Home fires burn bright
Rovers boss Bradley hails Ireland call-ups for LOI starlets
The League of Ireland is facing a fixture wipeout, for some very welcome reasons, next weekend.
And Shamrock Rovers boss Stephen Bradley believes that the amount of call-ups for home-based players in Stephen Kenny's Ireland U21 side is not only welcome, but also opens the door for those players to move up the ladder and into the Ireland senior squad.
As it stands, the only Premier Division fixture to be played next weekend is the Finn Harps-Shamrock Rovers tie, all other matches postponed due to those U21 calls for players from Bohemians (Darragh Leahy and Dan Mandroiu), UCD (Liam Scales and Neil Farrugia), Waterford (Zach Elbouzedi and Aaron Drinan) and St Patrick's Athletic (Jamie Lennon), while Derry City pair Eoin Toal and David Parkhouse are in the Northern Ireland U21 squad.
Rovers also have a man called up, left back Trevor Clarke, but as he's the only player involved in the Harps-Rovers game and two call-ups are needed to force a postponement, that game goes ahead.
"I don't think we can complain. We can't have him doing well and getting rewarded and then be giving out," says Bradley of the prospect of playing next week without Clarke due to international duty.
"I understand if it's two or more you have a case, but if it's one you just get on with it. We are delighted he's got picked. If you had offered Trevor this last year, play a few games, get called up to the 21s, he would have taken your arm off."
In his own playing career, Bradley was capped twice at U21 level (2004) in a strong side containing future senior internationals like Kevin Doyle, Wayne Henderson, Stephen Kelly, Glenn Whelan and Daryl Murphy, where League of Ireland players were scarce.
Now, home-based players make up a third of the squad and Bradley feels that a sign of good things to come.
"I think the squad that's been picked is really exciting. It shows there are players in this league capable of playing at that level, mixed with the boys in England. It's given us something to build on," he added.
"The players here are playing men's football, real football and they understand what results mean. "Being away, sometimes you get lost in academies, the U23s, and results don't matter and you get on with it and move on.
"You look at the two UCD boys who won a league last year and come up and are playing really well.
"They're not getting results but they know what it means to win and lose. You look at Trevor [Clarke] with us, he has played three years in men's football. It's the same for a lot of players in this league.
"It's up to us to keep making sure the level gets to a level where an international manager can look at it and really gauge a player off it. "e have to keep improving our league so an international manager can say 'I can gauge him off that properly if we're playing Georgia, Gibraltar or whoever'
"It's up to us to keep improving it. Do I think the quality of player is going to be there? I think it is. A lot of those home-based players have shown really good potential and there is no reason why they can't keep pushing on."
This weekend, pushing in for Rovers means getting past Sligo Rovers tonight. "The important thing for us was that we started well. And we've done that," he said.