Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley feels the return of Dylan Watts is enabling his team to click at just the right time.
Their midfield options came to the fore in Friday’s victory in a top-of-the-table clash with St Patrick’s Athletic.
The Hoops flew under the radar last week with Bohemians and Dundalk securing noteworthy victories to book a place in the Europa Conference League third round qualifiers. Rovers were there already after receiving a bye which cushioned the blow of their narrow Champions League first-round loss to Slovan Bratislava sending them into the new competition.
They are confined to a section of the draw which consists only of domestic champions knocked out of the Champions League and Europa League, thus meaning their path to group stage football and a €3m reward consists of teams from lower-ranked leagues. Rovers face Albania’s Teuta Dorres over two legs with the first leg in Tallaght on Thursday.
Regrets linger over their exit to Bratislava and central to that is the curtailed involvement of Watts on account of injury. “He wasn’t right. When he’s in that form (Friday’s display), he makes us a better team. That’s the biggest compliment I can give Dylan,” says Bradley, who feels the 24-year-old former UCD, Leicester and Bohemians player is finally hitting his potential.
“When we got Dylan, he was always a good player but he didn’t respect the game, he didn’t understand defensively, he didn’t play for his team, it was about Dylan. But now he takes on responsibility defensively, and that’s the most pleasing thing that he’s maturing.
“Dylan has as much ability as anyone we’ve had here. There is not many players in this league that can play from your building phase to your attacking phase off both feet, very very quickly. When he plays, we play at a better tempo.
“I think it (improvement) is age and it’s talking to him, showing him videos and explaining what he needs to do to get to the next level. I believe he’s got tremendous ability, but if you haven’t got that understanding and maturity, it makes you a floaty player and that’s what Dylan was.
“But now he’s turning into an all-round complete midfielder. I thought on Friday, he was head and shoulders the best player on the pitch.”
Bradley also feels Richie Towell’s arrival has proved crucial an upturn in fortunes, especially now as he’s building understanding with Watts and Danny Mandroiu in the creative department, and understanding the Rovers style.
“When you have Dylan (fit) and then have Richie understanding the rotations, it becomes a lot better,” he said.