Stephen Bradley hailed his Shamrock Rovers side for being flown into the group stage of European football – but then raised questions about why his team won’t be allowed to fly home to Dublin once the deal is completed.
The Hoops did an efficient job in North Macedonia, beating Shkupi 2-1 and 5-2 on aggregate in the evening to secure a place in a Europa League playoff round against Ferencvaros, with football’s all-important safety net Europa Conference League and €3.3m secured no matter what.
However, Bradley is unhappy that Rovers were forced to return to Shannon on Wednesday afternoon.
Shkupi caused a stir ahead of the first leg in Dublin when they were asked to do so, but what frustrates Bradley, whose side have a crucial league game in Derry on Friday, is that CSKA Sofia’s side take on St Patrick’s Athletic on Thursday could Find a charter place in Dublin.
The Ludogorets side, who beat the Champions League hoops, were also able to board and disembark at the capital’s airport, while St. Pat’s was stuck in Sofia for almost two days. Rovers also endured a nightmare in Bulgaria, with Bradley blaming Bradley for the 3-0 first-leg defeat.
“We’re really disappointed with that. We note once again that Sofia flies direct in and out of Dublin, there are serious questions that need to be asked. As Irish teams can’t do that and any team that seems to come here can do, it’s not acceptable,” said Bradley, when asked if he was angry at DAA or the Irish government.
“I’m not sure, to be honest I really don’t know, but the questions need to be put to the right people. I understand that travel is a mess for everyone at the moment but it can’t be that both Bulgarian teams fly in and out of Dublin direct and we have to go through Shannon and then you have St Pat’s with the difficulties they’ve had.
“Serious questions have to be asked about that. It cost us against Ludogorets, I have no doubt it cost us.”
Rovers were able to travel from Dublin to Skopje and Bradley was delighted that his players were able to execute the game plan calmly, playing on the front foot rather than dismounting.
He praised the work of front pair Aaron Greene and Rory Gaffney, who stretched Shkupi, stressing lessons learned from their tame departure to Estonia’s Flora Tallinn 12 months ago.
However, he said the club’s hectic schedule and the importance of the trip to Derry on Friday – attempts to move it to Saturday or Sunday have been dismissed – meant the performance is not fully appreciated immediately.
“Look, it’s fantastic. Like I said, it’s one of our goals, it’s something I said we wanted to improve on,” he continued.
“We let ourselves down against Tallinn last year, even though they were a good team. We had to learn from that and that made us stronger. We wanted to go further.”
“It’s difficult at the moment because Derry comes to my mind straight away, but sitting down for a glass of wine with my wife tomorrow night gives me a chance to think about how we set out to do it earlier in the year and we’re going to achieve it. “