Friday night’s match in the Ryan McBride Brandywell Stadium is available to stream on LOITV, Kick off is at 7.45pm
What does it mean to you and the group to achieve something you set out to do and were working hard towards in Europe for such a long time?
“It’s fantastic. It was one of our targets at the start of the year so it’s fantastic to have achieved it. Our aim is to try and get into the Europa League, but this was one of our aims at the start of the season and we’ve gone and done that now.”
Did many of the players feel it was the most important game of their careers and did that bring any nerves or pressure beforehand?
“No, there wasn’t pressure. We’ve been around too long as a group and been in too many big games to allow pressure to affect us. We know when you do your work and focus the game will look after itself, and the players did that.”
And afterwards, was that one of the most enjoyable dressing rooms you’ve ever been in following a win?
“Yes, it was fantastic to see all the joy and emotion it brought to everyone, players and staff, because you work hard every day and week for moments like that, nights like that. They’re special. They don’t come around very often so you have to enjoy them. It was fantastic in the dressing room afterwards.”
What did you make of the team’s performance on the night in North Macedonia, the way we played on the front foot rather than sitting off?
“I thought the players were brilliant. We had to soak up a bit of pressure for the first few minutes but after that, I thought we were very good and took control of the game. We possibly should have been a couple of goals up at halftime with the chances we had. We hit the post and never looked in any real danger. The players were fantastic in that regard, having the bravery and courage to play on the front foot and take the game away from them, which was good to see.”
Were you pleased with our forward players’ involvement in the goals, with two assists for Graham, and Rory and Aidomo taking their European tallies to 4 and 3 goals respectively?
“I’m delighted because they had to work extremely hard off the ball for the team and it was great to see them get their rewards with the goal and assists. All four of them did really well, Aaron and Rory set the tone for us and then when Graham came on, he showed his quality. And another finish from Aidomo in Europe which is great to see.”
Did it say a lot about this team and how far it’s come at this level, the manner of the win, winning well on aggregate and deservedly so in the two legs?
“I think the group has learned from previous games in Europe, from our successes and our failures. We’ve learned and grown from that. It’s very important that you learn from every scenario, good and bad and you can see that over the two legs. The players have won the tie quite comfortably in the end which is a great thing to see given that it was such a big game”
Obviously, the club would have preferred the game away to Derry be pushed back a day, but it wasn’t. Does it leave very little recovery time for what is a big league game?
“We’ll be ready for Derry, but I have to say that we are really disappointed that, on request, the league administration did not invoke the rule that is place to deal with situations like this where a team is away twice in consecutive weeks in Europe. We’ve been away in Europe this week; we travel away to Derry tomorrow and then we travel again next week to Hungary in a Europa League group stage play-off. We just wanted the league to move the game back a day or two. We didn’t want it called off, just moved, and they haven’t provided the support that clubs should expect as per rules, and I think that’s really poor from the league administrators.”
Derry have found a bit of form again in the league and will no doubt be eager to try and take advantage and close the gap if they can?
“I’m sure they will and that’s the talk up there and we’ve got to be ready for that. They’ll try and start quick, we know that. We know what’s coming but we’re playing really well and with a lot of confidence. So, we’ll go up there to win the game.”
Any knocks from North Macedonia?
“We’ve a few knocks that you get from games like those tough European games and we’ll just have to see how they are. Simon Power should be there, he’s worked really hard so he’s available. Everyone else is OK other than Pico and Chris.”