podcasts)

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport