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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

'Damien Duff was very enthusiastic about him and he's been right so far'

Kevin Doyle has been impressed by Stephen Bradley and Shamrock Rovers of late.

Stephen Bradley (file pic).
Stephen Bradley (file pic).
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

KEVIN DOYLE SAYS he has been impressed by Shamrock Rovers, after their superb start to the SSE Airtricity League season.

The Hoops are currently top of the Premier Division, eight points clear of nearest rivals Bohemians, albeit with two games extra played.

The current situation is a considerable contrast to last season, when a slow start meant Rovers were always playing catch-up with title rivals Dundalk and Cork.

The Dublin club’s inconsistency in 2018 led to murmurs of discontent. Following one particularly disappointing derby defeat to Bohemians in Tallaght, there was even a sense that some members of the crowd were turning against manager Stephen Bradley.

However, after a productive off-season, new signings Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff have made an impact and helped to improve the team’s fortunes. A 3-1 win away to Cork City last Friday — their first win at Turner’s Cross since 2013 — seemed to confirm Rovers’ status as genuine title contenders this time around.

“They were all really good,” says Doyle. “Jack Byrne was very good. We didn’t get around to it in studio but his pass [for one of the goals] took out half of the Cork team. It was a nice little blind pass.

“Then at the back, it was quiet during the game. Rovers were 3-1 up and we could hear everything, the back four were shouting, organising. Joey O’Brien is a really good addition there for his experience if he can stay fit, but just listening to them talk and how they dealt with everything was really impressive.

They were really brave, I think that was a fantastic decision from Stephen Bradley to play that game against Finn Harps when they could have got it called off [due to international call-ups]. It shows the trust he has in his squad and for the players that haven’t played. He’s not calling it off because they are missing a player or two — he believes they can go and do a job, so that’s a big statement to make and a big result to get.

“Things will dip a little, but so far, it’s been great. That’s the model for the League of Ireland — good, fresh, young players all playing football, doing it really well with a good stadium and a good crowd. They haven’t spent fortunes, but they have a good budget. I would go and watch that every week. Everyone would want to go and watch that every week and be proud of their team, seeing them play like that from start to finish.”

Last year, Doyle spoke about the club with former Ireland team-mate Damien Duff, who spent time as a coach at Shamrock Rovers before moving to Celtic. Bradley’s position was discussed, and the retired winger was adamant that the Hoops had the right man in place to lead them to glory.

“[Their success reflects well on] Stephen Bradley as well, for Rovers to stick with him, because he went through a sticky patch and they gave him loads of time to get it the way he wanted it.

“I asked Damien Duff [about him]. We were doing a game on RTÉ and I said: ‘What’s the story? Is he going to be the manager? Are they going to keep him?’ And he was like: ‘Yep, he’s got it the way he wants it, wait and see, he’s really good.’ Damien was very enthusiastic about him and he’s been right so far.”

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There was further reward for Rovers’ excellent start, when Jack Byrne was recently called up to the Ireland squad, after the former Man City youngster produced an eye-catching display amid a convincing victory over Sligo. It is the latest indication of the greater respect being afforded to the League of Ireland and its players in recent years. Does Doyle consequently believe that substantial progress has been made since his days as a domestic-based footballer in the early-to-mid 2000s?

“I’d be slightly biased, but our Cork City team years ago was as strong as a League of Ireland team today,” he says. “Shamrock Rovers would play better football than we did, but we had a number of players like Roy O’Donovan, who was close enough to a senior Ireland cap, John O’Flynn, who was a fantastic player, me, George O’Callaghan and Neale Fenn who was involved with the U21s and around the Irish senior team, and played for Spurs’ first team.

“We were all either in the U21s or the senior panel, and we were all competing for two places up front for Cork City at the time. One of us had to go out on the wing just to get us on the team, and there were one or two on the bench. We were strong, the middle was strong, we had a very good team. That team went on to win a lot and do some good things.

“[The league] might be a bit more sustainable now, but who knows? There’s always some club that seems to have a meltdown mid-season to set the perception back again.

“Even down in Cork the other night, it’s a simple thing, but the advertising hoardings, the electronic hoardings, I don’t know if you noticed it, but on TV it just looks more professional and that’s what it needs.

It needs, not just better football, but better little bits, not stuff that’s going to cost a fortune — just tidy up the edges, because it’s a product that has to be sold. At the end of the day, you want it to look professional.

“I thought Cork City did a great job of that. Cork’s a great place to go if you’re covering a game if you’re on the media side of it. They’ve a really good product, I suppose you’d call it.

“You’re competing against rugby, competing against GAA, you have to always be looking to improve everything.”

Irish football international Kevin Doyle was on hand to launch the new and improved Aviva Stadium Tour. The Aviva Stadium Tour provides fans with a unique behind the scenes experience of Ireland’s primary international sport’s stadium giving them not just an understanding of Ireland’s international sporting heritage but also a first-hand experience of what match day is like for our international football and rugby players.

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Paul Fennessy

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