The fans were obviously heartbroken after Tuesday night, I imagine the players and staff felt the same having come so close?
“Yeah. Like I said on the night I felt the players’ performance deserved more. They deserved to go through, but it wasn’t to be. But we’ll learn from it and move on.”
Was it a great moment for everyone in the stadium when Richie Towell scored his first goal for the club with that fantastic strike to level the tie on aggregate?
“It was obviously an important goal at an important time, and I felt it was coming. We were playing well and it was a good move and a great strike from Richie.”
Did you feel it was one of the team’s most outstanding performances and the players really left everything out on the pitch?
“I think it needed a big performance. You’re playing against a top team, and we knew that we had to be right on our game to turn it around. The players were excellent and each and every one of them performed and stood up to it.”
Does it leave a sour taste that we defended so well against top-quality opposition but were ultimately undone by one decision that went against us?
“It’s not a nice feeling because we’ve limited them to very little in the game. They’re a top team and that’s credit to the players for doing that over the 90 minutes. We’ll learn from the two games, make sure we improve and make sure we’re stronger for it going forward.”
It will be of no consolation to you at the moment, but Graham Burke became Rovers’ record goalscorer in Europe (five) and you set a new record with five games won as manager (overtaking John Giles, 1978 to 1982). You’d much rather have gone through but both good achievements?
“I think it’s a fantastic achievement from Graham when you consider his age and he’s just signed a new deal at the club. There’s many more to come from Graham. He was brilliant on the night, and we know that Graham scores goals, so I’m delighted for him. A lot of great players have played for this club down the years and have scored goals in Europe. Graham tops that list now which is a fantastic achievement. But it’s early days and he’s still in his prime.”
We’ve seen Rovers really take off in the league after Europe in previous seasons and use it as a springboard. Are you hoping that will be the case again starting in Derry?
“That has to be our aim if we want to create more nights like we did on Tuesday and make that a regular thing. We’ve got to make sure we get ourselves back there next year and obviously that means going and taking care of games domestically. Derry is going to be a really difficult game, we know that, but this group is hungry for more nights like Tuesday night and that starts with Derry on Friday – going up there and getting three points.”
Rovers have won on each of the last five visits to the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium. You said it a few times before that their pitch really suits us?
“It does. We enjoy it, it’s a big pitch. We’re comfortable on it because we’re lucky enough to have a surface very similar in Roadstone which allows us to prepare right for it. We enjoy going up there, but Derry have been very good recently and it won’t be an easy going at all. We need to be ready for that.”
Sean Hoare and Chris McCann are suspended. Who else is missing for Friday?
“Just Neil Farrugia. Everyone else came through OK, there were a few knocks which you expect in a game of that intensity but nothing too serious thankfully.”
Friday night’s match against Derry City kicks off at 7.45 pm in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium. The match can be viewed exclusively on LOITV.ie