Bradley hails Rovers' cup success as a stepping stone to bigger things
Manager says final victory over proven Dundalk will stand his squad in good stead
Shamrock Rovers manager Stephen Bradley celebrates after the FAI Cup final victory over Dundalk. “To go to the next level, to go and win leagues, you have to win something.” Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho
Stephen Bradley believes Shamrock Rovers’ first cup success in 32 years can be a stepping stone to much greater things with the manager suggesting that the team’s dramatic penalty shoot victory over Dundalk will have taught his players a lesson every group needs to learn if they want to go down as greats – how to win when it absolutely matters most.
“To go to the next level, to go and win leagues, you have to win something, you have to get that winning feeling, you have to understand how to get something across the line,” said the 34 year-old Dubliner shortly after Gary O’Neill had converted the spot kick that secured his own place in the club’s cup history.
“We’ve been searching for that. Now we have it. I think, apart from the size of the squad, that was genuinely the only difference between us. They [Dundalk] understood how to win big games and now we do. You can’t give that to people. You have to earn that, and we’ve earned that today.”
Bradley said that in addition to the joy that came with finally drawing a line under Rovers’ remarkable run without a cup win, there’s some sadness too that his mother, Bernie, wasn’t still alive to see this success.
“I’d love for her to be here to witness that,” he said. “She’s obviously not but I know she’d be proud of what we’ve done.”
Most of all, though, there seemed to be a sense of relief, widely shared among members of his squad, that the “when will it come?” line of cup questioning is finally behind them and that they can look to push on now to greater things.
That all remained in doubt for a little bit longer than seemed likely when Rovers scored to take the lead in the dying moments of normal time.
“I thought that was game over to be fair,” Bradley admitted, with a shake of the head. “I think the fourth [official] was telling us there were 15 seconds left.
“But that’s why they [Dundalk] are a top team, they don’t stop, they keep going. And when they got the goal to take it into extra time, I thought we did really well to stay in the game for five or ten minutes because it was obviously a hammer blow.
“We showed tremendous character and game management to stay in it at that point. I’m so proud of the group, so proud of everything that they’ve done. But I think this is only the start.”
His opposite number, predictably enough, is rather less sure. Vinny Perth was gracious in defeat, readily accepting that Rovers deserved credit for their performance. But he pointed to the gap between the two teams in the league as evidence that a gap persists despite the result here, one that he is determined will be maintained into the next campaign to come.
“Obviously there’s a big sense of disappointment, for many reasons. We didn’t feel we were at our very best today, partly for obvious reasons [the absence of Chris Shields and Pat McEleney, due to suspension and injury respectively], partly because that’s just the way it goes.
“People will draw their own conclusions,” he continued, “but ultimately, when we won the league we were 17 points clear. I don’t think that was a far-off reflection on where we are as a club in my opinion but they’ll obviously have a different opinion.
“I said from the start, though, that I didn’t think this was the season-defining game. We have got areas to improve on in our squad but myself and the chairman have been working on that in the last month and we’re very close to improving our squad.”