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Friday 19 July 2019

Bradley's 'best team yet' eye Euro progress

Rovers boss Stephen Bradley
Rovers boss Stephen Bradley

Three years in charge and now Stephen Bradley, the longest serving Shamrock Rovers manager since the late Ray Treacy in the mid-1990s, believes his current team is the strongest he has yet assembled as they look to make an impact in Europe.

"We've been building every year," said Bradley ahead of tonight's first leg at Norwegian side SK Brann, of Bergen.

"The first year there was obviously a lot of change, last year was a little more settled, while this year is definitely the strongest team we've had."

Rovers ran Swedish side AIK very close last year, so won't be overawed by the challenge of fellow Scandinavians Brann.

"It's about how we've been playing all year," said Bradley.

"We know it's a difficult game. They are a good side, but we're a better team than we were last year and we're playing better football. So it gives us a chance."

Rovers may draw further inspiration from the fact that Brann are having a frustrating season in the Eliteserien this year, sitting fifth in the table with only six wins from their 15 games to date.

Lars Arne Nilsen's side has scored just 17 goals and conceded an average of a goal a game, suggesting a vulnerability at the back and a lack of punch up top.

Bradley has done his homework, though, and believes that those stats could be misleading.

Brann are a vastly experienced team and they had seven former internationals, totalling close to 100 caps, playing in their most recent match, a 0-0 draw at home to struggling Mjondalen.

"I don't think their stats tell the full story. I've watched their last four games," said Bradley.

"They drew 0-0 on Friday, but they could have won four or five comfortably. It was a very similar game to ours against Sligo.

"You can see they're experienced when you see them play. We know that they are a good side.

"Their know-how and game management is very, very good.

"Tonight we've got to understand that, respect that and be ready for it."

Bradley has midfielder Aaron McEneff (inset) back fully fit and he may feature at some stage, leaving winger Neil Farrugia (hamstring) as Rovers' only injury absentee.

Shamrock Rovers (probable): Mannus; O'Brien, Lopes, Grace, Clarke; Bolger, Watts; Byrne, Finn, S Kavanagh; Cummins.

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