When Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley’s young son Josh was diagnosed with leukemia in June, he asked his players to go and win the Premier Division for him.
The Dublin club already had plenty of motivation as they aimed to become League of Ireland champions for a third consecutive year, but the manager’s call meant much more than that to the players.
On Sunday night at a packed and hugely emotional Tallaght Stadium, brave Josh led his father’s team out for their final home game against Derry City – then collected the league trophy with the players after their 1-0 victory.
Having watched his lad raise the trophy aloft alongside captain Ronan Finn, the Rovers boss was full of gratitude for his players and the Tallaght crowd.
“It’s an incredibly special moment,” he said in an emotional RTE interview, standing just a few yards from his squad celebrating on the pitch.
“I asked the players when my son got ill ‘could they win this trophy for him?’ and they have done that for us.
“It is a special night for him, for the club obviously and for everyone involved. For him [Josh] he has had a tough time and this is a special night for him.”
Having been so keen to see his father’s team secure what is a 20th league title in the club’s history, Bradley was asked if Josh was overwhelmed by the scenes.
“I am sure he was a bit, to be honest,” Bradley said.
“All he has been talking about since he has been sick is ‘can we go and win the trophy for him?’ so I am absolutely delighted he has had that moment tonight.
“That will give him the lift that he needs to go and fight the rest of this.”
Byrne reveals players’ desire to win title for Josh
Rovers midfielder Jack Byrne, who returned to Tallaght at the start of this year for a second spell at the club after a season with APOEL in Cyprus, spoke after the match about just how determined the players were to deliver the title for Josh.
He was also full of praise for how Bradley has gone about his managerial duties in the midst of what his family is going through.
“It has 100% been a motivation [to win the league for Josh],” Republic of Ireland player Byrne said.
“That was the motivation, to win the league and give him a night like this. We spoke about it quite a lot before big games and to see it come to life is brilliant.”
He added: “Speaking from a group of players, I’d like to just thank the manager. What he has been through, I can’t imagine, for him and his family.
“The way he has come in every day and led us. We have been away in Europe a lot, we have been home. The crowd have been brilliant here and have supported us right throughout when we heard the terrible news about Josh.
“But the way that the manager has handled himself in and around the place – we are all lost for words, we can’t believe how well he has coped with it.
“The club have done three-in-a-row. Where the manager has taken the club from when he first came in here is incredible. What he has gone through this year, and to come out of it with another league medal is frightening really.”