KENNY SHIELS said he was ‘proud’ of the heroic efforts from his Derry City players after a sensational Europa League victory in Belarus.
Super sub, Ronan Hale netted the winning goal against Dinamo Minsk at the National Olympic Stadium on 74 minutes but it wasn’t enough to see the Candy Stripes progress.
No Irish side had ever overturned a 2-0 deficit from a first leg tie in Europe but City came agonisingly close with the Belarusians advancing on a 3-2 aggregate scoreline.
And Shiels, while disappointed not to make the second qualifying round, was delighted with his players who were applauded off the pitch by 10,000 Dinamo supporters at the final whistle.
“I’m very disappointed but the players deserve so much credit,” said Shiels. “The commitment levels were high and the passion to get through was there.
“I thought we were slightly the better team tonight if I’m honest. The explosive way we played I thought was very good.
“It would have been an amazing result if we got through and we were pushing for it. Ronan Hale had an opportunity and Aaron Splaine got in behind them but didn’t have the legs.
“We were very attack minded tonight and it shook them up. It should’ve been 2-0 and then it went 1-1 and in their favour.”
It was Dinamo’s first match at the National Stadium in six years and Shiels admits he was concerned how that would effect his players.
“I was worried about that because they had so much momentum going into this game. There was 10,000 loud, vocal support. They actually booed their team off and applauded us off the pitch at the end.
“To play in front of a big audience I was so proud of the players. They gave every ounce. Everybody was cramping up. They were absolutely exhausted.”
Shiels and his brave players can take huge belief from this result and he hopes it will help his side push on in the league campaign, starting with a difficult trip to Cork City on Monday night.
“We have to push on now.We must take that in to the Cork game. Our travel was much more obstructive than Cork’s. We had a four hour journey by the time we got through Dublin to Maynooth on the way over here.
“Then three hours sleep and off again for another 14 hours. It does have an effect, the travel but they played out of their skins. People have to remember we were playing a team of international players, a team of immense tradition and financially you’re talking about players on £15,000 a week.
“Minsk has a population of two million people. So these wee lads playing from Derry deserve great credit.
"But I must say, the Beijing Hotel in Minsk has been absolutely brilliant and hospitable and the people of Minsk as well have been very kind and made our journey much more satisfying," added.
When asked if he had any regrets about the first leg with such fine margins securing Dinamo Minsk's passage to the next round, he said it was 'a pity' Derry City supporters didn't come out in force at Brandywell as he felt it could've given them the edge.
"If we had of had the support we had against Limerick and against Bray we had in the early days of the season, if we had of had that vocal support we certainly wouldn't have lost 2-0 at home in my view," added Shiels.
"It's just a pity the support hadn't got behind us in the first leg. We missed the support at home badly. We're so proud of the support that came tonight, There was 25 people there. What did they not give up in terms of finance for this trip. We wanted to make sure we paid them back. That's real support."