The Hoops go into the game at a low point in their season after three successive league defeats. The first, to Dundalk, could be classified as honourable but the last two — against arch-rivals Bohemians and, just a few days’ later, a shock reversal against basement side Bray Wanderers — have piled on the pressure, from the terraces to the television studios.
Bradley doesn’t deny that this has been the toughest week of his time at the helm in but insists that there is no need for panic.
“We just need to recognise we’ve had a bad four days, lost two games,” he said. “But we haven’t become a bad team overnight. So we focus and go again. Hard work is the only way to get through it. Nothing else.”
Some of the criticism of Bradley and his players has been fierce, including former Drogheda United star Declan “Fabio” O’Brien charging on RTÉ that the manager’s decision-making has been “fairly horrendous” and, even more provocatively, suggesting that former Cork City midfielder Greg Bolger should have handed back his wages after his performance against Bohs. (Bolger pulled no punches either in his response on Twitter: “Hey Fabio mate, no problem with getting or taking criticism and rightly so but would you keep it constructive. Hammering boys — you’d swear you were a superstar when you played or something, you clown”).
“Look, I don’t really want to get into it,” Bradley said yesterday about the attentions of the football commentariat. “People can say what they want to say, good, bad or indifferent. We’re a good side, a good team, we’ve shown that, and we just need to get back to basics and forget about everything outside.”
John Lennon might have sung that nobody told him there’d be days like this but none other than Northern Ireland manager and former Rovers boss Michael O’Neill warned Bradley of just what would be in store if the going got tough.
“No, I haven’t been surprised,” he said. “It’s Shamrock Rovers, it’s the biggest club in the country. I fully understand that that comes with being the manager of this club — you get criticised when you lose.
“That’s one of the first things a lot of people told me. Michael said it was certain that you would get days like this. The days of winning things or trying to win games, they are hard to come by, but you will definitely get days and weeks like this. But we’ll be fine.
“It’s a good group, good players, good people. I don’t have any doubts about them and hopefully we’ll show that tonight.”
Of course, the pressure is also on Rovers’ opponents in Tallaght, with a 3-0 loss to Dundalk on Tuesday making it eight games without a league win for Limerick. But Hoops skipper Ronan Finn insists his team cannot afford any complacency against the second from bottom side.
“If you treat a team with the respect that they deserve then you give yourself a great chance,” he said. “If you go in thinking you’re above anyone, you’re leaving yourself open to be hurt. I don’t think any team in the league is good enough to be like that regarding another side. You know, it’s a tough league this year.”
Proof of exactly that should be on show in Oriel Park as leaders Dundalk host a Derry City side who go into the match on a six-game winning streak. But Candystripes boss Kenny Shiels, who has a number of injury concerns on his mind, admitted that his team face one of their toughest tests tonight.
“It is no coincidence that Dundalk are top because as you can see from their goals conceded column, they make fewer mistakes,” he said. “They are very well organised — probably the best organised team in the country — and are set up to be hard to play against. Thankfully we’re going there in a bit of form ourselves so we’ll do everything we can to try to preserve our recent record.”
Elsewhere in the Premier Division, Waterford, despite carrying four suspensions, will be anxious to return to winning ways at home to a Bray Wanderers side who finally got a first win on the board with that shock 1-0 victory over Rovers.
Waterford received a boost last night as the suspensions to Bastien Hery and Stanley Aborah for dismissals against Cork City were reduced to three and four games respectively from four and six games.
Champions Cork City travel to Bohemians tonight (8pm).