It was no surprise, considering the players and resources Shamrock Rovers possess, to see the Hoops create history last Monday by making it 31 successive league games without defeat with a routine 3-0 win over Waterford.
The last time Rovers suffered defeat in the league was a 3-2 loss to Dundalk back in September 2019, a victory that crowned Dundalk as champions, but the progress Rovers have made since then is credit to the players and the staff at the club. Of course, Rovers’ budget is one of the deepest in the league but the manner in which manager Stephen Bradley handles such a large talented squad is testament to his managerial skills.
I worked with Bradley during my brief time with the Hoops and his standout attribute is the way he treats his players with respect. He understands that not everything is about football and spends time getting to know about a player’s life outside of the club. That might sound like a simple thing for a manager, but you’d be surprised how many choose not to spend time getting to know about a player’s family or give them a day off when they ask them. Some managers think that no matter what the circumstances are in your private life, training is more important. Players then in turn have respect for Bradley.
I never found training sessions intense at Rovers. There isn’t any shouting, instructing players to immediately close down in possession games. It’s a very relaxed environment and that carries into games the way every Rovers’ player is so comfortable in possession of the ball.
Bradley is always encouraging players to play in the right way and not to launch the ball aimlessly up the pitch. I remember after one game, we had defeated Drogheda United 4-0 in the FAI Cup, and Bradley came into the dressing room annoyed that we had gone against his philosophy. We hadn’t played the free-flowing football that you are used to seeing Rovers play. He insisted that, no matter how the game is going that we should always continue to pass the ball and wear the opposition down.
It’s easy for a manager to insist his players be brave on the ball when you have the best team in the league and will dominate games but it doesn’t matter who Rovers are playing, whether it’s Waterford at home in the league or playing a top team in Europe, Bradley will always instruct his players to get on the ball and play out from the back.
The experience and the way Ronan Finn and Joey O’Brien conduct themselves is another element to Rovers’ success. Finn is the best captain I’ve worked under. He gives everything in games and often sets the tempo the way he presses opponents. In the dressing room, he can be a quiet guy but when he speaks, players listen.
Captains don’t have to be shouting or constantly talking to be a good leader; sometimes it’s just about picking the right moment to speak. Another attribute of a good captain is been able to voice the concerns of the dressing room to the manager and being able to deliver the manager’s message to the dressing room. The players trust that they can speak to Finn and he will voice their concerns to Bradley respectively.
There is great trust between Bradley and Finn. When the players feel tired, they will talk to Finn to ask the manager to reduce training loads, which Bradley then does. A lot of managers I’ve worked under will ignore players when they say they are tired.
O’Brien is a former Republic of Ireland international and has played in the Premier League but is very humble. I’ve shared a dressing room with players who couldn’t even dream of having the career of O’Brien, yet their egos would have you believe that they’ve done it all in football.
O’Brien is the perfect example of how players should behave. He’s punctual, respectful, and when it comes to a game, he will do anything to win.
I hated playing against O’Brien. Aside from being an excellent player, he was always trying to play mind games by pinching or pushing me off the ball, and he wound me up. The player on the pitch is completely different to the person off it, and you couldn’t meet a nicer guy.
I was intimidated meeting him considering the career he has had, but he is very down to earth and will always try and help in any way possible.
Losing Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff was always going to be a big loss but Graham Burke — as I expected he would — has stepped up to become Rovers’ main man. Burke is the best player in the league. Technically, he’s the best I’ve worked with. I’ve not seen any player with a better first touch and we have seen how well he strikes a ball after his wonder goal against Derry City a few weeks ago.
He more or less plays in a free role with Rovers. He’s supposed to be a striker, but he drops so deep to get involved, which gives Rovers an outlet because he’s the extra man.
It’s hard to see anyone stopping the Hoops this season.