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Dan Sheridan/INPHO Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley.
# Pride
The tears, joy and emotional rollercoaster of Stephen Bradley's title celebrations
The Shamrock Rovers manager opens up on a special third Premier Division crown.

STEPHEN BRADLEY GOT into his car outside Tolka Park on Monday night and knew that Shamrock Rovers were League of Ireland champions.

He had spent much of the previous 90 minutes watching Shelbourne play UCD to try and take his mind off what was happening between challengers Derry City and Sligo Rovers.

As he explained yesterday morning, moving from spot to spot around Tolka trying to avoid being recognised didn’t quite work.

Then a phone call from his wife, Emma, confirmed the news once and for all: Shamrock Rovers were champions.

Bradley had delivered the three-in-a-row of league titles.

He hung up the phone, got in his car, and drove home in silence.

The phone was turned off, the radio too. No music, but some tears.

“It was a nice moment,” he says. “It was emotional thinking about the whole year. I was just excited to get home to my wife and kids because like everybody’s family, they’re the ones who see you at the highest and lowest points. We’ve had some personal issues too, so I wanted to get home and give them a hug.”

Bradley revealed earlier this year that his eight-year-old son Josh had been diagnosed with leukaemia.

His treatment is continuing and it was Josh, Bradley laughed, who was the one keeping an eye on Derry’s game with Sligo and relaying the details to his Mam so she could be the one to let her husband know.

What Bradley and his family have been dealing with makes this success all the more remarkable.

“I wasn’t sure where I’d be going, staying on or what way my family would approach it. When they told me to stay on, I met the players here and had a chat,” he explained.

I explained everything that was going on and asked them if they would do everything possible to allow me to be able to celebrate it for Josh. Yeah, it was special.

“He’s the reason you come in. When stuff like that happens it makes you re-evaluate what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. He’s the reason you get up every morning, why you stay up late at night and watch all the games.

“When you’re traveling home from games and people are sleeping…you’re watching your next opponent because I’ve always been thinking of getting a medal for him.”

When he got home, Bradley was met by Josh wearing a jersey that had been given to him by centre back Roberto Lopes before they headed to assistant Glen Cronin’s house to toast the club 20th title.

“It was like a night dress on him. He didn’t take it off him all night. We went down to Glen to celebrate. He had it on all night, which was brilliant.”

It was during the summer that Bradley turned down the advances of English League One side Lincoln City to continue his work at Tallaght Stadium.

stephen-bradley Dan Sheridan / INPHO Rovers boss Stephen Bradley. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Despite the emotional toll of the last few months, he’s adamant his work is not done with the club’s four-in-a-row in the 1980s in his sights. “No, the aim was always to try and beat it, that’s still the aim.

“Two stars [for 20 titles] and then can we beat it, it’s going to be difficult. We know there are teams coming but it’s our job to keep improving and see can we go again and again, and that has to be the aim.”

Rovers welcome Gent to Tallaght in their penultimate Europa Conference League game tomorrow before facing Derry on Sunday.

While winning the Premier Division is only worth €110,000, the benefits that come with access to the Champions’ Path during Euro qualifying means there is a bounty in the millions up for grabs.

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“When we sat down four years back with the board, that was the conversation. It wasn’t by fluke that we came through the year we came through,” Bradley explained.

“We spoke about it in great detail, we knew about the changes that were coming down the line [with introduction of Conference League] and the aim is now, like I’ve said this year, we’ve won the league and got group stages.

Next year again, and the year after that, so we’re not waiting 10, 11 years for the next one to come around. The Champions’ Path guarantees you nothing but offers you real opportunities if you are successful early.”

For Bradley, the third title was the sweetest, especially given the added pressure that came with trying to deliver in Europe.

“This one was the hardest, because of the group stages. This was definitely the hardest. You take the group stages out of it and I think we’re very difficult to get close to, but we want to be there.

“This has definitely been the most difficult but that makes it the most enjoyable, when you know you’ve had to go to the well, you’ve had dig deep when bodies are down.

roberto-lopes-celebrates Ryan Byrne / INPHO Rovers defender Roberto Lopes. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“We’ve had players playing over the last two months with injuries shouldn’t be playing with, they should be out for a few weeks, a couple of months in some cases. Alan [Mannus] should be out for a couple of months but when you have players where the physio are saying they’re out, they’re done and they’re saying ‘I’m playing’ because they understand what we want to do and where we want to go.

“That makes it all the more enjoyable when you see what people put into it. They’ve had to block out noise and focus on what we do. It’s definitely been the most enjoyable because of the challenges it’s thrown up.”

On Sunday, Bradley will hold aloft the league title before handing his medal to Josh.

“Yeah, this one is for him.”

– First published 06.45, 26 October.

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