Bradley has a plan to chase down Dundalk
Hoops can push title favourites all the way
Stephen Bradley is confident that Shamrock Rovers can chase Dundalk hard for the SSE Airtricity Premier League title this season.
When the fixture list threw up a blockbuster opening fixture against the Champions for the new Hoops' manager, Bradley knew that his first steps on a treacherous road would be an immediate acid test.
"I think it's great we're playing them so early because they're the benchmark. They're at the level we all want to get to. There's no getting away from that," he said.
"They've been the best team for the last three years and they are still the best team in my opinion. It will give us a good indication of where we are," he added.
"We have to concentrate on ourselves and keep working hard to catch them over a period of time. It's not going to happen in three months or in one season, it's going to take time.
"They've built that squad over three or four years and they deserve all the respect in the world.
Far from accepting Dundalk's primacy, Bradley believes that his own squad, heavily sprinkled with significant signings, most notably Dundalk skipper Ronan Finn, is not far off the required standard.
"I think we're close to them (Dundalk). If you look at our squad with the personnel and the characters we have, I don't think we're a million miles away but to say that we will overtake them and win the league would be silly. They've had that time together and they know what it takes to win together and that counts for an awful lot in tight games when you're 1-0 down and you come back to win 2-1.
"They've done that a lot and that counts - that mindset and that mentality that we won't get beaten.
"That's something we need to get into this new squad," he stressed.
Bradley paid particular attention a full character assessment of potential signings when he sat down with Hoops' Director of Football Stephen McPhail to discuss the season ahead and areas in the squad which needed improvement.
It was also a topic of discussion when he tapped Michael O'Neill and Arsene Wenger for some advice about his coaching career.
"That was my number one thing. When I spoke to Michael O'Neill and the boss at Arsenal that was the number one thing they said to me about characters. Take a player with less ability and more character over the others.
"It was number one for me when I sat down with Stephen McPhail and said 'how are we going to recruit?'.
"We identified where we were really weak and where we wanted to strengthen. Then when we looked at those positions, what did we want out the people in those positions and character was one of the big things that jumped out at us.
"Most of the people that have signed have been captains in other clubs. It's something we haven't had on the pitch and now we have five or six that are leaders and have been captains at other clubs. Straight away, that takes us to another level."
Bradley is adamant that Rovers will not trail off as they did last time out and that he has players to the distance.
"We finished 22 points behind them. That's not good enough. So that needs to be reduced dramatically and we need to be really competitive, not just fall away.
"But again, it's going to be tough. They finished with 70-something points last year and that was some total.
"Cork, to be fair, will feel hard done by as they had a great season and didn't win the league.
"It's going to be tough but we can't finish 24 or 25 points behind them. That's not acceptable," he said.