Bradley confident Rovers will overcome Byrne loss

by Dave Donnelly

Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley is confident his side will cope with the loss of key players as they look to retain their league crown.

The Hoops’ midfield has been altered significantly by the departure of Jack Byrne and Aaron McEneff, to APOEL and Hearts respectively, in recent weeks.

Twice players’ player of the year Byrne had been expected to step up to a higher level but the departure of McEneff was only confirmed as the transfer window slammed shut in the UK.

Multiple league winner Greg Bolger had already left for Sligo Rovers, while full-back Rhys Marshall and striker Thomas Oluwa joined Glentoran and Bohemians respectively.

Still, Rovers have reinforced in advance with Premier League-experienced midfielder Chris McCann joining Danny Mandroiu, Sean Gannon and Sean Hoare in the door at Tallaght Stadium.

And Jobstown native Bradley insisted the club have been preparing for any eventuality, though they had hoped to keep both McEneff and Byrne for their title defence.

“It’s fine; we plan for things months down the road”, said Bradley as Bank of Ireland was confirmed as an associate sponsor for the 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.

“We may try to add one more, but only if it’s the right one. 

“We won’t just take  a player in to have a number. We’re more than happy with what we have.”

Bradley is aware that Rovers will have the target on their back next season as champions, with both Dundalk and Bohemians keen to take over the mantle, but it’s a challenge he’s happy to face.

“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.

“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.”

Dundalk qualified for the Europa League via the Champions League route last season but the introduction of a third competition, the Europa Conference League, will complicate that.

And Bradley is wary of the idea that a seemingly favourable draw guarantees anything, having come up against the might of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and AC Milan at home last year.

“The champions path guarantees nothing. 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.”

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