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'He played like he's played 400 games in the league' - Rovers boss heaps praise on 18-year-old after Cork win

Young midfielder Aaron Bolger was one of a number of fine performances as the Hoops finally got back to winning ways against the champions.

Teenager Aaron Bolger was excellent in the middle of the park.
Teenager Aaron Bolger was excellent in the middle of the park.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THERE WERE SEVERAL positives for Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley to take away from last night’s 3-0 win over Cork City – not least the result.

Having lost four and drawn two of the last six matches in all competitions, the Hoops waited until the visit of the champions on the last day of the month to record their first victory in April.

Although they remain fifth in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division, the win will have gone some way to ease mounting pressure. And while Hoops boss Bradley gets why fans weren’t happy in recent weeks, he insists his team’s displays have not been bad of late despite the results not going their way.

“The performance doesn’t surprise me, because we were excellent against Limerick and Derry,” said Bradley. “We’ve got that little bit of luck in front of goal that was missing in the last few games.

“When you analysed it and broke the games down, we weren’t playing badly. We were playing really well, the matches against Limerick and Derry should have been 5-0. So we knew we weren’t a million miles away and that it was going to click if we just believed in it and tonight it did click.”

I understand the frustration of supporters, I totally get it,” he added. “We lost two games and at a club like this that is a lot. They were two games we should win as well. I get the fans’ frustration and anger at times, but the other stuff [criticism in the media] doesn’t bother me.

“If you analyse the games, we lost one in the 99th minute [Bohemians] and we give a sloppy pass for the other one in gale-force winds [Bray]. We’ve been really good in the other games, so there was never a panic or worry. Yeah, we were angry, frustrated and hurt, but we weren’t a million miles away.”

Graham Burke scored his ninth league goal of the campaign — an absolute beauty from 30 yards — as well as having a hand in the other two, and the 24-year-old has undoubtedly been one of the Premier Division’s stand-out players this season.

“Some of the goals he’s scoring have been unbelievable,” Bradley said of his fellow Dubliner. “Left foot, right foot… 35 yards out from goal there’s no one better in the league.”

The Rovers manager was also quick to praise 18-year-old midfielder Aaron Bolger, who excelled in the middle of the park alongside his namesake, Greg.

Named U17 International Player of the Year at the FAI Awards last month, there are high hopes that Bolger can go on to have a career at the top level, and Bradley says he showed maturity beyond his years against Cork.

“I gave Aaron his debut when he was 16 and I fully believe what he is, as a footballer and as a person, and what he can handle in terms of his character.

“It’s very hard to pick a performance out of that group tonight, but if you did, then it’s Aaron at 18 years of age, playing like he played tonight. He played like he has played 400 games in the league against some top midfielders.

“He did a bit of everything. He passed, tackled and he ran with the ball. He has a nasty streak and he won’t come away from a tackle. You need that in the position he plays and Aaron has that in abundance.  He’s only getting better and stronger, to produce that at 18 is scary.

“None of it affects Aaron in terms of giving him too much or too little. He just wants to play football and doesn’t care about anything other than playing football.

“He’s a throwback to the players who just want to play. He doesn’t look at or care about who he’s playing against, he doesn’t care what colour boots he has or how he looks. He just wants to go and be the best player on the pitch.”

Stephen Bradley celebrates Rovers manager Bradley. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Goalkeeper Kevin Horgan has been on the receiving end of much criticism after some costly mistakes this year, but he was superb on Monday — making a number of fine saves to keep Cork out.

Rovers have announced that their former stopper Alan Mannus will rejoin when his contract at St Johnstone is up in the summer, but the 35-year-old won’t be available to play until July so Horgan looks set to remain as number one for the time being.

I felt he has been an easy target for one of two people to have a go at, and they have,” said Bradley. “He’s a young boy, and I thought he showed unbelievable character to stand up to it and produce what he produced tonight.”

Ex-Ireland international Joey O’Brien also completed 90 minutes for the second time in four days and, as part of a centre-half trio with Roberto Lopes and Lee Grace, kept City and, in particular, main striker Graham Cummins quiet for the evening.

“He shouldn’t have played tonight as him and Ronan [Finn] were struggling right up to three or four o’clock today. I would have left both of them out but when I spoke to them, both were adamant that they wanted to play.

“When Joey plays, he makes us calmer with that experience. We look a lot more solid when he plays and he was brilliant on Friday and again tonight.

“We’ve just got to try to keep him right now because when he’s on the pitch, you can see  the level he has played at.”

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