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'We’ve lost two really good players...when you’re successful, that’s what happens'

Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley is confident the club will cope with the departures of Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff.

File photo of Stephen Bradley.
File photo of Stephen Bradley.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

STEPHEN BRADLEY IS confident Shamrock Rovers won’t be affected by the departures of Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff as they bid to defend their league title in 2021.

Byrne left for Apoel Nicosia at the end of last season after his contract expired, while McEneff joined Hearts at the beginning of this week after the Scottish club triggered his €200,000 release clause.

“It’s fine, we plan for things months down the road”, said Bradley at a press event to promote the announcement of Bank of Ireland as an associate sponsor of the League of Ireland and Women’s National League.

“There’s been a lot of interest in Aaron for a long, long time. We are a really strong group and we’ll be fine. We’ve lost two really good players, one an international and one will soon be an international, but that’s the way it goes sometimes, in this country especially. When you’re successful, that’s what happens. 

“We’ve lost Graham Burke in the past, Trevor [Clarke], Gavin [Bazunu]: we’ve sold a lot of players since I’ve been here and that will continue to be the case. That’s football and that’s this league. It’s no problem.” 

Thus far it has been five out and four in at Rovers: Greg Bolger, Rhys Marshall and Danny Lafferty have also left, while Sean Gannon, Sean Hoare, Chris McCann and Daniel Mandroiu have arrived. Bradley confirmed interest in signing one more player prior to the season’s start next month. 

“We may try to add one more, but only if it’s the right one”, said Bradley. “We won’t just take  a player in to have a number. We’re more than happy with what we have.” 

Rovers have returned to pre-season training, and the club decided to undergo two rounds of Covid testing, with the first round returning a slate of negative results and the results of the second still outstanding. 

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Bradley’s side will defend a league title for the first time in nine years this season, and says the pressure will suit his side. 

“I think this group is more than ready for it. It will be a nice challenge, it will be nice being the team everyone wants to beat, but I think that’s been the case for quite some time, to be honest. We just have to go and enjoy what we do, and enjoy winning games and working hard, because we will have to work hard.” 

Rovers’ status as league champions means they will be seeded in the ‘champions path’ in the Champions League and Europa League qualifying rounds, which theoretically gives them a better chance of more favourable draws, though Bradley played down expectations that path means Rovers can easily mimic Dundalk’s journey to the Europa League group stages last year. 

“The champions path guarantees nothing”, said Bradley. “The draw we saw last year, we’ll never see a draw like that again. We’ve never seen a draw like that before, and I don’t think we will see a draw like that again. That was an incredible draw. They earned the right to get that draw so fair play, but I don’t think we can plan to have that type of draw season-on-season. 

“If we did then I think we’d fancy our chances, but the champions route guarantees nothing, it just gives you that opportunity to be lucky, really.” 

Having been knocked out of the Champions League first qualifying round by Celje last year, Dundalk dropped into the Europa League qualifiers and beat Inter Club of Andorra, Moldovan champions Sheriff and KI of the Faroe Islands in one-off ties to qualify for the group stages. 

Dundalk and Rovers meet in the season’s curtain raiser, the President’s Cup, at Tallaght Stadium on Friday 12 March, with the Premier Division season kicking off a week later. 

Rovers begin their title defence at home to St Patrick’s Athletic. 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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