Bradley’s Babes bearing their Teeth

14 Jul

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Twelve short months ago, Shamrock Rovers Europa League 1st leg match with Finnish team RoPS finished in a limp, depressing and abysmal 0-2 defeat for Rovers at home. If the Finnish team was half decent we could’ve stomached it, but that wasn’t the case. RoPS were poor, Rovers were wretched. Killian Brennan told fibs on Social Media that his family was abused at the game. Brennan didn’t try a leg that night, he never tried a leg in his two horrendous spells at the club. The team was dead, the season was already going down the pan, fans were staying away and the Board acted. Fenlon paid for it with his job.
I wrote a blog after Fenlon left – https://irelandfaneuro2012.wordpress.com/2016/07/ and I pleaded that the next Manager would at least give us an attacking ethos back. That he would bring in players who wanted to be at the club and bomb out Billy Big Bollockses like the Brennans and the likes of Quigley and Zayed who were toxic in a team and alienated the fans with their nonsense.
The Board appointed Stephen Bradley as Caretaker boss. His first game was the 2nd leg v RoPS and a creditable 1-1 away draw was gained, even though Europe was over.
His second game was the 3-1 battering of Bohs where Bradley gave young Aaron Dobbs a start and saw young lads Dean Clarke, Shaw and a wonder goal from teenager Sean Boyd on the scoresheet. Bradser was laying down an early marker. He was giving youth a chance.
It was by no means plain sailing for Rovers for the rest of the 2016 season. Good performances were also sobered up by some hammerings as Bradley struggled to build solidity into a good forward thinking team. Cork scored 5 in Tallaght and it could’ve been more. The FAI Cup evaded us again as again Cork swatted this honest but brittle team aside. The other loo la Gavin Brennan took to Twitter to goad Bradley about his playing of these promising teenagers and thankfully Bradley sent him up the M1 to join the other muppet.
So despite a mixture of results as Caretaker boss, I was heartened by a promising group of hungry young lads and a return to some progressive football, or at worst an attempt at it given the mind-numbing shite under Fenlon and Croly and the sheer panic and bedlam of the Kenny era.
It wasn’t a huge shock when Bradley was offered the gig full time for this season. Some decent signings came in (Meenan, Lopes, McAllister, Connolly, Burke and most of all Finn), the club was progressing well with Roadstone and while Dundalk and Cork were still a good bit ahead, we hoped we’d hit the ground running.

As we know, the opening third of the season proved to be really frustrating and difficult for Rovers and the pressure was already building on Stephen Bradley. Self-destruct buttons were being pressed too often (Burke scoring in Dundalk, then getting sent off for kicking out, Webster’s silly challenge for a Cork penalty in Tallaght, another stupid red against St Pats from Seán Heaney) and then an abject performance at United Park in a 1-2 defeat with another goal conceded from a set piece. Fans were panicky and restless, Bradser was definitely under some pressure, but to be fair to the board, they were neither panicky nor restless. They gave Bradley the job because they believed in him; they believed in his “give youth a chance” philosophy and also his philosophy on the game that is the complete opposite of the functional, “science of soccer” nonsensical philosophy of Fenlon and Croly; they believed the off the field work and building a grass roots foundation was the way forward.
It remains to be seen if this is all coming to ultimately successful fruition but the signs have been really good in the second third of the season as Bradley’s XI has settled into a recognizable formation. There have been some wonderful team goals, the set piece concessions have reduced noticeably and the fans are really with this team. Despite a poor result against a dreadful St Pats (1-1 with Burke again losing his head stupidly) and the concession of a late equalizer against Limerick, the team have pushed on really well and at the time of writing, still remain in Europe having accounted for Stjarnan 1-0 home and away which was a very decent 180 minutes.
Last night’s Europa game against Mlada Bolesav , although having lost 3-2 at home, showed us again the progress Bradley’s young team is making. Bolesav were a massive step up from Stjarnan and certainly streets ahead of RoPS twelve months ago, but Rovers stood up and were counted, created chances and Burke has by now more than repaid his debt to everybody with two goals, his first has to be up there with one of the greatest goals seen at Tallaght Stadium, it was simply sensational. This performance, despite a home defeat, was worlds away from the rubbish of twelve months ago against RoPS.
There can be no doubt the fans are identifying with this team. A 4-1 defeat to champions-elect Cork City saw no boos, but a rousing and proud send off at the end from the travelling Hoops. A sizeable support travelled to Iceland and emptied their pockets to enjoy a 1-0 win. An even more sizeable support travels to Prague next week for the second leg with Mlada Bolesav with a glimmer of hope that this young team can somehow achieve a minor miracle and advance further in the Europa League. They certainly won’t lack for effort. Effort is your starting point and Bradley has identified and signed players who’ll give you just that every week. The Big Time Charlies are thankfully a thing of the past. Hunger matched with skill is a potent force, youth will make mistakes and they do and will make mistakes, but they’re learning.
Bradley is growing into the job also with impressive and steady progress. Last season’s defence was a real Achilles heel and though the heel is still a bit creaky, the snapping of last season and the early blunders this season haven’t featured as much.
Coming forward, we are really easy on the eye. Shaw is a selfless, deceptively quick, skillful and excellent striker who won practically every long ball (not that we rely on this) last night against Bolesav. Although Trevor Clarke was tightly marshalled against Bolesav, his displays and goals have thrilled us all. Miele has been a tad inconsistent, but with Bohs up in two weeks, we know he loves a goal against that lot and he created Burke’s winner against Stjarnan. Speaking of Burke, since his stupid second red card, he has been on fire, this lad is special, a natural and has a lovely awareness of space, a silky touch and is scoring goals regularly. We should enjoy him while we can, same with Clarke.
In midfield, Finn has been tremendous after a shaky opening half dozen games as captain, he’s leading by example. Connolly has done well after early season injury and McAllister is a reliable and tough foil for Finn when we need to dig in. Defensively, Pico Lopes has brought out a real improvement in Webster in my opinion and Luke Byrne has been solid (although vulnerable to pace) since his return from his awful injury. Madden remains superbly consistent and Chencinksi seems to be keeping the rushes of blood inside his head for the moment and made two superb saves against Stjarnan.
We must also pay tribute to the medical and strength and conditioning staff at Rovers, the team has pretty much picked itself the last couple of months as nobody has been picking up injuries and that’s not a co-incidence in my opinion, let’s hope I don’t put the mockers on that now.
I got carried away after the Limerick game with where this team was going. I don’t think I was the only one. A timely and deserved rebuke from a Board member over a comment I made on Facebook has proved well founded as Bradley’s era makes palpable progress this season after that ropey start.
Third spot will be real battle this season with Derry coming into form and Bray finding some money for the rest of the season after winning in the nearby slots, so we’ll have to play really well to get third. I am optimistic we will however if we can keep injury free and suspension free. The FAI Cup has yet to begin but I won’t go there with that.
This has been the most enjoyable season watching Rovers since our last successful year in 2011 in my opinion. Holding onto players is so difficult nowadays in League of Ireland football, but there’s no reason that from the bottom team age-wise to the seniors, a footballing ethos can be grown that makes losing players a bit easier to bear with everyone knowing their job and what’s expected of them as Rovers players.
The days of mercenaries and washed up contract chasers are gone. The future of Rovers looks bright, hopefully successful but definitely entertaining. That’ll do me for the time being until we can properly compete with Cork and Dundalk.
Safe trip to everyone going to Prague and other surrounding areas next week.
KOH!

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