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‘Our training games are as good as our match games’ - Bradley laments Rovers' strength in-depth

Shamrock Rovers face St Patrick’s Athletic tonight looking to take another step towards securing European football for next season.

Stephen Bradley Shamrock Rovers head coach Stephen Bradley. Source: Tom Beary/INPHO

STEPHEN BRADLEY ADMITS he is presented with the best possible type of headache each match-day as head coach as Shamrock Rovers, with the growing produce of the club’s youth teams trying to edge their way into the club’s senior starting eleven.

The strength that Rovers have in their squad in recent months has come to the fore, with teenagers Aaron Bolger, Trevor Clarke, Sam Bone and James Doona all striving to get minutes under their belts each and every week.

Clarke is a regular, however 19-year-old Doona is slowly beginning to make an argument that he too should be featuring more prominently than his two starts and 11 substitute appearances in 2017.

The players came off the bench to score an impressive brace in Friday’s 4-1 win against Finn Harps, a victory which stretches Rovers’ hold on third spot to four points.

Bradley commended the performance of the young prospect.

“It’s great that he is performing, because he is a young player,” Bradley said of Doona.

“He is having to be patient and having to work hard behind the scenes, and he is.”

inpho_01267980 19-year-old James Doona scored a brace last Friday. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Doona twice dribbled seamlessly into the Harps penalty area before slotting the ball past goalkeeper Ciaran Gallagher on both occassions.

The player entered the field just past the hour mark and 13 minutes later had two goals to his name.

In an impressive performance the double extends his individual goal tally in the Premier Division to four with just two starts and a handful of cameos off the bench, on top of a 120th minute winner against Cork City in the semi-finals of the EA Sports Cup.

“When he came on, it was like the goal against Cork all over again. He just has that in his locker — he is two-footed, has lovely balance and can beat players. He’s going to be a big player for us in the future and has been excellent this year,” said his manager.

It has been a dramatic turnaround for Rovers over the last month. Since a home defeat to Derry at the beginning of August the Hoops have won eight of nine games in all competitions and have recorded four league wins on the bounce.

Following the Candystripes’ shock 5-0 home defeat to Bray Wanderers on Friday, Rovers are now in pole position to secure European football ahead of next season — an objective which seemed out of reach four weeks ago.

“A few weeks back when we lost to Derry everyone thought we were done and dusted,” Bradley noted.

“We sat down and had a chat and felt that we were doing the right things, and that it was just a matter of time before we clicked.

“We have clicked and we’ve gone on a great run and turned it right around. The lads deserve enormous credit for that — the character they’ve shown to go and win some tough, tough games is massive.

James Doona Rovers have now won four league games in a row, beating Finn Haprs 4-1 on Friday. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“Anyone who listened to me — or wanted to listen to me — I’ve been saying it all year that we’ll get better with time. I think we’ve shown that and if you take the first round of games out we’d be right up there in points with the top teams.

“We were always going to get better with time and we are still no-where near where we want to get to. But we are definitely going in the right direction and the players deserve massive credit for that turnaround.”

Bradley’s side are aiming to become the first Shamrock Rovers side since 1987 to win the FAI Cup when they face Dundalk in their semi-final at Oriel Park next Sunday.

Before then, however, his side face the short trip to Inchicore where they face St Patrick’s Athletic in the Premier Division, a side that are facing the potential of a first ever relegation in the club’s history.

The Rovers manager said tonight’s Dublin derby was a big game for both sides, if for entirely different reasons. His side lost last time they visited Richmond Park earlier in the season and drew with the Saints in Tallaght.

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Ronan Finn with Lee Desmond Rovers have not beaten rivals St Pat's this season. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“It’s a big game for both of us. It’s massive for us and it’s a big, big game for them because of where they are,” Bradley said of the derby.

“We haven’t performed against Pat’s this year in both games and that’s been disappointing. We’ve got to go and put that right on Monday.”

The Rovers boss has stated that his side are still a work in process, but will be aiming for higher honours in seasons to come than solely securing European football in the league every season.

He admits that the competitive edge in his squad, as seen with players like 19-year-old Doona coming off the bench to score two goals, means Rovers will continue to improve with each passing week.

“The other players know that James is right on it and that they have to perform to play — sometimes our training games are as good as our match games, because everyone wants to play.

“That’s something we wanted to bring to the club this year, we wanted to make players know that there are others breathing down their neck.”

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Aaron Gallagher

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