After waiting for 32 years, Shamrock Rovers had to wait an extra half hour and a penalty shoot-out before finally reclaiming the FAI Cup.
And, underlining that they did it the hard way, they effectively had to win it twice in one game, after Aaron McEneff’s late penalty had been cancelled out by Michael Duffy’s late, late equaliser for Dundalk.
“I thought it was game over, to be fair,” said Hoops manager Stephen Bradley of McEneff’s apparently decisive 89th-minute spotkick. “I think the fourth (official) was telling us there were 15 seconds left (when Duffy scored in time added on). 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 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 they’ve done. But I think this is only the start for this group.
Famously, at the end of 90 minutes in the 1966 World Cup Final, Alf Ramsey told his England players: “you’ve won it once, now go out and win it again.” Bradley’s words to his charges before extra time yesterday might not have been as quotable – but they were certainly effective.
“We just said to trust our game plan again,” he revealed. “We needed to get back to our game plan and trust it. We knew two halves of extra time were coming and it was about getting back to playing football, relaxing and trusting each other, trusting our jobs. For five to ten minutes it unsettled us but then we settled back down.”
And when it went to penalties, Bradley was confident his team would prevail, not least because of the faith he has in ‘keeper Alan Mannus.
“We’ve been doing them all week and, genuinely Alan’s been saving the majority of them,” he said. “Even on Saturday in training, I think some of the players stayed out an extra half hour because he kept saving them. We knew when it went to penalties we had a great chance because he’s obviously so good in that situation.”
Asked how he felt on a personal level when Gary O’Neill’s penalty won the day for the Hoops, Bradley said: “So many emotions — joy, happiness, sad. So many emotions going through my body.”
The sadness, he explained, was what he felt in the absence of his late mother, Bernie, who passed away in 2016. “I’d have loved for her to be here to see that and witness that,” he said. “So that’s the bit of sadness but I know she’d be proud of what we have done.”
Rovers’ win obviously has huge historical significance for the club but Bradley was no less keen to stress how much he thinks it means for the future. 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,” he said.
We’ve been searching for that. They (Dundalk) have it and now we have it. I think, apart from the size of the squad, that was genuinely the only difference between us. They understood how to win big games and now we do. You can’t give that to people.
“You have to earn that and we earned that yesterday.” Still, it must be nice that there’ll be no talk of 33 years next season?
“(Laughs) Jesus! That’s like the biggest delight that it’s gone. People tried to hide from that but when I played here it was always spoken about. What we have tried to do in the last few weeks is embrace it because this is an unbelievable club with great pedigree and history and we had a chance to be part of that rather than speak about it in a negative way. I felt we should embrace it and not let it hurt us — and we met it head on.”