'It’s unbelievable what he’s left behind to come and play football... That tells you what the kid is about'

Sean Kavanagh made his Shamrock Rovers debut on Friday night.

Sean Kavanagh recently joined Shamrock Rovers from Fulham.
Sean Kavanagh recently joined Shamrock Rovers from Fulham.

SHAMROCK ROVERS BOSS Stephen Bradley was full of praise for Sean Kavanagh after the 24-year-old made his League of Ireland debut on Friday night.

The former Ireland U21 international’s signing on a one-year deal from Fulham was only confirmed last Tuesday, and he made his first Rovers appearance three days later, coming on as an 80th-minute substitute in his club’s 0-0 draw against Dundalk at Tallaght Stadium.

And though Kavanagh had little time to make an impact amid this cameo, Bradley has high hopes for the player in the long-term.

When asked whether the youngster was frustrated with how his time at Fulham ended, the Hoops boss replied: “He’s actually really positive about it. He’s obviously signed the deal, a new manager was there and things change and he’s disappointed with that, but he’s positive in terms of he just wants to go and play.”

Bradley also cited the player’s determination to play first-team football, highlighting how he was willing to sacrifice the financial boost that staying at Fulham would have provided in order to move back to Dublin in the hopes of securing regular game time.

I can tell you the financial aspect of it, it’s unbelievable what he’s left behind to come and play football. That tells you what the kid is about. He really just wants to play football.

“He could have sat there for another six months and earned a lot of money, but he’s decided to come and play.”

While primarily being regarded as a left-back, Bradley says one of the attractions to signing Kavanagh was that he can play in “three or four positions”.

“You’ll get to see him a lot this season, his quality, you can see it straight away, he knows the game,” the Hoops coach added.

“He’s ready to go. I just felt [Friday] night was a little bit too soon to throw him in [from the start].

“I expected [Dylan] Connolly to start for them and Luke [Byrne] always does well against Connolly, so that was in our thinking in terms of starting Luke. We rushed Luke back really, he was tight from last week.”

Bradley added that it would be a while before his less experienced players fully get to grips with life in the SSE Airtricity League Premier Division.

“I think it’ll take a little bit of time for them to really trust what they’re doing in terms of Joel [Coustrain] and Dan [Carr] when he came on and Sean when he came on. Even Ethan [Boyle], trusting himself down the line, but that’ll come.

“It’s probably the first time that [some of] the players have played in a game like that. There’s a big crowd, against a top team, expecting them to go and win.”

Kavanagh himself spoke of his delight at getting a first game under the belt.

The Ringsend native came close to signing for Derry City, before eventually joining Shamrock Rovers, with a few words of advice from Hoops coach Damien Duff — who Kavanagh knows from their time together at Fulham — helping to seal the deal.

“It’s probably the biggest club in the country, so it was a no-brainer in the end,” he said.

“I spoke to Duffer a couple of times. He recommended it. I’ve known him a couple of years, so I trust his opinion.”

Stephen Bradley after the game Stephen Bradley is optimistic Kavanagh can make the desired impact at Rovers. Source: Ciaran Culligan/INPHO

The former Belvedere youth product had been at Fulham’s academy since 2011. Initially, Kavanagh appeared to be making good progress at the Championship club. His first-team debut came as far back as August 2014 and the Irish starlet went on to appear 23 times in all competitions at senior level that season.

Both Felix Magath and Kit Symons had been prepared to give Kavanagh a chance, but once Slavisa Jokanovic took charge, his first-team opportunities became increasingly limited. In addition, injury problems hampered his progress and after loan spells with both Mansfield and Hartlepool failed to boost his first-team hopes at Fulham, he decided the time was right to move on.

The decision meant that Kavanagh would not fulfil the remaining six months of the contract he signed with the Championship club in January 2015.

“I was doing well at one stage and then couldn’t get near the team or even the bench,” he says.

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“That’s football, it has ups and downs, but hopefully I can build on something now.

I was obviously playing at a decent level, you get some good experience, but it’s over, so I’m just looking forward to [playing with Rovers].”

Kavanagh believes the League of Ireland has become an increasingly attractive alternative for Irish players who fail to thrive across the water, citing the domestic progress made by players such as Sean Maguire, Daryl Horgan and Kevin O’Connor in recent times, before opportunities further afield presented themselves to the individuals in question.

There have also been a few familiar faces at Rovers, including Brandon Miele, Luke Byrne and Graham Burke, all of whom Kavanagh has played with at underage level.

“Anyone that I’ve spoken to at home has spoken highly about [the League of Ireland] — a couple of lads here and a couple of lads from Dundalk.

“I think the football here will suit me better than trying to hang around the lower leagues in England, so we’ll see how it goes anyway.”

While Kavanagh would ideally return to England to play football one day, for now he is focused simply on getting regular game time at Rovers.

He also echoes his manager’s sentiments, saying that the financial drop to leave Fulham and link up with the League of Ireland side did not bother him unduly.

“The last couple of years, it was difficult… I’m just looking forward to getting back playing football, to enjoy myself and be happy.”

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