LIAM BUCKLEY took his hat off to admire Portuguese side Maritimo as they cruised into the next round of the Europa League with a 3-2 win over the League of Ireland outfit at Dalymount Park last night -- and now Buckley wants his players to try and learn something from these Portuguese lessons.
In a week when Bohemians were humbled by Welsh opposition and on the same night when Dundalk -- a club with a much stronger tradition in Europe than Fingal, who were making their European debut this season -- went down 8-0 on aggregate to a Bulgarian side, Fingal's 6-4 aggregate defeat has some respectability about it, Eamon Zayed the scorer of both goals for Fingal.
Given that they were only formed three years ago, for Fingal to score four times in two games against a classy Portuguese side can be seen as an achievement of sorts, on a night when Fingal also drew 2,150 punters to Dalymount Park for the game, a new record attendance for a home match.
So there were really no complaints from Fingal after watching Maritimo progress to the next round, where they meet Bangor City, another Welsh side who, along with Bohemians' conquerors TNS, have done well this summer with a win over Honka of Finland.
"You look at what Maritimo are doing, the league they are in and the level they are at, and they are a level above where we are now. You can see that just in their ball retention. We have a good bit to go before we can catch up with them," Sporting boss Buckley confessed after the loss.
"But it's something we can learn from. Here at home we talk about passing the ball and keeping the ball, but you see how well Maritimo did it, they pass the ball so well as individuals and as a team. They had us stretched.
"We have good technical players but we need to get into the habit of being patient, our link play has to improve. They were switching the ball from left to right, their midfield four and front two were technically so good. They played well last week in patches and we caught them on the hop to some degree, but they played very well last night and really knocked the ball around well, they were so good attacking-wise.
"There is room within our group to improve and try to match that. From a European perspective, you have to try and play the way they do. In Europe you need to be able to retain the ball and they were just better at doing that.
"But I'm delighted we got a couple of goals. We got a bit of respect out of it. We will take the positives out of it, we bagged four goals against a Premier League team from Portugal. But I know we also let in six and that's something we have to look at, see can we improve in areas where we were weak last night.
And what we have to do now as a club is keep learning and try to get into Europe every year," added Buckley.
Maritimo looked a step above Fingal from the off, Papa Diawara and Tcho going close in the early stages before Alonso Ferreira put the visitors ahead in the 20th minute from the spot after Shaun Maher conceded a penalty.
In fairness to Fingal they held out until the 66th minute before Maritimo added a second, the impressive Marco Aurelio beat Brendan Clarke in the Fingal goal with a stunning long-range shot.
With nine minutes left on the clock Fingal nicked a goal back to make it 1-2 on the night and 3-5 on aggregate, Eamon Zayed fired home from Conan Byrne's cross. But there was no panic from the Portuguese as they netted for a third time on 86 minutes, sub Kanu gave Clarke no chance. Zayed managed a second goal a minute later, a superb volley from Lorcan Fitzgerald's cross, but with the score at 4-6 in favour of the visitors, there was no chance of late drama for Fingal.
"To lose 6-4 to a team from Portugal is no disgrace. We gave a decent account of ourselves in the two games and showed that we can score goals. We went to Portugal and scored two and then scored twice at home," Zayed told the Herald.
"But now you look back and some of the goals we conceded away from home were silly goals to give away. Even last night two of their goals looked bad from our point of view. But to be fair to them, Maritimo are a very good side and deserved to win.
"The result was the main thing, not who scores the goals, so we're disappointed to lose the game and go out of Europe. It was nice for me personally to come on and score the two goals, I was chuffed as that brings me up to six goals in Europe, but it doesn't mean much if we're out. We pushed them hard for a period in the second half but it was too little, too late.
"They are a good side and they really upped their game from the first leg in Portugal. You could see from the first minute last night when they had a great chance and should have scored, so it was a tough night for us.
"Hopefully we can build on this experience and use it to spur ourselves on. A lot of the lads in our team were making their European debuts this season, so they will draw on that and be better again next year, and we want to be back here next year. That's the main aim, to be in Europe again next summer, and that starts for us now on Sunday against St Pats in the league. We need a decent finish in the season to get into Europe and we all have a taste for it now," added Zayed.