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Ben Brady/INPHO Neil Farrugia (file pic).
# Talent
Bradley has 'no doubts' Farrugia good enough to play for Ireland
The wing-back impressed during Shamrock Rovers’ draw with Gent last night.

STEPHEN BRADLEY reserved high praise for Neil Farrugia after his eye-catching performance in Shamrock Rovers’ 1-1 draw with Gent in the Europa Conference League on Thursday night.

The wing-back caused the visitors plenty of problems with his pace and dribbling ability and after the match, Bradley lauded the former UCD star, as well as Sean Kavanagh, two players that had a torrid time with injuries since their respective moves to Rovers.

“I thought both were very good,” the coach told reporters. “Sean is obviously a wing-back or full-back by trade. But he’s so clever. His football IQ is really high. He can play in a number of positions. It was brilliant to see him playing [in central midfield] tonight and he was really, really good.

“And I think Neil’s attributes are as good as anything you’ll see. We’ve known that for quite some time and it’s been the reason why we’ve been so patient with him [with his long-term injuries].

“I think from what you’ve seen tonight and for most of the season to be honest, when he’s been on, he’s a really high-level player.”

Stephen Kenny is a well-known admirer of Farrugia. The 23-year-old scored in the Dubliner’s first competitive game in charge of Ireland U21s, and Kenny has namechecked him since as a footballer of high potential.

Indeed, Farrugia at one stage was highly regarded enough as a youngster that he was invited to train with Manchester City, but serious injuries have slowed his progress in recent times.

However, this season has seen the attacker enjoy his best run of games for quite some time, and Bradley’s response was unequivocal when asked whether he was good enough to play for Ireland.

“I’ve no doubts he is. He’s got incredible attributes.

“We’ve had five internationals while I’ve been here, so why can’t he [become another]? Danny Mandroiu was in the squad, Aaron McEneff was in the squad, Graham Burke played, Jack Byrne played. Pico [Roberto Lopes] is a full international. They’ve all been [given a chance], so there’s no reason whatsoever why Neil can’t be the next one.”

As for Thursday’s game, Bradley felt Justin Ferizaj’s second-half red card proved the turning point in a tightly fought contest. 

Rovers had led 1-0 thanks to Rory Gaffney’s early headed goal before the 17-year-old was dismissed after picking up a second booking.

The hosts were left reeling following this setback and conceded the equaliser moments later as their opponents, conversely, became galvanised.

“It was frustrating because we were just about to take Justin off — we knew he was on the edge and literally he made the tackle and then within 90 seconds they score,” Bradley added. “So within two minutes, we’ve given up a man and a goal, which was just really frustrating and it’s something we definitely have to learn from going forward.

“[Justin is] young and he will learn from that experience. But if we keep 11 on the pitch, I think we have every chance of scoring that second goal. Unfortunately, at this level, when you switch off for a minute, you usually get punished and we did after the sending-off.”

Despite falling just short of achieving their first-ever group stage victory in European competition, there were positives for Rovers to take.

They scored their first goal of the group stages and for the first 74 minutes, kept at bay a side who convincingly beat them 3-0 in the reverse fixture last month.

Having been confirmed as league champions earlier this week, Rovers seemed to play with a freedom and weight off their shoulders that they have lacked at times during the group stages, though Bradley still felt it was the weakest of their three home performances.

“I think we were better against Molde here. We were better against Djurgardens here. I thought at stages tonight we were good but I felt our overall performances against Molde and Djurgardens were better.”

They managed to secure a point despite having a number of absentees going into the game, including Jack Byrne, Gary O’Neill, Ronan Finn and Graham Burke, while Chris McCann and Dylan Watts both went off injured during the first half last night, with Bradley suggesting all the players in question were unlikely to feature again this season.

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In many ways, it sums up their European campaign, as the Hoops have frequently had to play without key squad members, as their league title run-in has been invariably prioritised.

“We’ve made too many changes in games. We knew that at the time. We know if you make five changes to your team, it takes your rhythm away.

“You’d like to only make one or two, but you have to make those changes because the players you are changing are carrying knocks and can only play one game in a week so you’ve got to decide what game they play for you. So people look at it and see I’ve made a lot of changes but so many factors go into that.

“A player’s load over the course of a season: are they in the red zone? Are they going to get injured? There is so much that goes into making those decisions. A lot of players that we change are carrying knocks and the physios and doctors say, if there are two or three games that week, they can only play one of them, so you need to make a call.

“We know it’s not ideal. Hopefully, if we get to this stage next year, you haven’t got knocks to those key players and you make one or two changes, you don’t make five, which doesn’t help anybody.”

And while a depleted Rovers team with no chance of qualifying from the group are set to travel to Djurgardens next week for their final European game this season, they will be determined to finish the season on a high regardless.

A win would see them pick up €500,000 in prize money, while it would also enable the Hoops to break the record points tally for an Irish side in Europe, eclipsing the four Stephen Kenny’s Dundalk managed in 2016.

“Djurgardens at home will be a really tough side. We’ve seen that and we know they’ll have a big crowd, which they always do.

“But we’ll go there to try to win the game and let’s see what happens. This form, Molde, and Djurgardens at home, we’ve got to take that form into next week if we have any chance of winning the game, but it is obviously going to be difficult.

“They’re six points behind in their [domestic] league and they are through in the [Europa Conference League] group now, so I’m not sure how they’ll approach it.  I’m sure they’ll prioritise their league games now that they’re through.” 

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