Stephen Bradley wasn’t biting back at dismissive comments from the Ferencváros camp as he instead focused on the opportunity for his Shamrock Rovers side ahead of this evening’s Europa League play-off round first leg tie in Budapest.
As Rovers touched down in the Hungarian capital on Tuesday, the hosts’ sporting director, Tamas Hajnal, was quoted in local media as saying Ferencváros needed to be prepared for a clash with a team who ‘represent an unpleasant, British style of physical football’.
Comparable to Rovers in Ireland, Ferencváros are the most successful club in Hungary with 33 league titles, including the last four in a row.
As Rovers did a round earlier, they dropped into Uefa’s second tier competition having been beaten 4-2 on aggregate by Azeri side Qarabag in the third round of the Champions League qualifiers.
Both clubs have the safety net, should they lose this tie, of a Europa Conference League group stage and its €3.3 million basic prize. But overcoming the fancied Hungarian champions would deliver a group stage of this competition for Rovers – with a further €700,000 in base reward – to equal their groundbreaking achievement of 2011.
“His opinion doesn’t interest me, to be honest,” said Rovers’ manager Bradley when asked if the somewhat stereotypical comments from Hajnal would act as an additional motivation for him and his players ahead of the game.
“We focus on our game plan and let’s see where it takes us. It’s fantastic to be talking about the possibility of group stages of Europa League when we have Europa Conference League secured.
“We’re two games away from making the Europa League group stages. It’s a really good opportunity for us. We know it’s a difficult game. We’ve shown over two legs we can be a match for anybody. Hopefully, we can perform and bring it back to Tallaght.”
Keeping the tie alive for that second leg in Dublin 24 next week is the objective against a side laced with internationals and coached by former Russia goalkeeper Stanislav Cherchesov, who managed his home country to the quarter-finals when hosting the 2018 World Cup.
“We know it’s a step up. We know they’re a good side. Our experiences in Europe, good and bad, have helped us grow,” added Bradley whose preparations have been hampered by the absence of several key players.
Captain Ronan Finn, one appearance shy of equalling Gary Rogers’ 54-match record in European competition, is suspended following three yellow cards while the experienced Roberto Lopes, Chris McCann and Graham Burke are injured along with Aidomo Emakhu and recent signing Simon Power.
“The game will be a level above anything we’ve played this year. We know we’ll suffer without the ball and we’ll have to work hard. We have to believe when we have the ball as we have the quality to cause them problems.”
With two goals in Europe this season, Dylan Watts can play a prominent role in that.
“He’s grown into a real leader for us,” said Bradley of the 25-year-old midfielder.
“When we got him first, he had ability, but he was inconsistent. He’d get a nine out of ten, then a two out of ten. He’s become a [regular] seven out of ten that you need at this level.
“He’s matured on and off the pitch. He’s one of very few players that can quicken the game up. I see him as a future captain of the club.”
The player himself insists that the parachute of having a group stage already secured for the third tier competition won’t impact at all on Rovers’ approach here.
“It’s nice to have the next stage of European football confirmed,” said Watts. “But I don’t think it changes this game a lot. We’re under no illusions. Anyone we would play at this stage is going to be a top side. We’ll try and impose our game on them as well and bring a decent result back to Tallaght.”