Irish football journalist Daniel McDonnell reports that the Imps have made an official approach for Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley.
Bradley, one of the men we mentioned on Saturday as a potential candidate, was widely reported to be the number one choice yesterday, and it seems the wheels are moving quickly. If this is true, it would suggest a significant change of personnel, as reports have also linked us with two of his backroom staff, one of which is their Director of Football, former Leeds United player Stephen McPhail.
For those who do not know, Stephen Bradley had a modest playing career. He began as a trainee at Arsenal but had been coveted by a host of clubs including Chelsea and Manchester United. At the age of ten, he’d been courted by The Blues, be he ended up on the books of the Gunners. Whilst there, he suffered a setback when he was stabbed in the head during a burglary at his home, during which he almost died. That injury set him back, and his playing career ended up taking him to Dunfermline Athletic, Drogheda United, Falkirk, Shamrock, St Patrick’s Athletic and finally Limerick.
The 37-year-old retired from playing at the age of 26 and went into coaching and scouting. He returned to Arsenal, where he worked as their Irish scout until 2016, which is when he took the job with Shamrock Rovers. He took over when Dundalk and Cork City were the leading clubs, and when Shamrock seemingly had a problem attracting top Irish players. That changed when he got the signature of Ronan Finn from Dundalk. His record of developing players hasn’t been unnoticed; he sold Jack Byrne to APOEL and Aaron McEneff to Hearts and still managed on-field success as well.
In 2019, he guided his side to second place in the League of Ireland and secured their first trophy in eight years with an FAI Cup win. In 2020 he took them to a league title, their first in nine years. That set them up for a European tie with AC Milan, a game they only lost 2-0. He took them to another title the following season, and another European adventure, beating Slovan Bratislava at home. Currently, they’re second in the table, hunting for more glory. On a personal basis, he has won the PFAI Manager of the Year in successive seasons as well, an award previously won on five occasions by current Ireland manager Stephen Kenny.
The Hoops coach has been linked with jobs in England before; he was one of the candidates for the MK Dons role after Russell Martin moved to Swansea, but was overlooked in favour of Liam Manning. Reports suggest (Irish Mirror, so I won’t link to it) we could also be looking to bring his assistant Glenn Cronin to Sincil Bank, and director of football Stephen McPhail. 42-year-old McPhail had an illustrious career, appearing for Leeds United, Barnsley, Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday amongst others. 40-year-old Cronin appeared for Exeter City 160 times before moving over to Ireland and is currently named as assistant coach to Bradley.
RTÉ soccer analyst Johnny McDonnell believes that the ambitious manager has been hugely successful at Shamrock, and not just in the dugout. “It’s going to be difficult for Stephen. He has ambitions to move to England,” McDonnell said. “Stephen has been there a long time now, not just as the manager but as the head of youth team development. He’s part of the culture of the club.”
That certainly feels like a fit for what we want, but time will tell. More on the story as (and indeed if) it develops.